Sarah wrote a great post about chores and other domestic duties, and I started writing an epic comment before I realized I should just write my own damn blog post.
I’ve walked the housewife beat before. Nope, I was never married, but I did stay at home for a year and primarily concern myself with cooking, cleaning, and childcare.
For new readers of this blog, my parents both died during my senior year of college, so after graduating I took a year off to help my older sister take care of our younger brother, who was sixteen at the time. Instead of paying my sister rent I paid for all the groceries, and did most of the cooking and cleaning around the house. And I helped make sure my brother was going to school and not getting into too much trouble after school. The thing that was great about that year was being with my family when we needed each other the most. The thing that sucked about that year was being a housewife.
Which is a damn shame. My dad was a house”wife”1 for most of my childhood, and he was great at it. He made it look easy. I wish I could be like him. I got so much out of having a full-time stay-at-home parent, and I would love my kids to have that luxury too. But even setting aside the near-impossibility of supporting a family on one income these days, it just doesn’t seem like it is in the cards. Because I suck at domesticity.2 I’m not good at cleaning. I get lazy about cooking. I find grocery shopping tortuously tedious. [Do you have any idea how much a teenager eats? IT IS SO MUCH. I can't imagine how much food you have to buy, and how often you have to buy it, to feed several teenagers at once. I don't want to imagine it!]
My dad went to the grocery store every single day. Every day. He kept a notepad handy at all times and he’d add items to the daily shopping list, placing them on the page so that the complete list would be in the order of his route through the store. And I think he liked it.
So right now I’m unemployed again, and I find myself feeling inadequate because I’m not always dusting, because I don’t have food ready on the table when Collin gets home from lab, because our living room is so messy that at a time I thought it was unusually tidy my sister-in-law walked in and said, “I guess you guys haven’t had a lot of time for cleaning recently, huh?” I was not particularly good at being a housewife when I had more or less embraced the role, and I’m completely TERRIBLE at it when it is just all there is left to do in the day after hitting my limit job hunting.
But thank GOD and FEMINISM and COLLIN that I really only worry about my shortcomings as a housewife during this period of unemployment. I do not expect that once I have a job/once I am married (hopefully that will come second!), I will still feel like I am a failure of a human being because there are cat hair tumbleweeds on the stairs. In the meantime, god bless Collin for his patience, and whoever invented that stairs attachment for vacuums for her innovation.
1I am all for gender-neutral terms, and you’d think I’d be extra jazzed about it in this case because I grew up being asked “what does your father do for a living?” and “will your mom be picking you up from school?” and getting pissy about it, but just can’t bring myself to use the word “homemaker” because it sounds like construction. I often describe my dad’s role as “stay-at-home parent,” but I want to compare myself to him in the present state of my life where there is no parenting involved.
2Collin has said he is not opposed to the idea of taking time off to raise potential children, which is one of the reasons I consider him prime husband material. But right now his career is looking really good, and my career is making that noise a car makes when the engine won’t turn over, so from our current vantage point it seems if one of us will be a stay-at-home parent, it will be me.
August 12, 2010 at 4:02 pm
I would love to be a stay-at-home parent. I would love it, love it, love it. But my idea of stay-at-home parent does not involve scrubbing floors and such. It’s more of the “let’s bake a cake and worry about the mess later” variety. While my mom and sister-in-law were giddily organizing my pantry (and oohing and awwing over the pastas and such that were past their expiration dates), I was painting outside with the kids. My niece said she wanted to move in with me because I let her be messy. I think my daughter secretly envies her cousin’s highly organized room with its easy-to-find toys.
August 12, 2010 at 7:41 pm
Yeah, my dad was not much of a floor-scrubber either. And I think I would really like the “hang out with my kids” part of stay-at-home parenting. Note that I once babysat for some kids who were kind of disturbingly well-behaved, like, asking permission to practice multiplication flash cards well-behaved. I taught them how to finger paint and how to play charades. They were like 6 and 9 years old and they did not know about these things.
August 12, 2010 at 9:23 pm
There is very little that appeals to me about being a stay-at-home parent.
I think I would go insane dealing with children alllll day and not getting a chance to use my brain. Luckily, the Groomie is super keen on being a househusband if/when the time comes to have babies.
August 12, 2010 at 10:15 pm
Dealing with children all day requires a lot of brain use: negotiating play, feeding, and sleeping; answering nonstop questions, teaching, explaining. Plus my dad definitely found time for brain-using hobbies. He used to say he was on “a quest for all knowledge.” And he knew a lot about a lot of things: computer innards, French poets, and how to get a child insomniac to fall asleep (he told me to pretend to be a squirrel).
August 13, 2010 at 12:17 am
Yay, I love it when a topic is passed around!
As long as there have been housewives, there have been women who are not good at being housewives. Thank god we are not necessarily conscripted into that role anymore, which gives us the room to pursue other occupations that we are much better at. We still get the residual guilt, though. If the beau was currently unemployed, I sincerely doubt he would feel inadequate for not fulfilling his gender-mandated role as Betty Homemaker. But you better believe I’d mercilessly tease him for not having my dinner ready every day. The lazy bastard. Dude doesn’t even own an apron.
August 13, 2010 at 11:27 am
I am terrible at domesticity and useless at chores. But I am firmly in the eff-you camp for people who think it’s about my failure as a woman because where I fail at chores I succeed with complex regulatory analysis. I think I inherited it from both my parents, since Mom was the main breadwinner and Dad, as a teacher, was the one who was in charge of cooking, shopping, and cleaning and he was pretty iffy about it at best. (Suck it, gender typecasting.) And as much as I’ve found myself recently yearning for typical mom-woman things, I worry that, like my mother before me, I’ll feel a bit trapped by the constant demands and exhaustion of newborn care and I’ll feel lost without a job. But, on the other hand, I really despise my job now and have fantasies of staying at home and playing with babies and hiring someone else to clean the house. I’m uncomfortable with this fantasy, both because I never expected to want to leave a career-path job and because there’s no way in heck we’ll ever be able to afford it. But I’m, not uncomfortable with the gender issues anymore, maybe because Jason’s so supportive of it all?
August 13, 2010 at 12:45 pm
I know I already left a comment here, but here goes anyway. Before I had my daughter (and I mean this right up until the moment I barfed on her head when she tried to nurse for the first time), I fully expected to be one of those happy-t0-be-working moms. I was frankly shocked at how much I didn’t want to return to my job. It was an unwelcome surprise that (because I can’t afford to leave my career) has caused me no end of existential grief and jealousy.
August 13, 2010 at 2:36 pm
You shouldn’t compare what you did for your brother to being a “housewife” What you did for your brother was so dear, generous and tender of you but BOY, it had to be packed with loads of bricks on your heart. I don’t know how you got through any chores at all!!! Doing things around the house for your OWN children and WITH your husband feels VERY different!!!!
I LOVED being home with my children…I was the luckiest mother, wife in the universe in that I could paint in my studio earning enough to pay for a women to clean my house while the kids were at school!!!!
Raising children was harder and fAR more challenging than being an Occupational Therapist ( which I practiced before kids) And I worked with Severely and Profoundly retarded children. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back but only to say that when you are raising your own children it is the most challenging, difficult, rewarding, creative, fun, exhilerating, marvolous, wonderful, exciting,sad, heart wrenching, happy, spiritual, zen, joyous…oh ,SO JOYOUS….oh my God…just everything there is on earth is what it is like….right Sarah????
Don’t be guilted into anything…do what you can…do what you love…do what you are passionate about…and WOW when you can do LIFE with a Partner that you LOVE and ADORE….you can do ANYTHING together!!!!!!!!!!!!
August 14, 2010 at 12:34 pm
What Vicki said.
Seriously, I am sitting in my office at work on a Saturday. I don’t mind being here today too much because my kids are at their dad’s house this weekend (I do mind that, but I would mind it even more if he wasn’t in their lives, so that’s just the lot I drew, and I have to live with it), but I absolutely resent my job (as exhilerating as it can be) when they are home and I have to be somewhere else.
Not everyone feels this way, and that’s okay, too. It has been my experience, though, that my gung-ho forward-looking career-goal-0riented self took a sudden and unexpected left turn once I had this little tiny person that I wanted to snuggle all day long. The most interesting part was that this did not kick in (not at all) while I was pregnant. It wasn’t until about six weeks after my daughter was born, when we worked out the kicks of the whole nursing thing and got into our little groove. I have spoken to many women in my profession who have had children and most in my generation or younger say the same thing.
The older generations will never say these things, but I think that has to do with how hard it was for them to make it in what was then a male-dominated industry. I have also found that in the older generation, the women who have succeeded all have one of two things going for them: (1) they chose never to have children; (2) their husbands stayed home with the children. None of these women had spouses who also worked out of the home.
August 15, 2010 at 12:32 am
In my humble opinion the stay at home parent/ house wife/homemaker has the hardest, underpaid, least appreciated job out there. My hat goes off to anyone who can do it and still have a smile on their face at the end of the day.
August 15, 2010 at 6:29 pm
I feel very strongly that I’d like my children to have a stay-at-home parent until they are at least in middle school (like I had). But I have absolutely no interest in being the stay-at-home parent. But Mr. Beagle says he would, which is a major reason I’m sure he’s my match.
August 22, 2010 at 10:47 am
hopefully it will work out good for us since Ryan works late afternoons and I work until 5ish. He will be more of the stay at home parent. He could not be more excited too
also, clean houses are overrated. hiding stuff under tables and in closets is underrated