As we think about honoring our mothers and mother figures this week, consider the variety of forms that can take. At times, parents can figure out how to balance responsibility load equitably. Frequently, mothers bear the responsibility of (child rearing, home keeping, etc.). That can be especially true in military families that relocated based on the military member’s job progression.
The Obvious that we Take for Granted
A shocking number of women still die in or as a result of child birth in the United States every year– 23.8 per 100,000 in 2020. The willingness to give one’s life for the chance bring forward another is not something any man is likely to face in the course of normal biological functions.
Moms sacrifice sleep, routines, employment opportunities, and countless other rituals in order to protect us during pregnancy. Then they devote 24 hours a day to keeping us alive just so we can get to the starting line of self-sufficiency. We wreak havoc on their bodies and steal the time and energy they might have to start reclaiming their pre-pregnancy life.
I won’t pretend to have the right to speak for how the world’s moms all feel about their roles, experiences and sacrifices. I’ll just say thank you to them.
The Less Obvious that we Also Take for Granted
Humans are some laughably vulnerable mammals. As such, we need round-the-clock care to feed, clothe, teach, discipline, mentor, coach, mend, and so on… for at least the first 5 years of our lives. For many families, the bulk of this labor falls to Mom.
The military community is painfully aware of the uphill battles moms face. Stable employment, climbing professional ladders, geographic predictability, patchwork licensing and credential requirements, decaying professional opportunity—the list is endless. While enduring their own struggles for fulfillment, our moms have to stay in multi-target track to ensure that we learn social skills, navigate school, find our passions (while they may still be delaying theirs), and start to find a place in the world.
The Financial Value of Mom
I write about personal finance, so while I’m as grateful as I think I can be for what my mom did to put me where I am, I think it’s worth considering the financial value of our moms.
Adoption can cost twenty to seventy thousand dollars. Fertility treatments are also four to five figure numbers. If a family is fortunate enough to conceive without intervention, then mom’s gift helps a family start with potentially more stable finances.
While childbirth used to be the last thing you’d want to do in a hospital, today it’s the norm. Even a normal birth can be expensive (think $10K to $25K depending on the state), not to mention all of the kit required to outfit a MK-1 baby. Tricare/civilian health insurance often suppresses most pregnancy and childbirth costs, but not for everyone. So, in addition to putting her life on the line, mom has to carry the weight of knowing that a child could bring financial strain alongside the joy.
Depending on the locale, a nanny is likely to cost $30,000 per year or more. A nanny is also a household employee and drives a requirement to pay things like FICA and unemployment taxes. Childcare can run thousands per month. Pre- and after-school care will be hundreds, if not thousands per month. If a stay-at-home parent isn’t available, other resources like tutors may add to the bill.
Even when children start full-day kindergarten, before and after-care still add to family bills. Many dual-working families find that sheer exhaustion from the work day leaves them feeling as though they don’t have enough gas in the tank to parent at their desired level late in the day.
Stay-at-home Moms are also usually the chef, cleaning service, laundry service, and chauffeur. In 2019, Salary.com estimated the equivalent salary for a stay-at-home Mom’s many roles to be over $178K. If she’s technically getting paid $0, it sort of calibrates perspective on pilot bonus issues…
Protecting the Mom
Life insurance may well be the second least-sexy topic in the financial planning world (Wills and estate planning usually take top honors). Family SGLI (FSGLI) covers a military spouse for $100K at pretty modest rates from $4.50 per month up to $45 per month at age 60+. Realistically, families serving 20-ish careers won’t spend much above $7 to $10 per month. But is $100K enough?
If Mom’s salary could be as high as $178K per year for all of her labor, and a nanny clocks in over $30K per year, the math in public says “nope.” Military families need to be clear-eyed about income and “phantom income” replacement.
If the primary earner dies, there needs to be enough life insurance to make the family economically whole again. If the stay-at-home spouse dies, the same is true.
Primary earner math can look like getting enough insurance to cover:
College costs for the kids
Paying off the mortgage
Income for a period of years to allow the surviving spouse to grieve and adapt
Stay-at-home parent math might look like getting enough insurance to cover:
Nanny or pre- and post-school childcare
Extra travel costs for family members to come and help
Extra costs for things like transportation services, counseling, cleaning, and other household labor
Reduced income for the surviving parent to adapt to single parenting
The right amount of life insurance on Mom will be different for every family. But as with all life insurance, it’s probably better to have a little too much, starting a little too soon, and kept for a little to long, than any of the opposites.
Cleared to Rejoin
Starting, raising, and enjoying a family is a unique calculus for every family, but for most of us, the universal constant is Mom. If you get a chance this Mother’s Day, hug mom a little tighter. It might not make up for the missed six-figure paychecks she poured into the family, but it’s a great way to celebrate her true value.