When I got pregnant in January of last year, I had just left a job with a stable paycheck and started this website as my full-time gig. There were several reasons I ventured out on my own, but top of the list was my desire to be a stay-at-home mom AND have an outlet that at least kept a big toe in the work force while maybe, hopefully, bringing in some money that would allow me to financially contribute to my family. Drew and I discussed this and were on the same page. We hoped we wouldn’t have trouble conceiving a baby naturally and that by the time I gave birth, this site would be running smoothly and I could enjoy being home with our baby.
And fortunately, that’s exactly how things have played out, though we haven’t been without challenges along the way. For one thing, I got pregnant right away — the first month we tried — which I am, of course, very grateful for, but it also meant that I didn’t have as much time as I was anticipating to get this new “job” off to a good start before having my hands full with a newborn. Add in some complications during pregnancy and PPD-like symptoms from my thyroid disease after giving birth and it’s safe to say that I was pretty distracted and as a result, I wasn’t able to give this site — my source of what I hoped would be a little income of my own — as much attention as I would have liked.
Fast forward almost two years since I launched DearWendy.com, and my son, Jackson, is 13 months old and I now earn enough from the site to employ a part-time babysitter about 10 hours a week. This gives me a little time to work, which is important for my self-esteem and intellectual well-being, and it gives me a break from what is often the tedious and demanding work of stay-at-home motherhood. What my job doesn’t give me is a sense that I am financially contributing to my household (because I’m not) and that is something that I grapple with constantly.
I know that for a lot of stay-at-home parents, this isn’t an issue. They are contributing to their family in an enormous way already — they’re raising their kids. It’s a huge job. But it’s a job that is literally priceless — that has zero monetary value — and that isn’t an easy thing for someone like me to digest.
When I started this site, I had a healthy savings of my own that I used as “spending money.” Drew paid all our bills and I used my savings to buy groceries, household supplies, gifts, and things for myself. But in the last few months, my personal savings has run out and I am in a new position of having to ask Drew for my spending money. This feels so … demoralizing, frankly.
Drew has tried as best he can to assure me he values the role I play in our family, and I believe he does. But when so much of the work I do — the grocery shopping, the laundry, the cooking, the hours at the playground and changing diapers and managing tantrums and organizing play dates — is truly invisible and unpaid, I wonder if it really is all that valued. And if Drew has assured me that he values the work I do and I believe he does, maybe I’m the one who doesn’t place enough value on it.
But when you live in a society where the value of something is almost always calculated monetarily, it can make it difficult to calculate the value of work that has no price tag. It can be difficult to feel like the work you do is important when there’s no payment for it (and a lot of times, no personal fulfillment). And that’s where my feelings of demoralization come from when I have to ask for money. I want to feel like the way I spend my day — the work I do — is important, but when I have an empty bank account and have to ask my husband for money so I can get my hair cut or buy a new pair of boots for the winter, that isn’t always easy.
Obviously, things need to change in our situation. This isn’t healthy for me and it isn’t healthy for our marriage. One option is that I stop being a stay-at-home mom and find work that has monetary value, but that would mean leaving Jackson in the care of someone else many more hours than I do now and neither Drew nor I are comfortable with that (and we are very lucky to be in a position to have that choice!). It would also mean making a big cut in the time I invest in this site, which is something else I don’t want to do. A better solution would be finding a more practical way of sharing funds so that I’m not put in a position where I feel like I’m asking for money that isn’t mine.
Another solution — and one I am very actively working on — is to simply earn more money doing what I’m already doing. This isn’t an option many stay-at-home moms have, but I do. I have a small business that makes money while I stay home full-time. Part of the fun of that is setting financial goals and working hard to meet them. But when I don’t, I need to also work hard at not letting that define me. I need to work on valuing the rewards I get elsewhere.
And I’m fortunate that I get rewarded all the time. I’m rewarded probably more than the average person, to be honest. I get to put my kid down for his afternoon nap every day and hear his laughing fits and watch him engage in friendships I’ve helped foster. I get wonderful messages every single day from readers who tell me I’ve made a difference in their lives with something I wrote or creating a space where they’ve connected with people who have given them support or entertainment or companionship. Jackson gives me a round of applause after every meal. Drew compliments my cooking and my writing and all the little things I do around the home. My sister tells me all the time how much she appreciates me. My parents even tell me pretty frequently how proud they are of me. And I have wonderful friends who are liberal with their love and support.
I get lots of rewards and kudos — more than most people, I think. And yet, because I don’t get a paycheck, I struggle with feelings of inadequacy. That’s my cross. That’s the issue I am working on. It’s ridiculous and unwarranted and if it were someone else with the same issue asking me for advice, I’d be like, “Get over it! You’ve got a great life and you’re lucky to do what you love doing and spend so much time with your kid and create a comfortable home for your family. You’ve got so much and you’re whining because you don’t get a check with your name on it? Your life is your reward. Enjoy it. You may not always be so lucky.”
Maybe it’s time I start taking my own advice.