Home > City mama, education, feminism, motherhood > The costs of motherhood

The costs of motherhood

I’m the only stay-at-home adult in my condo complex. It’s a small association — only eight units — so it’s not surprising that I’m the only one. But it means that whenever an inspector needs to come in, the fire alarms need to be serviced, etc., I get to spend the morning at home making sure that the service guy gets in, has access to all the common areas, doesn’t get lost.

We have a condo manager and he would do it for us, of course. At the cost of $50 a pop, plus travel expenses.

After two years of this, it finally dawned on our manager (though not on me or anyone else) that maybe it would make sense to pay me to let these guys in. I’m going to get $25 for each instance. That’s less than half as much as we’d pay the professional, but still compensates me for the morning lost to each service call.

What I find really notable in this is that it took our manager two years to think of it. And I never did.

We pay the guy who lives upstairs from us to shovel the walk whenever it snows. No one would have even thought of asking him to do it for free. But of course the stay at home mom will be happy to spend four hours waiting for the plumber to come and fix the pipe to the communal washer and dryer.

There’s a concept in economics called externalizing the internalities. It’s big in environmental studies. It means (very loosely) that we don’t count costs of things that we take for granted. And I find it interesting that motherhood is squarely in that category.

I’ll give you another example. The Husband, who is very involved, thoughtful, considerate, and does all the laundry, was talking about his grandparents’ caregiver. Her name is Rosemary and she’s from Ghana and she lives with his maternal grandparents. She takes care of them, cooks and cleans for them. She gets one day off a week and one hour off every day. Otherwise, she’s on duty.

“Can you imagine?!” The Husband said, shaking his head. “Working 23 hours a day, six days a week, taking care of someone you have to bathe and help to the bathroom? How much would they have to pay you?”

I quirked a smile at him and looked down at The Child, holding my hand on the escalator. “Honey, I do it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For free.”

He blinked. Twice.

“I do outweigh her, which is an advantage,” I admitted. “But she’s way faster than your grandparents are, so it probably evens out.”

“I was about to say that she cooks and cleans too, but I’ll shut up now.”

I don’t know how much Rosemary gets, per hour. Let’s pretend that it’s minimum wage. In Massachusetts, that’s $8/hr. Times 23 hours a day, times six days a week, times 52 weeks a year = $57K and change. (Not that I get a whole day off to myself every week. Hell, I’m barely get a whole hour off to myself every day.)

Now, Rosemary doesn’t have a car so she doesn’t do the shopping or any car errands. I do that, so I’m probably worth another $5K a year. I also let people into condo, which is apparently going for about $50 a pop on the open market. Add that all up and …

Well fuck. That’s a pretty good wage. Even more when you realize that I do a part-time gig on the side, and make dolls and quilts for The Child. I don’t know if you’d count the hours of research I spend reading articles and journals and books on childcare?

I haven’t spent a lot of time pondering the policy implications of this. But it seems to me that a tax break for at-home caregivers would not go amiss here — take The Husband’s salary and subtract my “salary” and we could pay taxes on only the remainder? It needn’t apply to just parents, though. What about all those suffering women (and it’s mostly women) who are caring for elderly or sick relatives? There’s a tax credit if you paid someone else to do it. Why not for those of us who are doing it ourselves and therefore aren’t earning money outside the home?

Maybe if we monetized this stuff, we’d get some respect?

  1. elcynae
    March 23, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    I was talking to my mom once about the fact that she was a ‘homemaker’ instead of being, I dunno, an astronaut or a baseball player or those other things that little boys are supposed to want to be and therefore people have started encouraging little girls to want to be too. She told me she’d finally found a job where she got to do all the things she wanted to do. Now I admit that not all stay at home moms feel the same way, and probably she didn’t feel that way all the time either. But that’s always been how I thought about it. This is my job, and I effectively do get paid for it. That’s not why I do it… but all the best jobs are that way. Now the part that still has the kinks to work out is how the payscale is _completely_ uneven and unfair. Maybe your tax credit thing would even that some… I have no understanding of economics. But honestly, any job that allows me to teach and cook and sing and play and go for walks and sew…
    Ok, so helping a 2 year old in the bathroom is much more fun than a 90 year old. But the 2 year old’s the one I’ve got, so I’m happy. 😉

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