Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The Invisible Hand Does Laundry
My mom was a helicopter pilot and an artist. What did she do with her free time? Laundry. I never saw her fly and she used her artistic skills to help her kids with school projects. However, doing the laundry and cooking permitted her to do what was most important to her, hang with her kids.
As a teenager I thought, “Why on earth would I want to spend the rest of my life cleaning up after people? There has to be a better way” About the same time in high school economics I learned about the invisible hand. Society functions at its best when every one specializes in what they’re good at, and then engages in trade. Why can’t I, as a mother, do the same?
I do not cook, I do not clean, I do not scrap book, I do not bake, I am a terrible homemaker. I can rip it on a snowboard, I can negotiate, I manage finances, I know how to get a job easily and help others to do the same and I can sell software. It seems counter productive for my plan in life to be a traditional ‘homemaker’
So why not apply Adam Smith’s economic philosophy to motherhood? Why can’t mothers make money doing what we’re skilled at and then pay others to do what we're not skilled at doing (i.e. laundry)? According to Adam Smith our economy as a whole will benefit. It makes sense, if you sell your crafts on eBay, decide to become a photographer, or practice law, then use that money to employ another to clean your house; you’ve just given someone a job- and created a positive impact on our economy.
It was hard for my mom to give up her life of art and flying to watch Sesame Street and do laundry. I benefited from having a stay at home mom, not because she cleaned the house, but because she was there to listen to me.
In addition, a very good friend of mine’s mom is a doctor, and a single mother. She’d go to work and pick up dinner on the way home; she hired a cleaning lady, so that when she was home her kids got her time and attention. All of her children turned out great- they went to college at Columbia, UCLA and BYU. They became very successful individuals, and kind people. They were in no way impacted because their mother wasn’t the stereotypical ‘homemaker’, because she took time to listen to and talk to her kids. (Side note, this woman has also given a great deal of time and energy to humanitarian efforts in 3rd world countries, and sits on the LDS church’s medical board)
If you like to iron, clean and cook- I applaud you. I know there are thousands of women who have chosen to stay at home and do chores they hate in order to be there for their children, which I admire greatly. I'm not that strong- I'd go nuts. With telecommuting, is it still required that to be at home with your kids means you must do housework? Is there a reason why the invisible hand can’t apply to motherhood, and each of us can find a way to specialise in what we do best? Can we be stay at home mothers, but still working moms? As I am not a mother, I don’t know I that I’m the most qualified person to write on this topic- but as a woman, hoping to be a mother- I very much hope that being a good mother has nothing to do with the laundry.