Sunday, January 22, 2006

How Lucky Are We?

I came across this article in today's paper, and it got me thinking about how lucky we are to have so many choices available to us today. I never apologise to anyone about my choice to stay home and be a housewife, it is something I enjoy and my family and home are my proirities in life. I am of the opinion that you should work because you love your job, not because you need the money. As a society I think we are too focused on "keeping up with the Jones", and that mentality forces women into the workforce who otherwise don't want to be there. I say it's time to re-think our priorities, and figure out if that brand new car and huge house are worth more than our children. These may be fighting words to some, but it's my opinion, and I won't back down on it.

Why I’m Glad To Be A Housewife.
By Lucy Cavendish. Taken from The Sunday Mail.
When I was a little girl, and all my friends were little girls, none of us thought we’d grow up to be housewives. We might have played dollies in pretend houses and made pretend cakes and poured invisible tea from plastic pots, but no-one ever considered that being a housewife, a home-maker, would be something that we would choose to be. For many years, that was not even an option.
But now, at 40, I wonder why not?
My mother stayed at home. She baked cakes - terrible ones - and dusted and cleaned and darned names on knickers and obviously hated it.
She would tell me how dull she thought stay-at-home mothers were. She would tell me how she’d wanted to be an artist, but that her father, my grandfather, wouldn’t let her because nice girls did not go to art school.
She worked for a while as a physiotherapist and then, after she married my father, stopped working altogether, as so many women did.
But, during my childhood, my mother provided me with a steady stream of literature by women such as Germaine Greer, Betty Frieden, Kate Millett, Simone de Beauvoir and Susie Orbach.
My mother was intent that we were educated properly.
She took us overseas and showed us art, history and architecture. She helped me learn the joy of having an inquiring mind, of not just accepting everything I was told. She congratulated me when I confronted my teachers, even though she was hauled in to see the principal of my school regularly.
So did my mother expect me and my sister to stay at home, have children and turn into housewives?
No, she did not. And yet, what has happened to us?
In Susan Faludi’s 1993 book Backlash, she predicted the tide would turn, that feminism would start becoming a dirty word, that men would march against women and that women would return, mentally beaten and bereaved, back to the home.
Now we have Darla Shine, who says in her book Happy Housewives that women should be allowed to embrace the mother, the housewife within and should no longer feel they have to go to work and break the glass ceiling to be a proper, functioning person.
“Why wasn’t being a mum offered to me as a career?” Shine says.
What has changed?
Staying at home - or even saying you want to stay at home - is breaking the last taboo.
When, aged 29, I had my first child, all my friends thought I was mad.
They thought I was even crazier when I moved out of city life and re-emerged in the bush complete with boots, basket, fresh fruit from the garden and an apron. They baulked when I got a dog. They nearly cried when I went on to have two more children and spent all my earnings on small shoes and baby outfits.
But now I know my friends love to come to see me. They love the atmosphere of the house, the freshly-cooked food, the salad picked from the garden, the grubby, muddy tearaway childern and the over-friendly dog.
And yet I still work. I as myself why: is it too much a part of my past, part of what my mother instilled in me, for me to totally embrace my domestic goddess within?
But I am not the only woman who secretly likes baking an apple pie. Many seemed to have quietly turned away from work. Everyone is “down-sizing” and searching for “quality of life”. Why have it all when you only want a little bit?
I think part of the problem is that women never really thought about what “work” meant. It’s no fun being a woman holding down a full-time job and also trying to run a house, children and a marriage. Where’s the joy in trudging to and from work, to home, to the shops and back again on a daily basis? (I am sure men feel just the same way, but we are talking housewives here, not hose-husbands).
It’s exhausting. I tired it. It was a disaster. I barely saw my children. I had no idea what they were up to. The cupboard was bare, the house was cold and unloved. I felt more tired than I had ever been.
I resorted to checking my son’s homework when he was in bed. I made packed lunches at 11pm. I barely spoke to my partner. At work, I sneakily called plumbers and electricians. Yet I seemed to echieve nothing, either at work or at home.
When I recently suggested to a friend that I give up work and stay at home with my children full-time, she gasped in horror: “But work is so much a part of who you are!”
But work used to be part of who she was. Now she has two children, a husband who works from home, a serious tennis addiction and the best-baked cakes. Doesn’t she miss her working life? She says not. When I press her on it, she says that she had always told herself that, if she had children, it would be her job to look after them/. “I feel I owe that to them,” she says. Her children, it has to be said, are happy.
And now I’m surrounded by these stay-at-home women - my sister, my sisters-in-law, my friends; none of them work.
Elizabeth used to be a doctor, but now stays at home with her three girls.
Emma was in films as a producer, but ow spends her life videoing her twins, and Kate was a lawyer in Hong Kong, but was paid off.
She’s used her money to buy a run-down pile and, whenever you go round, there she is, paintbrush in hand, surrounded by children having fun renovating the place.
They all seem happy. They al seem fulfilled. They are intelligent women and these are their choices.
Something has shifted. I increasingly find myself drawn to making cakes and staring wistfully at ingredients in the fridge. My friend calls me up to tell me of a new lentil recipe her kids like.
The correct feminist response would be: “Why are you calling me up with cooking tips? Burn your bra, baby!” Instead, I hurry to the shop to prepare for cooking it myself the next night.
The truth is, I feel better when the house is clean and organised and the kids’ clothes are folded and in their drawers.
I like to put a meal on the table for my partner when he comes home from work.
When I’m not working and the kids are a kindy, I go for a pushbike ride, walk the dog, or pop round for coffee at a friend’s house.
I find I rather like wearing an apron. I have a “baking” cupboard, although I am still not very good on cakes. But the kids like making them, so some afternoons we get floury and pur everything into a mixing bowl and then eat it.
The children are happier. My partner is happier. The dog is happier and I am happier. If I’m feeling particularly daring, I might even open a bottle of wine at lunchtime and invite people around. And who decreed we should all work so hard that we forget how to enjoy life?
I think women are redefining things. Working hard, being successful and beating men at their own game now seems tiring and boring and, at the end of the day, not necessarily fulfilling.
It’s much more fun to have freedom to be at home, to play with the kids, to walk a dog, to make my own decisions about my life.
Being a housewife is no longer the dead-end job it was, and it’s also not forever. As their children get older, many women I know intend to start up some sort of small business. The internet has made this perfectly possible.
Others intend to re-train s family therapists, teachers and such like. Some are doing extra-curricular courses in art, ceramics, philosophy.
If I had daughters, I’d give them the books to read that my mother gave me. I would encourage them to see that they have choices, and that those choices are not between a man’s world or a woman’s world, or between going to work or staying at home, but the chance to do whatever it is they feel they want to do.
And if it’s a dishcloth that does it for them, hey, so be it.



Blogger The Rich Gypsy said...

Oh gosh Suzie ... where do I start? Suffice to say, I have always thought that my decision to give up my job and attempt to create a solid foundation for my family to grow upon, as the ultimate 'feminist' decision. I have never been one for the 'burn the bras' ideology ... to me that whole train of thought seems to be anti all that it is to be female!

Thanks for this article.

9:17 PM  
Blogger jellyhead said...

Hi Flossy!

I believe most of all that we should all do what is best for our families and ourselves. For some, that may be full-time at home, for others full-time work, or somewhere in between.

I personally would hate to work full-time, and miss out on a lot of time with my kids. But there are some mothers who would be miserable doing stay-at-home mum stuff, and they're probably better mothers when they also have the 'escape' and challenge of work. (and after all, no-one criticises fathers for working full-time, and they're every bit as much parents as mothers)

I believe in feminism, and to me that also means supporting each other as women, and trying to understand each other. Putting down SAH mothers, or howling down 'career' women - neither of these attitudes seem very 'feminist' to me. As you say, choice is the key (for those whose circumstances allow them to choose)

Sorry to go on like that - looks like you've successfully provoked discussion and comment here!

10:20 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Thanks for posting this article. I posted a couple weeks back about my desire to have a life something like a 50s housewife in which I could stay at home and take care of my family but due to monetary concerns can't.

Truely for us it's not a keeping up with the Jones's attitude, but more a survival attitude to keep me at work. When I got pregnant, my husband and I had to give up our apartment and move in with my in-laws just to get by. More than two years later we're still here. Though we probably could have moved out a year ago (don't get me started on that). We only have one car that I have to drive 1 hour plus one way too and from work. When there is a problem with it, I'm stuck with no other means to get to work. When my son has to go to the doctor, the only choice is for me to take off, unless my husband is going to drive me an hour to work, an hour to Niko's doctor, and then repeat it all at the end of the day to get me. Not a smart idea. We wouldn't be able to make ends meet if I quit working.

I spent the first year of my son's life at home with him. It was too much for me. Maybe if I had my own home to care for, it wouldn't have been since my Mother In Law won't let me do anything (not because she wants to, but because she thinks I'm incapable - she honestly thinks we didn't cook in our two years in the apartment but instead ordered out most nights).

This past month I had the chance to work part-time, three days a week due to the fact that I am still a temp and they needed to reduce our hours during the slow season at work. I found my perfect medium. My son was behaving better, I was more relaxed and easier to live with, and I was able to get done all those things I wanted to do without having to drag my husband around on his only two days off. It was really nice and just what I needed. For us, if he would just get that promotion or transfer at work, it would be the perfect option.

For now it's just a dream, but one that hopefully we'll be able to make come true.

12:22 AM  
Blogger shellyC said...

Flossy Thanks for the article...wonderful!!

I too believe we can all make choices to continue our career or be SAH mothers.....and I respect each individuals choice. What I don't accept is those who feel they "have" to work (and often resentfully)in order to provide for a better future for their children financially. I believe that time and money could be better spent just being with your children.

7:12 AM  

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