For as long as I can remember, people have been debating the issue on whether being a stay-at-home parent (SAHP) is actually a job. Some would say that a “real” job is one in which you get paid for services rendered. Others would say it is one in which there are measurable tasks or a supervisor to report to. Still others say a “real” job is one where much effort is exerted to accomplish something. Which is correct?
According to Webster’s Dictionary, a job is defined as “a piece of work”, “a small miscellaneous piece of work undertaken on order at a stated rate”, “something that has to be done; a specific duty, role, or function”, and ” a regular remunerative position”. In other words, they are all correct. But, if that’s the case, then why the continued debate? As far as I can tell, there seems to be a misunderstanding perpetuated by a lack of knowledge. Let’s see if we can shed some light on the subject.
The Perception of the Life of a Stay-at-Home-Parent
I have quite often heard people say to SAHPs things like, “What do you do all day?” or “I would be bored if I was home all day.” That seems to convey the idea that if you stay at home you have no life. I’ve also heard things like, “What do you mean you didn’t have time, you had all day!” That seems to express a concept of timelessness for the daytime hours of a SAHP. Neither of these ideas or concepts is accurate.
Then there is always what is depicted on TV or the big screen. According to Hollywood, SAHPs seem to fall into one of three categories: totally into self, totally into children, or totally into home. The “into self” character spends the day getting hair and nails done, next it’s lunching and gossiping with friends, then a little afternoon shopping before picking up the kids from school and dropping them off at afterschool activities. The “into self” character then picks up dinner because they are too exhausted from their day to cook, picks up the kids, then heads home in time to put dinner on the table as their spouse comes home from work.
Let’s look at the “into children” character. This one’s life and schedule is determined by the children. They get up with the children, spend their entire day doting on the children. There really is no schedule to speak of because it’s all about the kids. It’s rare that this character gets a moment’s peace, let alone five minutes to take a shower, brush their teeth, or even comb their hair. They don’t really talk to the “outside” world because their children demand all of their time and attention. Their house is generally a mess since they don’t have much time to clean. By the end of the day this character is so exhausted they order take out or throw a frozen dinner in the microwave and call it a day.
Finally, lets check out the ”into home” character. This person is quite anal retentive. They believe an immaculate home is a happy home. There is never a speck of dust or misplaced object to be found. Their day begins at the crack of dawn when they wake up and make a fantastic breakfast for their children and spouse. Then they spend the day in a very orderly fashion cleaning and doing laundry, then out to run a few errands, a quick stop at the grocery store, then it’s home to cook a five course dinner from scratch.
Though the Hollywood perceptions might be reality for a small percentage of SAHPs, and I do emphasis small, this is not the case for the vast majority. A SAHP, for the most part, is a combination of all three of these characters and then some. The children and home are definitely great priorities during the day, and in order to get stuff done there usually is some form of a schedule. However, most are not so regimented as to be inflexible or able to adapt to changing or unexpected circumstances or events. Being able to have lunch with friends or get a little pampering or “me time” in is sometimes a luxury that is squeezed in between taking care of stuff for the kids or the home; it is also one of the first things to be rescheduled or canceled if the unexpected happens.
It is true that, by definition, a stay-at-home parent’s main priority is parenting. That means helping their child(ren) to grow and develop in a healthy and safe environment, into responsible, independent, and socially apt adult(s). This includes nurturing a baby, potty training a toddler, and helping school-aged children with homework, as well as teaching what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior, and upholding consequences for the latter. It is also true that another priority is taking care of the home. This means handling most things required for the home to run smoothly, and to be a healthy and safe environment for all family members to reside.
Additionally, SAHPs do not love their child(ren) anymore or any less than working parents. It is simply a matter of circumstances and choice as to how different parents choose to raise their children. There are many working parents that would agree that if circumstances allowed, they would be home raising their children. In many cases, especially in today’s economy, families with a SAHP often must make convenience and luxury sacrifices in order to be at home. In other words, their circumstances allowed them, at some point, to make the choice to stay home.
The Value of a Stay-at-Home-Parent
Since an SAHP does not earn a salary or have a “supervisor”, how can we measure or determine his/her value? Many would argue that the things a SAHP does, or the benefits to a family, are invaluable. That may very well be true. However, there are jobs where people get paid to do the exact same services and tasks that SAHPs do on a daily basis. Let’s say that the value of these workers is determined by the salary they are paid. So, following this train of thought, let’s breakdown some possible daily responsibilities to determine an approximate value. Since salary.com is a widely known resource, we will reference them for the average base annual salary, and since I reside in Houston, Texas, we will use that as the location base.
- Childcare Worker: According to the Board of Labor Statistics, the national mean annual wage is $19,670.
- Executive Chef: $70,520 plus bonuses and benefits.
- Administrative Services Manager: $73,442 plus bonuses and benefits.
- Director of Housekeeping: $73,791 plus bonuses and benefits.
- Licensed Practical Home Care Nurse: $41,095 plus benefits
If we can agree that these are the basic job functions of a SAHP, then we can also agree that what they do is equivalent to five different full-time jobs. Additionally, if we add up just these five salaries, then we find that the basic annual value of the someone in a SAHP position is over $278,000. Wow — bet you didn’t see that coming! By the way, did you notice the childcare worker’s annual salary is significantly lower than the others? How interesting.
The Benefits of Being a Stay-At-Home-Parent
The value amount determined above does not account for the fact that this position has a 24/7 requirement. There are no vacation or sick days, hazard pay, or overtime. However, the benefits and bonuses definitely outweigh the lack of monetary compensation. The infinite amount of hugs and kisses are invaluable. But more than that, the pride, joy, mental and emotional security, and hugely significant fact that you are bonding with, caring for, and raising your own child(ren) is more than any company could remotely try to offer. The long term effects on your children are pretty significant as well. Study after study has proven that children raised in households with a SAHP thrived more, and grew to be very well adjusted and productive members of society.
So, the next time you see a stay-at-home parent, don’t pity or look down on them. Instead, respect them for the truly monumentous task they are doing and the sacrifices they are making for their children and their family.