I had a conversation many years ago at a dinner party with a man who was sitting next to his heavily pregnant wife. Expecting their second child he told me that his wife would be back to work after six months leave because (I quote) 'There's no such thing as a free lunch in our house'. I was a bit taken aback at the time because I was at home full-time with three little kids so I assumed he probably wasn't that impressed with my efforts at contributing to the family income.
Over the years I've spoken to many women who are juggling work with children simply because they feel they should. They don't need the money. They aren't working because they love their jobs. They just think they should. They should be a financial contributor to the family.
I've always been quite intrigued by this because I never thought that because I'm not earning money that I'm any less of a contributor to our family. I always thought that when I go back to work it will be because we need me to earn money (to actually meet the costs of running our family) or I'm choosing to do a job I'll enjoy. Never because I felt it was a way of truly contributing to our family.
Many women do this because they love their husband and don't want him to feel the burden of being the sole provider for the family. That's totally understandable. I think it does acknowledge what a big responsibility men take on when they are the primary providers for a whole tribe of people.
I guess my surprise reflects something about our marriage and the way we view raising children. I'm not sure we have a particularly well thought out philosophy on this, but all I know is that Rowan truly values what I do in caring for the children as a significant, vital part of our life together. He doesn't make me do it. He'd be happy if wanted to do paid work.
But I also think that you could assess what I do and give it some kind of monetary value. If we put all our children in child care that would cost a lot of money. If I didn't shop carefully and cook lots of home cooked stuff that would cost extra. If we had to hire a nanny to replace the current taxi service I provide for my children's activities that would cost money. We could pay money to get our house cleaned, our washing done. Much of what I do can be bought (excluding the nit removal perhaps!). But it would cost money.
So I do contribute. And if you want, we can calculate what my contributions are worth. But I'm happy enough knowing that what I have done with my life is much more than just money. It is my love, my time and relationships with my husband, my children and my community. And you can't pay someone else to do all that for you.