The Housewife

I often think of my tenuous relationship with the term and role of housewife.  It is a role I have by all means chosen.  It is something both my husband and I believed would be important for our children when we had them.  In fact, for both of us, it was so "wired" in us, our families, our religion even, that it isn't something we even talked about it.  We both just knew that when we had children, I would no longer work for pay.  I would stay at home.  I would be, (just?!) the mom. 

But even though this is something I want, like, expected, grew up with, it is so incredibly surreal sometimes.  I feel like I don't even understand it or why my relationship with this role is so strained, paradoxical, even changeable from day to day.  I love it, I hate it, I feel powerful, I feel powerless.  It is really so strange.  In fact, I am so deep IN this life, this housewifey life, that I can't even put my finger on it.

How can I want something but have a hard time with it.  How can I be grateful for the opportunity, but still wish for other things?  How can I know it is important and still feel so unimportant?   How can I describe to YOU what I am even talking about!  This is one strange ramble!

Maybe my own confusion goes back to my first paragraph.  I would be the mom.  Just the mom?  What about the rest of me?  Is that all I would be?  Is being only a mom enough?  Is there something wrong, even selfish about me if I am MORE than a mom?  My head is spinning already.

But I think there is something to that.

I am a lucky gal.  I was able to get a college degree.  I have access to information, books, and good things in life.  Not only that, I have the opportunity to have my partner mostly pay all the bills.  It isn't easy financially but we make it happen.  But when you talk about this with people there are so many "ready to boil over" emotions. 

"Women who get to stay home with their kids are lucky."  

"Women who work outside the home are selfish or obsessed with things."  

Ouch.  And ouch.  I don't really know how true either of these statements are.  So lets just talk  Not sure I even understand that, but I can talk about me without insulting anybody else. 

Why is this "being a housewife" thing so twisted and emotional when honestly, I can admit that it is a blessing to be able to do it? 

What got me thinking about this all was my day today.  Spring has sprung and so I am working on getting the garden in.  Today I pulled weeds and planted some flowers and some vegetables. 

And then I got to thinking about "Little House On The Prairie."  Not the show but the books.  I read them all when I was a kid, and recently we read the first one with our kids.  I realize that it is probably a kind of idealized version of life looking back, but it seemed to me that their lives were very different than ours. 

In the first book dad makes a living hunting and trapping and selling the skins.  He also provides food for his family with the meat  he kills.  So technically he is the "bread winner" because he is the only person getting "paid" for "work." 

But then little Laura describes what her mom does. 

Mom, it turns out is no slouch either. 

Mom has a garden.  Mom smokes the meats.  Mom cares for the animals.  Mom makes maple syrup.  Mom cooks all the meals, sews all the clothes, prepares food for the winter, teaches her children how to do everything right along with her and it looks like was even the one who taught them to read.  Plus she gives birth in a cabin (I assume) and raises kids while she does all that.  By the way, she MAKES the bread, not dad.  And with wheat her husband threshed and she ground.

So "technically" mom is a housewife.  But she is not "just" a housewife.  Her role was integral to the family dynamic, even to their survival.  It was just as important as her husbands.  They needed each other AND the work of their children to make it happen, to eat, to survive the winter, to LIVE.  I bet they NEVER had a conversation about how she was lazy because she stayed home with the kids. 

And today I tried to plant a six cabbage plants and 12 flowers and you know what- it was difficult.  In fact, I felt kind of lame. 

The kids kept going towards the street.  They bickered.  The toddler spent the chilly afternoon peeing in her pants then walking around outside with no pants on.  The baby ate grass and whimpered.  My four year old DID pull weeds right along with me (but she wanted chocolate in exchange) so there were probably a few teaching moments.  But truthfully, I spent too much time wondering what the hell the neighbors thought about me and my four feral kids and hoping nobody called 911 about a loose two year old. 

I don't think that happened to Laura's mother in Little House. 

Do you? 

There I was, struggling to make a TINY contribution to my family (some food this summer and a little beauty in my front yard) and I felt like I could barely do it.  And I KNOW that women way back then did a lot more with their day and they didn't even have electricity. 

Did I mention that my house was (wait...IS!) a mess and I pulled something out of the freezer for dinner?  (It was something that I made from scratch and froze.  I only tell you that because that is how insecure I am about my contribution as a housewife.  I wouldn't want you thinking that I am a housewife and I BOUGHT something frozen!  GASP!)

The thing is, the more I thought about Laura's mother in the Little House books, the more I thought that she probably never questioned her importance.  It was obvious that she worked and provided for her family.

And you know what else, (just making stuff up here) I also don't think she obsessed with motherhood the way we do.  I bet she didn't feel guilty constantly about everything under the sun and I bet she was working so hard she didn't have time to obsess over every little thing her children did.  I think that motherhood was part of life.

I bet she didn't worry about stretch marks, daycare, when the kids learned to read, reading books about child development, marriage, or orgasm.  I bet she just lived every day, worked until she fell asleep, and then got up and did it again. 

Every day. 

And I bet she still tried to make some beauty out of it.  She made her own clothes, she did her hair on special occasions, she cared for her children and she danced with her husband.  And if they were lucky, they even got some happiness out of it. 

It made me think a few things too.  I should value what I do as a "homemaker."  Motherhood does matter.  Yes, I should do my best to keep my  house in order and my kids happy, but I should also try to create some beauty in the world. 

But more than that, it made me think that I probably waste far too much time on guilt.  If the mom in Little House got to do creative things and find joy in them, why shouldn't I?  I am never going to make an entire quilt by hand because I have blankets, but may it is really OK if I teach a birth class or write a blog post.  Maybe that can be MY creativity and I don't need to feel like a bad housewife for spending some time doing something I like. 

And maybe I won't feel guilty when I do make some money for my family.  And maybe I will even feel like I contribute when I grow a garden or make fresh food or have a happy home.  Maybe I will find joy in doing a few creative things for myself AND joy in being a housewife AND joy in the paid work I do outside of my home. 

Maybe I will worry a little less and appreciate a little more.  Maybe our home lives are less about politics and more about priorities, and people, and reality and even....happiness.  (But not always happiness.  Because part of me thinks that maybe they were happier because they weren't always expecting life to BE HAPPY.  They knew that sometimes bad stuff was part of it.) 

And maybe we should all remember that life was never so cut and dry as DAD=MAKE MONEY and MOM=STAY HOME.  The role of mother/housewife/wife/provider has always been more complex, diverse, involved and beautiful than that. 


Anonymous said…
My struggle was/has been more with how differently I appear to my spouse - the woman he married was a mover and shaker, sophisticated career woman. At times, I brought home more bacon than he did. Even he struggles with this transition because money equates security to him (not so much to me). But, you know what? After raising step children for over a decade with a career, and then finally having a very late season chance to bear my own child, I gradually became hell or high water about my staying home (with staying home being the objective). As a career woman, I recall struggling an impossible (male dominated) path for accomplishment, accolades that would enable me to tread water a little while longer. When I quit that scene to run my own store front, I found a self-driven confidence I had never paid attention to - intuition. Now, nearing 50 in a few short years, I don't think anything less of myself for just being a SAHM. In fact, I wish I had been one all along. The career thing was security, but it was a farce as far as what I was meant to be. In grad school and a few years after, I was an impressive artist. I am sure people who knew me then don't get why I am not painting now - or have not for the most part in more than a decade. You know there's no time for self indulgence as a SAHM, and I don't see the point when I can make the world a better place by working from a living canvas - my child. If I could offer one piece of encouragement, it would be this - don't sweat it because at 47 years old (or thereabouts), you're gonna KNOW it was worth it and your gonna KNOW it was the most valuable contribution you could have ever made in this world. Just know it and go forward with blinders to the guilt - because it won't matter when you get ot the point of realizing that those years are almost behind you. My kid is only 4, but childbearing years are twilight for me - and it sure does put things into perspective. Because I wish I could have a bevy more kids.
Marguerite said…
This hits home. It's sometimes hard to transition from working woman to stay at home mom. Hang in there, it does get easier somewhat. :)
Melinda said…
I love this. I love how your train of thought rolls out because I feel inner conflict like that often. For me though it is all kinds of crazy as I struggle with the fact that my husband stays home with our two toddlers. He is a good dad and yet isn't a very good homemaker so I do all of that business when I get home. And then I lose my patience on the weekend and think "My gosh I complain about not being able to stay at home yet lose my patience on one weekend?!?" And somewhere in there I am supposed to be a wife and find time for me. The internal struggles of being a moden mother/parent are quite complicated.
I can't recommend the book "Radical Homemakers" by Shannon Hayes strongly enough. Very empowering, and helps to reclaim the value of homemakers in our society.
Tab said…
Time to ask mum if I can have the books I think. Its a constant question for me, finding the balance,seeing the joy, feeling justified/not needing to justify the way our family interprets these roles. Thanks for sharing.
Brittany said…
I think I needed to read this. I have been myself sime guilt trips over the birth classes I recently started teaching, and this helps me see that I don't need to do that.

Have you read this? She brings up a lot of the points you talk about here.
Anonymous said…
Awesome post. I was just talking about this with my SIL. She's also a SAHM, and we both actually feel the need to justify what we are doing all day to those around us (friends and family). I'm sure it stems from the fact that my other SIL is a single Mum working while my nephew is in daycare, and she feels that she's running around like a chicken with her head cut off just to get by. Such is the same story for most moms that we know. I think we'd feel more pride in being a SAHM if the feeling was shared amongst our peers. But it can't be when we don't understand each other.. it's a lot of judgment stemming from jealousy perhaps.
maureen said…
I am counting the days until I can be a stay at home mom. Two years, maybe a little longer, then I am only going to work very part time and I will be HOME!! I can't WAIT!
Anonymous said…
Good post!! This work is important!! I've been trying to post a comment for two or three days now and finally got around to it, so busy! I also recommend Shannon Hayes "Radical Homemakers." (See her website)

Annie said…
I love you for writing this article!
Annie said…
I love you for writing this article.