I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I really enjoy the life of a homemaker. I enjoy folding laundry; I find it therapeutic. I look forward to the end of the day, when I can tidy up our living area as my husband and I prepare the kids for bed. I like cooking, and during these past few months of staying at home, I have tried out more new recipes than in all my years of married life combined. I like surprising my husband and son with freshly baked cookies from time to time. I don’t mind putting together the weekly grocery list, placing our online order, and picking it up on Saturday mornings. I don’t mind scheduling doctors appointments, play dates, and hair cuts. I even tolerate cleaning, though my husband continues to take care of washing the dinner dishes and vacuuming the apartment. In a world that screams for equal parenting, that tells men that they need to take on 50% of the household chores, I just want to tell it to back off.
I like my little life as a homemaker. Because here’s another dirty little secret for you: While I spend my day coloring and playing Play-Doh (and countless other things, don’t get me wrong, but seriously, I spent TWO HOURS this morning doing the same puzzle with my son over and over again), my husband lesson plans, teaches, navigates workplace politics, and stresses about his students, and so I think that I should be the one cooking, tidying up, and cleaning the bathrooms after the kids have gone to bed. We might both have busy lives, but after teaching for several years and exchanging that life for the life of a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), I can honestly say that this life, even with all of its stresses, worries, and craziness, is still more relaxing for me. Even after several years of teaching, I still stressed before every lecture or class. Prayer and breathing techniques kept my anxiety at bay whenever I prepared to speak to parents or fellow educators. Most weeks, I had at least one thing on my schedule that would stress me out. Now? The most stressful activity I have in our near future is next month’s appointment with the pediatrician, when both John and Felicity have well visits at the same time.
Now don’t get me wrong. Being a SAHM is not easy. It has its stressful moments. I spend too much time fighting with my son to brush his teeth, and not enough time playing with blocks. I have those moments where I need to hide in the bathroom, behind the sofa, or around the corner of our kitchen just so that I can take a deep breath so as to not lose my cool or so that I can respond to a text message in peace. I’ve been so frustrated that I’ve had to fight back tears, though mercifully I have not felt so lost that I’ve broken down crying (this time around). Raising my children has been one of the most difficult, but also rewarding, experiences of my life.
Being a SAHM has been difficult at times, but at the end of the day, I can look back and see that I’ve had lots of time for snuggling on the couch, enjoying quality time with my kids, and reaping the benefits of coordinated nap time in the afternoon, and even after cleaning the bathrooms and washing the day’s bottles, I’ll still have time to work out and read or watch TV before bed. Andrew spends most of his day working, and a precious few hours each day with us. I guess I could have been the one to find a part time job to earn some supplemental income, but Andrew offered to do it instead (and he already had a job lined up). So in exchange, I do the laundry. I cook and clean. I run any errands that can be done via the drive-through or after bedtime. I schedule appointments and play dates, and then drive the kids to those appointments and play dates. I take care of all the traditional homemaker tasks so that my husband can focus on work. I would say it’s at least a fair trade-off, and honestly, probably biased in my favor.
Sometimes people give me funny looks when I tell them that I stay at home with my kids. They question why I have chosen that when I could have brought them to daycare and continued working. They seem even more baffled when I tell them that I wanted this life, that I find more fulfillment in my life at home with my children than I ever did while working, as much as I loved my job. There seems to be a sense that women can’t be completely satisfied in their lives without a job, and also a vague sense of alarm that I have no source of ready income if I ever needed to support my family on my own.
It seems like it’s human nature that we prefer to live in the extremes, the all or nothing. Society felt that the 50s were too prudish, so it gave way to the sexual revolution. We noticed that our youth seemed to be struggling with obesity, so we removed cafeteria vending machines, eliminated white bread from the menu, and removed juice and whole fat milk from our beverage choices. We realized that our society had become too dangerous to allow our kids to roam free in the streets from morning to night, so now we feel like we need to call CPS if we find out the neighbor’s kid walks to school on their own.
Gender roles in parenting have been no different. Rebelling against the traditional homemaker of the 50s, women demanded the right to work outside the home. As a result, our modern culture, with its day cares, pre-kindergarten programs, and grandparent caregivers, was born. Now there is an overwhelming push for mothers to “have it all,” and the traditional homemaker has largely become a thing of the past in many areas.
When John was a little over a year old, I remember having a conversation with my hair dresser while she gave me a long-needed trim about my continued employment after the birth of my son. It went something along the lines of this:
Hairdresser: Isn’t it wonderful that you’re still able to work, even though you have children?
Me: Yeah, I guess.
H: You guess?
M: Well, I do like my job, but I hope that I’ll be able to stay at home with my son eventually. It’s just not feasible at the moment.
H: Why would you want to do that?
M: Well, he’ll only be young once, and I would like to be there for as much of his childhood as I can.
H: Yeah, but you’re only young once too. How will you manage returning to work after having been out of the workplace for so long? It seems like a disservice to limit yourself to just cooking, cleaning, and raising your kids.
Eventually, we had to agree to disagree. We clashed on a very central stipulation for “having it all.” Namely, I thought I could have it all without working, and my hairdresser thought that working was necessary to claim that you had it all. Like I told her, I liked my job, but when given the choice between working and staying at home, I chose to stay at home. I could have worked, if I had really wanted to. I could have found a job after we moved, and used my income to pay for childcare. I might have even had some money left over. But if I’m going to be totally honest? I didn’t want to work. I wanted to stay at home, and I was perfectly happy with that decision.
Now that I am home with my kids, I still come across some resistance to my decision from time to time. I occasionally get the sense that people think I’m selling out by choosing to stay home with my children rather than continuing to work, as if I’ve betrayed the feminist cause. And then there’s the temptation to believe that because I don’t work, I am somehow not doing enough. When I was working, I still found the time needed to care for my kids, clean the house, and cook dinner most nights. Now that I stay at home, I’ve dropped one dimension of my life without taking on anything new. I am doing less than I did as a working mom, and sometimes I get the sense that because I am doing less, I am not doing enough, as if I am losing in some unspoken competition among all mothers.
I am doing less, but I am also doing more. I am more present to my children. I can spend hours building with Legos and coloring, and not feel guilty or stressed about the work I am not doing. I am more present to my husband. Once the kids go to bed, the only things on my agenda are a work-out and maybe some writing, since I no longer have to fit a full day’s work into just a few short hours. I am more aware of my own needs, including the need for rest and relaxation. I don’t stress as much as I used to. I have free time on a regular basis. Sometimes doing less means having more. It certainly did in my life.
Sometimes I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t work, that I spend my days playing with my children, cleaning our house and folding laundry, writing or reading when I have some free time in the afternoon during naps. I constantly have to remind myself that I have nothing to be embarrassed about. I don’t need to have a job to be a fully satisfied woman. I don’t need to leave my children on a regular basis to work just so that I can say that I have it all. My arms are already quite full, and I am very satisfied with the life that I share with my family. My husband and my children, my faith and my passions- they are my “all.” When people ask me what I do for a living, I should be proud to say that I am a homemaker, because honestly, what is more important in anyone’s life than the opportunity to make a home, to be a safe place for your loved ones, to create the environment of love that we all need? I think that sounds like a pretty awesome job description, if I do say so myself.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!