Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Woman's Role is In the Home

I've been thinking a lot recently about being a housewife/stay-at-home mom.  I hate that it's a rare and looked-down-upon decision for women to make anymore.  And our society's rejection of these roles is so very damaging.

I really wonder how families with two working parents even do it.  There are so many things I have to take care of while Tom's at work.  Watching over Sly is the biggest (and most important job).  But then there are all the chores: cleaning the house, laundry, ironing, grocery shopping, paying bills, balancing the budget, making and keeping appointments for doctors, making necessary phone calls, trips to the dry cleaner or tailor, cooking dinner, etc. etc. etc.

I seriously can't imagine having to work a full day, and then coming home with all these things waiting for me(/Tom).  A number of these errands have can only be done during business hours anyways.  So what would that mean?  I asked Tom, and he says most of his co-workers often make personal calls at work, or take time off to go to appointments, etc.  How terrible.  And in the first case, it seems definitely unfair to your employer.

How nice if you could have someone at home, managing all these things instead.  If your weekends could actually be a time for leisure, and not crammed with all the stuff you couldn't do during the week.  If you could eat REAL meals each night, instead of the unhealthy packaged crap that appears in greater numbers everyday at the supermarket.

Division of labor, man!

The funny thing is, I always wanted and expected to BE a stay-at-home mom one day.  And yet I spent thousands upon thousands of dollars going to college to get a degree that...well, I didn't get a chance to use very long.  I'm not necessarily saying I would take back that decision, even if I could.  But what I want to know is: why didn't anyone tell me that I didn't HAVE to go to college?  That it's OKAY to be "just" a wife and mother.

 I hate when people throw out the argument about how families can't afford to have the wife stay home anymore.  I'm sure this is actually true in a small number of families, just as it always was.  But there was a time when most wives, and pretty much every mother DID stay home.   So what has changed since then?  I'm no economist, so I will concede that there are possibly slightly lower average salaries now.  But I have only to look around to be able to name the culprit for most families out there.  Materialism.  You don't need three HD TVs.  Heck, you don't even need a TV at all.  You don't need the latest gadgets.  You don't need two or three cars.  You don't need the huge house when you only have two kids.  You don't need to go on vacations.  You don't need to eat out.  You don't need to buy your kids everything they want.  The list could go on.  When you actually bother to talk to the little old grandmothers in the older (and Catholic) parts of town, they'll tell you about how every family on the block had at least eight kids, living in tiny 2-3 bedroom homes with no car.

My point is, if American families still had the same expectations as our grandparents' generation, I bet most families would find that they can afford to have the wife stay home.  They might never feel financially "comfortable", but they would get by.  And I know the family would be better for it.

And while we're on the topic of being able to afford things...I can't believe so many families believe they can "afford" to let someone else raise their kids instead of them.  I'm talking daycare, nannies, and sometimes even school, which many think of as "state-funded daycare".  Children deserve to be cared for in their own homes by their own parent.  Especially the babies!  No wonder so many women choose to formula-feed, even knowing that science says "breast is best".  If you aren't going to be with your own child all day - for whom your breasts are making milk, expecting that that child will be near you, hungry - it would be so much easier to just drop of some formula for the daycare.  Pumping milk at work all day would be a pain.

I can't even imagine how terrible it would be if me and my husband worked all day, picked up Sly from daycare, got home at 6:00, made a quick convenience-food dinner, and then had, what? an hour or so to spend with our own child.  And then he goes to bed.  How would you even KNOW your own kids?  Seeing many modern families, I have come to this conclusion: many of them don't.

In a neighborhood where all the moms stay home, they get to know each other.  They see each other around.  Their kids play together.  It builds community.  When moms are at work all day, kids are either away at some sort of daycare of after-school program, or under orders to stay in the house.  Kids don't go outside anymore, because there's no one to watch over them if they do.  Kids don't play with other kids on their street.  Moms don't know each other.  So their husbands don't know each other.  Suddenly, everyone's a stranger, and no one feels safe letting their kids out to wander anyways.  So kids stay inside playing video games and watching TV all day, because that's "safe."  Kids work out their strong need for socialization at home with texting, twitter, the internet...which are all poor substitutes for real human contact.

My dad's parents met right after The War.  They both worked at the same bank.  They fell in love, and got married.  The day my grandmother walked into work after the honeymoon, the boss took her aside and told her that she couldn't work there anymore, since she was married.  This was apparently very typical of the time, and as far as I know, my grandmother accepted it.  Today, people would view this as so discriminatory and unjust.  She didn't do anything wrong - she was only being let go because she was a woman and married.  But I think society had its head on a lot straighter back in the 40s.  Her boss recognized that she was better off being at home.  To care for the house, her husband, and her soon-to-grow family.


  1. You're missing something big and very basic about supply and demand when it comes to incomes.

    When most women work, suddenly the pool of labor has DOUBLED. What do you think happens to prices when the supply of something doubles?

    You got it. It drops.

    So now people are trapped. It used to be that working class salaries could support a man, his wife, and their children. Now they can barely support a single person.

    Ironically, the cost for daycare is so high in Vancouver that it's the other way around for me--I can't afford to work outside the home! Not at any job that I could get with my lack of a degree or experience, anyway. It's actually a blessing though, because the fact that it's the financially best decision makes me feel better about staying home.

    (Daycare at a licensed place in Vancouver costs $1500/mo/child MINIMUM. And it is not unusual for licensed daycares to have waiting lists that are over a thousand names long... not kidding! Unlicensed in-home daycare is still gonna cost you $800-1000 dollars/mo. In fact, we're seriously looking at my being a daycare provider to one of my husband's co-workers... a great way for me to earn money staying at home!)

  2. When I was a teenager my dad told me I didn't HAVE to go to college. I thought he was kidding. Or crazy. Now, of course, I understand what he was saying. Although, it isn't a bad idea for a stay at home wife or mother to have a college degree for insurance, just in case the husband is injured and can't work or something like that.

    Personally I am disgusted by how many jobs require college degrees now. I had to get a master's degree in library science, when decades ago if you wanted to be a librarian you got a job as a page and learned all you needed to know as you worked your way up.

  3. I would be careful making generalizations and casting judgements. No one knows the financial situation or mental situation of the family next door. My mom and dad both worked incredibly hard for our family and my parents and I are closer than probably any other children and parents. I spent lots of time with them. I also never stepped foot in a day care. And they didn't do it because we had to have three giant tvs. We had basic cable (just local stations) for my entire growing up life. We didn't go on vacations every year and we didn't have fancy cars. And we had a nice, modest home that they still own. They worked because they had to in order to put food on the table and provide medical insurance for our family. That doesn't make my mom wrong or incorrect for working full time. I know she would have much rather been home with me, but she did what she had to do for her family. I commend her and respect her tremendously for that. She is my hero.

    Also, in terms of going to college, it is always a good idea to have a degree as a woman just as a back up plan. God forbid something terrible would happen to my husband one day and he would be in an accident that causes him to become incapacitated (as one family we know well) or if even worse, it causes his death, then I have peace of mind knowing that I will have a way to provide for our children. Plus when my husband did lose his job for a month, it was good to have my degree to fall back on. Had he not gotten another job so soon, I was set to go back to teaching. It would've kept us from sinking. I went to Franciscan University and I'm pretty sure that probably 90% of the female students there become housewives, but they all got a degree first. We all understood that it was our "back up" plan. And it was a smart, responsible move to make while praying and searching for Mr. Right. I am so happy to have my degree, especially because once my children are school aged and more independent, I plan to use it.

    I thank God that I am able to stay at home. And that's partially because I have a degree in Education and can work at nights tutoring to make ends meet. And it saddens me when I see kids dropped at day cares in the mornings. But usually, instead of judging those people, I say a prayer for them and think, "But for the Grace of God, go I."

  4. I do understand that there are families where both parents HAVE to work in order to survive. We are *this* close to being one of those ourselves. To be honest, we barely get by. But I'd rather that than working and not being able to care for my son and my home as I do. And I do consider myself lucky to be able to stay home.

    I guess the main thing is this. If society and the laws were still SUPPORTIVE of women staying home, then so many more of them would. There are terrible, terrible feminist lies that have infected our entire culture, and everyone's heads, whether they realize them or not. It's a crime when a capable and dedicated man is NOT able to support his family on his wages, and it did not used to be that way. Even for the poorest immigrants, working in the mines or the mills.

    As for women having a college degree as a "backup plan", it certainly makes sense. And I'm glad I have one for that reason. But how much debt is it worth to have that plan? This gets into a whole new topic, though, because I think the real answer is that a college degree should not be required for practically every job these days. It used to be that a high school education was perfectly good as a "backup plan."

  5. Thought provoking post, Christine. I agree with Karla that a huge increase in the labor pool caused a big drop in wages. Combined with a huge jump in expectations for an expensive lifestyle (I.e. Bigger houses, vehicles, everyone going to college, etc.) have created a perfect storm for the demise of the housewife. There are still quite a few of them, however, at least around here. As a group we definitely have an inferiority complex, though. Even though we make the conscious decision to do what is best for our families, we're still definitely affected by the larger culture. We never seem to have a satisfactory answer to, "So what do you DO all day?"

    I've been pondering this. It's somewhat off topic from your post, but it's definitely relevant to why you even felt the need to post a defense of housewifery in the first place. Oftentimes, we're afraid to take ownership of our choice. On some level, we want to somewhat appease everyone else by not being the super housewife we really could be if we gave it our all. Or we're afraid to be a "Martha Stewart" because we know people might hate us for being "better than them". And we still have some of the belief that housekeeping shouldn't have to be a full time job (or doesn't deserve to be). Or we're afraid of failing! I am I know, darn perfectionism. I know laziness is a routine Confession item for me, and I know I'm not the only one! For me, it's not so much that I'm ashamed of being a housewife but that I know I could be doing a much better job. Also, there's the "Well you're just really lucky you can stay home." attitude. While it is indeed a blessing to be able to fulfill our vocations full-time at home, our choices and our husbands' have a lot to do with it! We choose a simpler lifestyle, going without things we want or sometimes need, and sacrifice human respect oftentimes, or maybe our husbands need to work lots of overtime. Don't dismiss the value of those sacrifices. He sees and has blessed them! Of course, we shouldn't expect the world to respect those sacrifices, but we have too much invested in this way of family life to be ashamed of ourselves now. That's just putting your hand to the plow and looking back, so to speak. One thing I've not been doing so well is to pray for the grace to be a better wife and mother and not be afraid, especially in conjunction with a devotion to Our Lady. Thanks for this post; it's so helpful to be reminded of why I'm doing what I do! Now time to get offline and tackle some laundry!

  6. "As for women having a college degree as a "backup plan", it certainly makes sense. And I'm glad I have one for that reason. But how much debt is it worth to have that plan?"

    Exactly! I have always desired to be a stay-at-home mom, too; and parents always firmly reminded me that if I really wanted that, I couldn't go to a college that was going to plunge me into excessive debt that might *force* me to go to work after marriage. This is actually a huge problem I have with the solid Catholic colleges (and the large numbers of women who go there looking for husbands) ... but that, too, is a different topic. ^_^

    I feel like, financially, being a stay-at-home mom is hardest in the beginning for most people, because young people (young husbands) don't make as much money as older people. But there's something beautiful about that, building your life together on a foundation of mutual sacrifice. Not to romanticize it, because it *is* difficult, but it's also beautiful.

  7. Also, this post reminded me of when--way early on--I first "tested" Keith on the stay-at-home mom issue. He passed, obviously. ;) But I remember exactly when it was and how it came about! So funny.

  8. totally agreed with so much of this post. i have never wanted to be anything else but a homemaker.

    in high school, i felt really awkward about that though because i felt that i was expected to do something prestigious. i graduated ninth in my class of a thousand students and right before graduation, the top ten students were interviewed by our local newspaper. they of course wanted to know what we planned as our future careers. i couldn't exactly say "wife and mother" when everyone else said doctor/engineer/lawyer, etc. although that would have certainly freaked adam's parents out, ha ha!

    i do hope all my daughters go to (an affordable) college, just in case they need a degree later in life and to learn for learning's sake.

    i wonder...what if a mom chooses to work outside the home not for the money or anything, but just because they are really passionate about their job? of course, they should always put their family before their career and will definitely have to make career sacrifices.

    take the family i nanny for as an example. the mom LOVES her job as high school teacher and the dad LOVES his job as a therapist. the dad leaves for work at 9:00 every day and the mom gets home at 3:00. she has five hours with her kids everyday until they go to bed at 8:00. the dad has about two hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. three days a week, the kids are with their grandparents. when they are with me the other days, the 3 year old is at preschool in the morning, then eats lunch and takes a nap. when he wakes up, his mom is home.

    i just feel like they have the whole juggling thing figured out pretty well. i feel like a woman can be called to be a mom and a doctor, for example. she's not going to be a brain surgeon at a prestigious hospital, but maybe a family practitioner working a few days a week.

  9. I think that you are making gross generalizations and need to exercise extreme caution in doing so. It is because of people like you in your 'I'm so right and this is the only way to live' opinion that cause much strife between working mothers and stay at home mothers. It is very much a choice. One that is neither good nor bad, but rather an individual decision for every person and his/her family. I don't know you and that is fine. I am positive you are a great mother. What I'd encourage you to do is understand that great mothers/fathers take a variety of forms. Being a working mother takes time. It means late nights for mom/dad to do the 'chores' you listed above, but it also means providing your children with just as much unconditional love as you do as well. It means taking wonderful trips to offer a variety of experiences for your family. It means teaching your children that they can trust other adults and that you will always come back. Working mothers can provide breast milk for their children. Is it always pleasant sitting in a room pumping instead of directly feeding your However, it can and often is done. It is a sacrifice that we can make. Yet, we provide our children with different but wonderful love and experience. You need to be very careful in casting your judgments and opinions.

  10. I saw Jonathan W.'s comment and seeing as the events of the last 48 hours in your family's life, I want to make a compassionate, middle-ground response. I suspect you might feel a little bruised by Jonathan's words and not have the energy to spare around your son's need of you at the side of his hospital bed right now.

    I am in the middle ground here, as an academic mom who is also mostly home with my kids (ages 7, 4, and 19 months). My husband works full-time but does not have job security (who does these days?). Yes, some of the problems are because of interpretation of feminism. I do not call myself a feminist though I do agree with a good amount of the core tenants. It was SUPPOSED to be about choice, but it has turned into requirements and stripping choices from women that had already been taken from men. The most functional response would not be to tell WOMEN to be homemakers, but to take the gender out of that and incentivize ANYONE who is doing full-time homemaking, male or female, with or without minor children (since plenty of us are needed to take care of our aging, divorced/widowed parents at this point too, so even someone who never married or had kids might still find themselves in that role). This would shrink the job applicant pool and rebalance things, but where is the money going to come from? Taxes would have to be majorly rebalanced and that's going to take political courage that I do not think exists right now.

    As for families being too materialistic, a big factor to consider is the income required to qualify for a first mortgage. Right now, that generally requires two incomes, even for a modest house, in a good school district and neighborhood. I'm not talking about a McMansion, I'm talking about inner ring suburbs like I live in (just outside Cleveland). Median household income here is around $40K, houses average around $150k unless they're fixer-uppers. Good community with great ammenities. A heck of a high percentage of renters because there is no one looking over your shoulder determining what percentage of your income can be spent on RENT like there is when you apply for a mortgage, so a lot of the renters are paying well over half their take-home income just on rent. We have public transit, but it's not terribly reliable and the weather here can be pretty bad, so a reliable car can be quite essential if you're going to be a reliable employee and keep your job. That'll eat up a good chunk of income, filling it with gas and insurance and such. These are just some of the factors that people have to count in. Yes, for many families, after paying for childcare and the expenses of holding a job (wardrobe, dry cleaning/extra laundry, commute expenses, sanity, etc), it makes sense for one parent to be home with the kids at least until they are school age. This does NOT have to be the mother (I know several wonderful at-home dads), though yes it does make breastfeeding easier to manage. I wish we were like every other developed nation and offering REAL parental leave to new parents, but here in the US you aren't garanteed ANY pay while taking your maternity leave, if your employer is a large enough company they HAVE to hold your job for 12 weeks but they CAN require you to use up all your sick and vacation pay (if you have any, since htose are also not required by law). This is not the way to show Family Values!

    As for me, I was raised by a single mom after my Catholic dad left us when I was 2. I've been married for 12 years. I have a BA and am working toward my PhD, which I *do* plan to use, but balance with the needs of my family. My academics are a calling, something I can't NOT do. I do research almost compulsively on my own and read related academic literature as pleasure reading. It's just part of who I am, as much as my physical disability and parenting status and marital status - none of these things could I put aside if I wanted to.

  11. Why does it have to be a woman who stays home? Dads are just as capable of being stay-at-home caregivers to children, once they're past the breastfeeding stages, obviously. And you're missing the point about getting a degree. Don't you WANT to be educated? Not just to have a job, but to know things?

    The whole point of the women's lib movement was to give us options. The option to go to school, or work, or stay home, or whatever we want. Not every woman is cut out to be a housewife, or wants to, nor is every woman cut out to be a worker, or wants to. Same for men. The freedom to do what you want to do should extend to all of us regardless of gender.

  12. This is actually my view on being a stay at home mom. I lost my job in late June, very shortly after I had found out that my husband and I were expecting a little one. I looked for a job for a while (still kinda am, cause it would be nice to have a part time extra source of income for little things) but I haven't been seriously looking for a long time now. I am hoping to be able to start an online business soon, that might be able to help out with bills and the little extras that are "wants" but not "needs". I still would like to finish my degree at some point, but I feel like I am of much better use here at home! Before, my husband and I would both get off work and come home to laundry, cleaning, and a horribly unhealthy dinner (probably out). Now, I can get everything done during the day, and he comes home to a clean house, dinner is usually on the stove or in the works, and we can spend the time together! Once the little one actually decides to show up (8 more days... I hope) we will be able to spend that time with her! I cannot imagine sending her to a daycare for the day and hardly knowing her... we're already so attached to her I sure don't want someone else raising my baby. The same with school eventually... I am not keen on sending her to school, but I am still trying to convince my husband about that.

  13. I know you have bigger fish to fry right now, and my thoughts are with you and your family right now, but I want to put in my two cents if I can.
    Your post breaks my heart because I am about to give up being a stay at home mom. I hate it, because I have loved the time I've been able to spend at home with our children, but financially it isn't an option anymore. Job losses last year led to us moving in with my mother this year. We are not independent, and we rely heavily on government-run programs to keep us afloat, as my mother is not much better off than we are. As in, if she had a mortgage payment or car payment, she would likely be worse off than we are right now.
    We have no choice. I have spent nights crying to myself and to my husband when I think about just how much time I am about to give up with my babies, and about how I am about to pretty much give up my fertility to join the daily grind - because I cannot see myself thrusting a six week old into daycare and likely sabotaging my first successful child-led breastfeeding experience in the process. Because I feel I cannot trust a daycare provider, even if she is in her own home and if she has the same principles about child rearing as we do, to do things EXACTLY as I would want them done - and because of that, I refuse to bring another child into the world. As a woman who has lost, and who has always dreamed of a big family, and whose husband's income right now will never increase far enough to provide comfortably for us in the job he's in right now, this has BROKEN me beyond comprehension. I feel as though I have completely given up my children to strangers, even knowing I would have two days off a week and that next year my youngest would be starting preschool and be gone half the day anyway. It still breaks my heart. It's something I may never come to terms with, and I wish SO BADLY that our family was in a position similar to your's where we had the ability to be independent AND for one of us - preferably me - to stay home.
    Seeing so many of your comments - suggesting that modern parents don't know their children and basically outlining what our daily lives would be like whether I want it or not - has rubbed salt in the wounds. I have no choice right now but it really, REALLY hurt to have someone else point out the harm it will do. I WISH we were half as well off as you are. :/

    1. I'm sorry you are struggling right now, KAS. Working parent does not equal bad parent and I don't think your child will be harmed. I pray you find peace with your situation.

  14. I work, my kids are great (well balanced, empathetic, kind hearted and often volunteer to help others)

    I know you've done the best for your family, and right now with the current pain and fear you're feeling, it's very good that you have no outside conditions on your time (as a job would be)

    However, what's great for you may not be great for every mom, or for every family. I believe that my kids have become so outgoing, so friendly, so able to understand and empathize with others as a direct result of their excellent daycare and preschool experiences.

    Each family has different requirements and goals, we all don't have to be the same. What's excellent for you may be anathema to another family.

  15. Why does the stay-at-home parent have to be the wife?

    I always made more money than my husband did, so it made a lot more sense for him to be the one to stop working. I also wanted to participate in my daughter's upbringing, so I devised ways to work from home as much as possible. I got smarter about it. We actually make more money now then we did before children when we were both working.

    I'm also still breastfeeding an almost-3 year old.

    What I'm saying is that it's not necessary for the woman to stay home, and it's also not necessary for her to sacrifice being a mother to go back to work either. We just need to get creative about how we do things.

  16. I pretty much agree completely with this post, but at the same time these are difficult times for a lot of people financially. I'm not even talking about the boohoo we *only* make 40k per year (we have 5 kids and we've NEVER made that much! We would feel like kings on that much!) but there are a lot of people out there whose husbands don't have any jobs at all their wives have no choice, and I think that's sad. Because I grew up with working parents - always working overtime and often with NO days off. I didn't realize how much it hurt at the time but when my mom got laid off I found out what I was missing! I loved having her home! What I'd like to see is families and churches realizing that a mother is important to her children and home and actually doing something to help her stay home even if times are tough or she loses her husband. That will NEVER happen in this day and age because it's all about how can we help her leave her kids and get a job. I just find it sad.

  17. Wow. I stumbled upon this blog and post, through clicking on other blogs, and am completely appalled at your characterization of how two-parent-working-families must live. I realize it's an old post, but I just couldn't get past it. I don't normally comment on things that are controversial, but I want you to know that it's really not the living hell you describe. I work 32 hours a week - 4 full days - and I can assure you that my 14 month old recognizes me as his mother, we eat home cooked meals that we tag-team cook most nights of the week (ordering out Thai when we don't manage that... my kid has never had McDonald's), errands get done, and my child never even had a drop of formula ever because although pumping at work was a "pain" it was manageable and worthwhile. My child has a healthy attachment to the woman who provides daycare for him in her home and a small group of neighborhood friends his age from the daycare. The other parents at the daycare have become my local "mom friends" and the daycare provider herself has turned into a trusted adviser about my child (priceless to me, as my own mom passed away many years ago). My child will grow up seeing that some moms work and some moms are home and both options are fine, as long as it works for the family. Just had to say, it's not all doom and gloom and some of us are enjoying this life!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I don't have a lot to say in response except to agree that yes, this is an old post of mine. When I wrote it, I had only one child, and was still pretty militant and idealistic about a lot of topics that I have since "chilled out" on! I still maintain that there's no one better to care for kids than their own parents, and that the home and family life need to be prioritized above all else. But I now recognize that many of the problems I noted in that post stem from various factors with long histories, and I can't just solve them all by saying "all women should stay home." Perhaps one day when I have arrived at a more satisfying conclusion, I'll write a follow-up.