Monday, November 24, 2008

Young moms work for free

The other day, while I was waiting in line at the doctor's office, I happened to overhear the conversation of two young moms who were sitting right next to me. It caught my attention, not because how unusual it was, but on the contrary, because it's so very typical.

"I pay so much for daycare," - one of them said, - "that between daycare and gas, my entire paycheck is gone. In addition, I spend the whole day outside the home, come home tired, don't have time to do anything, and hardly see my children."
The second mom expressed her sympathy, said she's in the same boat, and added that, "while I'm not actually earning anything now, there's a pretty good perspective to start earning more in a couple of years - then I'll see more of that paycheck."

Note that not a single word was said about joy and/or inspiration the two young women were getting out of their work. None of them said anything along the lines of "it might be not very profitable, but I find my work so interesting - it makes my life meaningful". Both of them admitted that they are, as a matter of fact, working for free.

Now, I can think of many good reasons to work without pay, besides the obvious duties we all have at home. For example, volunteering in a crisis pregnancy center. Or creatively decorating one's place of worship. Or making and giving out handmade gifts just to make someone else happy. Or walking the dog for an elderly neighbour who broke her leg. But to dedicate the best hours of every single day to work I don't find particularly meaningful or interesting, without any pay, just for the fickle prospect of earning more in a few years? Doesn't sound very appealing, in my humble opinion.

I know many of you ladies will say that no matter what, no amount of money can compensate for time - precious time of children's lives, which their mother longs to be a part of, and from which she is unjustly separated by irrational social expectations. But as we so often see, it might not even be about the money - not really. Numbers don't lie - it's pretty easy to deduce the cost of work-related expenses from one's paycheck, and see what we are really earning. We are just so conditioned to think that we must spend most of our day working outside the home, that we rationalize even when it's obvious we don't derive any profit from it.

Of course, many young professionals have to settle for low pay for their first couple of years in the field, or else they won't find a job at all. But to actually work without receiving any pay? There's no guarantee things will change for those young moms in a couple of years, either. The current economical crisis might make any pay rises look far-fetched. Or they might have another baby, which will increase daycare costs. Note that I'm not talking about women who plan to have one or two children and "be done with it". I'm talking about religious Jewish mothers, who love their children, and in most cases will want to have many of them - which means childcare costs will be there for a substantial stretch of time.

The logical solution, in my opinion, would be to stay home and care for one's own children, with joy and peace in one's heart, instead of making someone else rich by handing out our paycheck every single month. But there are, of course, other considerations, such as - what if I want to work later when my children are older, and can't find a job? What will others think of me? Will I be seen as lazy and useless? More than money, this is about social trends and expectations only we - each one of us - can change by the choices we make.


Anonymous said...

I could be one of those moms, though I'm probably not that young anymore.....
I agree that societal expectations are crazy. The bottom line is that many mothers work two shifts, one outside the home, one inside.

However, I do think the young moms are right in terms of financial assessment. It depends of course on which field they're working in. But as a teacher, I can tell you that the pay increases a lot from year to year. The more years you've worked in the field, the more pay you receive. This would probably be less relevant if the mothers were working as cashiers or store clerks.

Of course, if they continue to have babies childcare will always remain an expense.

MamaF said...

Anna, i so much agree with everything you wrote. Rised by a single 'feminist' mother, went to university just because, well it seemed right, even if God was probably already working in me, since i got married at 22 and had my first doughter at 24 ( miscarried our precious first baby few months after the marriage ). Now at 32 i have 4 kids and i am staying home full time since mid 2003. My mother and society makes me feel all that social pressure you describe, but you know, the only regrets i have are those 3 years and half i worked outside the home losing the first infancy of my 3 oldest ( the 4 of them are born in a 3 years 10 months span ).
Have a beautiful week Mrs Anna !


Analytical Adam said...

The man is suppose to support the wife because of the fact that she is providing other servics for the family. The problem is a lot of Orthodox women are not taught anything good about Jewish men and they want to do everything themselves which is the biggest reason they don't want to stay home and let the husband be the main breadwinner. Some women don't even marry Jewish men that are responsible in this way. Which of course hurts decent Jewish men and continues the endless propoganda against men because women are attracted to men that aren't responsible and have a sense of entitlement in the first place and good men can't get married. I don't really consider it "relgious" either and I am very offended because it hurts me and other men that women have more trust in the secular gov't then their own Jewish men.

Both Jewish ande Christian leaders in the United States greatly supporting Sarah Palin even though other then abortion on issues related to feminism she supports feminist ideology and these leaders would never have women leaders in their organizations. It is very hypocritical but at least it showed how large the problem really is and how most Rabbi's and Church leaders openly support feminism in every area except their own and relly do want to make other men useless even if it means being overly dependent on the gov't that may not really like them anyway. Real tangled web in my opinion.

Trinity Mommy said...

I needed to hear this post today! Very encouraging! The memories I make with my children are priceless and very worth it!

Mrs. Amy @ Clothesline Alley said...

You bring up some very important points, Anna. I used one of those little "how much would it cost me to work" calculators one day, based off the income I made in my former life, which would likely not be as much as I'd be making now ;o). Upon factoring in daycare, taxes, and all the hidden costs of working, I'd actually wind up PAYING over 10K to work every year! That would be one very lousy deal, that is for sure. Could you imagine? Paying that substantially for the "privilege" of working?!

Analytical Adam said...

It really bothers me when I see women who are marrying then they tell others that the man is bad and yet they end up marrying them. Deep down they have some real twisted idea's and likely have a deep hatred towards men that they do this. I dated a women that I wouldn't mind if she dated a guy better then me but she actually calls me to complain and then the next day she tells me she loves the guy and some of the things she said were really bad. At this point I am not interested in going back out with her as I see what she is but it still depressing because I think her behavior is fairly common although maybe not to the extreme degree it is in her case.

lady jane said...


Anonymous said...

Not sure I was clear enough in the previous post. It's not a 'fickle prospect' for professional women to earn more as they gain more work experience in their field. This is true for almost all white,and perhaps 'pink' collar positions.
These women, if they have chosen their professions wisely, will earn far more in a decade. On the other hand, if they leave their job to take care of the kids, they will be back to square one professionally. Indeed, they may never find the job they are looking for; many companies are far more eager to hire young college grads than moms fresh from a decade of housework.

It's very complicated though. Because the end result is that many women work in unfulfilling jobs, just for a paycheck, plus work another job at home. I am glad that feminism opened so many doors, and that those women who have big career ambitions can fulfill them. However, the current reality is that too many women are overworked. Society does need to adjust its expectations of mothers. I personally think that it should be absolutely acceptable for a mom to stay home, if she is not eager to develop a career. It shouldn't be expected of her to bring in half the income, as long as it is still expected of her to deal with most of the childcare and housework.

Tracy's corner said...

It's sad to hear about these two women. I'm sure there are more. I homeschool my children.I work 1 to 2 days a week but only when my husband's work is in the slow season. He is with the children when I work. We avoid daycare that way. God gave us these precious children and I feel it is the parents who need to raise them. I feel bad that I have to work at all. I'm thankful though that when I work I love my job. I care for the elderly. I get to touch lives that way. Sorry for such a long comment. This topic is close to my heart. God bless!!

AnneK said...

I have to agree with you on this. If you want 10-12 children, it is not worth being on an obviously lousy job that doesn't even pay anything after daycare and gas.

That is just sad.

Civilla said...

I know what you mean. My own sister-in-law used to talk like that. Her daughter was calling the baby-sitter "Mommy" and it was actually costing her $50 a wee to work! But, her husband insisted that she work and pull her share of the load! Unfortunately, many, many husbands feel that way nowadays, because they think that a housewife, no matter how many children she has, is sitting on her rear-end doing nothing. How insulting!

I am very blessed that my husband does not insist that I work. He wants me to stay home, so I do. My oldest son, however, was always trying to push me out to work from the time he was a little boy, so that he could have "more stuff". I was so hurt and offended. But, I didn't give in, ha-ha.

Anonymous said...

many working women will say they just can't survive on their husband's income alone. I know it can be done. Sure you will have to drive an old car, buy second hand and budget and learn how to stretch a meal. You won't get to go to expensive eatery's and you might have to just stroll around a mall with your hubby for date night but living on one income no matter the amount is possible and probable. My husband and I have done it for 15 years and our kids have never gone without the things they need. Sometimes the things they want they don't get or they get 2nd hand but God provides for our needs just like He promised and I have the joy of raising my children. It can be hard at times and heartbreaking but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Mrs. Jacqueline said...

I had an incident with a young bank teller last month. I was required to complete some paperwork, and the bank teller asked me my occupation. I told her that I was a homemaker. She seemed a bit confused, and told me:

"Oh, so you're unemployed? I'll just put that down."

Me: "No ma'am, I am a stay at home wife and mother."

Bank teller: "Uh, yes. Okay, unemployed."

Me: "Just put down 'housewife' "

Bank teller: "There's no choice on this form for you except 'unemployed' "

Me: "Write it in. 'Housewife.' "

I am absolutely NOT unemployed!!! I am a wife, a mother, a nurse, a teacher, a maid, a chef, a laundress, a barber, an accountant, a taxi driver, and a jack-of-all trades. I work very hard for my husband and my daughter- and I get paid in hugs and kisses, which I prefer much more than money.

Kelly said...

Well said Anna, here in the US the economy is poor and in my local paper yesterday they had an article about how working women cant afford child care and are (gasp) quitting work and staying home with their children. And the article and the women in it made it sound like a bad thing!

Anonymous said...

I hear this arguement a lot. But even working part-time I make eight times the cost of my child's daycare...and this salary allows us to own a home. I do think in general having a parent home with your children is best. But in our case it would mean being near poverty, never owning a home, and always stressing about money. I don't think this is a healthy environment to raise a child in either. It comes don to doing what you think is best for your family...and that is going to be different for every family.

Anonymous said...

When calculating the costs and benefits of a two-income marriage, couples fall into 2 erroneous traps: (1) They deduct childcare andf housecleaning costs from the woman's paycheck only, rather than equally rom both paychecks. Of course, this creates a skewed result that devalues the worth of the woman's paycheck just becuase she is a woman. (2) Couples discount the future value of the woman's work to things she may want to do in the future and her future earning capacity. Again just because she is a woman.

Far be it from me to fault someone who wants to stay home, and has the resources to do so. But I do disagree with the devaluation of women's work outside the home. Sure, work outside the home CAN be drudgery (although it can often be exciting and fulfilling). But that is true whether you are a man or a woman. Yet somehow when it is a woman we devalue her hard work by saying she would be better in the home, and denying the importance of her paycheck to the family. When the worker is a man, we recognize the value even drudgery has to the larger community, and we praise him for the important resources he brings to the family.

-- Pendragon

Mrs. Anna T said...

Mrs. Jacqueline,

Another perfect illustration of how a wife and mother's work isn't even considered "real work" now!!


This isn't an argument - it's simply a stating of facts. You might be earning a lot, but these young mothers I talked about, and many other ones, earn very little and are only frustrated by working outside the home.


I believe you're a bit beside the point here... you see, these mothers I met said *they* **want** to be with their children, rather than work outside the home, and therefore it's only natural for them to think about the benefit of *their* salary vs. them staying home.

Bailey said...

So true, Mrs. T. My cousin is a young mother who works but would much rather stay home full-time if it weren't for her income, which is still helpful despite deducting some costs (I believe she has her children with her as she works, too--no daycare fees). Yet it is very little, and her husband said they could very well do without it.

I don't doubt there are some severe cases where a woman's income is desperately needed, but why does it seem that the exception has become the norm? Are there more cases, I wonder, of these young mothers being so unsure of what they could live off that their fear conquers their calling and they work outside the home, instead of the financial situation in the home truly dictating their workplace?

Anonymous said...

Kelly, I've also seen the news stories about women who are upset that childcare costs are getting too high because of our troubled economy. The tone of the articles that I have read too makes it sound like a horrible and hindering thing for the children as well. Leave it to the United States media...I guess. :(

Anonymous said...

It really cannot just be about money.... family values must be factored in... and the effect on femininity.... to say a woman can go to work in a man's world, she must do that to earn a top salary, and then come home to be a mom and homemaker, and wife..... well it is really not possible, many will tell you that it is but I have seen too many women work in many different jobs and very few are exciting and fullfilling, they come home to see their children for maybe 4 hours a day... and in that time it is dinner, homework, and ANYTHING else that might need attending to, she is worn out, and so much is lacking in the way of a real home... it makes me sad to see people caught up in that cycle, and it never stops...

MarkyMark said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Sometimes in a family it comes down to a balance between who'll be able to provide the financial wherewithal and who'll be best to provide the nurturing. I remember reading the biography of Beatrix Potter and thinking that her folks surely didn't take advantage of the opportunity of not having to work to discover the precious and precocious personalities of their children.

Anonymous said...

I believe couples thinking about costs and benefits of two-income marriages deduct childcare from the woman's salary as she's the one most likely to stay home. There's no point in deducting it from both salaries as it is doubtful both partners are thinking of quitting.

On the other hand, there is no reason why it should be automatically deducted from the wife's salary. Often the man is more suited to staying at home, either because of his temperament or because his wife has a more lucrative job. I know two such couples (both Orthodox Jews, btw). These men are both highly educated (one has a Phd). Both decided to minimize their work hours to very part time in order to manage the household (the wives work 9-5). Both, I might add, do a fantastic job. One is an amazing cook (I know, he hosts us often) and the other is the most patient dad I've ever met.

Husband or wife, I do think perspective is important, and as Pendragon stated, one should always keep in mind future earning capacity.

Viv said...

Once upon a time, in my previous life as a city dweller I worked, while I had 3 children, I had a good wage, which far mor ethan covered childcare costs, and I was fulfilled by my work :-) However now many years later (5yrs), that is not the case at all. I LOVE being at home with number 4, and can not envision going back to work. The bigger chilren love that I'm at haome for them, and even if I wanted to the economy has changed so much, and well paid working opportunites do not exist where I am living, it would end up costing me to work. Sad but true. I however am glad, as 5 years back my husband did prefer me to work, but now he has changed his opinion :-) If only I was as wise as you Anna.

Anonymous said...

I see your point 100%. My husband and I have already made the decision that, once we have children, if the cost of daycare is equal to our greater than a paycheck, then one of us will stay home. Because his job is the one that provides us with our health benefits, I will probably be that person. It just doesn't make sense to work 40+ hours a week to hand my entire check over to a daycare provider.

HOWEVER...I hear the "point" being made a lot that all a family needs to do in order to afford for the mom to stay home is to cut back on a used second hand clothing...look for bargains...and if two incomes are needed, it is only because the couple cannot do without the "latest" brand name stuff.

I can testify that is not always the case! Partially due to stupidity when we were first married, and partially due to an extremely difficult time in our lives, we have a lot of debt. We do not have an extra penny in our budget to buy any of the latest, fancy clothes or gadgets. Our car is a 1996 with almost 200,000 miles on it. We have one piece of brand new furniture: our bed, which we purchased with a check from our insurance company after our apartment flooded. My husband has been wearing sweats to church because all of his dressier pants are completely worn out and we just can't afford new ones right now (a man in our church has recently blessed us in that area, however!).

I say all this to remind your readers not to judge all two-income families. Some of us are just barely scraping by, committed to getting out of debt, and NOT just frittering away our paycheck on brand new shiny possessions!!!

Anonymous said...

As a mom in a "pink" collar profession, with lots of other working moms and women, I can tell you that the two ladies you encountered are the exception, rather than the rule. Most of us work whether full or part time because that is what we feel is best. We do not like to leave our babies and staying home would be the ideal, but we are real women and do not lead ideal lives. Our husbands are not lazy men, but one middle class income does not always cut it, no matter how many coupons you clip. Despite what some homemakers believe, we do love our families, and many of us do strive to provide our families with good meals, and keep our homes neat. Anna, be thankful for what you have and enjoy it and leave it at that!

Bethany Hudson said...

I think that the noble undertaking of being a homemaker and stay-at-home parent (whether male or female) needs some serious respect that is lacking in many cultures today.

I have been a stay-at-home wife (now also mom) since I got married nearly three years ago (except for a 3 month stint working as an actress, which is my profession). I have greatly valued the ability to learn to budget responsibly and efficiently care for my home these past few years. Plus, I have had the leisure to learn how my husband and I relate best to each other and how to be a loving, responsible mother. That said, for me, it's not going to be the best option in the long-term. I'm planning on going back to graduate school to teach after my second baby is born in the spring. I'm looking forward to a career that will still give me time to be with my children, but a permanent stay-at-home life is not for me.

My mother was a teacher, and I always had the most fabulous relationship with her--she is still my best friend after my husband. She, like me, really thrived on the intellectual stimulation she got from teaching and when she was home after a day at work, she was more present and more able to meet our family with open arms and a joyful heart than if she had been home all day. I think that however one is best able to serve their family at home is the best way--whether that means committing to a life of homemaking or to a career that makes homemaking more rewarding. The important thing is not to lose sight of our priorities. For me, my family will always be #1 (after my relationship with God). It's just that, for me, I am better able to serve them when I'm using my gifts more broadly.