A Paycheck for Mothers

Lindsay - Freeport, Maine
Entered on April 30, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: parenthood, work

It sounds like blasphemy: wanting a paycheck for being a mother, but at times I have to admit, I long for something like it that gives me some validation from outside myself for the work I do every waking moment. No disrespect to the sacredness of the mother-child bond, but what if I were to say, “Hell ya! I’ll take 50K for all the jobs I pack together: maid, home-ec guru, super nanny, health care navigator, personal chef, chauffer…” But who would don the paycheck? The government? Corporations? Small businesses? NGOs? Children, once sixteen?

I guess the question to start with is: to whom goes the benefit of mothering? A) The child, once grown who is capable of navigating life. B) All the people that the child in his or her life touches: friends, teachers, partners, lovers, clients, employees, employers, strangers, and relatives. C) All the people who enjoy things brought into this world by the grown child, like a newly paved road, a great song, a web site that answer a question, a favorite food. D) Then there are the non-human beneficiaries that the child in his or her lifetime cares for: dogs, rabbits, chickens, snakes, goats, wildlife preserves, ecosystems, birds, bats, monkeys, what have you.

It would be one thing if the beneficiaries were just all the people a child ever encountered in his or her lifetime. Then we could insert some sort of scanner in the child that would automatically bill anyone who had a positive interaction with him or her. But then…that laugh you had with the regular at the coffee shop? It’d cost you: five cents to that person’s mother. That birthday present you just got? Five cents please, payable to the gift giver’s mother. If mothers were paid in this way, in general, goodness in the world would be less good because everything would have a price tag. Thank you would turn outright unpleasant – just another drain in your bank account.

But the work mothers do benefits all of society. What if no one learned how to say please, ask instead of demand, apologize, wash their hands, love, be thoughtful, wash their hair, use the potty, wipe, wash their hands again, be true, eat well, have a heart, not lie, not steal? I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that civilization would collapse. Wars would explode across the globe. Disease would run rampant. Floors everywhere would be covered in barf in response to rotting spilled food and uncontained human waste.

If farmers get subsidies to grow corn to help them stay in business, how about mothers get one to help them keep mothering? $25 per month would be a quarter of what a lot of families pay for other important family services, like a hundred channels on TV.

Still, even if society miraculously did an economic 180, and started to pay for a service it had received for free for ten thousand years, the household pets and feeder-fed birds of the world are still getting away with care for free. It’s starting to seem that the only realistic and fair payment would have to be made by God, the Universe, or whatever force is responsible for It All. But figures, those types don’t deal in cash, stock options, credit, or anything else that looks, smells, or works like money.

What do they deal in? One might call them units of human goodness experienced in society: any smile, friendly hello, “please” and “thank you”, flushed toilet, clean hand, hug, thoughtful gesture, nice person, job done well. Sure everyone, not just mothers, receives these things, but only mothers, if they take a moment to think about it, know how they really came to be: potty training and enough instructions, reminders, and redirections (and cleaning up!) to drive a person momentarily mad, on and off, for about 18 years.

How many units of goodness does a mother get paid in a day? If she can think of just one she received today, an email with good news from a friend, someone saying thank you, or even I’m sorry, dinner with someone who uses silverware and a napkin, on a clean table which is on a reasonably clean floor, then that would be a 100% raise from yesterday. If mothers think about it this way, they’re getting paychecks all the time, and have only to start picking them up.