Unpaid Labor

Unpaid Labor

It has occurred to me, possibly too late, that maybe we should have made our blog about simple ideas. Like how much we like frozen yogurt. Or how bad my knees hurt when I wear high heeled shoes. See what I did there? Stalling. I want to talk about unpaid labor. It’s so important we started a business that puts unpaid labor as its central concern. And here I am having a very hard time figuring out how to talk about it.

The unpaid labor I have performed throughout my life has been a source of enduring pride and joy. It has also had a severely negative impact on my marriage and my self-esteem. It has given me hours of laughter and shenanigans with my two sons. It has given me hours of arguments with my spouse. It has made me wonder if I have wasted the past 23 years of my life. It has given and it has taken away.

So how to talk about it without making others think I haven’t been grateful for the opportunity to perform most of it?  I could have done without some tasks, but no experience is perfect.  As I have said before, I am the primary parent.  It was my role to be in charge of our home and our kids, our social life and often our emotional life.  Nothing I did outside the home changed the amount of work I did inside the home.  If I worked outside the home there was no adjustment to the amount of work I did at home. Sometimes I would get help with laundry and after years of fighting I got help with dishes, but pay attention to how that sentence is phrased.  I got help.  Laundry and dishes were by default my responsibility.  Whether I worked outside the home or not.

In the process of starting Persistiny, I have been asked what I personally bring to the business, as far as professional skills. I have been a wife, a daughter, a stay at home mom and/or a working mom for the past 23 years.  I opened a coffee house while pregnant with my first son.  Wrote a few short stories and managed to get 2 of them published.  Finally finished college 21 years after graduating high school.  Worked at a museum.  I’ve also made hundreds of quesadillas, washed (seemingly) thousands of loads of laundry, listened to hours upon hours of little kid chatter, laughed at dozens of little kid jokes, kissed booboos, went on countless field trips, read stores, sang lullabies, cuddled babies, held my father’s hand as he had a scary and painful medical test, held my mother’s hand as she died.

So what do I bring to the business as far as professional skills?  I honestly don’t know.  I have spotty work experience, no career path to speak of and seemingly  no basis for asking for a salary anywhere above the minimum wage.  So I do sometimes ask myself, have I wasted my life?  At the age of 45, what do I have to show for all the years I have worked except the burden of having to assure others over and over and over again that I am grateful for having had the opportunity to care for my family and yes, I love my kids and it has been an honor to help my parents as they age and on and on and on.

The protestations a woman must get through to talk about her unpaid labor take up so much time we often never get to the part we want to talk about. Here at Persistiny, we’d like to start the conversation about unpaid labor.  And we’d love to hear from you, no protestations necessary.

Originally published March 4, 2018

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