I Asked My Partner For A Stay-At-Home Mom Salary & Here's What Happened
After being a stay-at-home parent for the past two and a half years, I can attest to the reality that it's one of the most demanding jobs in the history of the entire world. On any given day, I'm responsible for every detail of another human’s life, often putting my own needs off until I forget to do things like shower and feed myself. Obviously that's not to say that stay-at-home parents are the only ones who put in work — all parents have a tough job, whether they work or stay home — but when you do stay home, there’s no separation of “work” and “home” because, frankly, you're always doing both. (It's also not like I'm getting paid a salary for being a stay-at-home mom.) Even though I don’t commute and have no supervisor to answer to, I hardly get a break and often experience the same uncomfortable fight-or-flight emotions I used to get when dealing with difficult customers, except mine is a blabbering toddler with a limited rational thought process, who also happens to be my very own direct descendent.
My days as a stay-at-home mom begin at the crack of dawn when my toddler sticks her face in mine and relentlessly asks, “Can I play? Can I play? Can I play now? Get up! Get up! Mom, get uuuuup!” I negotiate outfit choices, wipe her bottom, brush her teeth, beg her to use the potty, comb her hair, and whip up her breakfast in the first half hour before I even take a sip of my coffee. This ain’t no easy gig, so after being deep in the trenches for almost three years, I thought it was about time to ask my partner to pay me. Just kidding. But I did ask him what he’d pay me if he could.
Out of curiosity, and secretly looking for validation in my job, I asked my partner what salary he would give me if he could pay me to stay home with our kid. I wanted to know what monetary value my services rendered, and if that, at all, would translate to a well-paying, sustainable wage that reflected the backbreaking work and quick thinking it takes to wrangle a kid around day and night.
It sounds like a decent chunk of change for clothing, feeding, and stimulating a kid, but if I’m being honest, the wage doesn’t do the job justice.
I went straight to the source, and sent my partner a quick email asking the seemingly simple question: “If you could give me a salary, how much would it be and why?” I knew that he was considering his answer carefully, especially since I didn’t receive a straightforward, numerical response for a few days.
Eager for a direct answer, I raised the same question a few days later and even suggested that he break down all my services on a spreadsheet and calculate how much I’m worth. So there we were: me slowly sipping on my coffee while he typed away my monetary value on a spreadsheet on a bright Sunday morning. After a good 20 minutes of watching him thoughtfully calculate expenses, my partner finally handed over the laptop and highlighted a sum:
There it was, down to the penny, an annual salary of $101,713.78 (before taxes and benefits, of course). Most of his hourly compensation rates came from averages reported on PayScale. He even showed me how to adjust the cost of some of my services, indicating that he would hate for me to be offended and that I was worth as much as I think I am, and free to change up the sum as I felt necessary. This salary was hypothetical, anyways.
My initial reaction was deadpan, dare I say, unimpressed with the total. Don’t get me wrong, I was very thankful that my partner sat down and calculated everything, and pretty much told me that it was really up to me how much (or little) I wanted to make in this hypothetical salary negotiation. Given that my annual salary as a stay-at-home-parent reached six figures, how the hell could I feel almost indifferent at a salary that takes years, even lifetimes, to earn? It’s partly because I did a little research and discovered I could be making a bit more, but it’s mostly because I felt, 1) worth more, and 2) bummed out. Regardless of what I thought I should make, the truth is, that money would never be coming into my pockets.
I know I'm never going to be able to stick my mothering on a resume and negotiate for killer salaries for my experience elsewhere.
What other benefits come with the job? Can I start a 401(k) so I don't have to stress out about retirement? Do I get robust medical, dental, and vision that extends to my kids, the very people I work for?
The bulk of my time as a stay-at-home parent is spent, you guessed it, childrearing. My partner calculated my work as full-time childcare provider at a compensation of $13/hour, which alone is roughly over $2,000 a month. It sounds like a decent chunk of change for clothing, feeding, and stimulating a kid, but if I’m being honest, the wage doesn’t do the job justice. Sure, some moments are spent peacefully frolicking through local parks, which sounds like a day off. But a lot of time is spent juggling through the logistics of getting to the park, timing park trips when your kid is manageable, calculating the correct amount of diapers and snacks to the park, getting your kid to cooperate as you strap her into the stroller/carseat/carrier, and making sure your kid doesn’t steal another kid’s toys in the sandbox (because that could be deducted from your salary).
There’s also the added stress of disciplining, managing the unpredictable influx of raging toddler emotions, and quick thinking when a time-sensitive crisis presents itself (read: poop explosions). Childrearing is a stressful occupation, even when everything is going well and the kids are cooperating, so I think this wage should be bumped up a tad more to reflect the creative thinking and problem solving it takes to keep everyone happy.
Around The House
In a normal eight-hour shift, one would hope that their breaks and lunch are reserved for, well, exactly that — breaks and lunch. However, in the around-the-clock occupation as stay-at-home parent, breaks are spent cooking for the lunch, and lunch is spent cleaning after the prior breaks and lunches. Cleaning and cooking comprise so much of the “free time” I get when my kid is consumed in solitary play or nap time, so it’s definitely not surprising to see that these duties make up some of my salary. I do think two hours a day for each duty is modest since some days I do more, like on laundry day, but that's a roughly accurate calculation considering that at least one day a week IDGAF and let dishes and dirty clothes sit a little longer.
Even though I have a clearer picture of how much I was "worth," I’m left to wonder if stay-at-home parents are valued as such in reality.
My partner compensated me for cleaning and cooking at about $11 and $14 an hour, respectively. I think all things considered, these seem like fair wages because at least I get paid for cleaning and cooking in addition to my childrearing services.
Other Odd Jobs
What do I do when I’m not wiping butts or cooking dinner? (Obviously not at the same time.) Sometimes I offer healthcare services by administering medicine to my kid when she has sudden fever, which makes me an attentive nurse. Other times, when my partner has assignments due for his Master’s program, I’m sitting in front of a laptop fine-tuning his work before he submits it. You can call me a badass editor. Oftentimes, I have to drive to the store past bedtime to buy milk and eggs. Call me an Uber driver, or an Instacart shopper, or whatever it is, because I’m that too.
Having these roles on the spreadsheet made me feel especially validated. I realize that I do a ton of tasks that can be monetized on a daily basis, even when it feels as though my biggest accomplishment some days is changing my toddler out of her pajamas. (Which, BTW, can I charge for impromptu wrestling matches? Perhaps animal training?)
Let’s pretend that this job is non-exempt, and I get to clock in overtime hours! Do you even know how much I'd make if that was the case? Let’s face it, parents are on call every single damn moment, and we sure as hell don’t see a sick day, so we better get paid for our overtime hours. I was shocked to see that I clock in a whopping 54 hours of overtime a week, but it made sense when I took a closer look and realized that I get paid for my services on nights and weekends. Multiply those hours by the standard time and a half, and I get $918 per week. Needless to say, I was so incredibly ecstatic that I get recognized for the extra hours that I'm on, even if it’s sometimes against my will.
Kids Are A Hefty Investment
I had mixed feelings coming out of this little experiment, because even though I have a clearer picture of how much I was "worth," I’m left to wonder if stay-at-home parents are valued as such in reality. Now that I can put a rough estimate on the costs of caring for my kid full-time, I feel both validated and under-appreciated, because I know I'm never going to be able to stick my mothering on a resume and negotiate for killer salaries for my experience elsewhere. Furthermore, if we are considering being a stay-at-home parent as full-time employment, I’m curious as to what other benefits come with the job? Can I start a 401(k) so I don't have to stress out about retirement? Do I get robust medical, dental, and vision that extends to my kids, the very people I work for? I can go on and on about how I think society at large, and the government, should view children as an investment and offer programs like free universal quality childcare and other incentives for procreating, but that’s a whole different article.
I’m grateful that my partner values the work I do at home highly, and I love that he included overtime, and even told me I could adjust my rates if I felt like it. I take away from this experiment the realization that even though I will never earn the theoretical $118,000 it takes to raise my kid (plus more if she decides to take longer to leave the nest), which Time calculated, she is an investment. She’s one hell of a grueling investment, but if I play my cards right and do the best job at this parenting thing, she might just be a pleasant addition to humanity on this earth. Besides, all of the impromptu kisses, cuddle sessions, story times, and even tears and reaching those difficult developmental milestones (potty-training, I’m talking about you!), are things you can never put a price tag on. My kid is only only 2 and half, but I knew she was worth it from day one.