I’m a stay-at-home parent and I feel guilty for not contributing

  • For Love & Money is Insider’s bi-weekly column that answers your questions about relationships and money.
  • This week, a reader asks how to think about their worth now that they are stay-at-home parents.
  • Our columnist quantifies their cash value (over $180,000 to be exact) and offers advice.
  • A question for our columnist? Write to For Love & Money using this Google form.

Dear for love and money,

My partner and I recently decided to quit my job to be a stay-at-home parent. This is the first time in my adult life that I haven’t made any money and I feel so guilty for not contributing financially. How can I reframe my feelings about providing for our family?


Embarrassed to stay home

Dear self-aware,

I am a freelance writer and columnist. I have a litany of awesome bylines, and I just finished writing my second full-length novel. Before that, I was a full-time student; before that, I ran daycare at home. But I always called myself a stay-at-home mom.

I do this because I have found that when I explain my life to people, my role as mother and housekeeper is the only identity that seems to matter. There are two reasons I can think of for this perception:

1. Being a stay-at-home mom takes up most of my time, and how we spend our time reflects our values. So as long as a person stays at home, that’s all they aspire to.

2. Although I have had various incomes throughout my parenting journey, my greatest financial contribution to my family has always been in my role as a stay-at-home mom.

So which one is it? Am I “just a mom” or am I a key contributor to my family’s bottom line? My answer to this question is simple: a bit of both. In other words, pull a seat. For Love & Money has been preparing this speech for years.

First, your work is worth 6 figures — easily

The way you phrased “I feel so guilty for not contributing financially” sounds to me like you were careful with your choice of words. You meant, “No one pays me a check for my work,” and you didn’t want your words to be misinterpreted as, “stay-at-home parents don’t provide value.”

Let’s unpack this careful word analysis, shall we? But first, a warning. If my tone is defensive, it’s not against you. You are one of us now. No, my attitude stems from the decade I spent dancing with the elephant in the room, and the elephant in the room is called “stay-at-home parents are mooching babies.”

I’ll be the first to admit that’s not the cultural narrative. The cultural narrative is: “The hardest job in the world”. However, the subtext of the cultural narrative is the judgment that made you feel guilty for a decision you and your partner made. The best choice For your family. And I have the impression that it is this subtext which caused you to be careful in your formulation.

To answer your question, I could calculate for you the financial contribution of a parent in the home. I could count the cost of full-time cleaning and laundry services, the cost of an in-home chef or constant take-out, the cost of babysitting, and the dollar amount of babysitting service. personal assistant. But the experts at Salary.com have already done the math, and it comes to a shocking $184,820 per year.

It’s an impressive number. In fact, it’s so impressive that beneath all the pat reassurances that what we do is the “toughest job in the world”, there’s an unspoken sense that these numbers have been exaggerated for low-income housewives ambition feel better about themselves.

Consider how much your partner would spend if you died suddenly

Except that these figures have not been exaggerated. In fact, I encourage you to read up on recommended life insurance policies for stay-at-home parents. These numbers show the true dollar value of your financial contribution – without adding self-esteem-boosting inflation.

In the event of death, your partner would not lose his job and he would probably not hire a chef at home. But ask yourself what their life would be like. Obviously, there’s the cost of childcare, but there are also areas where your partner should either hire help or fend for themselves.

If they chose to fend for themselves, how many hours a week would they work, paid and unpaid? If they decided to fend for themselves, what areas should they go from “best” to “good enough”? Are these areas important to you and your partner? Examples could be extracurricular activities, nutrition, organization, family travel, volunteer work, and the list goes on.

I wish I had something to add to this conversation beyond the tired but true tips for dealing with the numbers – because you may not be earning an income, but you’re saving thousands of dollars for your family – but I don’t don’t do it. Being a stay-at-home parent means working with children, and while most people agree that child-centered work has value, it carries little or no prestige. Not like a big check. Not like an office corner. Not like an automatic signature that leaves the recipient shaking with fear.

Reframing your point of view

To reframe your perspective, you need to know in your bones that neither money nor culture determines your worth. I hope you can make it happen without having to die first, because if you’re looking for external validation, I’m afraid that’s exactly the time you’ve been waiting for. After all, in America, the almighty dollar is the almighty dollar. And stay-at-home parents earn nothing.

You were valuable when you were a paid employed parent, and now, as an unpaid employed parent, you are still valuable. On some level, you already know this; that’s why you and your partner made the decision you made. But now you have to believe it.

At your side in this new role,

For love and money

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