***My sisters and I are pleased to have a guest writer, Lisa Kaye here on The Kusi Life sharing a bit of happiness.
I’ve been a mother for just under a year now, and what an incredible year it’s been! So many things have changed since my little boy was born last summer—I’ve never been both so happy and so sleep deprived in my entire life.
I’m still getting used to many changes in my life, but there is one particular change I never expected—my response to this popular internet meme:
Back up a few decades. I was raised by a stay-at-home mom, and even back then being a full-time homemaker was a fading art; I knew significantly more moms who worked than who stayed home. Still, even as a child I recognized many benefits of my mom staying home. She always tried to give us every possible opportunity and spent every day ensuring that my brothers and I were active, educated, and most importantly, happy. Especially in hindsight, my life would have been drastically different if my mom had been gone all day at a job. I’m incredibly grateful to her for that sacrifice she made for me. I’m also grateful to my dad, whose hard work and perseverance in his career enabled my mom to be the stay-at-home mom she was.
Then I grew up and started planning for my future. I had lots of ideas for careers that ranged from a veterinarian to an astronaut, but all of these came and went depending on my latest passing fancy. “Do something you’re passionate about!” I was told over and over. The problem was that my so-called passions changed every other week…except one. I wanted to be a mother. I wanted to raise a family. I wanted to be like my own mom.
“You have to do more than that,” my friend told me once when I tried sharing my feelings. “It would be such a waste if you’re just a mom!” She wasn’t the only one with that attitude and I quickly learned what an unpopular choice mine was. I felt bombarded by the media, friends, even my high school counselor all telling me the same thing: being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t worth my time.
Everyone told me to follow my dreams…unless my dreams involved having a family, it seemed. I felt so confused and so pressured to find some dinky career that I just didn’t care about.
Even harder was going home after conversations like this and facing my own stay-at-home mom. According to the rest of the world, she had hardly any value. But how could that be? I was so grateful for her dedication to our family, so much that I wanted nothing more than to follow her example.
Then I found this meme (for lack of a better word; “memes” didn’t exist when I was in high school, but the idea was the same) that I thought changed everything. It listed the various roles of a stay-at-home mom as if they were professional careers—chef, maid, nurse, chauffer, referee, etc.—and listed their matching salaries. Combined, it showed that a stay-at-home mom’s annual “salary” would be upwards of $100,000.
I was thrilled and I thought of my own mom. “See! What she did for me was valuable! My dreams of being a mother are valuable—$100,000 valuable, to be precise.” So said this internet meme.
Fast forward a decade or so. I graduated college and got married, but as we were childless for a few years, I still felt great pressure to start a career, even if I planned to cut it short in the near future by starting a family. I looked and looked for a “big girl” job, as I called it, but nothing really struck my fancy. I just couldn’t picture myself being happy editing reports amid a sea of cubicles.
Then last summer my baby boy was born and my entire life changed. Yes, the amount of time I spent sleeping, showering, and privately using the bathroom drastically decreased. However, I immediately felt a sense of purpose that I had never experienced before. I’m finally making a difference and doing something worthwhile, and that knowledge strengthens me. The overwhelming joy and importance I feel make even the poopiest of diapers worth it every single time.
A few months ago I saw this meme pop up again, the one that calculates a stay-at-home mother’s salary. It circles the internet every few years and I’ve seen a number of variations, but this was the first I’d seen it since I myself became a mother.
This was that big moment of change I told you about. I used to find this meme very comforting, but that changed. For the first time I didn’t feel valued or justified or relieved.
I felt disgusted.
First, I realized this magical list isn’t unique to stay-at-home mothers. I know plenty of working mothers who also cook dinner, wash dishes, and help their kids with homework. Does that mean their value is still greater than mine, as they combine their professional salaries with this imaginary one?
Not to mention that I don’t do everything on this list. My son is too young to need a psychologist, homework tutor, or athletic trainer. I also don’t manage the technology or finances in our household—both are responsibilities of my husband (and goodness am I grateful he handles those!). My “salary” is suddenly slashed quite significantly.
But that wasn’t what irked me the most. Suddenly my “value” as a stay-at-home mother was defined for me by that horrible little $ sign. Yes, I do most of the things on that list, but I hated the idea that my service to my family suddenly was limited to a monetary value.
For example, I make a weekly dinner menu and (usually) stick to it. I pack up my baby and his diaper bag in the car and drive to the grocery store. I wrap that little guy in my own sweatshirt when it’s windy as I hightail it into the store so he doesn’t get cold. I check the food labels to make sure we’re eating healthy. I check the price tags too. I make several trips from my car into the house to get everything inside…the baby first, of course.
After his afternoon nap, I balance him on my hip and do as many one-handed things as I can before I set him on the floor to play. I stir the noodles in the pot. I set the table. I pour the sauce into the mixing bowl. I microwave the baby’s pureed vegetables while I open cans—I pureed and froze those vegetables myself last week. I put him in his high chair and feed him bites of peas and carrots in between layering the lasagna in the pan. I sing songs and make airplane noises. I clean his hands, because he’s always grabbing everything. I clean his head and ears too again.
I listen for the garage door to open. I kiss my husband when he walks in the door and I smile because the baby is so excited to see his daddy. We sit down together to eat. I give the baby drinks from his sippy cup or put Cheerios in his mouth between my own bites—eating my own dinner cold isn’t unheard of if the baby needs extra attention. And every few days I sweep up all the Cheerios that end up on the floor instead of in his mouth. My husband usually clears the dishes afterward and I load the dishwasher later before we go to bed.
This meme boiled all of that down into one word: Chef—$28/hr.
That’s it. According to this, I’m nothing more than my son’s hired help—his chook, his housekeeper, his employee.
And what about the days that lovely little routine doesn’t happen? What about the days when my husband walks in the door and I’m frantically rushing to throw something, anything together because I didn’t have time to go to the store because the baby’s nap schedule was thrown off and he was cranky all afternoon? What about the days when I just don’t have the energy and we go for fast food or dig through the freezer for those cheap frozen burritos? What about the days when the baby is teething and crying and I’m so overwhelmed that our dinner is late or burned or simply nonexistent? Does my value as a “chef” go down to $0 on those days?
Like I said, yes, I do a lot of the things on that list. But I also do more. Where is the “salary” equivalent of cuddling my baby to sleep? I also kiss his face—all day, every day, and I pray he never gets too old for it. I play peek-a-boo over and over and over because I love more than anything to hear him giggle.
I worry and fret about sharp corners on furniture, gaps between railings, and cords in outlets. I wish and pray I could take away my baby’s pain when he’s sick or has bonked his head, but instead I just hold him close. I take him on walks because he loves to sit up and see everything he can in the world, and because we both need the fresh air.
I feed him breakfast first thing every morning before I even think about breakfast for myself. I check on him in his crib before I go to bed and I cover his little hands with the blanket so they stay warm. I snuggle him close when he’s crying. I’m overjoyed for him when he learns something new, like how to roll over or how to pull himself up to the furniture. My heart breaks a little every time one of his new skills replaces an old, adorable quirk that I know I’ll never see again.
I sing him songs. I stay up until the wee hours of the morning when he’s crying and can’t sleep. I take him to the doctor and cry with him when they stick his poor little thighs with shots, and then I comfort him afterward. Later, I wash the band-aids off in warm water as gently as I can so I don’t have to rip them off—ouch. I sit on the floor to play with him even when it hurts my back. I read him stories. I tickle him to make him laugh. I let him pull on my sweatshirt strings because he thinks that’s so much fun. I love that little boy—oh, how I absolutely love him.
How do you calculate my “salary” for those things? You can’t.
Heaven knows I didn’t choose to become a mom because it was a popular choice. And I certainly didn’t become a mom for the paycheck or the recognition.
I became a mom so I could experience the most sacred form of love known to mankind. I became a mom so I could share and bond with my husband in a way we’d never bonded before, so we could unite in raising this child together. I became a mom to better myself, to give the very best of me to another human being. I became a mom to give my life meaning, so that on my death bed I can look back at my life and see value beyond just money.
I became a mom and my life is forever changed for the better because of it. Yes, there are long days and even longer nights. There is also the greatest and most profound love I’ve ever known. There is also happiness and peace in caring for my adorable little boy. I wouldn’t change a single thing.
I love this quote from Jeffrey R. Holland – HERE is a link for your own 5×7 printable. We like to just print it up at Costco in the photo center. (Dropbox will ask you if you would like to make an account, you can just click “no thanks” and it will take you right to the file to download).
Being a mother is so worth it, and I cherish every moment.
What is one of your most favorite things about being a mother?
See the Happy!
Lisa, you were beautiful then and you are beautiful now. And so SO right! Enjoy this journey. It just keeps getting better. Love you (and your terrific mom)!
Beautiful thoughts that I have to continure to remind myself on those days that I feel so unaccomplished because I give my time to my children. Thanks for sharing Lisa.