I sat with three friends at dinner not long ago and cried as one of my most vibrant, talented, loving friends described how “worth less” she feels as a stay-at-home mom.
Not worthless, but worth less.
As in, the work she’s doing (and yes, it is work) is not valued by society, her peers, and sometimes even her partner (who is a wonderful man). She’s unsure of what to say when people ask that awful question, “So, what do you do?” She feels judgement from the most unexpected places. Worst of all, she judges herself.
I was an at-home parent for the first eight years of my kids’ lives. I’m five months into the transition back to paid work, and I now understand the corresponding challenges facing a lead parent who works outside of the home. We all have our struggles. I know that.
But our culture sees what I’m doing – going to work five days a week, receiving a regular paycheck – as something of value, and therefore (presumably) views me differently as a result.
During those eight years at home (which is an almost-hilarious misnomer), I frequently questioned my worth and constantly wondered if I was doing a “good enough” job raising our two kids. I knew intellectually that I needed to be able to answer that question for myself, from within, but practically speaking, I wanted someone else to say, “Hey, you’re really kicking ass at this job. And you know what – what you’re doing is super important.”
Here was an incredibly accomplished woman who left a job at the State Department because her family needed her. And she was being judged for it. Slaughter continued to lay out the policy and cultural issues impacting the valuation of caregiving in her brilliant book, “Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family.”
When we first thought about producing this podcast, Jessica and I wrote one name on a piece of paper and said to each other, “Just imagine if we could talk to her.” That name was Anne-Marie Slaughter.
In this episode of “Where Was I…?” Ms. Slaughter reminds us that, even “from a (public) policy point of view, there really isn’t anything more important that we do” than caring for our children. “In a way,” she says, “society is free-riding off the efforts” of lead parents. “The very least we can do is provide the social respect and prestige.”