That bad word, “homemaker”

I’ve instinctively struggled with the idea of gendered roles in marriage since we got engaged two years and two months ago. I’d like to think I’m closer to settling the matter in my mind by now but every time I turn a corner I find myself pausing, uncertain of where to go.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently since I’m about to enter a long stretch where the home, in a very real way, will be my domain. I’m not saying that having a baby will confine me staying home but I won’t be working, at least not for money, for a spell and I imagine that I’ll not be able to ignore the dishes quite as well as I’ve done in the past. So, by default, I will probably become a “homemaker”.

That word is hot and cold in my mouth, even though the transition’s already been happening. For the past few months I’ve worked primarily from home. The flexibility of my work has meant that we finally have a laundry day, our meals are generally planned and for the first time since we’ve been married, everything (save one mini suitcase) is unpacked. Furthermore, and this will make those who knew me even three years ago gasp, the house gets tidied and cleaned at some point every week.

I find myself taking pride in it, not in the sense that I’m fulfilling some feminine role (though there’s a bit of that too, if I’m completely honest) because competence is enjoyable. It’s like how I felt learning to play the guitar. There’s some creative fulfillment in it as well, as if acquiring new ways to be thrifty and changing the look of a room bore resemblance to writing a song. I also like the hospitality it allows. I usually don’t have to mentally check whether the house looks too much like a farmyard’s come and had its fun in it before inviting someone to spend time with us, spur of the moment.

I guess I feel a bit like it’s a “spousonomics” type of exchange between Laurence and I. For one thing, he works much longer hours than I do and earns a great deal more so I feel a bit like taking care of things domestic is my contribution to the “business” of our marriage. If the roles were reversed, I expect he’d be the one making sure things are spic and span.

But it’s a relational thing too. Something we discovered when taking a marriage preparation course (let me tell you, this was one of the hardest things I’ve done, one of the crappest times in my life but made our first year so much easier because all our personal rubbish was out in the open) was that he experiences love most strongly through acts of service and I through quality time. He really makes the effort to give me what I need and it would be more than a little selfish for me not to do the same.

So, it sounds like I’m down with this homemaking thing, no “issues” attached. But I’m not. I’m overly sensitive to any time I feel like I’m doing all of it (I never am) though I’m happy, time allowing, to do the lion’s share of it. When things do become messy because I’m too busy, tired or ill, I find myself making defensive jokes about being “a defective domestic goddess” or if I’m really trying to elicit a reaction, “a bad wife” – not that I actually think vacuuming has the slightest thing to do with being a woman or married.

These barbs protect the woman inside who’s scared of being taken for granted the way a lot of the women I grew up amongst were. Beneath their harsh tone, they’re quietly saying to him: “I know you’re not oppressive or distracted. I know you’re involved, happy to muck in with these silly domestic things. But I’m scared that eventually you’ll stop seeing me.” And that’s not fair to him. He’s done nothing for me to expect the worst.

Image: sflovestory


10 Comments

  1. April 12, 2011 / 12:04 pm

    Aww…hugs. I feel really strongly about this and have tried explaining to my husband why, he listened and he said – you REALLY should blog about it, I suppose I really should.
    You see the thing I realised is that, as women we are so driven to achieve success (whatever that may mean) and we are bombarded by messages of whatever a man can do a woman can do too, and while that may be true, a man simply cannot do what a woman can do, (or at least not as efficiently ;)) – being pregnant – carrying a baby and having a baby (mainly).
    We struggle with these definitions of gender roles I think, because we don’t want to be seen to be ‘copping out’ or letting our (our being female) side down. And so…we struggle and battle on. We feel guilty for not being able to ‘contribute’ to a household income, we feel guilty for considering spending money on things for ourselves, when there are bills to pay and a baby to feed and dress, we feel guilty for so many many things, but when you stop to think about it, we place these demands on ourselves – the men have absolutely no idea – they think it’s a bit mad, to be honest.
    Truth be told, parenting is ultimately one of the hardest jobs ever, not only because you’ll never be paid for it, and because the ultimate rewards are such a long time in coming (18 years! at least), but ultimately, no one can do that job for you and no one can do a better job than you (for your own children).
    As for being “scared that eventually you’ll stop seeing me”, every once in a while, let him do the cooking, cleaning, ironing… chores, basically. They will realise then it takes a lot to ‘do it all’… (admittedly this is coming from a husband who has a lower ‘clean’ threshold than me, so he takes it on himself to do it ;))
    Sorry it’s such a long comment….you struck a chord 🙂

    • April 13, 2011 / 7:49 am

      I’m so glad this hit the spot with you, Li-ling. And thanks for the full comment. Lots to think about. You’re husband’s right – you *should* blog about it. There is such a pressure on women, from inside and outside, to achieve perfection, “to have it all”. I identify with everything you’ve mentioned. I really struggle to see the money in our joint bank account as “our money” when he puts in the majority of it in. It’s something I’m working on – allowing myself the vulnerability to depend on someone else in this way. Believe me, I let him do the housework sometimes! He’s the far better cook for starters!

  2. Geeky Mummy
    April 12, 2011 / 3:19 pm

    I prefer the title Stay At Home Mummy as that is why I don’t work. Hubby will definitely agree that I am not a housewife or homemaker. I love it and whilst it has and is financially crazy, I couldn’t bare to be separated from my babies. geekymummy.com

    • April 13, 2011 / 7:41 am

      “SAHM” seems to have become a lot more popular for mothers. I think I’m thinking about homemaking (even in its most basic sense) as something that has to be done regardless of whether one of you is doing it or both. I think it’s great that you and your husband are making it work with you being home. Just this morning we were talking about this. Financial stability feels like it’s such a long way off but I guess it’s about doing the best you can with what you have.

      • Geeky Mummy
        April 13, 2011 / 12:10 pm

        Not sure about financial stability but having kids hits your wallet more than you can ever realise. We have sacrificed a lot financially, like holidays, but we also have been lucky like buying our house at the right time.

  3. April 12, 2011 / 9:23 pm

    This is a great post. I’ve never described myself as a homemaker though that’s exactly what I am. Or at least a large part of what I am. I was on maternity leave for a full year, and went from that to describing myself as setting up my own business. The difficulty I found, was that I used to very proudly define myself by my job. Being on maternity was fine, I felt I still had the same job status, I was just taking time out from it to have kids. But then I really felt I was losing identity, and other women who worked judged themselves against me, in the fact that they could hold down a job and juggle the kids and home. I found as soon as I adapted the way I described myself I was viewed differently, and also had more confidence. In fact though, I have always been the same person regardless of whether I work, look after the home, raise children or run my own business.

    • April 13, 2011 / 7:38 am

      Thank you, Karen. Your description of your experience makes a lot of sense. At the root of it, it’s a struggle for identity rather than with just a name. It sounds like you’ve adapted well and I’m encouraged by what you’ve said about realising that you’re the same person and that all of the other things are not what define you.

  4. Michelle Twin Mum
    April 26, 2011 / 4:06 pm

    Really interesting post. I personally think that to be a good homemaker is a wonderful job. Anyone can be a housewife but to make a home for your family where they are safe and loved – that is perfection!

    Mich x

    • April 26, 2011 / 4:34 pm

      That’s yet another layer to the word ‘homemaker’ and perhaps the most important one! Of course – the home is where we feel most secure to be ourselves. That’s certainly a job worth having.

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