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  • My family budget has a line item for my income: my paid work as a writer, and my unpaid work as a mom.
  • This budgeting strategy gives my unpaid labor value — it recognizes that I work 12-14 hours a day.
  • That’s why I cringe when I hear moms like me referred to as “gently” employed.

This essay is part of “Home Ec: The Economics of Stay-at-home Parenting,” a series from Personal Finance Insider about the financial reality of staying home with your kids.

My husband and I have a budget for our family of three, soon to be four. My husband’s pay appears under “income,” and so does mine. My husband gets one line item, for his salary, and I get two: one for my part-time paid work, and another for the thousands of dollars we save every month through my full-time, unpaid labor as a stay-at-home mom. 

This unpaid labor balances out in the expense column, so there’s no positive cash flow from it, but it appears on the budget anyway.

Based on my conversations with other parents, it’s unusual for a stay-at-home parent to see their monetary value represented on the family budget. But about one in five US parents stay at home, according to the Pew Research Center, and these parents deserve to have their financial contributions fully acknowledged.

I chose to stay home and freelance rather than work full-time and spend most of that money on childcare

In my case, I was employed full-time until my son was born, but I balked at the prohibitive cost of daycare, nannies, and even nanny shares. And I’m not alone. According to McKinsey, for 80% of families, childcare exceeds the recommended affordability level set by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

As it turned out, my take-home pay after childcare would be comparable to my potential earnings as a freelancer, so I chose to stay home and freelance. Our bottom line would be the same whether I returned to the office full-time or not; other families find themselves in a similar situation

My workday lasts around 12-14 hours, most of which consists of raising a rambunctious 3-year-old. That includes all the tasks we’d expect from a daycare or a nanny with regards to education, skill development, basic behavioral training, exercise, meal prep, feeding, cleaning, safety, and healthcare.

I’m also a journalist, so I work on my assignments during my son’s nap, which doesn’t necessarily happen at his age, or I manage to work while he makes noise in the background or, frustratingly, the foreground. 

The work I do now would have more value if I were a nanny for someone else’s kids

It’s not an easy workday, and yet some people refer to parents like me as “gently employed.” If stay-at-home parents spoke up more about our monetary value, we might be more accurately seen as aggressively employed. 

If I were a nanny for another family and used that paycheck to have someone else care for my child, the monetary value of my childcare labor would be widely recognized by society. And yet, stay-at-home parents who perform the exact same labor in their own homes often don’t get that recognition. 

Salary.com estimated that if stay-at-home parents earned an annual salary for all the jobs they performed on a daily basis in 2020 and 2021, the median would exceed $184,000. This figure assumes the outsourcing of an array of high-cost services — including a chief operating officer, event planner, private driver, and kitchen manager, to name a few — but it makes a point regardless. 

This figure also rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought about the Marshall Plan for Moms. This campaign was created by the nonprofit Girls Who Code to improve workplaces for moms; change how we value motherhood; and increase access to childcare, paid leave, and direct payments to mothers from the government.

Many argue there was a childcare crisis in this country well before the pandemic, which shone a light on the issue when so many parents were forced to pull their kids from schools and daycares and become stay-at-home parents, at least temporarily. 

I think stay-at-home parents’ labor needs to be recognized for the financial value it provides

Stay-at-home parents often become financially invisible for “not bringing in any money” or “not having real jobs.” This rhetoric is not just misleading and inaccurate, but it pours fuel on the fire of what some people call the Mommy Wars, the unfortunate term for the perceived animosity between mothers who work primarily outside versus inside the home. That dichotomy doesn’t even include parents like myself, who have managed to strike a balance, bringing in some money and sustaining their careers as best they can without paying for childcare. 

I’m a member of probably too many Facebook mom groups, and sometimes tempers flare over the choice to work outside or inside the home. One person may comment on the “luxury” of “not working” as a stay-at-home parent, when in fact they don’t know anything about that person’s full-time or part-time earning power, access to benefits and leave, cost of daycare (which varies wildly based on location and quality), or even how many children they have and whether those children have special needs that affect the cost and time commitment of childcare. 

Maybe the judgments would subside if we spoke up more about the monetary value of unpaid childcare, starting at home with our personal budgets. 



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