In 2012, it’s hard to believe that becoming a housewife and stay-at-home mom was once an acceptable, even expected, aspiration for young women. Post 1970s conventions and progress have taught us that work outside the home, for which we earn independent wages and with which we can support ourselves, should be preferable to housework, 24-7 childrearing, and relying on our husband’s wages to cover everything from the mortgage to the groceries to our feminine products. Our generation has seen and heard enough cautionary tales about marital splits in which a newly stay-at-home mom is left with employment woes and financial strain; we’re firm believers in God blessing the child that’s got her own.
But for some, housewifery and stay-at-home motherhood are still preferred options. In families where the costs of day care would outweigh the benefit of both parents working outside the home, or in cases where parents are simply more comfortable with one of them being their children’s primary caregiver, couples are still opting for one party’s work to be in-home only. Though this seems fairly logical and maybe even ideal for those families, many outsiders looking in consider housewives and stay-at-home moms to be vestiges of a bygone time–and it’s one that’s resented more often than it’s welcome.
In conversations on the topic, you’ll often hear views like, “Unless her husband is independently wealthy, there’s no reason for a woman without kids to be a housewife,” or “Being a housewife or stay-at-home mom isn’t a ‘job.’” Most recently, similar opinions were published in The Atlantic, with Elizabeth Wurtzel as its author. Early in her piece, she asserts: “… There really is only one kind of equality — it precedes all the emotional hullabaloo — and it’s economic. If you can’t pay your own rent, you are not an adult. You are a dependent.”
And later, she delivers this gut-punch:
… being a mother isn’t really work. Yes, of course, it’s something — actually, it’s something almost every woman at some time does, some brilliantly and some brutishly and most in the boring middle of making okay meals and decent kid conversation. But let’s face it: It is not a selective position. A job that anyone can have is not a job, it’s a part of life, no matter how important people insist it is (all the insisting is itself overcompensation). Even moms with full-time jobs spend 86 percent as much time with their kids as unemployed mothers, so it is apparently taking up the time of about 14 percent of a paid position.
What a way to undermine the work that mothers of small children do. Stay-at-home mothers are responsible for the majority of household chores, daily meal preparation (at least three times a day), and entertaining and educating their children when they’re not yet school age. They’re part-maid, part-chef, part-educator, and when their partners come home with complaints or concerns, part-counselor. For Wurtzel–and countless others–to minimize that, calling it “a part of life,” rather than “real work” or a job seems rather unfair.
It’s true that women who work outside the home are responsible for many of the same in-home tasks. As we reported in June, women do the majority of housework, regardless of whether they work in-home or out-of-home. But should pushing one’s self beyond the brink of exhaustion to work both in and out of the home be preferable to being viewed as “just” a housewife or stay-at-home mom? If the option avails itself, why should a woman feel social (or, in Wurtzel’s case, feminist) pressure to do “real work,” in addition to her family work?
Why are we no longer viewing the maintenance of a healthy domestic life as honorable or satisfying work? Why do women who do this work find themselves defending their choice? What do you think?