When my credit card bill came in last spring, I died a little inside. It was huge—way higher than usual—and I felt my stomach turn over slightly as I stared at the figure at the bottom of the page. Ugh, seriously? I hate bills and dealing with money and adult responsibility in general. The guttural moan I let out while tossing the bill back onto my desk was only a tiny bit dramatic, I swear.
No, I hadn’t gone on a massive shopping spree or paid for a trip overseas—I wish that were the case. Instead, I had racked up a killer Visa bill paying for two months of summer camp for my children, who apparently cannot be left to fend for themselves when school is out of session.
My kids are young, and because I love them, I arrange for childcare in lieu of abandoning them on school holidays. In my particular region, day camp costs about $225 a week per child (without extended care). Daycare is about the same. School break in the summer is roughly eight weeks long, but my husband and I took two weeks off. That leaves six weeks to cover each year with paid childcare that is safe, convenient, and offers a positive experience. No worries, right?
So last spring, I researched options, got recommendations from friends and other moms in the community, made a schedule and dropped several thousand dollars in camp fees. Bring on summer!
(Sidenote: In a society as evolved (yet imperfect) as this, do we really not have more affordable childcare options? And why is school out for eight consecutive weeks?!)
I thought camp fees and out-dated academic schedules were enough to make me lose my damn mind, but nope, there’s another challenge:
Defending My Worth Outside The Home
I’m a parent and a gainfully employed human being. My husband is the same. And yet, in the eyes of more people than I could ever imagine, we aren’t equal. Our responsibilities at home and at work aren’t given equal weight, and I will forever be viewed as “choosing” to work while my husband simply has a job.
As a feminist, I’m not shocked by this phenomenon. This isn’t a new struggle. I understand that I’ll be viewed as a mother first, and a writer/career person second. My husband is assumed to be the breadwinner while any work I do is apparently a bonus. Look at me with my cute little job, helping out! My husband, on the other hand, will be applauded for any basic parenting he does (look how cute HE is, helping out). The world is a strange place.
On PA days or when one of the kids is sick, it’s assumed that I’ll be the one to stay home while my husband goes to work. In reality, we take turns—though my husband is essentially offered Sainthood any time he parents. And then, it gets worse.
I was speaking to a family member about the cost of summer camp when she dropped a bomb. “Is it even worth it for you to work?”
I was taken aback. Then heard the question again, from different friends and relatives. Each time, I gave a dismissive response that ended the conversation. But the message stayed with me.
“Was it worth it for me, as a woman and a mother, to work outside the home?”
On what level do you mean?
Financially? Well, yes. I earn enough income to cover the cost of childcare and still contribute to my household. It’s money that goes toward our family—the same type of money my husband makes at his job. We even fall into the same income bracket. So why isn’t anyone suggesting that he stay home? Why is it inherently “worth it” for him to work, while I have to prove my value in the same regard?
Emotionally? This one is hard to answer because mom guilt is real and it sucks. I love my kids more than anything in the world, and I miss them when we’re apart. But I’m still their mom. Our love and bond is strong. I make breakfast in the morning. I encourage and advocate for them, take them to activities, kiss scraped knees, and mediate sibling-battles. I listen to their child-musings on the characteristics of the unicorn and lie in bed with them until they fall asleep. I go to them in the night when they’ve had a nightmare or need to pee (the bathroom hallway is scary and requires hand-holding). My husband does all of these things too, of course. We have two kids, so there’s plenty of parenting to go around. So yes, we love them and want to be with them, but we also like our jobs. And, you know, financial security.
And what about my career?
It existed before I had young children, and it will exist when my children are grown up. I love what I do, and I can’t imagine giving it up completely. That’s not to say that every mom (or dad) should work. Stay-at-home parents are incredible, just as work-outside-the-home parents are. We’re all living with joys and challenges unique to our families.
So is it worth it for me to work? Yes, of course, it is. It’s what I want, and what my family needs. Like every woman or man, I’m a human being with skills and interests and aspirations. I have dreams for my children and dreams for my career, and they aren’t mutually exclusive. The only real issue is how I have to defend my life while my husband simply lives his.