My husband would agree that I am every bit an equal contributor to our family. Maybe I don’t offer much in the way of finances, but there is more to running a household than providing money. In fact, the contribution of money is really not the most important thing when you factor in all the other things it takes to raise a family.
This isn’t to get into a debate about breast or bottle, but for myself I hated pumping and couldn’t have kept it up enough to have a supply for my child to last more than 6 months (if that). In fact, the only time I bothered to pump was in the first 6 weeks when my milk supply was still regulating itself and I had to express some of the milk just so that my nipple would fit into my baby’s tiny mouth.
Once they could latch on and drain the whole breast in one feeding, my pump collected dust in the cupboard. I also hate cleaning bottles, so breastfeeding exclusively for two years and never spending a dime on formula was at the top of my list of priorities. While breastfeeding might not be of value to some mothers, it is to others, and pumping and supplemental feeding is often a reality for moms who go back to work. I don’t even know how much formula costs or how much I would have to buy every week, but it’s for sure more than the zero dollars I spent breastfeeding, so I would say my contribution at home was equal to whatever monetary amount that comes to.
Sleep training was something I was very much against, but I also like sleep. My solution for at least the first four years of my children’s lives was to bed-share and nap during the day with them. I don’t think anyone can put a price on a well-rested parent, but it’s probably equal to the therapy bill my kids and husband would have had if I had been functioning without sleep for five years.
Consistent Childcare (even when the kids are sick)
I could count on my fingers how many times we’ve actually paid a babysitter. Most often we have family watch the kids every once in a while in the evening while we go out. During the day, I’m home with them. My husband can go in to work whenever he needs to, regardless of daycare hours. We can live life on our own time and our own schedule, only taking into consideration school hours.
When the kids get sick, I’m already home with them. We get to just roll over and go back to sleep, or not wake up early at all if I sent a notification to the school the night before. It’s my understanding that sick kids are sent home from daycare and you still have to pay for the days they aren’t there because it’s a flat monthly fee. So the value of not having to pay for backup daycare, the value of not having a panic attack trying to find someone able to take the sick kid, and the value of not having to tell a boss that I can’t make it to work because my kid was throwing up until 4 a.m. outweighs the value of dragging my tired ass into work after such a hellish night.
My firstborn started kindergarten this year, so naturally there are all kinds of fun events happening in his class of which they need parent volunteers. I also have a toddler, so I can’t go to all of them, but I do attend quite a few. My son’s eyes light up when he realizes I’m staying for the special reading time, art projects, or field trips. I get to share in my son’s learning experience and contribute much-needed help for the teacher. I would say the value of volunteering in the classroom is equivalent to how much I might be paid as a part-time teacher’s assistant, but the real value of sharing in that aspect of my child’s life has a much higher value both for me and for my son who will remember that I was there with him.
Last, there’s the overall upkeep of the home. We only have one vehicle, so I am without transportation during the day and can’t run errands, but everything that can be done at home is done by me for the most part. My husband doesn’t even know where we keep certain things because I’m the interior decorator and organizer. I switch out the seasonal wardrobes, vacuum behind the couch, find the lost objects that nobody else in my home is able to find, make sure there are clean clothes in the closet, and ensure that we have clean dishes to eat off of. I got into minimalism, and the only one who has time to purge our unneeded items is me. My husband would probably have to hire people to do all these things if I were to step off the curb and get hit by a bus tomorrow. But because I’m home he gets to leave those things to his capable partner and trust that the day to day running of the household will happen, even if he has to work late or go in on the weekend.
The bottom line is that a stay-at-home parent is just as equal a team member in the family as anyone making a financial contribution. There are all kinds of work that are valuable but don’t pay very much or at all. We need volunteers for non-profit charities and other organizations, we need people who are willing to clean up our messes in restaurants and hotels, and we need stay-at-home parents. Not everyone can afford daycare or even wants to put their kids into daycare. Some kids benefit more from having their parent at home and some kids do better with peers. Some moms choose to go back to work for work’s own sake, and some find more fulfillment at home with their children.
If we truly want equality, then we need to recognize the value in unpaid work and the important contributions of that unpaid work. I may not get paid to stay home with my kids, but in doing so I have contributed to our family as a whole, and my children will grow up knowing how important it is to look at contributions not in terms of how much money they make from it, but in how much it benefits their family and their community.