Thursday, December 31, 2009

What Mom Is Worth: Dollars and Sense

(First written for the podcast Babies and Moms: Birth and Beyond 2007 available on iTunes)

Every mother has had a day where she throws up her hands and says, “It’s just not worth it!” Well, she probably isn’t talking about the monetary compensation plan, but today we actually are going to address just what a mom is worth in dollars and cents. And we ask the question: Does it make sense (CENTS) to be a mom? We believe the answer is “YES!” but you don’t have to take our word for it. Let’s talk about it.

There are many aspects of motherhood, and of course we could never cover all the ways in which a mom is valuable or figure out just how much a mother is really worth in a person’s life. But today we do want to focus on the financial worth of MOM. Perhaps there are working mothers who may not realize all the double duty they are doing, or how much they are paying to replace themselves. Or there might be at home moms who may not know just how much the work they do is worth! And maybe there are some dads and kids who need to know this information too so they can better understand and appreciate, or even help the overworked and underpaid mothers in their lives!

The idea for this segment first came to me as I looked around my dirty house one day. Since I have eight children under fourteen, including 5 boys (two of them twins!), and since my husband is still in school (after 16 years of marriage) and works full time, and we just got a puppy, there is an endless array of laundry, dishes and just dirt in general. I was tired that day, and even worse, I just didn’t care anymore. I used to love the smell of clean laundry, clean floors, clean beds. On that dismal day, I just sat there and stared blankly waiting for some force of nature to push me over.

Running away didn’t seem like the most mature option, although it did occur to me. Instead, I did something I had never done before. I called a cleaning service. Oh yes, they assured me on the phone. This is not a luxury; this is a necessity in today’s lifestyle. Oh yes, they can come today for an estimate, yes, yes, women should never feel guilty, they can’t believe I haven’t called sooner, they’ll be right over. The gal on the phone should have been a bartender. She was so soothing; I knew I had done the right thing. I floated through the rest of the morning, anxiously awaiting my liberation. We can afford this, I told myself. We only need them to come once a month I rationalized. Little did I realize just what it would cost in dollars and cents.

To summarize the rest of the experience, let me say this: they came, they saw, they billed. I couldn’t believe it! The estimate was very explicit. They only “deep clean” 2 rooms each time they come. They don’t do windows, they don’t wash walls, they don’t do closets or pantries or bedrooms. What DO they do I was wondering, but not for too long, because then they handed me the estimate: it was a little more than 400 dollars. That was for just the downstairs! Which they estimated would take three girls about 2-3 hours. Well, I decided against using their services, but it was not a wasted experience because I learned something very important. My work as a “housewife” is very valuable! Suddenly I had a second wind about doing all my mundane chores. As I analyzed each piece of my house the way that the cleaning service did, I could see just how difficult, time consuming and expensive my housework really is! That got me thinking about all the other jobs moms do on a regular basis. We are doctors, chauffeurs, cooks, maids, laundry service, child care, tutors, decorators, psychologists, music teachers, soccer coaches, not to mention companions for husbands, PTA presidents, etc., etc. Each mom’s list is a mile long. In fact, March 2007 claims that a mom today is worth “$ 761,650.00/year . . . if they were paid for all the work they do.” There is no time off, no holidays or sick days. There is no pay, no over-time pay, no bonuses, not even gift baskets! (Unless you count the ones made out of Popsicle sticks that you get from your 1st grader!). “Good thing motherhood is its own reward!” touts Redbook.

So we just want to take a minute and say to moms everywhere, “Good Job! Well done! You’re priceless!” Just take some time to realize all you do and just what you contribute to your family and neighborhood. Not just emotionally, but very realistically, financially!

Now, for those that do work for a pay check, realize that you have double duty. Chances are you do most of what other moms do, plus your outside job. And realize that you may be paying someone else to replace you. Does that make sense? All moms everywhere should analyze what they are paying for childcare, housekeeping, wardrobe, commuting, eating out, etc. and decide if it is all really worth it. Perhaps your pay check is not as valuable as you think. If you are working mostly for the money and wishing you could be home instead, maybe this is your chance. Now that you know just what it is costing, think about your options.

When we had three children under three, my husband had just landed his first real job. We excitedly bought a house. Well, the mortgage was a bigger chunk than we realized it would be each month. Slowly over the first year we were going into debt. We had to make a choice. Should I go to work? I pondered the question a long time. In the end, I decided that childhood is too short and that I wanted to be home with my children fulltime. So, we came up with a creative plan. We moved into a one-bedroom apartment. The children shared the bedroom with a bunk bed and crib. My husband and I slept on a fold out couch bed in the “living room.” Meanwhile, we rented out our house to cover the mortgage, which consequently reduced our monthly housing costs by about 75%. The children were young and they didn’t mind a smaller place. I spent the days with friends, at the park, etc. to keep them busy. After a year of this, we were out of debt and were able to purchase a video camera and a piano! Two items we desperately wanted. Our house appreciated that year and then we were able to sell it and buy our next house with that money. The whole thing was an adventure, perhaps not right for everyone, but I was able to stay home with the children, make lots of new friends, get out of debt, buy stuff we wanted and make money for our next down payment – all in one year because we did some creative thinking instead of just automatically putting mom right into the job market.

I had a friend when we lived in Philadelphia. She was from Austria and worked as an Au Pair for our neighbors. As the children played, we would talk and one day she asked me how much I got paid to stay home with my kids (four at the time). What? I had never heard of such a thing! She explained that in Austria women are paid to stay home with their children! I recently heard that Russia is thinking about adopting that model also (That sounds great, let’s move there!).

In conclusion, we hope this week that we were able to brighten your day a little. Does it make sense to be a mom? You better believe it! As a mom, whether you work outside the home or not, we KNOW you work INSIDE your home and girl! Your work is priceless! You deserve a pat on the back and you also deserve a fat paycheck! But instead you will probably get some peanut butter kisses and some, “love ya mom”s, and that too is worth a million.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On the Right Track


Don’t Chuck Your Banjo in the Fire

(written 1/2009)

Recently I have started running at the BYU track in the early morning hours with my neighbors. To say that I run with them is not entirely accurate. Actually, they kindly pick me up and drive me there and then leave me to my own fate while they glide around the track for forty-five minutes like gazelles.

While they run, I attempt my own routine of running, then walking, then running again for about 30 minutes, after which I have to stop and start “stretching out.”

I suppose I could feel self-conscious that I am not as fast as they are. I could feel really badly about my lack of physical fitness. I could wallow as I watch them and many others lap me time and again. But instead, I just keep on moving around and around, knowing, that even if I am not the fastest, strongest, leanest person there, still, because I am there, at least I am on the right track!

The other day while there I ran into two old friends. One I had known in Berkeley, CA sixteen years ago. The other I had known in Philadelphia twelve years ago. Now it seems they live across the street from each other in Provo! Neither one knew that the other knew me. It was fun to walk a lap or two with them and catch up. What a great place to meet people! Later that same morning I saw Sister Susan Tanner (recently released General Young Women’s President) on the track. I’ve never met her personally, but just seeing her there gave me a thrill. I caught her eye and we exchanged warm smiles. I felt a beautiful spirit in her presence. Talk about the place to be! Wow! Wonderful people are on the BYU track at 6 am on winter mornings. This is good to know. And even better to experience.

There are lots of other folks there too. Some remind me of my grandparents. They don’t move too fast, but there they are, plodding around every corner. Some are hunched and stooped, but they keep on going with smiles on their wrinkled, well-worn faces. Others are younger. Two couples actually had strollers on the track! One gal even walked with her baby in a Snugli (only in Provo?). Some are in groups chatting away. Others are very alone, tuned in to their own music. Each of these people is someone I would want to know, though each of their stories is unique.

I thought that this track was much like the church. All of us come to the church from a different place. Some of us are recent converts, maybe we’re just starting out and can‘t go very fast. Others of us have pioneer ancestors who paved the way so we could sprint for miles! But wherever we are on this “track,” we are each at our own pace and yet, all in it together. We may walk for a time with a certain group of friends, then, we grow and change. Perhaps we reconnect with special friends at a later time. Perhaps right now we are single and just “going it alone,” marching to the beat of our own “drum.” But surely, if we stay on track, surely we will eventually become faster and stronger! Not tomorrow, but perhaps in the next generation, our children and theirs will be sprinting with the leaders on this track.

It does not matter where we are on the track. It only matters that we are there! If we are on the right track, Elder Bruce R. McKonkie lets us know that we cannot fall off of it!

“. . .You don't have to be perfect to be saved. If you did, no one would be saved. The way it operates is this: you get on the path that’s named the “straight and narrow.” You do it by entering the gates of repentance and baptism. The straight and narrow path leads from the gate of repentance and baptism, a very great distance, to a reward that’s called eternal life. If you’re on that path and pressing forward, and you die, you’ll never get off the path. There is no such thing as falling off the straight and narrow path in the life to come, and the reason is that this life is the time that is given to men to prepare for eternity. Now is the time and the day of your salvation, so if you’re working seriously in this life—though you haven’t fully overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do—you’re still going to be saved. You don’t have to live a life that’s truer than true. You don’t have to have excessive zeal that becomes fanatical and becomes unbalancing, what you have to do is stay in the mainstream of the Church and live as upright and descent people live in the Church—keeping the commandments, paying your tithing, serving in the organizations of the Church, loving the Lord, staying on the straight and narrow path. If you’re on that path when death comes—because this is the time and day appointed, this is the probationary estate—you’ll never fall off from it, and, for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure.” (Bruce R. McConkie, “The Probationary Test of Mortality,” address given at the University of Utah, Jan. 10, 1982.)

My brother Nate plays the banjo. With this wonderful skill, he has toured all over the world, spread much joy and had many missionary moments. He is so good, in fact, that one could possibly call him the second best banjo player in Utah. The best banjo player in Utah is a natural-born wonder named Craig Miner. Craig plays the banjo as if it were a classical guitar: effortlessly.

Recently, Nate began teaching my 11 year-old son how to play the banjo that he just got for Christmas. Thinking that he is no good, my son has decided, after three lessons, to quit banjo forever. My son reasons that compared to Nate, and compared to his cousin (another beginning student), he is not very good. Nate explained to my son that Craig Miner is better than he is. He then said, “Should I therefore just throw my banjo into the fire? Just because I am not as good as Craig, should I just give up and be nothing?”

I thought about that a lot. Nate has done so much good all over the world because he plays the banjo so well! It would be unthinkable that he should quit just because there exists some other person who happens to be better than he is!

I have this nagging habit of constantly comparing myself to other women in the church. I don’t do it with any malice. I just know and recognize that I am not as good as so and so at ____________. Therefore, I should not have this calling, these children, this house, this car, this body, etc. etc. I talk myself out of a whole lot of good because I am not the “best.”

I think the “right track principle” can be applied here. If we are all in this together, and yet, each on his own journey, then it doesn’t matter how good I am at something! I’m still on the right track! I am in the right place at the right time and I am doing my personal best. As I endure to the end, I will gain speed, accuracy, strength and skill. But no matter where I am now, or later, I am still doing good, just by being there! And who knows? I might just be providing the example that someone else on the track needs to keep going! Or maybe I am an example to some outside the track who see me go in each morning and see me come out with a smile! Maybe they are wondering, “Hey, what am I missing in there?”

So, whenever you are tempted to compare yourself to someone else or if ever you decide that your current level of skills and gifts are not “good enough” to share or to build the kingdom, remember! Don’t chuck your banjo in the fire! Just keep on going! You’re on the right track!