Thursday, February 28, 2008

Speaking of SAHM's

There are some benefits to taking classes at the local University for SAHMs and I've discovered some of them. You can secretly work on entries for your blog while pretending to do classwork. This is an informative speech written for one class I'm taking. The classes are to renew my teaching certificate through the state, but the topic is specifically to focus my thoughts on the Domestic Goddess, so I hope you enjoy.

To set the scene, imagine you are attending a Mom's Club meeting of upper-middle class women who are concerned about their kids and themselves as people. The particular meeting this time is one to discuss important issues and the president of the club, me, is here to speak.

"The Job of the Unemployed"

Glad to see everyone made it today. I'm Scarlett, the president of this Mom's Club and the proud unemployed mom of a son. If you've been to the Lunch Bunch before, wave to the new members. Our new members, take note, these waving ladies are some of the hardest working, unemployed and underpaid women you'll ever meet. The hard working aspect is probably clear to everyone here, but why do I label stay-at-home moms as "unemployed" and "underpaid?" I use these labels because the world around us uses them. Our families and children tend to appreciate the dedication and conscientious efforts, but what about the high school alumni who says, “oh, how nice not to work!” I did a little research on this conflicted idea of what work is and I think as food for thought its pretty high in fiber.

Beth started my cogs turning when she called me last week and asked, "What do you tell someone who thinks you're unemployed just because you're a stay-at-home mom?" Beth went to the grocery store and a man standing in the vegetable section was taking a survey and when he asked "what do you do for a living?" Beth said "stay-at-home mom." The surveyor skipped to the “other” category and wrote "unemployed." He equated a stay-at-home mom and unemployed most likely because his definition of work is tied to the industrial idea of leave-the-home jobs. According to the Census Bureau[1] there are approximately 5.6 million stay-at-home moms who face similarly outdated definitions of work.

So what is work? Webster's Ninth Collegiate Dictionary[2] defines work as "sustained physical or mental effort to …achieve an objective." The straight forward definition of work means that the stay-at-home moms I know are all working and working hard. Deadlines and punching a time clock are theoretically very different from caring for a family, but I started looking into the job descriptions of a stay-at-home mom and the mother is becoming a real job and recognized work.

So what is a mother’s work? Our real life jobs as stay-at-home moms would easily qualify for "Dirty Jobs," the Food Network (I want it to be Alton Brown!) and occasionally the circus channel. Most moms will say, "Oh, I'm just a mom" but their lives are full of researching vaccinations, trips to Fernbank, the Mom's Club, play groups, and feeding healthy foods to unwilling kids and husbands. The job of care taking for our families is something we think about and consider carefully. The plethora of educational toy stores, rising home schooling rates among our members and even the books being printed on developing theories of child care reflect our growing inquisitiveness as mothers about how to do our job well. Today's real life stay-at-home mom, that’s you, spends time searching for the best way to educate and nourish your children. You use your intellect and your physical abilities to move toward the objective of healthy, happy and independent kids. The work isn’t that straightforward or limited, however, and mothers will tell you that part of this job is being a full-time cook. You are not just making meals but researching nutrition, new recipes, and occasionally dietitian-like knowledge of allergies or special diets. As a family cook, you are doing real work.

So, what is a mother’s work worth? In May 2004,[3] included in their research on comparable pay rates the job title of mother. For Mother's Day that year released the results of their research and the Mom Salary Wizard, a free personal calculator for seeing what your job might be worth in the leave-the-house world. Most of what the mothers in the research said may sound familiar to you, although I’m not sure you’ve heard it translated into these job terms before.

Mothers wear a lot of hats during the work day. According to the mothers surveyed the top ten hats or job titles included: housekeeper, day care center teacher, institutional cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, facilities manager, janitor, van driver, psychologist, and CEO. In the most recent study the job title of nurse fell out of the top ten list, but kissing boo-boos is still part of the job. researched the average pay for the similar real world job titles, the number of hours that mothers did each kind of job, and the number of hours the mothers worked total. The data was crunched down to come up with an average hourly rate for mothers by job and an overall pay rate for their working hours.

I have yet to see a mother work 9 to 5 and at least according to we don't work 24/7 like I always believed. Confusing information abounds. The mothers who were surveyed estimated they do their mothering job for about 92 hours a week. Mothers don't all drive, cook, or clean in standard amounts, so the salaries were weighted according to which of these jobs were done more often. Four hours of CEO, for instance, will give you a higher average pay than if you only spend one hour a week being in charge of it all.

My own salary should be $142,562. I’ll take that in small, unmarked bills and a ticket to Tahiti. If you average the real world jobs I do into an hourly rate I would earn $23.84 an hour or $37 for overtime. While very few of us get paid for our stay-at-home mom positions, it is an interesting thought that in the terms understood by most people – paychecks and titles – we are doing a great job and a good deal of valuable work.

[1] United States Census Bureau, “Facts for Features Mother's Day”, March 14, 2007 pub. (February 3, 2008 accessed).

[2] "Work," Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1983, p. 1358.

[3] Business Wire, “What is a Mom Worth?” Online LexisNexis Academic Service, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia, May 4, 2006 (February 3, 2008 accessed).

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