This month I will receive my first paycheck in almost 12 years. I started working part-time as a grant writer for a non-profit (FCA.) I’m excited to be able to use writing to help raise money for a ministry that I care about, all while working mostly from home.
The decision for me to start working again was not one Kraig and I made lightly. For a dozen years we’ve intentionally chosen for me to stay home full-time with our three kids. Now our youngest will begin Kindergarten this fall and the timing seems good for me to start this job as well as pursue some other opportunities as/if they arise.
A few years ago I wrote a blog post called “The Dash” about my thoughts on being a stay-at-home mom and how when a financial planner summarized my contributions to our family with a little black line (meaning I didn’t earn any money) I struggled to see what value I added to our home. After confessing my feelings to my husband, he started to say “There’s your dash,” to encourage me each time he saw a way my life had impacted our home, family, or others.
We moms have an impact on our homes that goes well beyond an amount of money brought home on a paycheck, if there even is a paycheck, and whether the amount be zero or six-figures. In fact, my amazing friends who have juggled working and having little children tell me they often feel as if they’re failing in at least one area (home or work). So apparently, even if your “dash” is a dollar amount, it doesn’t automatically make you feel like you’ve succeeded in being a “good mom.” I had to be reminded of all of this, and today I repost “The Dash” and hope more than anything it will encourage and remind someone else – what you do matters.
The three of us sat at our kitchen table for the second time in a matter of months. My husband and I were on one side and a trusted financial advisor was on the other. Our first meeting had included the collection of our personal financial information as well as some survey-type questions about our goals, plans, dreams, and risk tolerance.
Now we sat at this second meeting to discuss what all of this amounted to. Our financial advisor had our life neatly arranged into a nifty blue three-ring binder, complete with fancy dividers and witty quotes.
And if I’m going to be honest here (which I am) I have to tell you that I thought it was all pretty boring. I’m not much for statistics or finances… or even numbers for that matter. I like words and creativity and things that don’t require long division or carrying numbers. But, I was a good girl and I paid close attention at both of the meetings. I do like to be organized, so I didn’t want to miss the point, which was for my husband and I to have a plan for how we want to steward our money for the rest of our lives.
So, as a good student and wife, I was watching intently as the advisor opened to a page in the blue binder that gave an overall summary of the information he’d collected at our first meeting. The page was neatly divided into boxes so that anyone (even non-number people like me) could see where all our money came from and where it was being spent. I actually understood the numbers on the page.
Surprisingly, one thing in particular really caught my attention. I didn’t expect to care. But I did. Maybe a little too much.
On that page listing an overview of our finances, there was a little box labeled “Income.” In the box was my husband’s name and my name. Beside my husband’s name it listed an amount of money indicating how much he brings home each year. Then, under that was my name. As I moved my eyes to the right, I saw what I contribute financially to the family in one year.
Yeah. A dash.
It signified that I contribute Zip. Zero. Nada. Nothin’.
We moved on with our meeting and with our week. I didn’t mention my thoughts or feelings about the dash to my husband for several days. I guess I needed time to think about my own reaction. I was surprised that I felt such a disdain toward that little black line.
The thing is, I know I don’t get paid for being a full time stay-at-home mom. I have never once received payment for anything. Well, that’s not true. I’ve been given many “gifts in kind” and several have been pieces of paper, but they’ve mostly been adorned with glitter glue, stickers and crayon. I treasure each of these, but my banker does not see any value in them.
I also know that this stay-at-home mom gig wasn’t thrown at me as a surprise. I chose this job. It’s actually my dream job. I’ve wanted this position since I can remember. I LOVE what I do and my husband and I planned for me to stay home even before we had actual children. For the first two years of our marriage I worked full time but we “practiced” by trying to live off of my husband’s income in preparation for me to stay at home once we had our first baby. And, three weeks before our little guy entered the world, I resigned and I’ve been home ever since.
Basically, I’m livin’ the dream.
So why did that crazy little dash bother me so much?
After about a week of mulling it over, I finally brought it up with my husband. I told him how much that dash was bothering me. I explained that I felt like it was just signifying that I contribute nothing to our household. All I feel like I actually do is spend our money because no matter how many times I feed our three kids they still want to eat again. And I can’t let us walk around naked, so I have to buy clothes and do laundry too. LOTS of laundry. And dishes. And cleaning. And none of these jobs are ever done. They just need to be repeated in a few minutes or hours or days. I feel like I am always working to keep our home running and fed and clean and happy.
And yet, all I was given is a dash.
My husband listened to me lament that little black line and he put up with my sobs and pity party for awhile. Then he did that thing he does where he starts to help me put everything back into perspective. Honestly, it kind of irks me at first, but once I give in and realize he’s right, things do seem a bit rosier.
Do you want to go get a job right now? No.
Do you like being a stay-at-home Mom? Love it.
Do we have enough to live comfortably with the money that I make? We are blessed beyond measure.
Then the dash is perfect. You contribute to this family exactly what we need.
In the weeks that followed, when one of our children would make a good decision my husband would look at me and say, “There’s your dash.”
When he’d come home from work to a home-cooked meal and joyful children laughing around the table my husband would say, “There’s your dash.”
When we’d talk about a Bible story or lesson that our children were learning and they’d say, “Mommy told me that…” Yes, you guessed it, he’d say, “There’s your dash.”
There’s no monetary value after my name in that blue three-ringed binder. Maybe someday there will be if I do get a job after our little ones are all in school. Maybe not. We haven’t set that in stone in our financial plan as of yet. But, although it took me an embarrassing pity party and sob fest to be reminded, I do know that there IS much value in that dash.
The financial advisor may never allow me to roll my dash over into our 401K. That’s all right. I think I’ve come to like that little dash now. I think I’ll keep it. Own it even.
The dash is a short and sweet reminder that the return on my investments are far greater than anything my financial planner could ever offer.