Capitalism vs. the Stay at Home Parent

In the eyes of capitalism, children are an unfortunate burden. Not only do they not participate in paid work, but they are a drain on resources. The best place for them, is out of the way. Or even better, reconceptualised as a product that can be traded.

From the earliest of our days, our belief system is woven with capitalist values. Real work is something that you are paid to do. Your value and contribution to society is measured in terms of the work that you are paid for. The more pay, the greater your status and value. It doesn’t particularly matter what it is that you are doing, the key part is that money is changing hands.

Then, all of a sudden you have a baby, and are working harder and for longer hours than ever before. Only no one is paying you a single penny for it.

The Window of Approved Caring

To start off with, that isn’t a problem. It’s expected. There is a window of time where our capitalistic bosses allow us as parents to care for our babies. If you are lucky that window of time is two weeks if you are a dad, and up to a year if you are a mum.

Then, it stops. Hope you had a nice time and all, but back to the real stuff now, you know, ‘actual work’.

And the babies? Do their needs suddenly become less, in line with your availability to be the one to meet them? Well no, not at all. They need you just as much as they did before. Now though you can start paying someone else to look after them. Congratulations capitalism, you’ve got babies making money for you.

What if you don’t go back?

But what of the parents that don’t go back to paid work? What happens to them?

Two things happen:

  1. They are convinced more than ever that their hard and loving work as the primary carer for their child(ren) is of immeasurable value.
  2. They are marginalised more than ever by their internalised capitalism and the internalised capitalism of others.

It is quite a trippy place to be. I mean, you literally become an island of insignificance. Whilst working your ass off, and doing something so essential, capitalism gas lights you to the max by saying it means and is worth nothing.

Is it just that we don’t place a high value on the well being of children in our society, that we don’t see them as real people deserving of respect and quality human care? There is that.

The low status of babies and children also impacts the status of other people who spend their time with them – nursery workers and teachers for example.

But even those people experience greater respect and recognition than parents caring for their children themselves. Those people are getting PAID for their work, which makes them valuable.

Parents are just doing it for free. Which makes them either mugs, deviants, some kind of anti-feminist time travellers from the 1950s, or just plain lazy. It’s a stigma reserved for those perceived as ‘dependents’ in our society.

But What do you Even Do All Day? 

Parents that care for their children themselves, not only have to be incredibly self motivated and resourceful to navigate a society that has no place for them, they also have to coach themselves into positive self-esteem in order to combat the internalised capitalism that tells them at every available moment that they are doing literally nothing of value.

So, we reach out to each other. We form online support groups. We get together to validate and love each other.

And when we do that, we quietly and creatively destabilise the foundation of capitalism (patriarchy’s bedfellow). We say that despite all the odds, the financial, social and personal compromises, despite what our socialisation into a capitalistic belief system would have us believe, we still ACTUALLY believe that what we do is IMMENSELY valuable work, more than worthy of our time and dedication. We say that, even though they can’t pay us for it and make it ‘real work’,  our children are deserving of us.

And because of this, despite what others might believe and what we might sometimes find ourselves thinking, we are able to get on with what is probably the most important and socially active work we will ever do.

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49 thoughts on “Capitalism vs. the Stay at Home Parent

  1. And getting progressively worse. This is a real blind spot in our society (apart from the people engineering or) and us mothers are too knackered to kick back against the pricks. Living your life the way you want is powerful but we need more. Sigh.

    • I agree Rachel – even finding time to write is extremely challenging but I am determined to because I realise that not doing so is yet another manifestation of the marginalisation and oppression that we face. Social media and the Internet gives me hope – it is a fantastic tool for us to use to organise I think.

  2. I couldn’t agree less. Surely the take home message here is “Look before you leap”. If you do not have adequate self belief/self esteem to navigate child bearing and rearing, don’t go there. Surely an educated , aware couple would think through these issues prior to conceiving. I think Eleanor Roosevelt said ” Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission ” or words to that effect.

    • Thank you for your comment Katrina. I think there are a few problematic aspects to this. Firstly, before becoming a parent I didn’t realise the extent to which it is normalised in our society to totally negate the needs of babies and children. It was only by being a parent and walking with my children that I began to realise the extent to which our society is prejudiced and discriminated towards them. Although it is now the norm for children to go into group childcare settings at age 1 (something like 87% of 1 year olds do not have a parent as their primary care giver) – prior to having children I didn’t realise the all of the complex ways in which this can be detrimental and in conflict with attachment theory and children’s rights. Many parents find themselves as stay at home parents out of respect for their children’s rights – and the barriers and the challenges faced in doing this were at least invisible to me prior to being in the situation. So, in answer to your point, we certainly did look before we leapt, but what happened was we realised that what we were looking at bared little resemblance to what we found the reality to actually be.

      • Brilliant – I’m glad I’m seeing more being written about this! I feel like this is a real issue for feminism that is being swept under the rug and none of my peers seem bothered about it! And they bash attachment parenting like it were some fad du jour that everyone just picked up like Gina ford. I’m angry about it and no one else seems to care!

      • Hi Lauren thanks for your comment. I believe this is an extension for feminism into children’s rights. It’s about including children’s rights in feminist intersectionality. I’ve just written a new blog that goes into that issue a little…

      • You do not know of the experience until you go through it and are therefore not qualified to pass judgment much less an informed opinion. I love this piece and because I speak as a parent, I have even more value and understanding for it. As politically incorrect as this is, both patriarchy and feminism have turned their backs and hearts on the needs of our children. A new paradigm is much needed whereby, if we insist on having a money-based economy, parents who choose to give their children what they authentically need by raising them full-time, need to be provided a basic living expense. This of course starts by changing our hearts and minds and parents demanding such a concept.

    • Well said……….., love the quote by Roosevelt. Anybody who feels marginalised or insignificant due to not returning to work has got an internal issue with self esteem and self worth. It is nothing to do with anything else. I’ve not gone back to work. I thought about the advantages and disadvantages beforehand, made my decision and am comfortable with it. I don’t feel the need to victimise myself and join support groups.

    • Yes tend to agree with you. We are not doing paid work. So what? We are simply making a choice to do work outside the tax system – no big deal. I think there are issues about the loss of market position, but self esteem? Essentially you sound a bit of a wringer. You’re lucky enough to stay home and take care of your healthy kids by choice and you need a support group/ cheerleading crew to get you through! Good grief!

  3. Your analysis is so true. I wasted my time feeling guilty and as though I was swimming against the tide. Now I try to pass positive attitudes on to my daughter who is now on the same journey and has read your blog.

  4. Brilliant… I think this all the time, but you formulated the words more beautifully than I ever have been able to. Sharing this with all of my SAHM friends and family. This is demanding, valuable work. No less so because there’s no fiat money system attached to it’s worth.

  5. The economist with whom I share a home and am raising children has taught me a simple and yet very validating economic concept, “household production”. The simple definitions of this concept that turn up in an on-line search tend to overlook the tremendous value of caring for our own children. However, there’s a great paper here: http://fbe.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/805995/759.pdf We might also recall that pretty much every faith tradition values women’s traditional work at home, something many of us (myself included) were “too modern” to do until we had children of our own.

  6. Other modern countries have acknowledged the importance of children through legislating reasonable parents right’s to stay home with their children. This is such an important discussion to be having in the US right now. We need to catch up. I stayed home with my two children because I was fortunate to be able to choose to, and we should have such a choice. The recognition of this looks like part of the next wave of feminism and stay at home parents are actually revolutionaries because they are bucking the pervasive capitalist system and the patriarchy is supports by choosing to value their own children over an empty profit driven system. That system is so strong it took me time to realize this myself even as I stayed home and fielded the normal questions and criticisms we get when doing so.

    • I totally agree with you Mary re: the future of feminism. It is a revolutionary act to value children above capitalism. The situation in the US is really tough – no entitlement to maternity leave is so problematic in so many ways just to mention one thing.

  7. Thanks for this article: it is indeed food for thought. I believe that ‘Sacred Economics’ and ‘Ascent of Humanity’ by Charles Eisenstein goes really into the heart of the matter…

  8. Thanks for writing such an awesome article. I am a medical graduate who never thought of ending up like this. With two beautiful daughters i am just a full time mom now. I agree the pleasures of bringing up children are immense but the society always looks down upon us. Dilemma!

    • ‘Just a full time mom’ – says it all doesn’t it! The root issue here is how society views children. We live in a very ageist and ableist society that really does not value humans until they become useful to the capitalist mechanism. This is such a gross disservice to children’s rights, well being and actual competance, with devastating consequences for the whole of society. Keep doing what you are doing, its such important work. xx

  9. Omg I needed to read this so badly right now. Thank you so much for writing this! Recently I’ve been struggling with depression, and ive figured out that it stems from this very concept. Ive been feeling that just being home with the kids is valueless and that I need to be doing something more to fulfill this internal capitalistic mindset, like spending any free time I can get working on my own businesses and making a profit of some sort. I’ve been losing my drive to engage with my small precious children in activities and play, in exchange for constant effort to make something that has “value” in the capitalistic system. Thank you for ths article. So well written.

    • I understand how you feel. Staying home with my son full time leaves me with the same feeling. It always feels like it is “not enough”. It wears on the self esteem. It is especially difficult when your significant other tends to be on the side of Capitalism. Interestingly enough, a good friend from the Ukraine grew up in Communist rule, and said that all children were also put in daycares, and all moms were expected to work as well. This came as a surprise to me. I had never thought about how children were cared for in a communist society. It also came as a surprise to me that amount of moms that are clawing to get back to work here, even if they don’t have to. Canada has a 1 year maternity leave. (with much reduced income that is!) Not being judgy, but I would have been so sad to miss out on all that time my little guys.

  10. Thank you for a great discussion! The lack of value placed on staying home to raise children has bugged me for a very long time. I am grateful that our family could live OK on my husband’s income, but I certainly had all those feelings mentioned above about “just” staying home with children. I did home school them through 7th grade, and also spent my “free” time advocating for midwives and undisturbed birth, and I am happy with those choices. When I had to fill out forms asking for my “profession” I would write “domestic engineer” (which sometimes was shortened to “domestic engine”!!!), which made me feel much better than writing “housewife” or the equivalent. However, my children are long grown and now I am retired, and my HUGEST PET PEEVE is that for Social Security purposes all those years of child rearing are INVISIBLE. Valueless. So my social security check alone would not be anywhere near enough to subsist on. Thank goodness my husband’s is much more, and we are still happily married. But the system double whammies women who stayed home to give their children the attention and love that children need — you give up your income then, AND you get shafted later. If I had worked at a paid job, and used that money to pay for childcare, financially I’d be better off now. That is just wrong. Thanks for letting me rant!

  11. Enjoyed your article. There is a long maternity leave in Canada, and the governments are always talking about free/very subsidized daycare. For those who truly need it, I feel it is a good thing. But it is interesting when a Capitalist society rewards those who work out of the home by choice, so they can continue to make money, while their children are taken care of by paid strangers. Yet offers no recognition or assistance to those who are providing the same care and work at home.
    I also had never thought about how children fit into the Communist system, but after talking with a friend in the Ukraine who grew up under the regime I found out. Somehow I thought they would be with mom! She explained that moms are expected to be at work there as well. All children go into daycares.

  12. This is one of those things that I read, wish I’d written, and ultimately share with people when I have to express how I feel about something. Thank you for putting my social discontent into words.

  13. While I really appreciate what you are saying, I suggest that it’s not limited to Capitalism. My In-laws live in a socialist country and it’s even more important there for both parents to go back to work to contribute to the greater good of the society. Stay at home parents (after children reach 18mths) are pretty much unheard of.

  14. Your article was very thought provoking. I went and spoke to lots of mums to get their views of this topic of SAHM in a capatalist society. I have come to the conclusion that it is because of capitalism that we have the option of being a SAHM. Fathers have the choice of getting a job which pays enough to afford a house on a single salary, thanks to the high income jobs available. This isn’t as easy in socialist or communist countries where salaries are lower and the cost of living is higher. The SAHM with interactions with our kids is a new way of bringing up the kids. In the old days, the rich would pay someone else to raise their kids and to do the housework whilst the poor would do the housework and leave the kids to play in the street. We are lucky that we live in modern times where we can choose how to bring up our children!

  15. Great article. The situation in the UK has also made it virtually impossible for single parents to stay home and care for their children as there is a requirement to be in work when your youngest child is 5, because, of course they are then eaten by the system of schooling and no longer need a parent. This has made it much harder for lone parents to home educate.

    • Your comment seems to give the impression that a one point in history it was possible for a single parent to stay at home & raise a child. This has never been the case in the UK.

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