You Are Not Worth Your Paycheque, or Lack of One
I used to think I put myself first, or that at the very least, on an equal level with my family. I, Randi Jo Torgrimson, hard core feminist, non-working but bachelor’s degree holding kinesiologist, former business owner, teacher, mother, dream-carrying human, would not sacrifice her own life for the sake of her family’s.
Wait a minute, yes I would. If it were the zombie apocalypse and one of us had to go out and sacrifice themselves to the swarm overtaking our home so the rest of the family could get away, I would be that person. Mostly because my kids’ chances of survival are about 150% higher when on the run with their dad than with me. I’m pretty much useless when it comes to survival…hell, I can’t even open my own bottle of kombucha. So yeah, I’d do it.
But we’re not talking a zombie apocalypse. We’re talking day to day life. Career, dreams, aspirations, time. And when I got married and had kids I had no intention of being one of those wives and mothers who gave up everything; her dreams, her career, her motivations, for the sake of her husband and kids.
And as an outsider looking in, you’d think I hadn’t. In fact, I was an insider in all of this and I didn’t even think I had. My husband, when the kids were babies, got up in the middle of the night to feed them, he changed diapers, he cleaned the house. He “parented” his children, he did not “babysit” them. And as he lived in the house and helped make the messes, he also did his share of cleaning, cooking, washing, drying, etc.
When he wasn’t working.
When he was working, it was up to me. Because I didn’t have a job, at least, not anything that could support a family, despite being told throughout my entire childhood, “go to school and get a degree so you can have a good job.” I went to school, got the degree, and did not get a good job. Not that they weren’t out there, they just weren’t necessarily in the town in which we lived. Yeah, we could have moved, but my husband’s job was good enough that we didn’t have to as I didn’t have to work.
Didn’t HAVE to. That didn’t mean I didn’t WANT to. But we had kids. So, I stayed home and took care of them. I figured, might as well have them now, while I have no job, than later when I might (ahahahaha! Oh, the joys of hindsight!). And I spent much of that time wondering what it was I could do so that I could be as important as my husband with his job.
You see, I was envious that he could walk out of the house, past the dirty dishes and the screaming children and the mess on the floor, and go to work. He didn’t have to deal with it because when the time came to clock in, he had to clock in. Which meant, I had no choice but to deal with the chaos of my children.
Chaos that continued as my children became toddlers, preschoolers and elementary-schoolers. Until I decided that I too wanted to be valuable enough to say, “I have to work,” and not have to deal with the household stuff. Not that I didn’t love my kids, but I hated having no choice, being unable to say, “No, I have somewhere to be, you deal with this,” because his work came first.
And so I opened up a coffee shop. A shop into which I put my heart and my soul, worked my ass off so I could say, “See? I’m worth something. I have to WORK.”
Except, my husband still had his job, in fact, his job had become an actual company. And while mine literally put the bread on the table (because we made bread…get it?) his actually paid for it. Because I still wasn’t making enough money to be able to say, “No, you get the kids this time. I can’t. I’m WORKING.”
His work still trumped my own. And when the time came that we lost all our childcare in one summer, a loss that came in a very painful and violent package, I was faced with a harsh and brutal reality. I was working fourteen hours a day, missing out on my children’s lives, and they weren’t even with people who cared about them. Not only that, I couldn’t manage my shop and my kids without help, and once again, my husband’s work trumped mine as it was the money maker.
So I sold my shop and went back to giving every minute of every day to my kids while my husband continued to go to work.
Along with the decision to sell my shop, however, came the decision that I would finally pursue the one thing I’d always wanted to do but was too afraid to try. I was finally going to pursue my dream of writing novels, and then I could make money working from home and not have to deal with staffing issues and daycare. But the problem was, until I was published, writing meant going back to unpaid work.
And when your work is unpaid, it’s really easy for it to be deemed unimportant. Especially when you feel that your kids need you.
So while other moms and dads were going to work and collecting a paycheque, I was working from home, which meant, cleaning up breakfast messes, vacuuming up dog hair, fielding calls from my children and their school, volunteering at said school, driving them to their activities, and basically, trying to do it all.
Yes, I got some writing done, but not that much. You see, I was waiting for my work to be worth something so I could put it first. But as it didn’t make any money, everyone else came first. While my husband could say, “No, I can’t do that, I have to work,” I would be the one to say, “Okay, fine, I’ll do it.” Because I could, so I had to. No one was counting on me at a certain time, no one was paying me for anything. What’s a day without writing while my kid is home sick, or while their class needs chaperones for a field trip, or an afternoon of dance shoe shopping, or driving them to gymnastics, swimming, karate?
My husband would take over when he was done work, but by then I was either too tired from the dealings of the day or feeling guilty that I was missing out on my kid’s activities that I didn’t get much work done. My prime working hours had been used by the house and the kids and the dogs and everything else. All that was left were exhausted hours and minutes that were never enough to amount to anything.
And once my kids were older, you would have thought things would have gotten easier. I don’t have to do everything for them, so I would have more time on my hands, right? In fact, I am one of those rare mothers who doesn’t make my kids lunches, who doesn’t make their breakfasts, believing that they should learn to get themselves ready in the morning as I sure as hell won’t be doing it for them when they move out. I was proud that I didn’t feel I had to donate every minute of my day to them, that my entire reason for living was not my kids.
Except, it was. Or I’d allowed it to be. I still supervised, I still helped them, I still didn’t get anything besides a cup of coffee or a shower accomplished while they got ready in the morning.
Years after deciding to be a writer, I’m still waiting for that paycheque, still waiting to be important enough to tell my husband, “No, you do it, I have to work.” In an effort to get there, I finally hired a writing coach. And when her introductory questionnaire asked me what my greatest accomplishment of the past few years was, do you know what I put? My kids. Because, all that time and energy I’d sacrificed for them had actually worked out. They’re amazing kids who make good choices, who talk to me about their lives and the things that are and aren’t bothering them, and I know the time I gave them has a lot to do with that.
Except, if I continue as I’m going, five years from now, I’ll still be writing, My kids, under my biggest accomplishments. Because, I’ve gotten so wrapped up in not having any kind of important work that merits saying no to them, that I never do. My spare time in running them around, taking them to their activities, watching movies with them, playing games with them, making sure they practice their instruments, teaching them, cooking and cleaning for them, doing their laundry, answering their many calls from school.
At the end of the day, I’ve left little to no time for me.
My son had a dirt bike race this past weekend. It was in a town 2.5 hours away and it would have taken the entire weekend. An entire weekend in a month of weekends that were solidly booked. In fact, almost every weekend of our entire summer was booked up with kids activities. Weekends that came at the end of an entire week of me driving them to and from activities. Weeks where they continually barged into my office when I was trying to work, or, texted me constantly when I left to work. Weeks where I gave up my work to take my son to the dirt bike track, or couldn’t get a chapter done because my daughter had to be dropped off, and then picked up again, and the dropped off somewhere else.
Weeks where I was getting nothing done, followed by weekends where it was impossible to get anything done. And I kept thinking, I’ll never be a paid author because I’ll never finish the book I’d been working on for the past 3-years. A book that would have been finished 2-years ago if I wasn’t making everyone else more important than myself and my work, even if it was unpaid. I needed a cheque to say that my work was, in fact, work, that should be valued and respected.
Not respected by my family, but respected by myself.
I was the one who had to give myself the permission.
So I did.
I gathered my family and I said, the words I’d been so desperate to say: “No, I’m not coming. I have to work.”
And something magical happened.
And through that work I came to realize that no one is going to pay me for any of this if I don’t decide it’s worth something. And it will never be worth anything if I don’t think I’m worth anything.
At some point I’d gotten it in my head that what I was doing was worthless because no one was paying me for my efforts, which, in my own fucked up mind, made me worthless.
But no one paid me for my efforts with my kids, and look how they turned out. (In case you didn’t know, they turned out: Awesome. Absolutely, completely, totally, awesome.) So, maybe it’s not money that determines the worth. Maybe it’s me.
I hated missing my kid’s race, but in missing it I found something this weekend. My husband walks out of this house every day, passing by the underwear on the bathroom floor and the dishes in the kitchen sink, because he has determined that his work has to come first, not his paycheque. And this weekend I discovered that I could, and I must, do the same. This weekend I gave myself permission to walk past the dirty dishes and drop my dirty laundry on the bathroom floor. Dirt on the floor? I put on shoes. I gave myself permission to walk past everything, including my kids, to get to work.
Maybe one day I’ll get paid for my book. But when it does, I’ll know that that cheque won’t determine my worth.
Because I determine my worth.
And now that I’ve decided I’m worth just as much as my kids and my husband, I feel pretty damn incredible. I just hope the agents can see that as well…