Claiming your value

Opinion: Columns

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By Melissa Ford

Coach - Personal & Business

I was a stay-at-home mom, raising two children while volunteering for PTO programs and community projects. When it came to my contributions as mother and household manager, there was no overtime pay, paid vacations or weekends off. I never received a raise or holiday bonus or an Employee of the Month parking space.

My truth? Choosing full-time motherhood over a career, at times, bothered me.

I'm not here to argue the merits of staying at home to raise children versus pulling off the same miracle while holding another job. Either has its pros and cons.

So what was my problem? Wasn't I fortunate to have the luxury of being at home?

Sadly, it didn't always feel that way because every once in a while I'd get that niggling feeling that my efforts weren't enough. It didn't matter how much I accomplished during the day, how many children I fed and comforted or the number of volunteer projects I checked off my lists. Perplexed by this unease and daring to look deeper, I discovered the thing I feared:

I wasn't enough.

Without even knowing it, I was doubting my value, my worth, simply because I wasn't producing an income. Ugh.

I would try to hide it, that feeling of less than. Sometimes I'd find myself embarrassed, even apologetic, because I wasn't contributing cold hard cash to the family coffers. Often my contributions were intangible, hard to quantify monetarily.

When I broke the silence, admitting these doubts to other mothers, whether they stayed at home or worked full or part-time, I realized I was not alone. This lack of worth issue ran rampant.

Then along came the book The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued by Ann Crittenden, an award-winning economics journalist. Crittenden confirmed my fear:

Our culture undervalued motherhood, and not just the stay-at-home kind.

No longer hiding my feelings of shame, I became justifiably angry, a victim of society's diminished view of women's contributions within the family. I had society to blame for undervaluing my efforts.

Or did I?

I ranted and raved. Of course, nothing changed. Victimhood is never empowering. Ever. But I learned it wasn't society's judgments which caused my low self-esteem; it was my belief that my value was determined by an external measure. Money.

It was time to change that measure by looking inside rather than out.

Over the years, I chiseled away at this mindset. I'd catch myself feeling inadequate and remind myself about my contributions. I'd feel better. Those feelings would cycle around again and I'd shift my perspective.

It became easier.

A few months ago, my son turned 24. A man. Home for a short visit, he wanted to talk. Thrilled to listen and fully focused, I heard his views on life, work, happiness, his accomplishments and concerns.

Then it hit me.

All those years of love and patience, fear and frustration, caring and support were worthwhile. In fact, they were priceless. With new eyes, I saw my part in helping my son transform into a loving, thoughtful, capable young man with opinions of his own, desires of his own, a life of his own.

My value was there every day. Yours is, too.

Claim it.


Reader Comments

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Posted: July 5th, 2013 4:18 PM

I'm a SAHD (by choice) and am always interested in this discussion when it comes up. So many moms struggle with the work/home choice. Most of the SAHDs I know do not, but I think it's because we're fighting the gender issue as the at-home parent. We're too busy showing how capable we are to even question if it's worthy. That part was a no brainer for most of us.

Auden from River Forest  

Posted: July 5th, 2013 2:16 PM

I want to add that I don't mean to disparage the work they perform - just trying to pinpoint the source of anxiety/insecurity that I see in my own mother. Another factor is that for better or worse, $ counts for a lot in our society. It IS a luxury to not work when you have decent income potential. Maybe one way to demonstrate how much we value SAHMs would be to actually compensate them for the "volunteer" work they do, which our schools and communities truly depend on.

Auden from River Forest  

Posted: July 5th, 2013 2:09 PM

I agree that SAHMs provide many intangible benefits to a home/community. My mom never returned to work, & still performs vital tasks for our family (incl. aging parents & adult kids) that nobody else has time for. I think that feelings of insecurity stem from the fact that many SAHMs in places like OP/RF are vastly overqualified. You don't need a BA to manage bills, do errands, or organize a bake sale - let alone an MBA/JD.

Pam from Oak Park  

Posted: July 5th, 2013 12:53 PM

Your article reminded me of a conversation a couple of months ago with my 20 yr.old son. He was taking a college Ecoomics class and explained to me how important unpaid at home household and childcare was to the G.N.P. and our value as a country. Made me think maybe the next generation of males is "getting it" and will appreciate the value of these roles more.

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