Late last year I was asked to give evidence in a damages case that required me to estimate the financial value of a mother.
Not being an economist, I based my valuation on nanny care costs, plus some additional amounts for household management. It was very much a 'guesstimate' and undoubtedly an underestimate, as I vaguely recall the occasional newspaper story which has come up with an astronomical amount based on the hourly wage rates for all the different aspects of being a parent eg child care, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, etc.
The problem with these estimates is that they are an attempt to put a figure on only part of the parenting role. Sometimes there are attempts to add in the value of such roles as counselling and social organisation, but these tend to be in the more 'humorous' articles.
Of course, too, these attempts only consider the economic value of parents, but what are the intangibles of being a parent, or perhaps more accurately, a child's experience of a parent?
Some possibilities might include:
- Love, a bond of mutual care, belonging. Ideally this doesn't require a child to be good, or act in some prescribed manner to be experienced.
- Dependability, the 'being there factor', the backstop. Even when parents feel inadequate, the fact that they don't run away or shirk the issues is something many children value.
- Shared history, a knowledge of shared experiences good and bad, that shape our lives. Outsiders might share some of these, but it is the day to day shared experience, and often little details, that children remember.
But does parenting ever stop? Those of us with elderly parents know that while they may now be increasingly dependent on us to meet a variety of their needs, they are still our parents. When they die, it is these intangibles that we will miss most.