Sometimes I feel sad that I don’t make any money.

sourdough bread

I’m doing something different today: I just opened up my laptop and wrote what was on my mind, and am publishing it with minimal editing. Even though I recently said I prefer works that are heavily edited. Hey, it’s my blog, I can break my own rules. Sometimes it feels good to just share my feelings, knowing that some of you will be able to relate. I’m not asking for sympathy or advice or — heaven forbid — money. I just felt like being honest about my feelings.

This morning I woke up sad that I don’t make any money.

It doesn’t happen often. I understand how I got here, and it’s largely by choice. I chose to get a degree in the humanities, knowing full well that it wouldn’t make me marketable. I chose to stay home with my kids and to educate them myself. I chose to nurture skills that aren’t traditionally profitable: cooking, homemaking, writing, painting, fiber arts. I recently added to my Instagram profile description — with a tiny hint of pride — “Maker of zero dollars.”

In fact, I’ve spent most of my adult life actively resisting a capitalist-centered life, favouring self-sufficiency and time with family over earning an income. I would rather learn to DIY everything than work at a job to pay for those same things. “Our home is a unit of production, not consumption!” my husband and I routinely remind ourselves.

And for the most part, I’m happy with my life choices. I believe that my work is meaningful and important. I don’t feel especially deprived most of the time: on my husband’s small income, we can afford to cover all our basic needs, plus a little extra to cover my hobbies (i.e. blogging, painting and knitting), the occasional dinner out, and clothes that I feel good in.

So it’s not that I wish I had more money — not really. I just sometimes crave the validation that an income would provide.

Sometimes I long for the knowledge that someone out there values my labour enough to want to give me money for it. Possibly even — and this is totally wild — a living wage. Like, I can’t even fathom the thought of someone wanting to give me enough money that we were officially living above the poverty line. How luxurious that seems!

Can you imagine walking around, knowing that your skills, time, and effort are worth actual money? Like, that your labour is so coveted that an employer or a client would be willing to part with actual cash in exchange for it? Man. What a dream. I can hardly even picture it. And I know some people get to experience that feeling, and sometimes I feel just a little bit resentful.

At my last three jobs, I was paid minimum wage, and even then I felt like a burden on my employers. Like I was barely worth the amount of money they were dishing out. Like they’d replace me in a heartbeat if they could just find someone else willing to drive out to their remote location and do the work.

I have been working SO HARD my entire life. I worked so hard to get straight A’s in high school while working on weekends to support my family. I worked so hard to get straight A’s in university while paying for my own tuition plus room and board. I worked so hard at my first minimum-wage jobs. And I have worked harder than ever, around the clock, as a mother. I don’t feel like I’ve had adequate leisure time since I was in elementary school.

And sometimes I just can’t believe that all this hard work has not resulted in any kind of capital. I am 33 years old with a master’s degree and I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to make enough money to pay for my own root canal.

I bet a lot of you can relate, especially if you are a millennial mother or an artist. It is hard to find someone willing to pay us for our work. We are expected to provide so much of our labour for free.

I’m not even sure I want any other life. But in a capitalist society, where our value comes from how much we earn and spend, sometimes it just feels sucky to not make any money.

Related: a few years ago I wrote about post entitled, “I Am Rich,” about how my family is rich in other resources.

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  1. I go through this too. I’ve been a SAHM now for fourteen years. In that time I’ve had the privilege and freedom to do and learn many of the things I’ve always wanted to but there’s still that little part of me that would love to earn money for our family and receive some sort of outside validation. I don’t really know the answer for how to stop those feelings but I do know they tend to be more present when I’m comparing myself to other mothers who do work or have a booming business like selling essential oils. I have to remind myself that I contribute in ways that are important to me like growing foo/teaching my kids etc.

  2. Grete A Telander says

    Thank you for this! I go through this sometimes too. I also struggle with feeling validated in a capitalist society when I don’t make any money at all. My husband works outside of the home, and is able to support us so that we have everything our family needs and we are able to do a little bit of extra, so it’s not exactly that I want more material things. It’s just that without a paycheck, I sometimes slip into thinking that what I’m doing all day (or all night) as a mother is not important or useful. It’s not true, of course, but I sometimes feel like that anyway. I also worked hard for straight A’s through high school, college, and a master’s degree, and I don’t think I realized at the time how much those grades mattered to me for personal validation. I think even without a paycheck, if I could just get an A for motherhood, or housekeeping, or homeschooling, that would be sufficient, but there just isn’t one!

  3. Samantha P says

    Goodness. I have a felt and still feel that way all the time. I go through cycles of trying to figure out what I could go back to school for that would be worth the time and money. And then I usually work my way back to the same place of knowing that being home with my kids for the foreseeable future is right where I want to be.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Right?? I WANT to be home with my kids. But if only someone from the outside could confirm that I’m doing a good job… (My husband is great with constantly reassuring me that he values my contributions to the household, but it’s not quite the same.)

  4. Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen says

    Oh I do get this. For nearly a year I’ve been back at work three days a week, but my wage only just covers the childcare I need to pay for so I can actually go to work, and the public transport to get there three times a week. I actually had to negotiate my wage up because we were going to be making a loss! My husband has a very good wage and it’s all”our” money, but I do sometimes feel like my work is less valuable, that I am less valuable…

  5. First: A+ and gold stars! Have some external validation. I so miss the days of grades. ;-)

    That is an interesting way to look at it. As someone on the reverse side–I work, and hate my job, and wish I didn’t need to and could stay home with my kids–it’s good to be reminded that hey, my work has value, even if it’s “only” monetary. I often feel like I have the short end of the stick–all the SAHMs are not impressed with the lack of time I spend on my children and home; all the working moms are not impressed with my lack of actual career or impressive job title/salary. So it’s good to know that, some days, we all feel crummy about ourselves and that, in some ways, the grass really is always greener.

    And also, never take it for granted that your choices have been purposeful and you love the life you’ve created for yourself (at least mostly, most of the time). Trust me that it sucks the other way ’round.

    • This is very interesting to hear — thank you for sharing, Katie! It really helps to realize we all deal with these feelings from time to time. I’m sure that if I worked outside the home I would be wishing I could just stay home, ha! Why can’t we just get paychecks and positive progress reports for taking care of our own children?? Is that so much to ask from life??

      • I ask that all the time. Why won’t someone just pay me to hang out at home and do what I want to do??? Alas, it hasn’t happened yet.

  6. Melissa H-K says

    Golly, do I understand this feeling! I’m unlike you in that I worked outside the home for many years while my husband took care of the kids and sometimes worked outside the home at night. Then the kids graduated from high school and we moved to a quiet rural area that was better for my husband’s failing health. I thought I had prepared myself to find a job there, but nothing worked out. Fortunately, I had saved and invested like crazy all those working years, while we denied ourselves a lot of things that our friends and neighbors simply had to have, so I do have that to fall back on. Now I live in a little house that my daughter and son-in-law own, about 60 feet (c. 20 meters) from their house, and I help my stay-at-home daughter with the six going on seven kids — and it feels more than ever as if I’m of no worth to society. These are feelings from the devil, and I try to combat them. God bless you!

    • Oof. I’m so sorry to hear you feel that way! I can assure you that the help my mom and mom-in-law provide for me and my kids is PURE GOLD, and I could not manage without them. You are giving your daughter and grandkids such an incredibly precious gift. We women are indispensable in keeping the world running; I wish we sensed that truth more often!

  7. I’m a writer, and one of my best friends is a freelance artist, and we talk about this all. the. TIME. I recently made the switch to writing full-time after having worked pretty much consistently since age 17, so…we’re talking 13 years. Right now, I’m building my repertoire (read: not making money). It was a big adjustment to make psychologically. But when I get to read the work I’ve made, or see the look on my husband’s face when he comes home to dinner, or experience the joy of our beautiful home for myself, I know what we have is worth so much more than the eons of takeout and “I deserve this” Target sprees that we had when I worked.

  8. So. Much. Yes. And it makes me really mad, because honestly, I don’t even know who could do my days- even if *they* got paid. We’re going away soon, and I’m paying a lot of money for one day of it and all I expect is that the children have fun with her. I’m not expecting her to do laundry, keep anything clean, anything school related, I will have all the meals handy ahead of time, etc. So, in essence, I have sought someone out and am paying a lot of money to do less than a quarter of my regular job- and somehow I am grateful. I really am!! I’m so thankful she’s coming and I can get a break, How does that even work?! It’s completely mind blowing. It’s a hard, hard job being a stay at home mom, especially if you homeschool, and ESPECIALLY if there are special needs. If we had to be paid what we worth, it would make the market collapse.

  9. I work full-time and yet still struggle with these feelings because my husband makes much more money for the same number of hours of his day, and feel the same whenever I see someone I went to school with who is doing so much better. When you’re in a capitalist society, it’s really easy (and tempting, and pernicious) to put a price tag on what your time is worth based on what someone will pay you. But then I realize that if, say I don’t think a teacher is providing less value than a hedge fund manager (quite the opposite), then it’s really not fair to judge myself or anyone else by that horrible dollar-sign yardstick.

  10. I’m a 32 year old “millennial” mother AND artist 😂 so I feel this to my core! It’s the validation, FOR SURE, more than anything.

  11. I feel this way practically all the time. But when I contemplate going back to work full time I hate that idea too. I still work very part-time (on an on-call basis, if we can figure out childcare when they need me) and while that’s a nice change of pace when it comes up I recently worked a regular full week and arranging childcare was such a headache that I was reminded why full-time would be both a logistical and financial non-starter for our family, at least for now. It’s both ridiculous and reality that it makes more sense for my husband to work 80+ hours/week at upwards of 5 jobs than it does for both of us to work standard full-time positions. Because of our career fields we’d likely rarely see each other and/or my income would go almost entirely to childcare, and then what’s the point?

  12. I struggle with this too, even though I am sixty years old. I finally decided to quit my part time job to spend more time with my husband who,has been fully retired for over six years, and be free to travel to see my kids and grandkids who all live several hundred to several thousand miles away. It is even more challenging financially in the USA where we don’t have healthcare for everyone. We fall into the small percentage without employer coverage but just enough income not to receive any subsidy for purchasing our own insurance. (my husband is fully retired and does get Medicare). I am wondering how I will feel,not having the validation of being a working person. When I was a full time stay at home mother I seldom felt conflicted because I homeschooled four children and my husband worked all kinds of days and shifts so me having a job was out of the question.

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