Steven Nelms recently posted an article to We Are Glory titled, “Fathers, you can’t afford a Stay-At-Home-Mom,” in which he outlines something that needs to be discussed more often: Stay-at-home moms work. What stay-at-home moms do all day is impressive, to say the least. The work they do is hard and time-consuming, and, if they were being paid for their services, they would be hella expensive. So expensive, in fact, that most people wouldn’t be able to hire them. (Throughout his essay, Nelms writes specifically about wives and mothers, but it's important to note that his points would be equally true for stay-at-home dads. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that this piece is gendered in this way to reflect his own experiences, and not as a statement about some feeling he holds that only women act in this role.)
Nelms is the father of a two-year-old boy. His wife, Gloriana, stays at home with their son; Nelms told the Independent Journal Review that, after their son’s birth, it didn’t make financial sense for her to go back to work. As with many families, the cost of childcare would have been as high or more than her salary. In his essay, Nelms breaks down what it would actually cost for him to hire someone to do what his wife does. His conclusion? He’d never be able to afford her. He writes,
In our day and age, every service (and I mean EVERY service) is hirable. There is a company ready and willing to do just about anything. So while, yes, my wife is my son’s mother and it is a natural result of being a parent to love and care for your own child, there is also a very quantifiable dollar amount that can be attributed to the services rendered.
Here’s how Nelms breaks down how he came to arrive at his wife's would-be salary (He notes that these numbers are based on actual professional rates for these services):
- Full-time Nanny: $36,660 /year
- Twice-weekly Cleaning: $5200 / year
- Personal Shopper (Groceries and other needs): $13,520 /year
- Personal Chef (3 meals/week): $12,480 /year
- Personal Finance Services, Partnering at Business Events, Weekly Laundry: $ 6,100 /year
Total: $73,960 /year
One thing I like about this essay is the way that Nelms highlights how being a stay-at-home parent, and doing work that isn’t paid, can warp one’s sense of worth. Our society often doesn’t value the work of parenting as work because it doesn’t take place in a professional setting, it doesn't bring in a salary, and so on. But this attitude can leave stay-at-home parents (and their partners, sadly) with the misconception that, because they don’t get paid, what they do doesn't count. As Nelms writes,
[L]et’s be real. Pay day feels good for a reason. Because you’re seeing your hard work appreciated in a tangible way that lets you “treat yo self”.
He describes how this attitude can create a tricky dynamic in relationships, when one partner is contributing cold, hard cash to the family, and the other is contributing harder-to-quantify labor. He writes,
My wife sometimes feels patronized when I ask her permission to buy something for myself. She feels like it’s my money and my name on the paycheck so I shouldn’t have to ask permission to get myself something every once in a while. The truth is, I’m ashamed of any time I’ve ever made her feel guilty or humored when she’s purchased something for herself. I’m ashamed that she has ever felt like she doesn’t have just as much right to our income as I do. The fact of the matter is that our income doesn’t even come close to covering what she does for our family.
Although we can't, of course, can’t put a price on the value of parental love, seeing the numbers laid out clearly, to show what it would actually cost to have another person do the work they do, may help many stay-at-home parents (and their working partners) have a better sense of what their contributions are actually worth to their families. Good on you, Mr. Nelms.
Image: Lindsey Turner/Flickr; Giphy