It happens each year like clockwork. May rolls around and in anticipation of Mother’s Day, someone calculates the monetary worth of a mother. Over the years, the figure has been all over the map. A post on MSN Money this year values moms at about $60,000. In past years, it has been twice that much.
But can anyone really put a dollar figure on a mother? Should we?
Okay, I get it. The purpose is to make families understand that being a mother takes skills and dedication, and that those efforts should not be taken for granted. We do it to compare mothers’ value in unpaid work to those of people in the paid workforce because employed workers are so often measured by the value of their paychecks. Mothering doesn’t earn a paycheck, even when mothers do bring home the bacon in their non-mothering capacities. We do it so that women who have been full-time mothers have something to use on a resume if they’ve been out of the paid workforce and they need specifics to point to in a job hunt. I know that I did.
We do it because being a mother is work, not the absence of work. Even our language fails to acknowledge it. (“What do you do?” “I am home full-time with my children.” “Oh, so you don’t work?”)
Monetizing mothers may make sense to businesses, but people are more than the sum of their skills. Just ask anyone who has a mother — or who wants one — what a mother is worth. Ask anyone who has lost their mother what she was worth in dollars and cents. Could she be realistically replaced for that amount of money?
I can’t help but think that putting a dollar figure on mothers misses the point. Work is work. Skills are skills. But what about the intangibles? Mothering is hard work, yes, but it’s also “heart” work. Employers can buy hard work but they can only hope that their employees put their hearts into their work, too.
For 18 years, I called myself a Home and Family Administrator. Like my stay-at-home peers, I ran my household and cared for my family. I did what needed to get done to make life happen on budget, on time and with the cooperation of disparate personalities. Then my daughter left for college and I was out of work. But I had skills. The moms I know can plan and execute an event on a budget. They’ve done it for birthday parties, volunteer events, fundraisers, and school activities. So likewise they can handle a professional event. They can plan and prepare for short- or long-term travel, as in family vacations, kids’ travel to and from college, and even for volunteer organizations. So of course they can handle business travel for themselves and for coworkers. Moms can coordinate a calendar for a slew of kids with conflicting activities, so surely they can handle an office calendar. Moms offer advice for their children’s daily challenges and settle disputes in and out of the family. They can also listen to a coworker’s professional challenge, or help coworkers settle disputes. Moms solve problems. It falls under other duties as required.
In short, they can do what needs to get done to make business life happen.
Mothers roll with the punches, learn something new every day, and multi-task. Mothers act in the best interest of the group when appropriate, and in the best interest of the individual when appropriate, and know when to differentiate between the two. We can change focus at the drop of a hat.
Those who monetize mothers’ work put a dollar value on being a cook, chauffeur, tutor, housekeeper, gardener and bookkeeper. But those duties don’t reflect a mother’s heart and soul. You can’t put a dollar figure on these things. They are the same intangibles that make someone in an office, a store, an assembly line or any other workplace someone you want to work with instead of someone you have to put up with until the end of the day.
If you could put a dollar figure on that, mothers would be the highest paid and most sought-after people in the workplace.