Dear Stay-at-Home Moms: Your Worth Doesn't Come From a Dollar Sign
So the other day, my husband got some exciting career news. Like, super-exciting, next-rung-on-the-career-ladder type news. I was sitting in the car with him as he got it, and I was immediately hit with the usual feelings of pride and happiness.
I was also hit with swirling, pulsating envy, and it made me feel like a complete dick.
For a few seconds, I felt like the worst person on earth, and then I decided that it wasn’t going to help anyone to simply sit and beat myself up. So, as I tend to do more times than is probably healthy, I thought about where this whole sulky jealousy thing was coming from. After all, this career advancement would be good for me, too, right? We’re a team. I’ve helped by keeping screaming children out of his way and only whining a little when he goes out of town on important business trips. This should be my victory, too, right?
Except, for some of us, it doesn’t always feel that way.
Let’s be real here: we live in a world where your worth as a person is assumed equal to your worth in commas and zeroes. The more you make, the more people take you seriously, even if you “make” that money by simply being born or by sitting around farting in a plush office chair four hours a day. We judge by whether or not people have benefits, financial freedom, and stock options. Anything that’s outside of that is weird and subject to scrutiny, and staying at home with children or working for yourself are both pretty weird according to this definition.
So we often get assigned a worth of zero. And in net worth, that’s true. In all honesty, 100% truth, I do not make money from NYAM. I hope to someday, but at the moment, to most people, I’m just a housewife with a cute little blog where I swear sometimes. So I get the same thing a lot of us do: mentions of how I “get to be home” all day and I “don’t work.”
These things shouldn’t bother us, and in a perfect world, they wouldn’t. We’d know that of course we work. Chasing nude toddlers through the house as they knock over furniture and soak your carpet is horribly tiring. And then when you catch them…I mean…have you ever dressed a toddler who’s bent on running around butt-ass naked? Arm workouts for days.
The problem is, our society is obsessed with how you contribute, and what you actually “do.” When you get used to hearing that you don’t work or that you “get” to be home, or that all of your personal accomplishments are tied to tending to children so that your spouse can make the real money, what you wind up hearing is “you’re only worth as much as the person you’re married to.” That is to say, in much harsher words, “you’re worthless.” And that hurts. It’s why so many women I know who stay home with their children wind up interested in starting businesses or opening up small stores or doing something that fulfills them personally; they want to prove to themselves and others that they’re still worth more than just the cost of childcare. They want to prove that they still “contribute.”
So I have good news for you. It won’t make a lick of difference and you’re still going to do what you want anyway, but I’ve got good news for you. You ready? Here it is:
Your worth isn’t tied to how much you make, or don’t make. You’re already worth way more than that.
I’m sure some people just laughed out loud or rolled their eyes, and still more probably dismissed this as bullshit feelgoodery and went back to browsing something else. I’m not talking to those people. I’m talking to you.
Those days where you feel like you’re not impressive, where you feel like you’re not special in any particular way beyond what people see from your parenting? Those days where you kind of wish that you were the one with exciting news of your own that didn’t involve someone else’s accomplishments? We all have them, and they come from you believing that you aren’t already impressive as you are. They come from thinking that you were much more worthy when you had a lengthy job title or a sum of a money to tie to your name. You think this way because people have been telling you that this is the way things are. And it’s bullshit, all of it.
That’s not to say I don’t get where you’re coming from. People probably ask you about your kids first and your endeavors much later on in conversation. They probably don’t ask you many questions about yourself, because they assume they’ve heard it all before. And you most likely get a little hurt from it, but often feel like they might be right; you don’t have anything worth talking about that isn’t about poop or postpartum butt droop. I’ll say it again: bullshit. All of that is bullshit.
The people around us often struggle with separating personal worth from net worth, and it can really mess with your mind. It’s easier said than done, but try not to let it. What makes you “worthy,” what you contribute, are the same things that made you great before you had children: the thoughts you have, the goals you tend to, and the humor and insight you bring to everyone else. They’re not going to remember this, so it’s your job to remind them. You won’t get paid for it, there’s no retirement plan, but there sure as hell are benefits to it. Namely, you’ll be reminding yourself in the process that no one could possibly pay you an amount equal to what you’re worth as a person anyway.
It’s easy to forget, so I’m reminding you: You’re already impressive. You’re impressive for balancing the person you are and the parent you have to be. You’re impressive for giving your time and your energy to your family in ways that may never be recognized. You’re impressive for the talents you have — both the ones you’ve always had, and the ones you’ve discovered since becoming a parent. You are not standing still — you’re never standing still, even when it feels like you are. And if that jealousy ever hits you and you start wishing you had something to brag about, just remember that you already have plenty — it’s just not the kind that cash can buy.
That is to say, in a much less woo-ey and more straightforward way: You were always worth plenty. Money is just a bonus.
That’s my two cents anyway.
Arianna Bradford is a wife and mother of two young children with a personal net worth of probably close to $0. Her interests include reading, napping, and watching as many movies as possible. She’s also the founder of The NYAM Project and really hopes you like it.