Becoming a mother means making lots of sacrifices.
Giving up time, energy and sometimes even our identities! But often one of the most challenging sacrifices (and most impactful in the household) is sacrificing our income.
Money is said to make the world go round, and whilst it isn’t necessarily the biggest driver, it does impact many women’s decisions (hello, returning to work before you feel ready!).
Stay-At-Home-Mums and mothers who take maternity leave can find themselves struggling to make ends meet, especially if they don’t have access to paid leave. No longer contributing to the family income, it can also feel as though you no longer have a say over the family finances.
The motherhood penalty is a biological tax that women pay when they have children. Not only is it costing them financially to have kids, but it’s also costing them freedom in their choices.
Instead, it should be about empowering mothers to make the decisions that are right for their families, not putting financial strain on them or limiting their choices because of outdated norms about motherhood.
Devaluing a Mother’s Role in the Home
When a mother is not paid to take care of her children, it sends the message that her role in the home is not valuable. It perpetuates the idea that women are only good for their reproductive abilities and nothing else.
Which couldn’t be further from the truth!
Women are still treated as second-class citizens in comparison to men, with mothers, in particular, often thought of as the least beneficial members of society. Mums who choose to stay at home and raise their kids are often lambasted for being a drain on resources.
This sends the message that the value of a woman solely depends on whether or not she works…and contributes to the economy.
As children become school-aged there is an expectation that mothers should now return to the workforce as they no longer have little ones at home to care for (and if she doesn’t, well then, what exactly does she do all day at home alone?!). When you break this down, with school drop-off being 9am and pick-up being 2:30 / 3pm; by the time the mother arrives at work (and leaves early again), there are maybe 4 or 5 hours functional work time at most. On top of this run-around, she is expected to prepare dinner, clean the house and manage the mental workload too. No wonder working mothers feel burnt-out! Given the limited job roles at cater to part-time hours such as this (which often attract lower rates of pay), it makes sense that many woman do opt to remain home and manage the family workload instead.
So, what about the work that mothers actually do?
There is still a lot of stigma attached to taking care of children with it being seen as a ‘mother’s job’.
A recent study of families in Australia, showed women do on average 60 hours unpaid work per week whilst they have a child under 6. By comparison, the unpaid workload of the father is approx 33 hours per week. Whilst it’s great that fathers are pitching in, it’s still mothers who carry the brunt of the work when it comes to raising children.
This unpaid labour often goes unnoticed and unrecognised, when it comes to the household finances. With the father being the primary breadwinner whilst the mother is on maternity leave, she is seen as not bringing in a wage despite the work she is doing.
Regardless of whether a permanent arrangement or only temporary (ie. on maternity leave), women feel as though they have no say in the household spending. Having to ask before purchasing; whilst their partner still enjoys the same previous freedoms over his spending. Any of the mother’s non-essential ‘wants’ become the first thing on the budget chopping block.
But who says that her wants are non-essential?
Sometimes these ‘nice-to-haves’ are what she really needs.
It’s as though women are being taxed for not working and taking care of their child, whilst their partner just carries on as normal!
What can we do to resolve this?
There are a few things we can do to try and resolve this financial strain on stay-at-home-mum.
Communication is such a big one! This is where so many people come unstuck. So first and foremost, have an open and honest conversation with your partner about the situation.
They may not even be consciously aware of what is happening and how it’s affecting you!
They may not have considered the full extent of the work done around the home and in caring for your child. It’s important they comprehend the work that goes on behind the scenes whilst they’re at their job. Some days it’ll be more obvious and then there are those days where keeping your babe fed and safe is an enormous task in itself!
Create a plan together
Once you have communicated and understand the situation better, come up with a plan together. This could involve setting some ground rules about spending and how to manage money during this time. Have a clear budget to ensure all household expenses are taken care of to remove the stress from having more month at the end of the money than the other way around.
Having you both on the same page means no resentment or misunderstanding down the track.
Have your own ‘spending’ account
Note I said spending, not savings! And not one for baby items either. This is YOUR account to spend on whatever you like. No questions asked.
Having the freedom to make decisions over your own expenses is one of the most liberating experiences. It takes away any guilt about having to answer to anyone; and knowing that your household expenses are already taken care of, there’s no guilt or feelings of “this should be going on the mortgage”.
The only thing it should be going towards is… whatever you desire! The amount that you put into this account will obviously depend upon the family budget, but factor this into it.
You are more than contributing to the household in the form of energetic exchange (which is all that money is afterall) and deserve to be compensated for it! Your partner will be buying things for themselves, and so should you.
You are just as worthy as them!
...maybe even more (but don’t tell them I said so!)
The motherhood penalty is a real and unjust phenomenon that reduces the value of women’s work. It’s past time we defended motherhood and acknowledged all of the effort mothers put in, whether or not they are paid. Mothers play an important part in society, putting their own needs on hold for the sake of their children. Freedom to choose their own path and control family money is not another bargaining chip they should have to give up.
The motherhood penalty discriminates against women and devalues their worth.
It’s time we stand up for motherhood, mothering, and the work that mothers do!