The Value of a Mother’s Work

Meditation by Elizabeth Nourse

I saw another one of those posts the other day that was calculating the dollar value of everything a mother does in a day. I understand the temptation to find some way to concretely “prove” the value of the work of a mother. But we need to stop making and sharing those posts, because by their very nature they undermine the real value of the mother’s role by conceding that very point which we should most insistently refuse: that reality is intrinsically an economic proposition, that money is the supreme measure of the value of all things, or at the very least that it is appropriate to subject spiritual/relational/eternal goods to this measure.

It is generally not those who already accept this proposition that are magnifying these posts; they are participating in the paradigm that already validates the value of their work. They have already embraced the subjection of all things to a monetary value system, down to answering the question “but who will raise the children?” with the reply: “those who are paid the cash value of that work.” Because of course someone does have to raise the children and make the food and clean the home, but the work apparently does not become dignified unless someone is “employed” to do it. Ironically it is often those who refuse to participate in this paradigm that are desperate to prove the value of their work, even to the point of subverting their foundation by subjecting it to the value system of the very paradigm they refuse (the one that devalues them to begin with!) The whole exercise is futile: the home-makers are arguing on grounds they don’t (or shouldn’t) believe in and everyone else is unconvinced because no real economic transaction has taken place.

The mother (and the family in general, when it refuses to exist simply for consumption and entertainment) stands in stark contrast to a monetary interpretation of reality. She is the necessary counterbalance to the masculine tendency towards quantification. She insists that the work she does as she creates her home and nurtures her children operates in the sphere of supreme importance, and that the work that she or her husband does for monetary gain exists as the necessary means of funding that endeavor. To attempt to define the value of her work monetarily is to invert the true order of value. In the sacramental nature of her vocation she is a symbol (not only a signpost, but an actual vehicle) of humanity. It is in the fact that she operates largely in a private sphere, doing much work and producing many things that are not assigned any monetary value by anyone, that allows her to resist such inhuman principles as efficiency. She alone, as queen of her own domain, is often the only one with the time and freedom to be ready to respond and to offer that thing of vital importance for the raising of children and the making of a true home: her very presence.

So have confidence! Do not look for (and certainly don’t expect) validation from out there. Lean into the non-monetary nature of much of the work you do as the very strength of your vocation: a humanizing force in a dehumanized society.

(The necessary disclaimer: this is not to say that a mother shouldn’t ever contribute financially to her family, as is often necessary, only that she shouldn’t get confused about how to order or define the value of the various kinds of work she does. And that goes for fathers as well. Anybody, really. And I also have endless faith in the ingenuity of mothers to find ways to weave their means of financial contribution organically into their lives in ways that complement their supreme work instead of undermining it, rather than simply becoming a cog in someone else’s money-making machine. I have seen this ingenuity many times firsthand.)

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