Stay-at-home parents work up to 126 hours a week. Their labor is valuable even without a paycheck.

Stay-at-home parents work up to 126 hours a week. Their labor is valuable even without a paycheck.

A mother’s time is not ‘free’ — and they put in 126-hour workweeks

If you were to pay a stay-at-home mom or dad for their time, it would cost nearly $200,000 a year.

Both of my kids were breastfed. I nursed each one for over a year. One of them rejected the bottle so formula wasn’t even an option. I don’t regret any of this. What I regret, is buying into the notion that breastfeeding was free.

“Look how much money I’m saving by not buying formula,” I said to myself at the time. “Wow, I’m saving money on bottles too.”

No, actually, I wasn’t. Breastfeeding is only free if you buy into the false notion that a mother’s time has no monetary value. That happens to mothers all the time, especially stay-at-home mothers. But a stay-at-home parent’s time is not worthless, in fact, the opposite is true.

In our area, full-time child care givers and household assistants working for a private family can charge as much as $35 an hour. But let’s be conservative and work with the $30 an hour wage. Multiply that by 40 hours a week, and 52 weeks a year — because many care givers receive vacation time too, and that’s a salary of $62,400 a year.

I’ve never met a stay-at-home parent who has an 8-hour day. They are much more likely to be on-call for 18-hour days, 7 days a week, putting in a grand total of a 126-hour workweek. Yes, I said work, because that’s what they are doing — working. If you were to pay a stay-at-home mom or dad for that time, it would cost $196,560 a year.

Stay-at-home parents provide unpaid labor for their communities too. They are often the first people schools reach out to when help is needed to chaperone field trips, volunteer for recess duty or serve on committees. But I don’t mean to only talk about stay-at-home parents because working-outside-of-the home parents do unpaid labor too, and that needs to be acknowledged.

When my kids were babies my husband used to work all day at his demanding job and then come home, do bath time with them, rock them to sleep and then wake up in the middle of the night and rock them to sleep again so I could rest. All new moms deserve that. But think of how expensive it would be if we had hired a night-nanny. We wouldn’t have been able to afford it. My husband was putting in a second shift of highly valuable unpaid labor.

Grandparents often pitch in too, and we’ve especially seen that the past two years during the pandemic. Some grandparents even took on the unpaid job of supervising virtual schooling — at great risk to their personal health in a pre-vaccine world — to help their children and grandchildren.

High quality childcare does’t come cheap, even when it’s free.

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at teachingmybabytoread@gmail.com.

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