Friday, 14 December 2007

What's the cash value of being a fulltime mother?

I know this is a debate that has been trotted out a gazillion times since women first began burning their bras (or at least wearing sexy ones under their business suits when they attend board meetings), but since a person who is very close to me is currently involved in a vicious fight with her ex husband regarding maintenance, I thought I’d raise it again.

The person – let’s call her Q – has been a fulltime single mother to her two children since her divorce 14 years ago. (Her ex husband has since remarried twice.) She has also always held down a fulltime freelance job, which has enabled her to pay about two-thirds of her children’s monthly expenses.

Her ex, who recently was shafted from a high-paying executive job, now calls himself ‘unemployed’ – despite having received a large golden handshake (or perhaps that should be arsewipe) from his previous employer, plus a monthly ‘retainer’ in excess of what Q earns for doing actual work. That there is nothing to stop him getting another job, or indeed earning a reasonable freelance living as Q has always done, seems to have slipped his mind. As has the fact that for years, while he was earning many times what Q was , he has paid only about a third of his children’s expenses.

But let us forget about the nasty itty-bitties of money per se for the moment, and concentrate rather on the simple mechanics of a full-time mother’s time.

I know, because I have raised children single-handed myself, how much of my time goes to the care of my kids. (I, too, work fulltime, if from home, to support my children.) In an ordinary working day, from the time my little darlings open their sleepy eyes to the moment they lay down their weary heads, I devote anything up to eight hours to the feeding (purchase and prep of food, plus post-meal clean-ups), cleaning (laundry, housework, etc), transport (school, extramurals, friends, entertainment, shopping, etc) and guidance (homework, general chats, hugs and stuff) of my offspring.

Eight hours is, for most people, a normal working day.

And that’s on top of earning a living. (Oh, and trying to have a life.)

The thing is, in terms of the division of costs, how do you put a monetary value on a mother’s time? (And please note my question isn’t should you?, it’s how do you?). Do you apply the minimum domestic workers’ wage (a shamefully low figure, but better than nothing)? Do you give it some sort of specialist price tag (it is, after all, a specialist job, and more so if you’re doing it solo)? Do you provide for leave pay, and if so, how much? (And in the unlikely event the fulltime mother actually gets paid leave, who stands in for her in her absence, and who pays for that?) What about if the mother gets sick – who picks up the slack for her, and how is that compensated? A year-end bonus – is that an option, especially if the absent father is getting a big fat one from his employer?

Q’s ex husband lives a fairly comfortable lifestyle. He has a live-in financially-contributing girlfriend, a car, a motorbike, a mountain bike and a surfboard, a large house with a swimming pool and a fancy garden; property investments; a valuable pension plan and an enviably small bond; he takes holidays if he wants; he shops at Woolies.

Q, by contrast, is a living example of cutting your cloth: her bond is large because she borrows from it constantly (she has to), she shops at Checkers, she does her own gardening and most of her own housework, she has no pension or savings, she never takes holidays (she simply can’t afford to: as a freelancer – a career choice she made consciously in order to be an effective fulltime mother – she won’t get paid if she doesn’t work). While she will be the first to tell you how much she enjoys her life – she clearly adores her kids, and loves raising them – there is no doubt how carefully she has to budget to come out on top. And even then, sometimes – often – she doesn’t.

And the kicker is: she is the fulltime parent. Her ex sees the kids the mandatory twice a month – and even then he has, apparently, complained about how much ‘running around’ he has to do for them. (It’s probably worth mentioning here that, according to Q, her ex has never once helped her out with school-holiday childcare, even when she was desperate because she had to keep working. Why? Because, said he, he had ‘a proper job’. This may only be my point of view, but I think she has two: fulltime mother and fulltime – if freelance – employee.)

Q is the person who, every single day (and very often at night), in sickness and wellness, for richer or poorer, relentlessly and with very few breaks, attends with close and careful attention to the details of her children’s lives that will, eventually and hopefully, turn them into happy, healthy adults. She is solely responsible not only for their physical wellbeing but also for their mental, emotional and spiritual growth – a task that is very hard to compute in terms of filthy lucre.

So: what price do you put on that?

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tonypark said...

More like, what price do you put on his head?

meggie said...

Yes, Tony, Yes!
I just get so sickened with 'fathers' whose sperm donation does not make them in any sense of the word, a 'father'.
I might be forced to explode in fierce rage here.
My Granddaughter's father, the F%&*ing prick, has 'too much on his plate to meet her' for the first time in her life, at 18. She wanted no monetary contribution. She just wanted to meet her father. The fucker refused. Her swine grandparents played a part in this. Murder would be far too good. Torture, might be enough.

Juno said...

Oh, Mur, I can so relate to this post. My blood still boils at the memory of some grey little life insurance salesman coming to our home some 9 years ago, when my kids were 7, 5 and 1, and placing a value on my services of R1000 a month ("A good salary in this country for a maid", he said, glancing at me without a hint of irony).

I don't think anyone can appreciate how much time, effort and energy goes into raising kids and running a household unless you've actually done it yourself. Quite apart from the nuts-and-bolts physical slaving, cooking, lifting and carring, there's also the emotional energy you put in: the counselling, the crisis management, the consoling, the comforting, the arbitration, the diplomacy, the hugs, the kisses, the endless demands of having to be the adult when all you want to do is cry like a baby. You just can't put a price on that Mur.