It’s Sad That We’re Still Doubting The ‘Worth’ Of A Stay-At-Home Mom

Economists and courts are seeing their value, but some women still look down on homemakers.
Representative image.
Representative image.

Let me be honest: I am addicted to social media. I love to browse Facebook, see what other people are talking about, and once in a while share my two bits too. Most discussions I'm privy to as a mom are reasonably benign—who's the best paediatrician in town, the most progressive schools, home remedies for graying hair. Yet, there are some sensitive topics, voices that stand out, sting you and set into motion a series of contemplative thoughts.

A case in point: a few days back on Facebook, a working mom put up a post that read:

"Women should work, become independent and follow their passions. In the bargain children also become independent and more respectful of their mother and her time. They understand that their mother is also ambitious and learn to value her presence in their lives."

As expected, this post triggered a snowstorm of responses—in support as well as in protest. I personally take exception to it because of the implied judgments it contains about homemakers. My concerns with this post are three-fold.

If a woman is not working for pay, is she non-productive?

For starters, it worries me greatly to think that a stay-at-home mom may not be considered worthy of her child's respect. What happened to all those moral science classes where we are taught to respect our mothers? Ok, if moral science doesn't impress you much, maybe the Supreme Court of India's words will. It stated in 2010 that "housewives are an invaluable unpaid resource and definitely not unproductive!" will. The apex court issued this statement when it slammed the 2001 census for categorising homemakers as non-workers!

It worries me greatly to think that a stay-at-home mom may not be considered worthy of her child's respect.

Part of the problem here is that the official gross domestic product, in many nations, measures only the value of labour/goods/services sold in the market. As Rupa Subramanya noted, "Because work at home isn't part of the market system, and doesn't receive compensation through a wage, this important social and human capital goes unrecorded."

Today, courts and economists across the world have started to speak in defence of a stay-at-home mom's productivity.

In Sher Singh vs. Raghubir Singh, where a dispute arose on compensation for the services rendered by a housewife, posthumously, the high court shot down a Tribunal's assessment of the woman's contributions as being worth at ₹600 per month (basis the conclusion that the services rendered by the deceased to her family can be replaced by hiring a servant at the salary of ₹600 per month.) The high court said:

"This reasoning is totally fallacious. The work being done by a wife and mother cannot be done by a servant. No servant can work for 24 hours at a salary of Rs. 600/- per month. Further more such servant would have to be provided food, clothing and other facilities."

Similarly, in 2010, the Supreme Court elaborately dealt with the subject and stated:

"The gratuitous services rendered by wife/mother to the husband and children cannot be equated with the services of an employee and no evidence or data can possibly be produced for estimating the value of such services."

And if you are still wondering how to compute, in money terms, the contributions of a humble stay-at-home mother, there are a few suggestions, though not completely fool-proof. Sanjukta Chaudhuri, associate professor of economics and women's studies, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire was quoted in an article published in the Telegraph India as saying:

"There are several methods. The 'market' method estimates the per hour market value of outsourcing each task accomplished by a homemaker; the 'opportunity cost' method is based on the prevailing average wage of people who are in the labour market with similar education levels."

Though simplistic, this does give you a sense of how much a stay-at-home mom is "worth."

And if you are still not convinced, here's a last shot: "Imagine if a man marries his housekeeper and stops paying her for her work, GDP goes down. If a woman stops nursing and takes day care assistance from another woman for her baby, GDP goes up."

How's that for some reasoning!

Do I respect my own mom/daughter/daughter-in-law less for choosing to stay home?

The post on Facebook raised another question: do I respect my own mom less for not going to work. Or what if I have a son with a stay-at-home wife? Does she deserve less respect because of the choices she has made?

On the one hand we talk about teaching our sons to respect women, while on the other we suggest that the amount of respect a woman deserves is tied to her occupation.

The FB post—reflective of a larger trend in attitudes reinforces—the idea that our worth is eventually identified by who "brings home the bacon" in the family. Why are we still slaves to a feudal mindset, albeit standing on its head? On the one hand we talk about teaching our sons to respect women, while on the other we suggest that the amount of respect a woman deserves is tied to her occupation. Is that not a contradiction?

Can we collaborate rather than battle with each other?

Women, let's try to support each other and see the value in an array of choices. We expend way too much time and effort in tearing each other down. Indira Nooyi was right on target when she said, "I think we have to change our whole approach to supporting each other, taking advice from each other, seeking it out." We need to support and not judge.

So, lean in women. Support each other—working or stay-at-home moms. Let's breathe in the same space without creating standards to toe.

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