It’s a story that is all too common. A young mother who used to feel satisfied at work is convinced that it is more cost effective for her to stay at home full-time with her baby, since childcare will eat up much of her salary. But here’s the catch. The child belongs to both parents! So the cost of childcare should be subtracted from the total of both of their salaries. When you look at the equation that way, it is usually much more advantageous for the mom to keep working (if she wants to!) And for moms who want to stay home — more power to them.
But I’ve heard even the most iron-clad feminists tout patriarchal accounting as a reason for staying home with their kids, even though they may want to be working.
Working provides numerous benefits that may not have monetary value, and that stay at home mothers may not receive. Improved self-esteem, social contact, achievement of adult goals, health care coverage, alone time on a commute, heck, the expectation to wear clothes that don’t have schmutz all over them.
It’s unfair to demand that a mother’s salary exceed the cost of childcare, especially if the family needs high-quality child care in a big urban center, and especially if the mother is ambitious and does not want to be with children full-time. The benefits of her participation in productive work will only make her a better mother. I’ve seen too many brilliant women wilt from the under-stimulation of watching young children full-time. They hit the glass ceiling that is installed in their own house and take years to recover professionally.
Next time you hear a family complain that childcare costs are eating up the mother’s salary, (and therefore she should stay home) step back and look at the big picture of the whole family’s income and the whole family’s costs. It’s time to dismantle patriarchal accounting, one working mom at a time.