The Value of Parents

Dan Smith - Wrongful Death Attorney

How do you put a price on love? Unfortunately, sometimes in a legal situation this is what we are asked to do. If a family has suffered the loss of a father or mother of young children not only is the emotional cost to the family a devastation, but if the loss was due to an unexpected trauma such as medical malpractice, a car accident, or a personal injury the unforeseen consequences of the lost person’s investment of time to the family can take an even larger toll. The costs can be overwhelming for the spouse who’s left behind.

The modern image of the family has shifted since I was young. The ideas of a mother and father having separate roles in a family have begun to merge into a generalized idea of “parenting.” In today’s world, most people find a dual-income household basically necessary in order to get by. The extensive tasks and demands of raising children and managing a home are shared more and more by both mothers and fathers. Some couples still have the luxury of having one parent stay at home full time with the children, but even if both parents work, we may not realize how much the other person’s contribution means to the home until they are no longer there to make it.

Dads have always been as important to families as moms, but traditionally are considered the breadwinners – going out in the morning to work all day and “bring home the bacon.” But today’s world is different. The 2010 US Census data shows that the number of full time stay at home dads has increased 50% over the last decade, and the estimated number of dads who work or go to school part time, and stay at home with the kids as much (or more) than Mom are estimated to be 10 times higher than that. This new family model, according to a recent study by University of Texas at Austin, raises kids that are just as happy and healthy as their more traditional working-dad counterparts. Couples who choose to have Dad stay at home and Mom be the bread-winner are just as financially well off, successful, and happy – or even happier – and their numbers are expected to continue to grow. Whether it’s Mom or Dad who decides to dedicate their full time energy to the kids, or if the two team up to divide the responsibilities of careers and childrearing equally, how do you put a price on that happiness?

When a mother or father is lost in a terrible circumstance and the surviving spouse has contacted me to pursue litigation for some kind of compensation, the issue of the lost parent’s “worth” comes up in court. Usually, we call in a “vocational analyst” to discuss the value of the lost parent’s contribution. A parent’s work is never done: there is cleaning, cooking, homework help, shuttling around to activities, party planning, errand running, injury and illness care, bill-paying, yard-work … a list of daily necessities which were divided between two people and are now shifted onto one. (Not to mention if the kids were homeschooled!)

The vocational analyst will look at the lost parent’s time spent in each activity, compared with what the family would have to pay a professional to complete the same work. In recent years, analysts have tried to narrow down the “actual salary” of a full-time parent. This has proved unsuccessful, as each family situation is different, but a recent article on insure.com estimates a stay at home parent’s worth at $61,436 per year. MSN.com puts that number over double: $138,095 per year. The biggest factor of this – for which estimates and real costs can range from $20,000 to more than $70,000 annually depending on differing factors – is round-the-clock childcare. That’s no small potatoes, but neither is the work which is involved. You can use salary.com’s “Mom Salary Wizard” here to calculate the salary for a stay at home parent in your family.

Of course, we all know our parents are priceless – invaluable. And it might seem heartless to “put a number” on the value they bring to the lives of their families. But these articles made me stop to think: when a couple is buying life insurance, how much of a financial burden should they be prepared for to ease the surviving parent’s new situation? Not because the lost parent suddenly isn’t contributing an income, but because he or she suddenly isn’t doing everything else? As an attorney representing a surviving spouse suddenly faced with extreme loss and an emotional court case, it is my job to fight for them to the fullest extent of my abilities. This issue made me think about how much it costs a family – really costs them – if suddenly, one of the parents is gone.

Mother’s Day was recently celebrated on May 8th. And Father’s Day is coming up soon on June 19th. We should all take a moment from our busy lives and remember the true value that our parents, and all parents, bring to the lives of their loved ones. Not just in dollars and cents, but in incalculable love, time, and affection.