Being a housewife or stay at home mom puts you in one of the most controversial professions today. Society’s views of us fluctuate so wildly it’s impossible to keep up. On one hand we are valuable members of society who are strengthening family ties. On the other we are old fashioned and outdated, possibly lazy, responsible for thwarting the efforts of women who work outside the home and insulting the memory of those who worked so hard to obtain equal rights for women.
Some people might even take issue with my use of the word ‘profession’. I have long argued that being a housewife or stay at home mom is a career in itself, and that we are professionals. I even went so far as to buy the URL ProfessionalHousewife.com over ten years ago (it still points to this website). I wrote and posted the first draft of this article on my original website around that same time. Sadly not much has changed in the ensuing years and the words I wrote then are still very pertinent today.
I’ll say it again. Housewives and stay at home moms are professionals, just as much as anyone who works outside the home. Creative problem solving, multi-tasking, advanced project management and diplomacy are only a few of the skills these careers require. On any given day we are required to be project managers, diplomats, childcare workers, nurses, psychologists, chefs, chauffeurs, interior designers, party planners, financial managers, social secretaries, electricians, repair people and change management experts, often all before lunchtime.
It makes me sad that large portions of society have lost respect for housewives and stay at home moms. The British government is currently struggling with the concept that these careers deserve respect and support. Yes, Mr Osborne, staying home with your children is a lifestyle choice, but in many cases it’s one that involves making sacrifices and living in reduced circumstances on less out of a desire to give children a more traditional upbringing. It was certainly that way for my husband and I back when our son was born.
It’s not surprising that even The Chancellor of the Exchequer has a skewed view of what being a housewife or stay at home mom really entails. We don’t see many real housewives in the media, which has embraced a version of the housewife who is wealthy, spoiled and self-centred. My particular bête noire is the “Real Housewives” television series. This ironically unreal version of housewives bears no resemblance to day to day life for most of us. While we have been very blessed and my husband’s hard work has provided us with an abundant lifestyle I only dreamed of back in the early days of our marriage, I have absolutely never lived or behaved as those women do. My husband has always taken pains to point out that it’s a team effort, maintaining that without what I have done to support our family from home, he could not have achieved what he has in his career.
Once you add the skewed portrayal of housewives in the media to the insecurities of many women who have struggled to carve careers for themselves in a corporate world that still favours men, you have the shift in perception that has contributed to a society in which housewives and stay at home moms may even be seen as something negative. We are often seen as women who have somehow ‘let down the side’ in the cause of equality with the potential to place a burden on society. We are possibly lazy, reliant on our husbands and the wife of one ex-Prime Minister even suggested our children might be less independent than those with mothers who work outside the home. (I’d like to point out to Mrs Blair that my son left home at 19 to study 3,500 miles away. He lives in his own apartment by himself. Less independent – I don’t think so.)
I don’t mean to sound old-fashioned. I absolutely do not think every woman should be a housewife nor that every mother should stay at home. It’s not the right choice for every woman. My own Mom couldn’t wait to get back to work. My Dad was not in favour of this and insisted she wait until I was in my teens. Even then he fought her on the issue, and in a last-ditch attempt to dissuade her, threw down the gauntlet “Well, you’ll never get a job anyway”. Less than 12 hours later, my mother was gainfully employed and remained so until she retired 14 years later. She was a great mom, both before she worked outside the home and afterwards. There is no conclusive proof that children raised by stay at home moms are any better or worse off than those raised by moms who work outside the home. My choice to be a housewife doesn’t not mean I am judging or criticizing women who are not. Every woman, and every family, is different.
I also want to make it totally clear that I don’t espouse the frighteningly dated vision of the stereotypical 1950’s housewife wearing a twin set and pearls. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing all that retro about being a housewife or stay at home mom in the twenty-first century. In almost every case, we are forward thinking, forward looking women bearing little resemblance to the unfulfilled housewives of Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’. Most of us are well-educated, independent and have worked outside the home as well as in it. Some of us work from home as well. We may have chosen a more traditional role, but there’s nothing old fashioned about us.
Belittled, misunderstood and looked down on, housewives and stay at home moms might begin to believe the misconceptions that are being peddled as truth and start to wonder if we are really not doing enough. It is little wonder that many of us suffer from stress and that eating disorders and various addictions are on the rise amongst us. How many of us have been teased about ‘not having anything to do’ or ‘being on permanent vacation’? Even other women refer to us as a ‘ladies of leisure’. All of these comments perpetuate the myth that we are frivolous creatures, at home all day with very little to do. And it is just that, a myth. There isn’t a single moment I haven’t had something to do since January 1993, and I simply don’t remember what being bored feels like. Like many of my contemporaries, I have to make an effort to find time to read for pleasure. Seriously. Busy.
Anyone who thinks a housewife or stay at home mom isn’t doing something worthwhile with her time is quite simply wrong. Making a home and raising the next generation full time should be lauded, not criticized. It’s time for a change in attitude within society, government and especially amongst ourselves and other women. The equal rights we women fought so hard for were intended to include a woman’s right to be respected regardless of her choice of career. Being a housewife or stay at home mom is definitely a career – unpaid, messy and challenging – but a professional career nonetheless.