Parenting Is a Profession. Where’s My Paycheck?

I am a divorced, full-time parent, seeking full-time work. I have been doing so for more than a year since the most recent layoffs – two, nearly simultaneously, both contract positions.

Woman Listening to Other PerspectivesI was working a corporate full-time contractor job (marketing writing, online content) and a freelance journalism job. I managed both around parenting my sons. And in the wake of a bad divorce and a bad economy, I was almost paying my bills.

I cobble together a living like millions of others. I write. I edit. Sometimes I’m paid for my writing and editing. Sometimes I’m not – a whole other discussion when it comes to our Brave New Internet Economy.

I do projects of various sorts, generally marketing-related. And I borrow, I scrimp, and I borrow some more to keep us going.

The parenting job is the toughest of all and takes up more time than any of the others to date. And while we’re at it, it’s Friday. So where’s my paycheck?

It’s Friday. I’ve done my job. Where’s my paycheck?

How many of us are in this situation? Men and women who no longer show up in a statistic because we aren’t on the unemployment rolls? When you work contract or freelance, there are no benefits. There is no unemployment. How many single parents are there, with too little child support or an unenforceable piece of paper, living on credit and a prayer, and possibly working for free to “get exposure?”

It’s women, mostly. And we’re still showing up 24/7 for their children, sinking deeper into debt, aging more rapidly, getting sick from “doing it all,” and lack of proper medical care.

Losing hope.

There. I’ve said it. I’m 50 and worn out. 50 and financially beyond repair. 50 and giving away work. I’m 50 and still parenting with no “regular” job opportunities. I have skills galore, brains-a-plenty, and a body that is breaking down – or feels like it – largely from financial stress that has kicked a sleep disorder into the red zone. As for my 18 years of “volunteer parenting” for no pay, and two more to go?

I’m over it. Where’s my financial compensation – with back pay and benefits?

As for the past year? Let’s not go there. I wish to speak frankly, but I am also trying to follow my own rule, about not airing dirty laundry on the Internet. And truth is mutable, subject to contortion in able hands. This is my truth. Only that. And my indignation, which some of you share.

We pay childcare providers – Don’t parents qualify?

So here it is, my treatise: My time, my knowledge, my skills, my experience all poured into parenting, and were I not here, doing this job, someone else would be, and with pay. Where’s my $1,000/week pay for full time parenting two boys? Or $2,000/week, since expenses require that I feed them, house them, buy them books and school supplies, clothes and doctor’s visits? Too much money you say? If I were a live-in nanny, multilingual, with fancy degrees and years of experience – how much would you pay me then?

Would you prefer a different standard?

Fine. How about a teacher’s salary? An accomplished and experienced teacher, and that means health care benefits and disability benefits, right? Maybe even dental and vision and life insurance. Perhaps a retirement plan of some sort. Unemployment insurance. Wait. I won’t be needing that because I’m a mother, and my children are my heart. Abandonment could only come from my death. And I vowed years ago that I would live until this job is done. It is my bargain with God. Until they are properly launched, doing the best I can for my sons. I gave them life. I owe them that.

Anger as fuel

So I’m back to my issue, my waking thought, my irritation, my constant fear, my morning seething. The mask is off. I’m too damn tired for pretty or cute or upbeat. This is real, a fragment of my reality, a painful one at that: perpetual worry about my ability to keep going on virtually nothing, to keep parenting because it is my responsibility, knowing it isn’t solely mine, but it has turned out to be largely mine.

And while it has also been my privilege, getting through each day is getting harder. It isn’t helped by the fact that my two professions – marketing and writing – are both expendable. In the former case, you’re axed in favor of “revenue generating” activities without a second thought, and I get it. That’s always been true. In the latter, what was once compensated – writing of all sorts – is now considered a commodity, and worth little to no pay at all.

I am disintegrating. And parenting. And despite everything, parenting reasonably well. And I want to talk about pay for work, to stay angry if I must for the fuel that particular emotion provides, to address value for critical skills and experience, not only in the professions I seem to have lost to the Internet and yes I know that others are emerging, but the years of nurturing children, of encouraging them, teaching them, preparing them for the world and their contributions to it. I want to talk about surviving rather than slowly spiraling into poverty, which is exactly where I have been headed for many years. Now tell me – why do we pay babysitters and teachers, cooks and house cleaners, gardeners and handymen, taxi drivers and bus drivers, career counselors and tutors? I have been all that, and more.

Parenting is a profession.

Why aren’t we paid for it?


At the very least, why are we penalized for our parenting job in the workplace, in our earnings, in our so-called retirement accounts, in our other theoretical “benefits?”

Consider this a teaser. A thread. Something I’ve been twisting around in my mind for months, but I haven’t untangled it and knitted the fabric as yet. And I’ll come back to it, perhaps many times from different angles, and likely with less emotion.

But no less conviction.

Of course, it’s hard to fabricate anything when you’re scrapping for every dollar, responding to the latest child request, when your mind is here and there trying to wrap itself around creative ways to fight “the system” for money due; that mammoth untouchable “system” and its inertia, its resistance to change, its crushing weight, its complexity. The system that requires two parents to support their children, yet executing on that logical formula without the assistance of an attorney is nearly impossible. Who has money for an attorney?

And don’t tell me “having children was your choice.” My choice was to marry, then have children. An explicit choice. And happily (for me), Woman + Man = Children. Sadly, here is the formula I’m living, and I’m not alone:

(Divorce – Adequate Support) + (Solo Parenting) + Aging = staggering slippage into Here Where I Find Myself, along with my children: Disintegration. Potentially, disintegration of everything I care about, and everything I’ve ever built.

That is the equation, simplified, that has ruled my life for nearly 9 years.

Disintegration of everything, you say?

Given the right circumstances, yes. Damn near, and almost there. Divorce happens. Illness happens. Layoffs, bad economy, insufficient or no insurance, health problems, no family to help. Were the kids supposed to stop needing? To stop learning? To stop eating? To stop dreaming? And I’m one of the ‘lucky’ ones and I know it. I had borrowing power, the result of working for 25+ years, until the borrowing power becomes a thing of the past. And now it is.

Parenting is a profession

So here I am, in the murky waters where I have been circling for months now – selling off whatever I can (still), taking any gigs I can (still), and churning this notion that parenting is a profession. I look at the unrelenting demands on a solo parent, the quality and diversity of skills that I bring to the job daily – many of which are those same skills once used in the corporate world and in other organizational scenarios since. And I repeat: where’s my paycheck?

Some 15 years ago, I had two toddlers who required care while I went to the office. At that time, I paid people for that care, a qualified organization with glorified babysitters. For eight hours of care, to the tune of somewhere around $16,000/year. That continued each year until they went to elementary school. Shortly after that, I changed my work situation (I was older, with 20 years of experience at that time). I arranged for a corporate position from a home office. Full-time worker, full-time parent, complete with car pool duty, volunteering at school, and 60 hour corporate work weeks. I managed that for a number of years, until layoff hit, at the same time as my divorce.

At the very least – shouldn’t there have been a paycheck for the hours I’ve poured into raising my sons?

Yes, this is anger. You don’t like me like this, do you. I don’t like me like this either. But it is part of who I am, who I have become, not who I want to be. This is anger in the wake of reinventing myself more times than I care to admit, in restart after restart to make a little money, to try to make “a life,” to get by. This is anger even in the midst of extraordinary gratitude for several angels in the lives of my sons – and their kindness has shown me the good in people, and I will never forget. But there is still anger. I cannot get up physically to fight back. And if I cannot fight for my children who will?

Calmly, the morning

And still, I wake my teenager as gently as I can so he may start his day: shower, gather books, eat breakfast, while I’m making his two sandwiches for lunch. Then he drives the (inexpensive) car I’ll be paying off for years to come, carefully, as I’m also the driving instructor (unpaid).

My son goes into the school, I come home, and I write. I search on the internet for projects and jobs I could do, close to home or from home. I write some more. Maybe I have editing to do for someone who could possibly connect me to someone else, though the editing is unpaid.

I network. I write some more. I read a little and scanning the opportunities (for writers and editors and marketing writers) I wonder if perhaps today will be the day, finally, the day when something will bring me closer to being a provider again. Because my main job – parenting – yields enormous satisfaction and so much more, but no paycheck.

Parenting drains everything out of me – physically, emotionally, financially. And my body is paying the price. Now, more than ever.

College fund – nice concept. Retirement fund? That, too.

So we hit the latest rock in a decade of falling boulders in our paths. College. My younger son is starting to lose motivation. He’s an honors student. Gifted artistically and musically. Still curious. Still engaged. Still unspoiled. We research together – colleges to apply to and scholarships to consider, but of course – he has a particular handicap.

What might that be? His over-educated, overqualified, over 50-year-old mother, who earns nothing. And then there is his father, who earns a good living. His contribution to the cost and logistics of raising these boys? We won’t go there. Suffice it to say that support agreements are problematic, depending upon the state of residence. They are frequently unenforceable, particularly out of state. Suffice it to say that if one parent makes a good deal of money, whether or not they are willing to use it to assist with college (or any other academic program) is moot; “need-based” aid? Here’s that word again: problematic.

So my son is growing discouraged. Understandably. And I am fighting tooth and nail to hold him up. To keep his hope alive.

Money for college? I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to live in our tiny home. And I’m worried, worried about losing a second home to a bad economy and an unenforceable piece of paper, to trying to parent with adversarial maneuvers hovering in the background. I’m trying to figure out how we survive, how I survive, and I have no answer. And I’m angry. I’m angry because my skills and love and experience and work – and it has been hard, constant work – it has value. Tremendous value.

And it goes unpaid and unrecognized.

The role of parenting – free labor?

I read this earlier this morning, courtesy of Jacsmum:

My boys believe the house we live in is my ex’s, and have told me so; their reasoning being that he had a job and earned money, while I was at home for so many years. 20 years of mothering, and it has no dollar value in most people’s eyes. I am an educated woman in a wealthy country. What, then, of the women in poor countries with no education??

Her point was a different one – and understandable. She is spotlighting the countries that are brutally poor, where there is literally no control, no digging out, only despair.

But I am not feeling “socially responsible” this morning. Only angry and exhausted. I will be the writer who entertains you tomorrow, and the next day, and perhaps the day after that. I will stay behind the curtain of my own making, where I am – frankly – more at ease. But this morning, I am raw, in pain, frightened, livid, desperate. Searching inside myself for more strength, more ideas, more of anything to keep us going – knowing how much I have to offer and frustrated beyond measure that I’m nonetheless not “providing.”

So I focus on the few lines that pertain to me. Yes, this morning it’s all about me, while realizing that there are millions of women who must feel as angry and as powerless as I do. Women who are thoughtful and frightened and bewildered as am I, on this very same topic. And perhaps equally without a solution. 20 years of mothering, and it has no dollar value in most people’s eyes. Jacsmum couldn’t have said it any more clearly. I, too, am an educated woman in a wealthy country – and I earned that education at a time when at least that was possible. So here I am. Here we are – many of us. But when support checks are late, infrequent, too little, or simply disappear, and when all the other expenses (medical, educational) that are supposed to be shared are simply ignored, and when the last thing you can do is afford to fight back – not only do you live in a country where mothering has no value, it is the ticket to poverty.

Where is the control or the representation in that? How do my degrees assist in any way, except to be so much salt in the wound, when they are held against me if I look for work that requires no such degrees?

How is it worse to be uneducated and impoverished than educated and impoverished?

Not the end of this discussion

Not the stuff of a typical Friday morning musing. And not supported in a carefully constructed argument, backed by data. I apologize for that, and still insist – in my blurry, sleep-deprived manner, and rushing to get on with the morning mothering duties:

Having contributed to the economy for 25+ years, having “done it all” as the superwoman myth requires, having set aside my dreams, or most of them, to give the best I possibly could to my sons, where is my paycheck??

Yes, I chose to become a mother. In a marriage, when I had a job. Like many women, post-divorce, I find myself in a situation I could never have imagined, and have never been able to dig out. I have no regrets for putting my sons first, but the questions persist. Doesn’t that have value? Had I been “hired” to provide the services that I have, I’d be making $20,000 or $30,000 or $40,000/year, certainly.  

Where’s my back pay – much less my hope?


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  1. says

    You have every right to be angry, sugar. The situation you describe above? Royally fucked up. Where’s your ex? I’ll make you a fancy pair of earrings out of his testicles. Just let me at ’em.

  2. says

    Well said, sista. You know I feel your pain – and anger at the injustice of it all. You said;

    “not only do you live in a country where mothering has no value, it is the ticket to poverty.”

    This is definitely the case when you are a single mother and the father of your children makes it their mission to not only avoid paying support, but to do so to make life difficult for YOU, and therefore your kids.

    I’ve been a parent for 18 yrs, and by the time my youngest (of 4) is 18 I will have been a full-time parent for 32 yrs. Instead of that having loads of value, as it should, it is a handicap when it comes to getting ahead in work, life and even relationships. But for my children’s fathers? Entirely different story. Why? Because THEY dont have to worry about caring for their offspring! They have well paying jobs, travel, spend $ freely on themselves and their women but the children come in last, if they come in at all.

    Think I’ll hit kitchenWitch up for a pair of them earrings myself! 😉

  3. says

    Love this post – as I’ve wondered it myself, many, many times. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE my job as SAHM. And I’m pleasantly surprised at this because I only chose to do it because logic told me it was the right thing to do. I was terrified I’d miss my profession. But I don’t – at least, not as much as I thought I would. My sister sent me a wonderful article years ago about how much a SAHM would make if she were paid. It was around $120,000/yr. if memory serves. Amazing. Now, like you, I ask…where’s MY paycheck?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      $120,000. Sounds lovely. The reality is that a SAHM who has a husband/partner supporting the family is, at least to some degree, receiving pay, albeit insufficient and indirect. Those full-time parents who also work for pay (either stay-at-home or partially stay-at-home, depending upon the age of children) may be penalized by the Family Court system. And I find that shameful.

  4. says

    “Were the kids supposed to stop needing? To stop learning? To stop eating? Dreaming?”

    You’ve touched a nerve with me this morning. I’ve spent the last 11 years worrying about my son’s needs, whether they had food on the table, what kind of education they are getting and helping them realize their dreams. I did it all alone and at a fraction of the pay I earned.

    Something I’ve learned over the years…a woman’s worth and that of her children is determined by whether or not she is attached to a man.

    We are devalued by society and the Family Court System and no one gives a second thought to that woman who lives across the street with her children.

    I think for me it isn’t so much about the lack of money but rather the lack of a second thought. To have someone, anyone recognize what I’ve lived and how well I managed to navigate the thankless job of “single mom.”

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I recognize it Cathy. Mindy recognizes it. And I applaud you, and I know you because I look in the mirror and I see you. And you’re right, we aren’t even a second thought.

      There is also a major difference between the “single parent” who shares parenting with another responsible adult, and those like you, like Mindy, like me – who have a far more complex situation than if we were widowed. Solo parenting with constant shadows. It is a whole other discussion, and one which I am trying to write. But the fact is, were we widows, our children would not be caught in a perpetual state of warfare and want and a system that rewards the one who can afford the best attorney, find the better loopholes, or high-tail it out of state before the other party realizes the implications.

      This is not always the situation of single mothers. It happens to single fathers as well, and I know that. To good men. But it more often happens to women. Yes, if we were widowed there would be other sorrows to process, but in the long run, our children might be better off. Not in every case, but in some cases, though it pains me immeasurably to lay those words to the page.

      In the meantime, we are invisible or expected to shut up and smile. And disappear. Our children are the casualties, as are we, and as is all that we have to contribute to a country in dire need of contributions from those who have skills, and wish to contribute.

  5. says

    You know the more and more I read Single Parenting blogs it really makes me appreciate all that my wife does. I often complain about sitting at a desk for long hours and she is home busting her ass to take care of everything. It is sick to think that there are ex husbands and wives out there that don’t help out either in the financial end or the emotional end. Thanks for making me realize ONCE AGAIN how lucky I am.

    Oh and thanks for the heads up on the earrings, just in case I ever piss the wife off.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      You are fortunate, Scott. You haven’t been reading me so you don’t know how “out of character” this post is for me. Some mornings the rage – and outrage – is almost unbearable. Hiding it from the children I love is even more difficult. And it isn’t really what I want “to be about.” Parenting has been the joy of my life, but I am an older parent. I had a full and interesting life before I ever married, and many topics to write about, questions to provoke discussion, and so I write about all of that. And still, I write about parenting – not just single parenting – but parenting, because it is the most difficult job, and it has been the most precious gift I’ve ever had.

      I read some of your blog yesterday and wept. What you seem to have, from what you write, is what most of us want. What we hope for. Not perfection, just the messy stuff of everyday living and loving and respecting.

      How many of us wouldn’t want what you share, as a family? But it isn’t what we end up with. Some of us struggle through a variety of issues – that’s the roller coaster of life. I write about all of it because that is my approach, my voice, my desire, my inclusiveness, my world – even from the tiny confines of its physical space and logistical space. I believe that there are good men and good fathers in our country. We don’t honor them enough. But nor do we honor the mothers – those whose full-time job it is to raise the next generation of men and women, while often also working outside the home. And let me say, the grueling fatigue of non-stop parenting at home is exhausting. It has moments of pure delight, and there is no ROI calculation that could ever equal those priceless moments.

      But when things fall apart, and when ex-spouses and a Family Court System and societal pressure combine to take the easy way out, the result is dreadful. At least I have a voice, tiny though it is. Here, in this place, for as long as I can continue to do this. What of all the women and children with no voice at all?

  6. says

    As Mindy and others have said, I get this. And I do recognize how fortunate I am to still have a job. For many reasons, I should not, but I do. And in a way, that makes this all the more painful to read. There should be more employers who get it. There should be more bosses that see us as whole people. And, even with my fortunes, I get this as a reflection of my own life. The ex who doesn’t step up to his legal AND moral responsibilities, the lack of social support, the anger, the getting up and doing the parenting job and the full-time job and still struggling more than should be necessary. I can’t even think about colleges or retirement. While I’m not there yet, I have no reason to believe that the advancing years will make them any more possible. I know this isn’t your usual kind of post, but I really appreciate that you did post it.

  7. says

    “Yes, this is anger. You don’t like me like this, do you.”

    I do like you like this. I like you enraged; I like you entertaining; I like you any which way. What I don’t like is that you have to feel like this, that you have to live like this.

  8. says

    So much already said here. I still can not comprehend how somebody who leaves a relationship, also leaves their children. For me that is inconceivable. I simply can not wrap my head around that. Even so, another woman I know has horrendous problems with the dead-beat dad – to the point of suppressive abuse. These people should be shot for their crimes.

    On another note. It is so true about “How is it worse to be uneducated and impoverished than educated and impoverished.” It seems that the “fit” window in today’s job market gets thinner with the more education you have. Employers are still thinking that if you have too much education for the position, you won’t stick around very long. They need to understand that there are no jobs out there. There is no where else to go. People with PhD’s are pushing carts at Wegman’s these days and most would kill for that! Hire us!!!!

  9. says

    Posts like this – knowing that you are not alone. Make it all worth it.
    I have been a single mother of three for the past 13 years. my children are no longer children, my ex- their father lives far far away and is just now beginning to call once in a while.
    I get compliments – people who can’t understand how I do it all.. but you never really feel as though anyone ‘gets it’ until you meet those who are struggling like you, and fighting the same fight. They are your sanity. Work together… the pay is in your kids’ smiles, laughs, hugs. My ex missed out on all the pay.

  10. says

    This is an amazing post; I hung on your every word. I am a single 48 year old mom of 3. They’re 22, 19, and 15. My Ex is a workaholic and on the road all the time. Fortunately he’s willing to pay me to be the magic parent. It’s been like this the 12 years we’ve been split. And yes, my part time jobs have meant little to no retirement, fund, savings, benefits etc. I’m not sure what the future brings.
    I feel your pain.
    The only silver lining financially has been that my kids have received more financial aid for college since my salary is the main one looked at.
    None of the things you discussed are right. But it’s happening to people not in positions of power to change it. Mainly women.
    And I haven’t been around your blog long, but I do like you like this. In fact, I think you rock!

  11. says

    This anger is necessary. You have helped each of us feel your pain. You have also brought up an important issue: how single mothers are often left to fend for themselves.

    I am currently serving as secretary in the woman’s group for my church. Each week I meet with the president and her counselors to determine those needs of the women in our ward. One of the biggest concerns we have is taking care of the single moms and their children. It is heart breaking to see them struggling day after day to keep themselves–and their children–afloat.

    I am tired of the arguments about health care. I am irritated and dang angry that it has slowed down. You need to be taken care of.

  12. says


    I’m so glad you wrote this post. This is the raw truth of your life. And it doesn’t take away from the beautiful words with which you deck our computers most mornings to say that. You don’t need to amuse us. You don’t need to entertain us. We’re all big girls and guys. Just please be yourself. Trust that you know the boundaries.

  13. says

    I do understand where you are coming from today. While my children’s father has always paid, he has not always been in their lives. When the marriage ended, I was working a part-time job at maybe $7 an hour (13 years ago). He was making $64,000 a year, which in our area is a good salary. He told the Family Court judge he could not pay the child support required by law and the judge let him negotiate lower. He rented a one bedroom apartment in a part of the city locally that is scary. He never saw the kids who were 2-12 at the time.

    I have to say I am lucky as, over time, I have found better employment. There were lots of stops between that initial part-time job 13 years ago and now where I freelance. There were a lot of moves until I found this house that I rent in 1998. It was hard for a long time. College is still a difficult subject.

    I think you have inspired a blog post but maybe not.

  14. says

    I feel for you, Wolf. I wish there was a magic button that could make it all better for the good people in the world. Unfortunately life isn’t fair and we end up getting screwed for no other reason than we become victims in someone else’s game. It’s not right, and it makes me mad too. I was so fortunate for my best friend who stepped in when I needed help. He’s covered most of my expenses for the last 6 months (including my rent and my health insurance). It’s cost him probably 20-30k just on me alone. But, this brings up a good point. If I didn’t have him I don’t know where I’d be right now. We all need to have some kind of safety net so that we don’t get trapped in this cycle of despair and helplessness.

    I too am an educated guy, but the way things were the last 6 months it wouldn’t have done me any good. My wife is a Lawyer and and construction manager and it hasn’t done her any good either. Wolf, I hope things turn around for you soon. Keep your chin up and maintain forward progress.

  15. says

    This is what bothers me: it’s not even the chauffeuring, the cleaning, the cooking and all that stuff, it’s the raising where my value as a parent isn’t seen. In the anticipation of trouble and the heading off of trouble, in the honest talks, in the downright reading of my kids’ minds – that’s where my price is above rubies. Sometimes I think I’m the only one who can see this. Instead others see that I’m unpaid, not the greatest housekeeper, cook ridiculously. You are all to right, BLW, the standards of society are off. The ability to raise children and turn them into grounded, adult human beings is the most important job anyone can do.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Linda – I smiled at your mention of the reading-the-minds thing. Uncanny, isn’t it? And each time we do it – the astonishment on the faces of our children is priceless.

  16. says

    This is such an important and pervasive issue. One small consolation I can add is that having worked with kids in group homes who were abandoned by both parents, at least your kids have known that they are loved and wanted. Here’s to hoping that spiritual wealth might soon transform into a little tangible wealth for you.

  17. says

    It’s okay to “be like this” once in a while — we all have to vent! I grieve for you, although my own situation is so much different from yours. I teach kids, however, who are in your sons’ places. And I see moms who make this “what they’re about” all the time, and bitterness bleeds from those kids. I applaud your honesty and your wisdom as a mom — and your perseverance at being such a great parent for so many long, hard days, BLW.

  18. says

    I’m right there with you. My son is about to graduate after 5 years at the University of Mississippi. I’m proud of him. I’m also broke, since I’m the one who had to put him through school, his dad felt he couldn’t afford to help. So, no retirement savings and, I’m a freelancer too, having to scrounge up every job.

    I’m proud of him and I’m proud of where I am and I know everything will work out but, if I allow it, my blood can start boiling too!

    Good luck!

  19. says

    I really, really feel for your situation or anyone in the single parenthood role.

    It is different if you’re married though. As you noted, a SAHM is being paid indirectly when she is supported by her husband. So in a sense they are being “paid” for caring for their children. Don’t SAH-spouses also receive social security and other benefits based on the working spouse’s earnings?

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