What’s Your Worth: The Stay-at-Home Parent

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It’s been a couple week since my last post, mostly because life started hitting the top of my tea-kettle, mostly with over-scheduling, the work I’m doing with Kate and her speech, and also, just not enough down-time (which is perfect fodder for another blog post)… but I what I really wanted to talk about was another piece that’s been on my mind lately, and that’s money.

This isn’t a random event where money suddenly pops into my head and I start to fret. And worry. And tear napkins into little bitty shreds. You see, it’s tax season for those in the US, and while I’ve been on top of all that stuff, business records and filing and spreadsheets with numbers to keep the IRS happy (and off my butt)… the numbers are still… Right There.

In red.

A lovely little reminder of how very little my writing and publishing business is actually making.

And it’s depressing. I can’t help but see those numbers, see the income and expenses and feel like I’m worth less. Here I am, spending our family’s money and my free time (Ha! As if I had free time), waking up God-early sometimes just to write, and oh look, it’s not doing a damn thing. It feels like I’m a failure. Like this dream I’m pursing will never actually become a reality no matter how hard I try….

And yes, this seeing the numbers and feeling like a failure has been happening ever since, like clockwork… oh, about four years ago when I was pregnant with Kate.

When I became a mother… and the stay-at-home parent.

Now granted, I knew this would happen. In fact, while I was pregnant I was asking my writing mentors what I should do to keep the writing alive, even if albeit barely because, well, let’s face it, my goal is now keeping my children alive (which, they are, and doing marvelously to boot… so, go me!). But the point is I knew it would happen. I knew my writing productively, my ability to publishing (anything), would take a hit.

It did.

I thought I was mentally prepared for it. Ready for it.

Except that’s hogwash.

You can never be ready. You think you are, but you’re not. Not really. It doesn’t help that our American culture, where so much of our worth, is tied into money. I’ll be clear here: I’ve never, ever gotten this feeling from my husband. If anything, he’s the one to support me and push me through these humps, and has never given up on my writing and is the first one to advocate and protect my writing time (there are many reasons I married him – this is one and it’s a BIG one). But even though I have his absolute, loving support… I can’t help but feel the judgment from the world around me. And no, people don’t actually *say* anything about it, about my worth, but it’s there like a living, breathing, nasty little thing in the back of my mind.

That since I’m not bringing in money, I’m worth less.

That what I’m doing, raising these two children, taking care of pesky house chores and feeding the family, is worth less.

And that’s where this free-fall depression and failure hit me hard. You see this year, this year, I’m so close to actually writing on a regular basis. So close… and then Eric started walking (ahem… RUNNING!) and now I’m in super-mode to keep that boy alive. And sleep is sporadic again from teething and the endless slew of winter colds.

You see, this year, I looked at our family’s bottom-line income (and my writing business and continued learning takes a bite into that these days) and I couldn’t help but think: if I just made a couple hundred dollars a month, it would be enough. It would.

I would feel better about myself if I could provide a little. Even a little.

Well, my writing and publishing is a long-term process. It’s the kind of thing where even if you’re on top of your game, putting out professional-looking books with the right covers and blurbs… it’ll still be a couple months before you see any income. And I’m so far behind on the publishing side, with several dozen stories that need covers to be rebranded and to be actually, somewhat, related to the genre they’re in (a task I’m woefully behind in… wait for it… because I’m a mother and a stay-at-home parent).

So, here I was, not feeling great about my writing, not believing in it to the point where I started looking at different options.

And I did.

I had two that seemed pretty good.

But… I was hitting a wall whenever I tried to go forward. It’s mostly a feeling kind of wall, because that’s how I work. Something didn’t feel right. Didn’t feel comfortable. And so I kept probing and digging until I finally understood what my subconscious was trying to tell me. And it took a little bit, but the realization was huge.

And the whole point of this blog post.

You see, to help me figure out this possible new venture, I started re-reading a bit on Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s, The Freelancer’s Survival Guide (a fabulous read for anyone thinking of freelancing or already is), and she suggested writing out a list of your priorities with things like family, health, work, writing, etc., and then putting them in order of importance. For example, my number one priority is my family. Even if I do start another business I’m still the primary caregiver of our children. I need to care for them and teach and guide them. I also included other important pieces here, such as being Kate’s primary speech partner (and in case your wondering, yes, my dear husband falls on the ‘family’ list and had his own little slot).

And as I started writing this list, I also started writing out questions, and the one that stopped me cold was this one:

How many hours of work would I need to make this money?

Work.

I hate that word. Hate it. Work is what I did for years, years, at the full-time office job so that one day I could pursue my true calling, my passion, which was writing. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t work again. That unless our family was in dire straights and money was needed, that I wouldn’t do work.

You see, for me, writing isn’t work. It’s fun, it’s uplifting… it brightens my whole being and I simply love it. I love it. I don’t associate the word ‘work’ to my writing.

And yet… here I was, ready to plunge back into work and instead of my writing and for what? A couple hundred bucks?

I asked myself: would I be okay spending those hours a week (because they would be hours) on not writing? On not publishing? And why should I start up a new business, with its slow start-up, when I already had a business ready, patient and willing, if I would just invest time back into it?

I had one single, definitive answer.

No.

No, I was not willing to spend those hours at work. No, I was not willing to take away those hours that could be writing or publishing so I could do work. So I could make some money that would then justify the expenses our family incurs yearly so I can learn, so I can keep getting better and better at my craft of writing.

And that’s when I realized something, something very important. All these feelings I had, of self-worth, of feeling like I was a burden on our family, because I wasn’t bringing in money… they weren’t my feelings at all. They were what the culture around me had been hounding into my head since I was a child. Those feelings have only gained in intensity since I became mother, and more specifically, the stay-at-home parent.

That, even though my did is filled with children and chores and errands, I should still be bringing in money. That what I do isn’t worth the same amount as my husband who pays the bill. That my “work” of caring for our children isn’t worth the same. That, even though my “day” doesn’t end when the lights go out because I’m the one who gets up to handle wet beds and midnight feedings because my husband has to go to work and function the next day, what I do is less.

I looked at my list of priorities. I looked at my week and the hours I had in my week and where, if any, I could add in this new job. And I realized this whole feeling I had, this feeling of worth, of being less because I didn’t bring in any money, was a bunch of bullshit.

My hours were filled. Filled.

I could not take on another job without taking away from ones I already had.

My family.

My writing.

My own self care.

And this ‘problem,’ this feeling I had of my time being worth less isn’t going away any time soon. We had decided to homeschool our little family almost two years ago, so no shipping them off to school to free up a couple of hours. Which really, really means I need to deal with this, to stamp it down into the ground and (hopefully) out of existence (though doubtful… at least completely).

This will be a constant struggle for me, mostly because so much of the world around me places emphasis on money and status and success. That, because my books aren’t bringing in hundreds of extra dollars I’m already much less inclined to believe in myself, less inclined to share and tell others that I am a professional writer… because I can’t justify or prove that I am with money alone. That the work I do as a parent means less because I’m not bringing in money.

This is how our culture functions, and it’s the one I was raised in, and it’ll be a struggle to break away from that mindset. Sometimes I do and I’m successful, and then there are times, like tax season, when I can’t help but look at those numbers and feel less.

Less of a person.

Less of a writer.

And yet… when I look at what I do during my weeks, I realize how false that is. I’m not less of a person.

In fact, it’s the opposite.

Sean jokingly calls me “super mom” when I try to do everything (and, especially when I admit that I can’t doing everything). And he’s right. What I can accomplish is amazing. That my house is straightened (note, I did not stay cleaned) at the end of the day. My kids are happy, they’re growing, they’re smiling. They’re playing. Kate’s words are coming, slowly and bit-by-bit. There’s good, homemade and healthy food on the table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and those really annoying dishes are (mostly) done.

What we do, as the stay-at-home parent, is the most important job of all. To stay loving and open and connected with our children, it’s not always easy. Sometimes, it’s not even possible. And yet we do it, time and time again. And we’ll continue to do it, even when the money we bring into the home is less than our spouse. Or maybe, there’s no money at all.

Truth is, it’s going to take me time to wrap my head around this new way of thinking, to rewire all those beliefs society has shoved into me, but it’s a start. And I realized too that, if I want my dreams to happen, if I want to start bringing in extra money, well, I’m going to have to start doing the work. I need to make the writing and publishing a priority, even with all the demands and exhaustion that comes with parenting small kids.

This is a long road, but I’ve got to start somewhere. Even if it’s small.

Your story, your situation is going to be different from mine. Whether you’re a new-time parent with your first little bundle of (sleepless) joy, whether you’re homeschooling, or whether you’ve got a normal developing child or one who’s late-talking and you’re navigating the waters of special needs and therapy. Regardless of your life story, it can be so easy to see the work we do as less.

But we’ve got to start somewhere in order to change not only the way we view our own value, but someday, maybe those around us too (I’m not going to say the wider world because really, those guys don’t matter). Start small. Start with seeing value in yourself and the work you can do and the work you already do.

See where it takes you.

For me, what I can do is write a little each day. Some days it might only be ten minutes, others might be an hour, but it’s something. And that’s how novels and stories are written.

One day at a time.

The same is true for my publishing and being the stay-at-home parent.

One day at a time. One smile at a time.

And for Kate especially, one spoken or even understood, word at time.

Let me tell you, it’s a damn good feeling. Worth a whole lot more than any dollar figure or any number on a spreadsheet… especially when my kids smile.

And that, right there, is why I’m doing this. Every day, every night (and sometimes a couple of times during the night). This is the best job I’ve ever had, one that doesn’t pay much (or anything), but it’s one I would never, ever, in a million years, give up:

Being a parent.

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