Everything Old is New Again 

Everything Old is New Again 

By Amanda Rose Adams


Now that my daughter wears adult sized clothes I have bought her Banana Republic sweaters and snow pants at a thrift store.


During a rare car ride with my grandmother in the 1990s she shared the stories of her parents’ deaths when she was a child. It was eerie how she described her excitement about getting her father from the hospital and watching her mother gather up his clothes. When my nine-year-old grandmother grabbed her father’s heavy boots, her mother just shook her head. The clothes they were bringing were for burial, and one of Grandma’s many fully grown brothers could make use of their father’s shoes. Their mother died a few months later.

A few years after this conversation with my grandmother I was pursuing my master’s degree and working at a technology company. During a water cooler moment, I made a comment about buying used clothing at a consignment store. My work-friends were troubled that I wore used clothes. One of my friends was visibly creeped out by the idea and shivered at the thought of wearing “used” clothes. I learned to be more selective about with whom I chose to share my shopping habits and wins.

When I had my daughter in 2004, fast fashion coupled with a child who grows like a weed found me buying her new clothes most of the time. However, I was always a persistent coupon and clearance shopper and strategically bought mix-and-match colors to stay in my budget. Then she grew too tall for children’s clothes and I had to change my approach.

Now that my daughter wears adult sized clothes I have bought her Banana Republic sweaters and snow pants at a thrift store, Asics running shorts in discontinued colors for five dollars on Amazon.com, and slightly worn jeans at consignment shops. We also buy at overstock stores like TJ Maxx where my daughter spent her own money to buy herself a ten dollar dress for her first day of middle school and bragged about the bargain to our hair stylist.

When I was my daughter’s age I wore my brother’s used shoes. In fact most of my clothes were from garage sales or hand-me-downs from a family friend. The rest were hand made by my mother or bought on lay-away at K-mart. Unlike my parents who were raising four kids, I only have two. My son couldn’t give two figs about clothes and usually wears the first thing he can grab out of his closet, whether it matches his pants or not. My daughter is far more interested in expressing herself through her hairstyle and clothing choices. But she is also open to the creativity and flexibility second-hand clothing allows.

When I took her sized 5 ice skates to sell at the consignment store, my daughter looked a little sad, but I reminded her that she now wears a 7.5 and that she could have all the store credit for those skates, and she perked right up. Our community consignment stores are all locally owned. Our community thrift store benefit local charities with the proceeds they make from their sales, and by buying chain store clothes on a secondary market we are buying local, and that’s important to me.

My kids don’t wear used shoes, socks, underwear, or pajamas. When I was buying snow pants at the thrift store, I looked at used snow boots and decided that I could afford to buy my kids shoes that fit their own feet. I will splurge on shoes and bras because nothing makes a person more uncomfortable in their skin than ill-fitting undergarments or shoes. The rest can be washed in hot water with vinegar and given a new life.

Financially, I can afford to buy my daughter expensive clothes, but I don’t want to start that habit. I can’t make the emotional leap. Between my great-grandfather buried in his bare feet, my favorite Levi’s 501 jeans that came from a garage sale with a $5 bill in the coin pocket that I wore throughout middle school, and the hand pieced quilt I made from an old flannel jacket I shared with my father in high school as a form of grieving his death, clothing is more to me than a consumable possession. I am quick to pass on clothing we no longer need and rarely keep a sentimental piece. My approach to clothing, and what I hope I’m passing on to my children, is that while we live in a culture of conspicuous consumption, we have choices and the power to decide for ourselves what matters and how we express that.

Amanda Rose Adams is contributing blogger for Brain, Child, the author of Heart Warriors, A Family Faces Congenital Heart Disease, and her work has been featured in the New York Times Motherlode Blog, The American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Bioethics and various literary journals. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaroseadams or visit her blog at www.amandaroseadams.com.

Image: gettyimages.com

Not Quite the Opposite of Spoiled

Not Quite the Opposite of Spoiled

By Francie Arenson Dickman


“Is there anything else you guys need for camp?” I asked into the rear view mirror of my car. We were on our way home from toiletry shopping. Piles of white bags from Bed, Bath and Beyond covered my backseat. Amid the piles, sat my daughters. One of whom answered my question with, “I need sushi.”

I answered her with, “You need what?”

“Sushi,” she hollered, as if my confusion was simply auditory.

“I heard you,” I said. “I just don’t understand how ‘need’ and ‘sushi’ end up in the same sentence.”

“I won’t be able to eat it all summer,” she explained. “I need to have it before I go.”

Let me back up to explain that this conversation marked the culmination of a week long field day for my kids, a free-for-all of financially clueless thirteen-year-olds on the loose, making plans to go for lunch, to the mall, the movies, the amusement park, dinner. On one occasion, they even made reservations. All with a few taps on a screen and a click on the send button yet not an ounce of awareness as to the reality that not only did they need the assistance of parents to drive them to their destinations but to help fund them.

I’ve always known that I was going to drop the ball in some parental regard, and during the week between school and camp, it became evident that I had dropped the money ball. Clearly, I’d spent too much time over the years reading Charlotte‘s Web and Harry Potter and not enough time talking about taxes, return on investment and the value of a dollar. Not that I was unaware of these concepts, but I was hoping my daughters would pick them up by osmosis. Like I did.

Growing up, we never had formal financial programs like those Ron Leiber suggests in his book The Opposite of Spoiled, such as the Wants/Needs Continuum, which entails the charting of would-be purchases on a graph according to cost and something else. In our house, we simply had scare tactics.

“Money never burnt a hole in anyone’s pocket. Keep it there ’cause you never know when the banks are going to go bust,” my father, a child of the Depression, would tell us. He didn’t own a credit card, he didn’t miss a day of work and he didn’t need a Wants/Needs Continuum because to him, there were no such things as Wants.

My friends’ financial situations were as simple as my own. In middle school, we’d scrape together ten cents from the bottom of this backpack, a quarter from that, until we had enough money to buy an order of eggrolls at the Chinese place on our walk home from school. Two eggrolls split three ways. Who the hell even heard of sushi? We were, by virtue of our time and place, the opposite of spoiled.

But times have changed. My children are products of their time, and their time is filled with, well, products. Stuff abounds. As does access to it and awareness of it. My children’s estimation of their mother’s value of a dollar is diluted by Instagram, H&M and those God-for-saken Kardashians.

“Oh, we NEED antibacterial gel,” they said as they pushed through the aisles. They also “needed” Airborne, Boogie Wipes, nail polish remover pads, a hairbrush that magically detangles and defrizzes, a solar powered clock as well as a shelf on which to put the solar powered clock. I said yes to Bed and Bath products and no to everything Beyond. My daughters didn’t fight me on my decisions. I didn’t expect that they would. Neither of my two children are spoiled—they don’t ask for much, they don’t protest when the answer is no. But, they aren’t the opposite of it either.

I read The Opposite of Spoiled, hoping to center my girls’ perverted relationship to material things. But while full of great insights and ideas, I don’t have the methodological or mathematical skills to put them into place. If I did, I probably wouldn’t need the book in the first place. Take the aforementioned Wants/Needs Continuum. Even if I had fully visualized the Continuum (which I don’t doubt makes perfect sense) I can’t see it happening, at least in my house, where we barely have time to plan dinner. Generally speaking we buy on the fly as we dash between one activity and another. Not to mention, many of our “teachable moment” conversations occur in the car which is no place to start graphing.

I admit, it’s no place to start Googling either, but I did. In the Bed, Bath and Beyond parking lot, I googled the word “need” from my daughter’s iPhone (an oxymoronic act if there ever was one). “A need is a thing that is necessary for an organism to live a healthy life,” I read and then paused for the words to wind their way through the bags of junk and into their ears. “I don’t think that sushi falls under the umbrella of need.”

I tossed the phone back in my daughter’s lap and continued to drone as I drove, repeating cliches used by parents since the beginning of time, like “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” and “Super Loofah Body Scrubbers don’t buy happiness.”

After a few minutes they said, “Okay, Mom, we get it.” And I felt good.

Until yesterday when a letter arrived from my daughter—the same one who needed the sushi—explaining that she now “needs” return address labels for her letters. If you are wondering why she can’t address them with the same pen she used to ask for the labels, you’re not alone.

I thought one of the purposes of overnight camp was to bring it back to basics. Even Ron Leiber recommends overnight camp because camp reminds children of all that they have that they don’t need. He references air conditioning—but I’m thinking sushi. As far as all the stuff they don’t have that they also don’t need—I’m thinking labels—I guess I’m the one to remind my kids of that. And I suppose I’m also the one to remind them of all they don’t have that they actually do need—here, I’m thinking jobs.

I know two 13-year-olds who are free to babysit come fall. Message me, if you are interested.

Francie Arenson Dickman is a contributing blogger to Brain, Child. Her essays have also appeared in The Examined Life, A University of Iowa Literary Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and Literary Mama. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and twin daughters and is currently completing her first novel.

Image: dreamstime.com

Utopia Lost and Value Reframed

Utopia Lost and Value Reframed

By Debi Lewis


Am I home because a woman should be home or am I home because, as a woman, economic forces guided me there?


Here is the utopian dream, masquerading as a concrete plan, which I formulated before my second child was born in August of 2005:

My well-paying, full-time flexible-hours technology job at a national nonprofit organization would continue as it had for the next year, after which I would begin a PhD program in writing at a local university (which happened to have on-campus childcare). I would fill my days with heady conversation and scoop my children up in the afternoon to eat ice cream on the campus lawns and return home to my husband—who would keep us afloat with his job in finance, the one he loved as much as I loved the idea of academia.

This plan never came to fruition.

My baby was born with a host of ambiguous medical problems. She was in the hospital with dangerous respiratory infections twice in her first four months, and her doctors gently and then less-gently told us that daycare would continue that cycle. She was considered medically fragile. By the end of the second hospital stay, which was five days long, we had decided she could not stay in daycare.

We did the math; if we hired a nanny, the cost per year would have been more than half of my salary. Our older daughter would still need to attend preschool, adding another several thousand dollars. My husband made more money than I did. It made more sense for me to leave my job. Our baby was five months old when I did.

My well-paying, good job had been my identity for five years. Prior to that, I’d been employed in one way or another for the previous fifteen years—starting in high school.

Suddenly, I had no income.

My husband was working, earning a salary that covered our expenses, though not as easily as when I’d been employed. I sat down at my kitchen table on that first day when my husband left for work—and I didn’t—and I cried. I was in my pajamas, and when I went upstairs to put on clothes, the baby still slung over my hip, I looked at my closet and realized that most of what I owned was business-casual.

Then I got a rejection letter from the graduate program to which I’d applied. The last piece of hope I’d had for an identity which declared to the world that this woman is making something of herself had vanished. Though there was hope that my daughter would outgrow her fragile state by the time the fall semester came around, I would have no fall semester to attend. Instead, I nursed, rocked, held, walked, medicated and worried over my constantly-sick baby. What just happened? I asked myself, over and over for months. I remained, for a long time, shocked to see what I thought I had become: bored and boring.

In the years that followed, I scraped together a new life, starting my own consulting business in hours snatched from naps and, as my daughter’s health improved, while she was in preschool. I now have new dreams—smaller dreams, always tied to my need to stay flexible for my children. With both of them in school these last few years, I work out of a local coffeehouse that sells scones delivered warm every morning. It has not been terrible; at times, it has felt like a close second to my original plan.

Still, I resent those early days, the burden falling on me and the perspective-shifting I had to do. I resent that, as a natural progression of being the one at home and being a woman, I’ve fallen into gender roles I never intended. I am the one who cooks. I am the one who shops for the organic berries and the mint Oreos, knows the children’s friends and teachers better, and manages the laundry. In a nine-to-five job that, inclusive of commute is really a seven-thirty-to-six-thirty job, my husband has become the one to pop in and “help out” with occasional rides to Hebrew School and play rehearsals, but the real burden of making sure everyone is where they need to be is left to me. It’s my job because, nine years ago, I left my other job to stay home with my sick baby, a baby I both loved fiercely and resented quietly.

How to unravel all of that? Am I home because a woman should be home or am I home because, as a woman, economic forces guided me there? What if my husband and I had made exactly the same amount of money? Would he be home? What if medical insurance covered at-home childcare for children like my younger daughter? Would neither of us be home?

I feel very lucky that we made it work, un-utopian as it felt to me at the start. As I struggle with what it means to be an at-home parent—even with my part-time consulting business—I have a partner willing to struggle through it with me, to talk about and name this arrangement for what it is: fragmented. My daughters are now thirteen and almost nine, and they see the juggling every day. I am in and of both worlds all the time—sometimes from the same spot in my kitchen, on the phone with a client and stirring the soup.

Now, most mornings, I walk to the neighborhood elementary school with my once-sick baby—now a thriving nine-year-old. In one hand, I hold hers. In the other, I hold the bicycle I’ll use to ride to the coffeehouse where I’ll work for much of the day. There’s dinner to prepare, and laundry to sort. Rides to give, and counters to scrub.

It is, in the end, a comfortable life. I am there for it all. Sometimes, on the playground after school, we even eat ice cream.

Debi Lewis is the mother of two daughters and blogs regularly at swallowmysunshine.com. You can find her essays at Brain, Child Magazine, RoleReboot, Mamalode, The Mighty, Kveller, and ChicagoNow. She is currently at work on a memoir about her younger daughter’s journey through medical mystery.

The Opposite of Spoiled: A Q & A With Ron Lieber

The Opposite of Spoiled: A Q & A With Ron Lieber

By Amanda Rose Adams

OppositeSpoiled hc cRon Lieber, personal finance columnist for The New York Times and father has written a bestselling book that tackles the difficult issue of how to teach the values and meaning of money to our children with insight, kindness, and humor. Below, Mr. Lieber answers questions about his book, The Opposite of Spoiled, and the values we teach our kids about money.

Q: You were inspired by real-life parents and tested many of the concepts in your book while writing it, but were you already committed to any of these practices before you decided to write about them, and if so which ones did you bring to the table with your own family?

Lieber:  The idea for this book arrived not long after I became a parent for the first time, so I didn’t have much in the way of philosophy underlying any of my writing on parenting at that point. But there were a few things that became a part of this project almost instinctually. 

One was honesty with kids about money. Not full disclosure, but a no-lying rule, especially for children who are 8 years old or so and up. While there may be some circumstances where delaying the truth or avoiding it may be best for some children, most of us will be lucky enough that we won’t find ourselves in them most of the time. Plus, they can tell when we lie, or they find out later. And if it becomes clear that we’re not good sources for accurate information about important things, like money and sex and drugs, they’ll turn to others (or the internet) for advice and counsel. That’s not something we want. 

When I was in high school, my mother was pretty blunt with me about the reality of our financial situation. While that wasn’t always fun, in retrospect, I’m glad I knew exactly what kind of odds we faced for getting me into and through college without racking up too much debt. She also took me along for a meeting with a financial aid counselor when I was in high school, which had a lasting impact

Money is a source of power, but it’s also mysterious. So of course our children are going to have lots of questions about it. We should be as honest as we can, even if it means promising the truth (say, about our salaries) on some later day years in the future when they’re more ready for it.

Q: What I came away with after reading your book is that money is a powerful tool to express who we are. Were you as open with your daughter about money before you started writing the book as you are now?

 Lieber: Thanks for saying “a” powerful tool and not “the most powerful tool” or the “best” or “only” tool. It’s none of those last three things, though it might be the most underrated and least used or understood parenting tool to imprint good values on our children. We should talk about money more often, but not all the time. Make it a focus, not a fetish.

Think about it this way: What we spend and where says a lot about what we care about and ultimately what we stand for. If looking at the credit or debit card statement each month is unpleasant, then we’re probably spending on the wrong things or in the wrong quantities. This is not a hidden argument for more thrift by the way; sometimes spending more on the things that matter most is the surest route to happiness, as long as we can do it without going into debt. The money we give away, by the way, says a lot too. When we told our daughter how we divided our charitable budget, the conversation was revelatory for all of us. We do it every year now. 

Q: Do you have any advice for where to start, and if families are late to start the discussion about money and finances how they can catch up?

Lieber: First, before you start talking, consider your own shame, in all the forms in which it may manifest itself. Some people have shame about what they do have, especially if they inherited it. They’re ashamed of not having to work, and they feel idle and unaccomplished. Others are ashamed of how they’ve made their money. Still more feel shame about having more than anyone else and don’t want anyone to know. 

Then there is shame in having less, perhaps because of a job loss. Or there is shame in a path not taken, a career that feels like a dead end or is not glamorous. There may be shame in having been tricked or swindled in a way that is costly or shame in big mistakes that have led to the need for a move to a smaller residence or some other large disruption. 

Talking about these feelings is as good of a way as any to start the conversation with a spouse about how to start a conversation with a child or children. Spouses who grew up in different social classes may well have very different ideas about how to approach the topic. If you don’t have a spouse, try confiding in a sibling or close friend. Ask other parents what their kids ask and how they answer. 

Many parents also feel shame in not knowing enough about money to teach their kids or talk to them about it, or they’re ashamed of their own habits around money. But teaching and talking out loud with children, especially older ones, is as good of a way to shape yourself up and get over it as any. You’re a role model, they’re watching your every move now anyway, and they probably have taken in way more than you think about how you spend and what that says. Might as well talk about it.

Q: When researching for your book, what did you notice about parental partnerships and different approaches to money, and how that influences the kids? How involved is your wife in the money messages that you bring to parenting your child?

Lieber: The most important thing here is not to fight about money with your spouse (or ex-spouse) in front of your kids. When I talk to adults about the topic, so many of them have intense memories of loud fights over money when they were growing up and having been led to believe that money is a source of stress and strain first and foremost. It’s those recollections that often lead those grownups to not talk about money at all, for fear of repeating the same patterns with their own spouse. 

Q: A lot of parents are co-parenting with a former partner, how do you think separate households can collaborate to give kids a consistent message? This wasn’t a focus of the book, but when a child could have as many as four parents and twice as many grandparents through remarriage, how can they all begin to balance those influences, which is probably trickier than the influence of the media?

Lieber: The fact is, many times they cannot give kids a consistent message. Ex-spouses are sometimes not on speaking terms, and even if they are, they don’t agree about money and 1,000 other things. One spouse may have more money than another or is willing to spend more (or go into debt) to show the kids a good time or lavish them with toys or experiences to make up for whatever pain and distance exists in the family relationships. 

This is a hard thing for the parent with less (or who chooses to buy or do less) to explain. Kids will demand an explanation, and I do believe they are entitled to one. This is confusing, after all, and it’s their job to figure out how the world (and their world) works. But it can be extremely difficult to explain your choices without disparaging your former spouse. Try to avoid doing that anyway if you possibly can. Explain that you’ve simply chosen to make different choices. Lay out your budget. If you’re choosing not to spend more, even if you could afford to, remind your children that it is your job to set limits so that the kids will know how to do the same thing for themselves when they get older. Give them some power or control over whatever budget you do have if you can, and let them make some choices for themselves about tradeoffs. 

Q: What kinds of financial details do you think are appropriate to withhold from kids of particular ages, and when do you think those details should be shared, if ever?

Lieber: I don’t think we should tell kids how much money we make until they are ready. Most aren’t ready (having practiced with money themselves for a decade, having learned about all of the household bills, having proven they are discrete) until they are at least 16 or so. 

To me it makes sense not to voluntarily offer up information to children that we think will cause them anxiety. But I also believe in the no-lying rule. 

Q: Your entire book spoke to me about family trust. Parents who trust their children to treat private information with respect, and children who trust their parents because they know that nothing is off-limits when it comes to conversation and learning. Would you agree that the unspoiled child is one who is given the gifts of trust and respect, and if so, how can parents continue to build these attributes?

Lieber: Agreed. Most younger kids are not ready to keep private information private and we shouldn’t test them unless we don’t mind certain things getting out. When kids ask for it, remind them that childhood (and their teenager years especially) are partly a years-long discretion test that parents are conducting. Are they keeping their friends’ information to themselves, or getting in trouble for spreading gossip? Are they reading their siblings’ journals or tattling on them inappropriately? Is other family information leaking out somehow? If so, let them know that they have flunked this part of the test. Until they can pass, they don’t get to discuss the household income or net worth, which is private information.

One other useful tactic to try with teens as they approach readiness, especially those from families who have more money than average: Remind them that the information really doesn’t have much use outside of their house. Their friends probably aren’t going to ask about your family’s income, and if your kids share the information anyway, they’ll sound like braggarts and jerks. No kid wants to flunk their parents’ discretion tests but they definitely don’t want to flunk their friends’ jerk tests. 


Amanda Rose Adams is contributing blogger for Brain, Child, the author of Heart Warriors, A Family Faces Congenital Heart Disease, and her work has been featured in the New York Times Motherlode Blog, The American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Bioethics and various literary journals. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaroseadams or visit her blog at www.amandaroseadams.com.



By Garlia Cornelia Jones-Ly


Times being tough is an understatement, but how I manage has gone from a question, to a state of panic, to an action. It is what we do. Manage.


The first time my daughter received hand-me-downs, I washed them, pressed them and voila, they were like new. Friends with older daughters were eager to give away the clothing they had collected over the years, and my being in an unexpected position of need both economically and as a first time parent, I was happy to have them.

I was raised middle to upper middle class in Detroit. Instruction and private lessons in an array of classical art forms (violin, dressage, flute and ballet) turned me into the artist I am today, but art alone doesn’t automatically surrender a comfortable living. With multiple graduate degrees in tow, Sallie Mae has me on speed dial and every month I feel as if I rob Peter to pay all 12 Apostles. Times being tough is an understatement, but how I manage has gone from a question, to a state of panic, to an action. It is what we do. Manage.

It hasn’t always been like this, but since my entire child rearing experience has taken place during a time of economic upheaval in our household, I often find my parenting stifled. I am unable to be the mother I want to be 100% of the time because of the looming financial responsibilities dampening my daily situation. The embarrassment of being a millennial not financially secure and overwhelmed with debt is suffocating as my Facebook news feed overflows with the happiness of other people’s lives. We know not to compare, try not to compare, but on some level the comparisons are always there.

There are times I feel unsettled, as if my life never “began”—not that I didn’t want to be a mother, but what have I experienced that I could teach another person? What can I give a child when I have “childlike” sensibilities?

I had to sink or swim with my immersion into parenthood; I thought I’d be in a far better economic situation. In 2013, about a year after joining what felt like a natural position as “mama” and naturally never being afraid to try new things, I began to explore new ways to make money, especially from home. It was then that I joined a pyramid scheme after googling “How to make money from home.” It was a rather desperate time as I struggled to build a photography business to make ends meet. A few months later I laughed about the whole crazy thing, because after nearly 10 years at Gap and opening hundreds of credit card accounts, I was terrible at offering Motor Club memberships to people, no matter how wonderful it appeared. The few friends and family I told about my “new venture” was through a mass of laughter and embarrassment because I couldn’t believe I had fallen so low. I made a total of $80, and suspended selling and marketing activity after two months.

My patience is often thinner than it should be as I get through a 7-10 hour period with two children—a baby and a toddler—while my husband is at work. The moments where I want to sit and bask in their development: new sounds, new words, and an understanding of concepts are often spoiled by the realities of unpaid bills or dreams deferred.

I’m a writer. I have an MFA in Playwriting, and even more, I am an Obie award winning Theatre Producer—an award I won with the Producing collective Harlem9, 1 week before giving birth on the sidewalk in front of my apartment building in Harlem. While my career accomplishments exist, there still lives an anxiety because of financial instability. A life in the arts with children is more than economically unpredictable. Most theatres are not-for-profits and therefore do not have the funds to allocate towards childcare, although many parents are beginning to fight for that right. With a spouse not from the arts world, my main struggle has been justifying that my creative work at all hours of the night is part of a standard family model.

I am imprisoned by my lack of financial freedom. In the deepest moments of my frustration, I coddle less and teach my children to get back up “after a fall” more. I have walked out of a room with a crying child in order to finish something that may never get done. While I want to sit and cuddle for hours, time is sometimes money, and there is never enough of either.

Parenting without financial comforts or stability does not allow me to approach parenting with ease. I often feel there is something I am not doing if I cannot focus on my children’s education or other social opportunities because I am overwhelmed with ways to make money to afford those experiences.

Between attempting to be supermom and super-wife, I am drowning in a mound of half completed tasks, feeling less than accomplished in the home.

I worry for the social lives of my children and find as many free opportunities for classes at local bookstores or concert halls. Recently, I signed up for IDNYC as a way to take the children to multiple cultural institutions free of charge or at a discounted rate. In this city that seems to cater to the rich and discard the poor with every passing day, I often wonder, would we be happy elsewhere?

When my children are asleep, I take the opportunity to write—in my notebook… on the subway… I write for that one job, the one break that could mean a more focused and attentive mother, changing our status, removing the economic burden. No longer managing or thriving, surviving … but being.

Garlia Cornelia Jones-Ly is a writer, OBIE Award winning theatre producer and newly Licensed Real Estate Salesperson. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Howlround.com. A mother of two, she lives in Harlem with her family. Follow her on Twitter/ Instagram/ Facebook @garliacornelia www.garliacornelia.com.

Photo: gettyimages   

What’s A Mother Worth?

What’s A Mother Worth?

By Valerie Young


Every mother saves her family thousands of dollars by performing services in unpaid domestic labor for free.


At first glance, family life in our private homes seems far removed from economic news in the business section of our newspapers and media outlets. Markets, profits, and the workforce belong in one world. Family dinners, carpools, and laundry belong in another. Transactions involving money are endlessly measured, analyzed, reported, recorded and publicly discussed. But making a place for people to live and grow, and creating the care required for them to thrive, does not. There is a rich irony here, as the original meaning of the word “economics” is household management. Strange, then, that we draw such a line between the consumption and production that takes place within our families, and what happens on the other side of the front door. What could we learn if we used business measures to determine the monetary value of a mother?

Our homes are all about the allocation of limited resources to satisfy multiple and sometimes competing demands. The management of a home, the provision of family care, involves consumption of goods and the production of services. When we look at motherhood through an economic lens, we learn valuable information about the costs and returns of investments we make. These investments involve money, certainly, but they also involve time and energy and effort. Raising children is one such investment. Its return is the fully functional, educated and tax-paying citizen, the productive member of society, which results.

From time to time articles appear estimating the value of the services a mother provides. Most such estimates are based on buying these services on the open market. This replacement cost approach tallies up the expense of paying somebody else to provide the transportation, cooking, cleaning, laundry, health care, child care, home maintenance and household financial services a mother performs for free. The total varies, of course, as the cost of living does from state to state, or urban versus rural areas. In recent years, the grand total has been placed at $113,586 by Business Insider, to $150,000 by The Independent. Salary.com says $118,905. So, every mother saves her family thousands of dollars by performing services in unpaid domestic labor for free.

Of course, it’s not free to the woman who’s doing the work. If she cuts back on her employed hours, or steps out of the paid labor force entirely, the value of the wages, benefits, and future social security payments she is surrendering, she is in fact paying an opportunity cost. This is another way to calculate the value of a mother, and the numbers this calculation generates are much higher than replacement cost. (Remember, domestic labor when done by another is poorly paid. Child care providers and direct care workers, the compensated form of domestic labor, are low income workers, and usually have no paid leave or paid sick day benefits at all to take care of themselves.)

Opportunity cost goes up and down depending on the education of the woman and the field in which she would otherwise be employed. Ann Crittenden, author of The Price of Motherhood, estimated that a college educated woman gave up about $1 million in wages, benefits and retirement income if she had a child. Forbes worked out the opportunity cost for an elementary school teacher who stops working when she gives birth and came up with $700,000. In more general terms, it’s reasonable to go with an opportunity cost of at least several hundred thousand dollars all the way up to $1 million, as suggested by the experts at Babycenter.com. Clearly, if opportunity cost is the measure, a mother’s worth can skyrocket.

So, why do women make the choice to get out or cut back on paid work to raise their children? It can be the most costly decision a woman ever makes, and will affect her economic security for the rest of her life. There’s more than one reason, of course. I suspect many mothers just want to. So much of a child’s development, up to 90% of neurological growth, occurs in the very first years. The huge cost of child care may equal or exceed a mother’s income. We still labor under the cultural myth that the best caregiver for a baby is its mother, and it’s more socially acceptable for a mother to be the primary caregiver than the father. In 60% of two earner homes, the mother earns less than the father. If someone must assume the primary caregiver role, drafting the lower earner makes economic sense. US workplaces are notoriously inflexible. Lacking a middle way where caregiving and wage earning can be successfully combined, many women are backed into a corner and face an intolerable choice: either work for a living OR raise your children, but never both. Many women forge ahead with their careers, only to find that a country without paid leave, paid sick days, and discrimination against both pregnant women and mothers running rampant makes no allowance for their family obligations. They may then “opt out” of the work force, but in reality there is much less choice than the “opt out” label suggests.

What needs to change here is the attitude that running households and raising children is unskilled, unproductive work. Mothers make people, and people are the most basic economic element. Babies are consummate consumers. They grow to be producers – of everything! Without children, there is no economy, and no future. We know that the value of family care to elders saves public spending and, if compensated, would be worth around $450 billion a year. The US economy’s GDP for 2014 is estimated at upwards of $17 trillion. If mothers’ uncompensated labor – in birthing, nursing, and raising children, and the myriad activities that involves – were tallied up, estimates place its value at between 21% and 50% of GDP. Nancy Folbre, a Professor of Economics at UMass Dartmouth and frequent past contributor to the New York Times Economix blog, places a conservative estimate at 25% of GDP. So that means that mothers’ unpaid domestic labor actually adds between $4 trillion and $8.5 trillion to the economy. Every. Year.

Not only that – in tax dollars alone, the future taxpayers these women raise will contribute their taxes to our public coffers. Each mother, in addition to her own unpaid labor and the profits it brings to the economy, is responsible for another $200,000 going into the US Treasury in taxes collected from her child.

So, please, let’s not say we are “just” stay at home moms. Don’t think that our only contribution to society is our compensated work. We don’t deserve less, do less, or are worth less because we are mothers. In fact, we are the greatest producers in the entire economy. We must know our worth, and cherish our value in its totality. We must insist that ALL we do, both the compensated and uncompensated labor, be respected, accounted for, and valued in all our private and public interactions and institutions.

Valerie Young is a public policy analyst for Mom-mentum, a non-profit organization providing leadership, education, and advocacy to support mothers in meeting today’s personal and professional challenges. Formerly an attorney, Valerie now blogs about the effect of family carework on a woman’s economic security and advocates women’s empowerment at Your (Wo)Man in Washington, and covers policy news for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers.

Photo: gettyimages


Things Money Can Buy

Things Money Can Buy

By Sarah Winfrey


He came home that Friday night to his heavily pregnant wife. That was me, the heavily pregnant wife. He made some comment about the layoffs at work. The layoffs we’d been promised at least twice would not affect us.

“Do you know who is getting laid off yet?” I asked. In passing.

“Well, I know one of them.”


He didn’t answer and I finally looked up from whatever held my attention so closely. I met his eyes and I knew.

“Me,” he said, though he didn’t have to.

We’d planned our entrance into parenthood with a meticulousness that, in retrospect, probably boded disaster. My husband had heard it was best to wait at least 2 years after marrying to begin trying to conceive, so as to consolidate our emotional bond. We did that.

We also planned which doctors we’d use, how we’d get to the hospital (with alternate routes in case of emergency or traffic), and which baby products were worth buying at a premium.

We had it all covered, everything but this.

It would have been one thing if he had lost his job when it was just the two of us, to scramble a little, to work part-time and freelance and live off our savings until we had something official again. Who knows? We might even have decided to take off and travel around the world, to pursue the thing we’d spent so many years dreaming about.

When I became pregnant, knowing our daughter grew inside of me and seeing her tiny heartbeat on the ultrasound, we began to dream new dreams. A home with a yard, family that lived close, and friends who knew us like family. And stability.

Stability is a strange thing to dream about. Most people pit stability against dreams, like you have to choose one or the other. But we began to dream of the things that meant her life would be safe: steady income, health insurance, and childcare such that she would know who was going to be there for her, and when, and why.

Of all the dreams that came along with that first baby, stability was the one we thought we’d be able to provide. And then we couldn’t.

With the loss of my husband’s regular income, we felt like we couldn’t give our daughter anything. This child, the one we would have given anything for, was going to come into a world where nothing was certain.

My dad worked for the same company, albeit in different locations, for my entire life. Even as a small child, I took it for granted that money would continue to come in, that there would always be enough for whatever I needed. Because the family could count on his steady income, I took things for granted that other kids didn’t even have.

I lived in a home my parents owned.

I got new clothes with the changing seasons.

I got to travel all over the country and try things like paragliding and snorkeling.

Was there privilege in that? Yes. But there was also stability.

Even when hard things happened, like when we moved three times in three-and-a-half years, life didn’t fall apart completely.

That’s what I wanted to give my baby.

Instead, I found myself afraid of the way she would grow up. What would it mean for her if we couldn’t buy her new clothes when she outgrew the old ones? What would happen if we never owned a home? If we had to forego something she really needed because of money?

After my husband lost his job, we tried to figure out what life would look like as we moved forward. We talked about income, about needs vs. wants, and we talked about dreams.

We found that some of the things we dreamed of giving her, the things that meant “stability,” centered on less material aspects of life.

“I want to teach her to ask good questions,” I told my husband over bottles of cider one evening. “And to know that the questions you ask in life are more important than the answers you get.”

He nodded. “I want her to know that we know her, inside and out. And to know that she’s always got people on her side,” he said.

“I want to love her well.”

I don’t remember which one of us said that, but it came from both our hearts.

That proved to be the first of many conversations about money and about what we want to give our kids.

We’ve talked, too, about what the loss of that job meant for us. Looking back, we see how not being able to provide her with financial stability threw us even further into darkness than the job loss itself.

But she brought us light too: loving our baby girl made our priorities clearer and helped us focus on moving forward despite our loss. Loving her still centers us, even when it doesn’t make sense of everything.

Just the other day, my daughter, that baby now a five-year-old, got angry with me because her brother got something new and she didn’t. I looked at my husband for reassurance.

“She knows she’s loved,” he said, like he’s said so many times over the years.

She knows she’s loved.

It would be nice to say that my husband’s job loss and our daughter’s first years helped us to refocus, to realize that loving our daughter would be enough. The truth, though, is more complicated.

We have loved her. We always will. And because we love her, we want to give her many things, including some that money can buy.



Sarah Winfrey helps moms who struggle with motherhood make peace with both their mothering and their struggle. She writes about mothering and spirituality at sarahwinfrey.com.

Paid Family Leave: An Elusive Option for Many U.S. Workers

Paid Family Leave: An Elusive Option for Many U.S. Workers

By Susan Buttenwieser

130874531The United States is one of only three countries in the world without a paid maternity leave law. The other two? Papua New Guinea and Oman. Workers in many other countries can also count on receiving paid paternity leave, elder care benefits and generous paid sick leave.

Meanwhile, the only federal legislation that American workers have is the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to look after a newborn or a sick relative without losing their job. The law applies only to companies with 50 or more employees, and then if an employee has worked for a certain amount of time.

Although the FMLA provides important job protections, many workers simply can’t afford to utilize it, leaving parents and caregivers with stark choices. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, nearly half of workers who were eligible for leave but didn’t take it, cited lack of pay as the reason. Six in ten workers who took partially paid or unpaid leave reported difficulty making ends meet; half of these workers were forced to cut their leaves short due to financial constraints.

However, the tide may be starting to turn. Three states now guarantee paid family and medical leave—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, and a similar law is set to go into effect in Washington State, possibly later this year. Additionally, studies of these programs have shown that they have been beneficial not only to employees, but to their workplaces as well. Various pieces of legislation are either being passed or introduced in cities and states across the country as well as on the federal level, with the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act being reintroduced in March.

Rachel Lyons, senior government affairs manager at the National Partnership for Women & Families, shared her thoughts on this important issue.

Q:  There seems to be momentum around paid family leave right now. Do you think there is a shift in thinking on this issue?

RL:  There is unprecedented momentum around paid leave right now, and a number of factors have contributed to what we see as a watershed moment for the policy’s future in this country.

Women now make up nearly half of the workforce and are primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children. Women are also still their families’ primary caregivers, so they are disproportionately impacted by conflicts between work and family caused by the nation’s lack of family friendly workplace policies.

There is also a powerful and growing body of evidence from existing paid leave programs and employer policies showing that paid leave benefits workers, their families, businesses and the economy. In particular, the success of paid family leave programs in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island demonstrate that.

People are struggling to manage work and family, and an overwhelming majority of voters (81 percent) want lawmakers to consider new laws that would help, like paid family and medical leave. They also say they are more likely to vote for someone who supports paid leave.

So, in many ways, the issue has become unavoidable for our elected officials. And some are stepping up to help advance the policy. The Obama administration just launched a new tour to highlight the issue, and the President has urged Congress to take action. The administration also dedicated and proposed funding to help states advance paid leave policies. And members of Congress recently reintroduced the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program.

The National Partnership leads a coalition of several hundred organizations that is pushing for the FAMILY Act.


Q:  On the flip side, why is it taking the U.S. so long to catch up with the rest of the world? Why have we been unable to have these benefits sooner?

RL:  In many ways, our culture is very individualistic and the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality is pervasive. But we also can’t ignore the strong influence that business and business interests play in our politics and policy landscape. There’s a longstanding misconception that what’s good for workers is bad for business, and in the case of paid family and medical leave—like so many other basic labor protections—that’s simply not true.

But, no matter why the nation has fallen so far behind, the country’s failure to guarantee paid leave hurts working families and our global competitiveness. When women don’t have access to paid leave, it is more difficult for them to remain in the workforce. In fact, women’s workforce participation, which climbed substantially in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, has stagnated relative to other developed countries.


Q:  Studies have shown economic benefits when workplaces have adopted paid family leave. What are the other benefits, the ones that may be less tangible or easily quantifiable?

RL:  Overall, paid leave strengthens the economic security of working people and their families. It provides income stability to families with new children, encourages workforce attachment, promotes families’ financial independence and safeguards workers’ income and retirement security. It can also promote men’s involvement in the care of a child—men who take two or more weeks off after the birth of a child are more involved than fathers who take no leave in the direct care of their child nine months later.

Paid leave contributes to improved newborn and child health because newborns whose mothers take leave are more likely to be breastfed, receive medical check-ups and get critical immunizations. Seriously ill children also recover faster when cared for by their parents, and paid leave helps make that possible. It also allows ill or injured adults to get critical care and take needed recovery time, and it enables caregivers to help ill parents, spouses and children fulfill treatment plans and avoid complications and hospital readmissions.

Paid leave reduces worker replacements and improves worker loyalty. It saves the government and taxpayers money through reduced health care costs, reduced reliance on public assistance, more people staying in their jobs and paying taxes, and increased earnings and savings over time.


Q:  What would implementing family leave on a federal level mean to the average American?

RL:  It would mean that tens of millions of workers and their families could rest easier knowing they are no longer one illness, injury or birth away from financial devastation. It would be a giant leap toward the family friendly America we have long wanted and needed.

Right now, just 13 percent of the workforce has paid family leave through their employers, and less than 40 percent has personal medical leave. That means that, when illness strikes or babies are born, the majority of workers in this country have to choose between their health or the health of their families and their jobs. And the negative effects ripple throughout our communities and society.

A national paid family and medical leave program like the one the Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act would create is a smart, affordable and tested way to ensure that working people in this country can take time to address their own serious health conditions and care for their loved ones without sacrificing their economic security. It’s a common sense policy that would bring our nation’s workplace policies in line with the rest of the word.

A confluence of factors has gotten us to a moment as a nation when we are primed for progress on paid leave. This is a unique and unprecedented moment.

Now, it’s time for lawmakers to make the most of it.

Susan Buttenwieser’s writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in the Brooklyn Rail, Teachers & Writers magazine and other publications. She teaches creative writing in New York City public schools and with incarcerated women. 

Photo: gettyimages

Suspended in Social Mobility

Suspended in Social Mobility

By Amanda Rose Adams


For the past seven years, my kids have attended our neighborhood elementary school. The school was recently classified as a Title One institution. According to the US Department of Education, “Schools in which children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment are eligible to use Title I funds for schoolwide programs that serve all children in the school.”

For many years well over 50% of our school’s students have been eligible for free or reduced lunch, but my children are not part of that 50%+ percent. At our elementary school, we’ve been the minority of families who are decidedly and comfortably middle class.

My daughter only has nine more school days before she leaves our Title One school to join her brother in middle school next fall. Our middle school has the lowest percentage of at-risk need funding of any school in our district, less than 2%. We are going from a school where most of the school directory addresses are in one of the biggest trailer parks in our state to a school where we’ve seen kids picked up in Lamborghinis and limousines.

According to the principal at the middle school, close to one hundred percent of the students have smart phones. I can assure you it’s not fully one hundred percent because my son does not have a cell phone of any sort, smart or not. We simply cannot afford to arm a sixth grader with a telephone for his convenience or ours. Once again we are in the minority, still middle class but closer to the margins than many families at this school.

My husband and I look back over our children’s tenure at the lower income school with mixed feelings. We are glad we didn’t try to “choice” out of our neighborhood school because we wanted our kids to understand that not everyone has the same advantages and possessions. We’re glad that they had so many English-learning classmates. We are glad that we had the school’s social worker translate birthday party invitations to be inclusive. Diversity is one of the values the school celebrates.

We did “choice” our son out of the middle school he would have been bussed to because we wanted him to have a chance to make new friends. He was never athletic enough to blend in with his peers in elementary school and a new crowd seemed the right choice for him. Where we live if a family wants to opt out of their default school, they must submit a request in writing by the January before the next school year begins, and even then a change of school is not guaranteed. The middle school he’s at now was actually third on our list of three alternatives. We knew little about it before he was assigned, but it’s the one the school district chose for us.

In elementary school, our kids were getting easy As for years. They’ve been coasting, which we learned this year when our sixth grade son was buried in homework and struggled to legitimately earn solid Bs. We’ve not only seen him work harder, we’ve seen his writing and math skills improve dramatically. At his old school we never pushed him to join the gifted and talented program because we knew he wouldn’t push himself. In this new school, whether it’s his age, his teachers, or his peers, he’s found his drive.

We expect our daughter to really take off in middle school and are hoping to see her communication skills blossom like her brother’s have. We are so happy with the academic rigor middle school that we wonder if we did wrongly by our kids by not trying to “choice” them into a more challenging school sooner.

For the past several years we were stubbornly loyal to our neighborhood elementary school, volunteering regularly and donating supplies and hosting classroom parties. We didn’t want to be those people who thought their kids were too good to go to school with the poor kids. This was especially important to me because I actually lived in a trailer park from kindergarten until sixth grade. My siblings and I were the kids who got free and reduced lunch. My family ate government cheese and drank canned pineapple juice from the USDA Commodities program. It seemed like a betrayal of my family of origin and an enormous hypocrisy of self to segregate my own children from other kids just because the other kids lacked money. What I didn’t understand until later is how hard the teachers have to work to make up for other gaps that many kids without money also possess, like never attending preschool or not having books at home and often not having a parent at home.

By doing right by our neighbors and our values, I do sometimes wonder if we did right by kids? Our son seems to be catching up quickly, and I expect no different from our daughter. If we created a gap by indulging our values of equality and fairness ahead of our value of education, it is our responsibility and our great privilege to close it with the myriad of resources at our disposal. One of those privileges is sending our kids to a middle school that challenges them. It’s now up to our kids to reach their full potential and for us to support that. I wonder about our choices, but I don’t regret them. In raising children, I would far rather error on the side of compassion over competition because that’s the lesson I most want them to take into the future.

Amanda Rose Adams is contributing blogger for Brain, Child, the author of Heart Warriors, A Family Faces Congenital Heart Disease, and her work has been featured in the New York Times Motherlode Blog, The American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Bioethics and various literary journals. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaroseadams or visit her blog at www.amandaroseadams.com.


Photo: gettyimages