The 40 percent Mother's Day tax
Did you pay it yet?
This morning, Mother’s Day, Frank was remembering when he was a small business owner and had to set aside something like 40 percent of his photography income to make sure the feds got paid.
As I venture toward becoming a small business owner myself, the thought at having to pay 40 percent in taxes is shocking. It turns out that it’s closer to 15 percent for a single-owner business, which is double what I pay now, as an employee of a massive, publicly traded company.
But it was something about hearing that 40 percent number on this day celebrating motherhood that hit me in the gut.
I already pay a 40 percent tax.
Making sure the kids get to the pediatrician or the dentist. That they have shoes that fit. That they aren’t wearing the same clothes to school or that they occasionally turn on their camera for virtual schooling.
Mothers being overburdened by this kind of emotional labor isn’t news. Let’s be clear: I’m a white woman who has significant privilege that many parents of color do not have. It’s also true that parenting can turn into a codependent-enabler situation where one person overfunctions so the other person can underfunction. I have participated in that game, too.
But the truth is that even when we ask for help, many moms take on that 40 percent tax.
In an ideal situation, you’ve got parents who are each contributing 20 percent of the wear and tear. Birthing parents invest so much in the beginning, physically speaking, that non-birthing parents spend a lot of years figuring out how to take on more duties so that it’s something closer to even.
I don’t know many parents and co-parents who have this figured out. My ex and I share custody 50/50, but there are many days when I feel like I have three children. He’s not my kid, of course, but I never know if he’s going to have a car or a roof over his head, much less enough money to get one of the kids’ new pants or a haircut.
Caretaking and caregiving are two different things, and although I wish I could be in the caregiving mode every day — with an inner well that’s full enough give freely without take from my resources — there are many days when I’m taking from me to care for them.
That’s gotten better over the years as they’ve gotten older. I’ve learned how to ask for help and let them suffer the consequences of, say, not combing their hair or going to school. One of my kids is having to do an after-school program to catch up from missed absences this spring. Who did the principal call to talk about that?
I feel so grateful for the help I do have. From my ex, who is doing the best he can with the resources he has. From my partner, who has already raised a daughter but offers support without interference. My mom was so kind to listen to me explain my 40 percent tax realization today. My biological sister and all my sister friends, who also know what I’m talking about.
I know my own mom paid her own tax. For as great as my dad was, I know my mom had to fight for her own resources and protect her emotional assets. She got a graduate degree when I was in high school, in part, so she could have more financial say in family decisions and, I imagine, to get out of the house at dinnertime once or twice a week for a few years.
When she stopped paying my dad’s fair share of the tax, he earned more parenting cred with Chelsea and me. (Spaghetti and kiolbassa nights were a particular favorite.)
When I stop paying my ex’s fair share of the tax, what happens?
We’ve had some success over the years with me not micromanaging him and how he parents the boys. I can’t nag him to nag the boys about brushing their teeth, for instance. He has taken them to a dentist office visit or two.
I hope to write a Mother’s Day piece a year from now about how I’ve cut back my Mother’s Day tax to something closer to 20 percent and my kids are still getting what they need. They won’t be living at home forever, so I can also change how I think about it. Yes, I carry the extra weight that comes with raising kids, but the backpacks and hygiene and soccer games won’t last forever. They enrich my life in uncountable ways; the motherhood tax seems like pennies in comparison.
But on a day like today, I needed to meet that fact with courage and feel those feelings.
When I see all these sweet photos on social media of my friends with their parents or kids, I see so many people who are bearing that little — or not so little bit — extra. They are smiling, soaking up one of those priceless moments that make the journey worth it.
But I also see that wear and tear.
But we survive and even thrive, don’t we, Mom?
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