What is motherhood really worth?
If you’ve been on Facebook around Mother’s Day, or spent any time at all reading mom blogs, you’ll have seen numerous articles about how much real money a mom is worth. You know the ones. They add up the yearly wages of chauffeur, chef, daycare provider, psychologist, nurse, etc., and that’s how much you’re really worth, Mom! This past Mother’s Day, there was a very sneaky bit of advertising wrapped up in a video about how motherhood is “the hardest job in the world” and pays nothing. Nothing at all. (And now that you’re feeling guilty, kids, you need to fork over your whole allowance to buy an amazing gift for that completely unappreciated mom in your life!)
Eh. Maybe motherhood is that hard, maybe it isn’t. What I’m more concerned about is what it says about our society that we mothers so need our value to be defined in dollars and cents and hours “worked” that, instead of being ignored as the irrelevancies that they are, these things get passed around like a cold virus in a mid-winter Sunday School class. These articles, infographics, and videos all play to our desire to be appreciated, not by our own immediate families, but by the Joneses. It’s not our children or husbands that we’re aiming at when we repost these things. We know they love us. We know they know how much they need us. It’s distant relatives, friends, and even strangers that we’re trying to convince. We look at the wider world and beg “Please, appreciate us! Look how much we do! Look how much money we’re worth!”
What motivates you as a mother? I can tell you what motivates me, and it’s the blossoming of my children under my care. I know I’m not alone in that. Nobody really measures that relationship in cash. It’s when we turn our faces from the people who make us mothers, and stare into the faces of strangers that we suddenly we feel the need to justify ourselves in terms of dollars and cents.
If we had any sense of our own real value, we’d find these memes insulting, not inspiring.
Think about it for a moment. Is a prostitute more valuable to a john than you are to your own husband, just because money changes hands? Do you measure that intimate relationship in terms of dollars per transaction? No? Then why try to measure something as priceless as motherhood in currency? Why do we think that being able to put a dollar amount on those things we do makes us seem more valuable, rather than less? All of the things that we can pay–are, in fact, encouraged to pay–other people to do for our children do not add up to our true worth. There is an insidious strain of thought in our culture that serves to separate us from our most important work–that of raising our children–by making all other jobs but motherhood out to be fairly compensated. If you cheapen motherhood, you cheapen the people mothers serve, as well, and the Enemy knows that quite well, so he does everything he can to make mothers look elsewhere for their sense of self-worth.
If you’ve been here for a while, or if you’ve read my ebook, you’ll be familiar with my story about the second grade teacher who taught me that “mother” is not something worth aspiring to. I suspect that the reason we’re all so desperate to prove our cash value is that, like little Cindy long ago, we’ve been taught that the only way to be a grown-up is to bring home a paycheck. Further, I suspect that the reason we’ve been taught that a paycheck equates to usefulness, and the reason that government schools love feminism so much, is because government schools are tax-supported, and you can’t tax mere motherhood. You can only tax income.
And so, from our earliest grade-school lessons, income has become the only value we know how to assign people.
The trouble with the dollar value model of measuring motherhood is that you can’t pay a chauffeur to have a heart-to-heart in the car about the way the rest of the girls treated your daughter after dance class. You can’t pay a daycare worker to look lovingly into your baby’s eyes and tell him he’s still loved while she cleans up the accident that so embarrassed him. You can’t pay a housekeeper to pray over the people to whom the house she’s cleaning belongs.
You can pay people to do the physical act of care-giving, but you can’t pay people to love your children while they do it.
We women have outsourced so much of our physical labor, and not just as mothers, but as daughters, neighbors, and church family, that society has lost its understanding of our spiritual value as care-givers. Most people in our culture in this neglected generation haven’t often felt the difference between care administered for pay and care administered out of love and concern for the well-being of the recipient. We’ve gotten used to being “served” in any number of intimate ways by people who don’t really care a hill of beans about our spiritual condition. But we are people, not machines. We need to be served, not serviced. On a gut level it will always matter to our children whether the people around them would still care if they weren’t paid to.
Motherhood isn’t cheap. It costs us everything we have sometimes, doesn’t it? But it is free! And we do ourselves no favor when we encourage others to view it as a merely financial transaction. To assign a dollar value to what we give daily as mothers only cheapens the relationship. It’s time we reject these cheap, manipulative demands for cultural validation and instead learn to respect the sanctity of our unpaid, often difficult, even lonely, but indispensable and invaluable private duties to our families.