March 3, 2014 by Julia
I’ve been inspired lately by the daily work I do to make our house a home, and yet:
I can’t bring myself to write homemaker on any form that requires me to fill in my vocation. I’m too embarrassed. So I write stay-at-home-mom instead, which to my mind sounds slightly more valid. Because if children are involved in my work then hardly anyone could question its importance.
In the old days, though, women described themselves as homemakers with pride. Kids were the ones on the backburner, left to entertain themselves while their mothers scrubbed and hung curtains and gardened and made casseroles and fruit-infested jello. (This is based on episodes of Mad Men rather than actual studies that I can cite here.) But I don’t think many would argue that women who stay home have shifted from more of a housework focus to a mothering focus. Women used to feel guilty because kids would take time away from their chores. Now they feel guilty for doing the chores instead of playing with the kids.
Of course it’s good that parents now intentionally engage more often with their children, and families probably benefit from that more than from having picture-perfect homes. But I also think it’s become too easy to forget the importance of “homemaking” in its own right. We forget that our environment has a profound impact on the well-being of our children and ourselves.
How did the word homemaker get saddled with such negative connotations, when really, the making of home is a wonderful thing?
Well, as I began to write this post, I quickly found myself in a quagmire of sexist ideas, assigned gender roles, a debate about what compels women to stay home or do more housework than men, and so on. All of which I am interested in, but feel poorly equipped to write about, having never actually studied feminism. My resources on the subject are mostly just based on personal experience, observations and what I’ve heard from other women in conversation. Those resources are enough to tell me that my beliefs line up with feminism, and that women do in fact still struggle to attain the status and freedom of men, even in such “first-world” countries as the United States.
What I would like to do here is reclaim the word homemaker, without making light of all the baggage that comes with it for women. The fact of the matter is, a lot of the work of homemaking is thankless and difficult, and women have been stuck with it probably because we’ve lived in a sexist world for so long. But I want to remind myself, and other men and women, that there is joy to homemaking, too. And to be a homemaker is not just a noble thing, but a rewarding thing.
Let’s start with the baggage, however: the historic oppression of women. We associate housework with women being stuck indoors, living to please their husbands, who have been out doing the “real” work and therefore deserve a cocktail, hot dinner and clean house to come home to.
With the women’s liberation movement, I imagine women were more than ready to go out and tackle projects of their own, share their opinions and talents and make a mark on the world. But we still deal with the echoes of society’s delegation of work for each gender, as much as we claim to have progressed beyond that.
Source – click to see more by Sally Edelstein
We all see that more women still choose to stay home than men do, and yet to write that simple fact in a public forum makes me cringe, like I might accidentally make some blunder. But here I’ve ended up, because it can’t be denied. I don’t know why this is, and obviously I can’t speak for all women, because no one person can speak for an entire group, especially if that group makes up more than half of the population, ha. Over the years I’ve internalized the belief, right or wrong, that women are more likely to be the “primary homemakers” because of some mix of societal expectations and nature. But it goes without saying that there could never be any “natural” instinct across the board for all men or all women.
(I’m sweating, here. Stick with me. It’s a tricky business writing about gender roles in a biased world without actually perpetuating that bias. Please call me out on it if I say something offensive or ignorant. I am keeping the above paragraph in this post, though, because I have a theory that most of us are ignorant, and will continue to be so as long as we are afraid to talk about these things.)
I do know that women still handle the majority of the most tedious, most invisible, most endless housework, whether they work outside of the home or not. Men are more expected to build stuff, fix stuff, and do the heavy lifting or yard work; women are more expected to do laundry, feed the kids, get up in the night with the baby, and basically never stop organizing and cleaning. You don’t notice much of this work until someone stops doing it, and suddenly everything halts while simultaneously looking like a tornado blew through. The other difference between most of these supposed “men’s chores” and “women’s chores” is that whomever does the latter rarely gets to see the finished product of a job well done, because the job is never done. The primary homemaker may take breaks, but to care for a home and family is not like finishing up a project or putting the last touches on a novel or painting. It’s easy to lose sight of the actual rewards. It’s just: I have to keep doing this or my household will explode within a matter of a few hours.
The upside is, when a woman actually chooses to deal with stuff full-time at home, people now recognize it as “real” work that would probably kick the ass of many a CEO. But there are also the questions: is she a feminist, or does she subscribe to some outdated, sexist ideal? Isn’t her brain just rotting away? And if a father chooses to be a full-time homemaker with kids, the response is still shock and awe. Surely he or she MUST want more.
Which – heck yes, I want more! That part is probably a safe assumption to make about most homemakers/stay-at-home parents.
But when we make that assumption with the underlying belief that the work of homemaking can’t also be interesting, or important, or intellectually stimulating, we are wrong.
Because the work we do to make our homes comfortable, beautiful, organized, clean-ish, warm, inviting, fun, functional and safe requires the use of all of our faculties, and it makes a difference in our families and ourselves, and therefore the world.
As much as I need to complain about the challenges of housework, I am drawn to it. My instincts tell me that I want to spend my days juggling the kids and the cleaning and decorating and planning. (The cooking…eh, I could do without, unless you catch me on a rare day when the mood strikes.) I don’t know if this desire was dictated to me by a biased society, or if it’s more commonly found in women because of our nature, or if it’s just my personality. I do wonder if men would feel more inclined to stay home with the children and housework if they hadn’t been taught since the dawn of time that such work was not for them. Either way, I feel more and more lately like it’s okay to dedicate myself to it, as long as my other needs are being met, and I don’t develop some sort of martyr complex, and I hold to my feminist belief that women can choose whatever lifestyle most fulfills them. Same goes for men who are drawn to this work, of course.
Because the closer that I pay attention to homemaking, the more I enjoy it. There are interesting challenges, as well as rewards. We are creating a setting for love. We are making a secure place to show our true emotions and be ourselves. We are making a place to play and relax and be creative.
When we remove the clutter, our children are more likely to find the toys. When we wash the windows, the sunlight will thaw our winter-weary souls. When we throw out the old food, we can see how much food we actually have, and make it last. When we surround ourselves with photos and paintings and patterns and color, we are reminding ourselves that the world is an interesting place, and that we have loved ones, and that it’s okay to follow our own aesthetic. If we have families in our home, they will soak this up, too.
These are things that keep me going and keep me sane. I don’t make my home better as an act of sacrifice for my family. When I straighten up our living room over and over again, I am doing it for myself, because I know that I will start to feel overwhelmed if I don’t. There are times I hate doing it, and times that it feels futile, but I never, ever, ever regret doing it once it’s done. I always feel a little better, a little more capable and in charge of my own life.
And with each closet that I organize, a weight is lifted. Instead of barely staying afloat, I am swimming, and I am strong, and I am able to make my home what we need it to be.
Of course, of COURSE it will never be perfect. It will never even be all clean at the same time on all three floors. It won’t even be all organized at the same time, because once I’m done with the bedroom closets, the storage closet downstairs is overflowing again. But we are all better off when I keep at it. Sometimes the kids will guilt-trip me for cleaning the kitchen instead of playing with them, but you know what? A clean kitchen is important, too, and they are better off figuring out how to occupy themselves sometimes…especially when their mother’s sanity hangs in the balance.
And of course I will get discouraged, because let’s face it, homemaking with young children in the mix can seem like a losing battle. But we don’t have a choice – there is no stopping this train of housekeeping. That just can’t happen. So we might as well embrace it, recognize how important and rewarding it is, and keep on.
Let’s all be shameless homemakers, regardless of gender or vocation, in between all the other stuff of life, because it is a worthy cause, and it will enrich our lives.
And maybe I will write “homemaker” on the next form I fill out.