I wore the white cotton mu-mu with orange hyacinth flowers along the bottom. I stuffed 3 small pillows and a teddy bear to create a round mid section cinched a waistline with an apron tied below the enormous bulge. I wore slippers. I donned a clear, plastic hotel shower cap, and carried a toy wooden rolling pin in one hand, to hit my husband on the head if he got out of line. I was a housewife for Halloween.
At 9, I can only guess how I formed this image of a housewife. I never witnessed someone hit with a rolling pin in real life. I recall Tom and Jerry cartoons with a woman who would chase after the animals with a rolling pin. My single mother had always worked full time in white collar office jobs 45 minutes away to support my brother and me. She drove us 20 minutes away to a better school district every morning before continuing her journey to work.
We lived in a rural, low-income, government subsidized housing development, and I had overheard my mother complaining about some of our neighbors. Her greatest frustrations were overweight housewives who collected government welfare checks, food stamps, smoked too many cigarettes, and stayed at home watching soap operas. Most of the neighborhood kids were unsupervised juvenile delinquents.
I wore my costume to an overnight lock-in at the mall for my Girl Scout troop . It may have been our leader, or one of the other mothers with us who brought it to my attention. They were all housewives, but I never considered how they were different than most of the women in my neighborhood 20 minutes away.
I didn’t realize my costume would offend them, but it did. As requested, I removed the shower cap, tucked away the rolling pin and slippers and was just a “fat lady”. I don’t think that was much better. (Ironically, I have always struggled with my weight.)
Calling myself a full-time homemaker, or housewife still makes my skin crawl a bit, though I’ve had years to adapt to my role. Our culture does not value full time caretakers and nurtures. Changing my job title to stay-at-home mom does little to improve the public’s general perception of my role as a mother, wife and woman.
I taught a lesson in September for our women’s organization, and loved this quote I found,
We need to take a term which is sometimes spoken of with derision and elevate it. It is the term homemaker. All of us- women, men, youth and children, single or married – can work at being homemakers. -Bonnie L. Oscarson
I have performed varied tasks in my role as a full time homemaker over the past 8+ years including opening a small business with my husband. I know what I do as a homemaker has value. My role as a primary caregiver is a conscious decision my husband and I have made together for the long term benefit of our four sons.Yet, I still have difficulty reconciling how what I do defines who I am.
Last week, I was completing an application for a gifted program for one of my boys. There was a box that asked for my occupation. I left it blank. I was overwhelmed with the options of how to fill the box. Though it is how I spend most of my time, I was embarrassed to type Homemaker. I didn’t want to be perceived as uneducated and more importantly insignificant.
An occupation can not fully measure the sum of an individual or who they are as a human being. As a former Gifted and Talented kid, and Gifted adult, the tangible titles, awards and recognition are important to me.
I want to be acknowledged for the contribution I make. It is how I have shaped my identity, and my perceived value as a person. I know that I am not alone.
The gifted girls I attended middle school and high school with have accomplished phenomenal things in their careers. Some do not have children, some balance demanding careers with motherhood, and others have left or adapted careers to be full time homemakers. I am grateful for the opportunity our generations of women have to choose how to focus their time and energy.
I think it is especially difficult for these brilliant women who have chosen to become full time homemakers/ full time caregivers for their children. A part of me bristles when they are viewed as a “homemaker” rather than an corporate attorney with a Harvard Law degree, or as a mother who sews intricate Halloween costumes rather than a Botanist and scientific researcher. They are defined as the woman who knits hats for her kids instead of a Non-profit founder, grant writer and Community Activist. They become the women’s church group leader instead of a news anchor, journalist and college professor.
These women, and others aren’t less intelligent or accomplished due to decisions they have made to devote their time and attention to homemaking and child-rearing. I would argue that these homemakers struggle to become more through sacrifice, and delaying or shifting personal career goals to nurture and support the needs of their families. It has been difficult for me to balance the needs of my family with nurturing my mind, passions and personal development.
My mind, hungers for constant intellectual stimulation. When you devote your time to a goal that isn’t easily quantifiable except by redundant tasks like neatly folded laundry and mopped floors, it can be easy to dismiss the value, contribution, or intellectual aptitude of a full time homemaker.
This is something we can work together to change.
I challenge you to ask the next time you meet someone new, especially a full-time homemaker, to ask them about what they are passionate about rather than their occupation. Ask strangers about how they nurture their mind. Question how they find joy and accomplishment.
It may give you insight about creating more meaning in your life. It also might help you value housewives and full time homemakers more.