By Katelyn Lusher
When I was growing up, my mom didn’t work. Until I went to college and my youngest sister was old enough to stay home alone, my mom stayed at home and took care of my three siblings and me. From 2001 to 2009, she was also homeschooling at least one kid and somehow managed to keep the house clean, take us to church youth group events and sports, and cook dinners. When I think about it now, I realize that my dad’s job granted us the privilege to have one parent at home, even though money was often tight. But I also realize that even if my mom had worked, almost all of her money would have gone to childcare. As a teenager, however, I didn’t understand these things and sometimes underestimated how much work my mom was actually doing on a day to day basis even though she didn’t technically have a job. I abhorred the idea of being a stay at home mom myself because I couldn’t imagine taking care of people all day and wanted to do work that I saw as more challenging. Over time, though, I realized that my mindset was toxic because care work—which is often considered “women’s work”—is consistently undervalued but indispensable.
Often the phrase “care work” is used to describe occupations in healthcare (particularly nursing), child care, teaching, and domestic work. As many experts in psychology and education have noted, most care workers are underpaid and overworked since the vast majority of workers are women and people of color. Teachers in particular have to deal with constant abuse, degradation, and devaluing of their work despite the fact that their work is essential for developing children’s minds. When my mom was homeschooling, she created lesson plans and syllabi, bought textbooks, wrote assignments, and graded homework—partly with help from other homeschool moms with teaching degrees since she never went college herself—and she did an excellent job. Unlike teachers employed at a school, however, she didn’t get paid at all. Her hard work was indispensable, as is the work of most teachers. Teacher unions are some of the most active and powerful unions in the country because they are constantly fighting for better pay and benefits. According to an article published by The Atlantic last year (“The U.S. Teaching Population Is Getting Bigger, and More Female”), a survey conducted in 2015 showed that 76% of U.S. teachers are female. Why is it any surprise, then, that so many teachers are underpaid? In a different article by The Atlantic (“Low Pay Has Teachers Flocking to the Sharing Economy”), author Alia Wong states that K-12 teachers make an average of $58,000 a year but have to spend a large chunk on classroom supplies and have to earn side income by hosting through Airbnb or driving for Uber.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it seems that some people are finally starting to see the value of care work as they struggle to homeschool their kids and rely on the hard work of healthcare workers to contain the virus. Without people in care work, we would be completely lost. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that recognizing care work is also recognizing women’s work. Without my mom’s care work, I would be a completely different person. Don’t ever underestimate the labor it takes to keep people alive, healthy, and educated.