But I’m Not a Housewife!

Domestic Bliss, Eventually

You Can’t Have It All, Or, You Can Have It All, Just Not At Once

“I just don’t believe you can work full time, run a household, raise great kids, and keep your marriage strong without losing your mind along the way. I think something will suffer, either your marriage, your kids, or your sanity….

“Really, what is the point of working so hard toward a career that isn’t conducive to raising a family?”

~Darla Shine, Happy Housewives

Thanks for the comment on the Happy Housewives post, Robyn. I’ve been meaning to explain what I did like about the book and I’ll respond to your comment about being honest at the same time. 

First, I really do agree with Shine’s basic motivations behind writing the book. I also believe a woman is fooling herself if she thinks she can have a demanding career and be an excellent mother to young children at the same time. And I also share the view that it would be awesome if we could remove the stigma attached to staying at home – which has been the legacy of the feminist movement. I just don’t love the manner in which she presents these ideas, and the way that she attacks everyone in the process. I don’t think there is ever one right way to live life, and I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to tell others that the way they live their lives is wrong. I believe in being honest about one’s opinions, but I think there is a difference between the way one speaks in the privacy of her own  home and in a public forum. At home, one’s close friends and loved ones will understand the difference between venting and making broad generalizations about people who are different from oneself. But, when you are speaking in a public forum you need to be more conscious of how you present your opinions. You can be honest and funny without attacking others.

Now, let me show you what I agree with, and how even then, I think Shine misses valuable points about women in forming the agenda of her book. I agree with the idea that the choice to stay home for our generation of women is difficult and we may not be prepared for how it will make us feel or how we will be treated by others – that’s partly the whole point of this blog – coming to terms with what I want out of life as a woman and what I’ve been raised to believe I want. So, here are the words that come from the most honest and likable side of Darla Shine,  in Happy Housewives (emphasis mine):

I left my career to be with my children because I thought I had no other choice, and I was full of resentment. I refused to let myself feel like a housewife. I rejected the idea of motherhood. I told myself it was all temporary, like a criminal sentence – and I was doing my time. 

I began to get disconnected from my home and my kids. p. 6

(I relate to this oddity of rejecting traditionally female parts of myself.)

“I feel sorry for all the women out there who are still trying to hold on to this image of being a supermom. It’s just impossible. I know that I can’t have it all. Something has to give. I’ve finally let go of my ego, and since then I finally have freedom. I’ve let go of all the demands and the expectations society put on me to be this perfect woman. I cannot be her, and I choose not to be her. I don’t want to work ten hours a day. I don’t want to get on the commuter train at 5:00 A.M. in a blizzard. I don’t want to break the glass ceiling. I now know exactly what I want. I am desperate no more. I am proud to say I’m a happy housewife.” p. 9-10

(Amen!)

…. I was full of baloney. I chose to leave work. I wanted to be at home with my son…. I was finally able to admit to myself that I had no intentions of going back to work and that it was time for me to give up that identity. I was a housewife. Why, though, did I feel so ashamed for so long?” p. 21

“I know the answer now. It’s because our society has looked down on motherhood as an option for a career. As if it isn’t good enough for you to be a mom, to be a housewife. My entire generation of women were raised to be more than housewives. It was engraved into our brains at an early age that we could finally be something. Our sisters before us – oh, and I’m going to talk about them in a bit – opened so many doors for us, and now we were expected to step up. We had to take our places in the workforce. We were expected to be something. Aspiring to be a mom, to get married, was not something we said out loud. 

The luxury that our mothers had as girls was that they knew that even though they would go to college, most likely their main goal was to meet a man who could take care of them so they could stay home. I think our mothers were far more fortunate than us. They weren’t plagued with this unrealistic burden to be superwomen juggling career, marriage, and family. They knew being home raising a family was the most important job, and they took pride in that.

It’s such a shame that society has put this terrible pressure on women – this ridiculous notion that we can work full time, raise a famliy, keep a happy home, and not lose our sanity in the process. p.22 

“But my mother never raised me to believe that I could only be a housewife. My parents gave me the confidence to believe that I could be anything I wanted. My father said, ‘Go to college, have your career.’ My mother said, ‘But then go home and raise your babies. You can always go back to work when they get bigger.

I don’t think either of them knew how conflicted I would be. It was easy for my mother to say, ‘Hey, go become something and then give it all up to be a mom.’ Our mothers have no idea how they have burdened us with liberation and equality (ooh, she gets a lot of flack for that line). It’s an enormous responsibility to live up to. It’s exhausting. It’s a shame that so many of us are still trying to juggle everything, and it’s no wonder so many of us are getting desperate int he process. 

I’m angry that I wasted so many days of my new baby’s life on that emotional roller coaster, struggling with the knowledge that I chose motherhood over my career, conflicted over the fact that I was no longer of value in this society because I wasn’t a big career girl. I felt less valuable being ‘just a mom.’ I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to break back into the industry when he got older. Instead of embracing new motherhood, I was worried that I was turning into my mother and that I would never be more than a mother and wife.” p. 24

Okay, so it’s the common struggle of women today to feel undervalued for being at home with their kids and not working. And kudos to Shine for suggesting that we find creative ways to work part-time from home when our children are older; I believe in broadening our ideas of what a valuable work is. But, I don’t think the way to lift up stay-at-home moms is to bash working moms. I was annoyed by her moralistic admonitions about the one true, correct way to do things.

I don’t think that all women want to be home bonding with their kitchens. I don’t think that all women like making crafts, baking, and cooking. And not all women can afford to stay home full time. In an ideal world, I don’t think anyone would deny that children would fair better with their mothers being around much more. But it isn’t productive to put down women who have decided that they will not be sane people if they don’t work part time. Many good family men admit that, although going to work every day is sometimes grueling and that they wish they could be home with their children more of the time, the truth is, they need their careers for their sanity and their identity. They admit that they would go insane not having a job to go to. But, working full time as a bread winner is a dilemma for men as well as women. I know that my husband will have rough times when he wishes he were home with his wife and children, living life with them and creating memories together, instead of working long hours with strangers. Some women, like men, would go insane if stuck in the home and unable to use their brains, skills, and education. We should not punish women for having the same desires as many men. We should support families with two working parents so that husband and wife together can balance that outside fulfillment with that of raising a family. 

At the same time, I agree that we shouldn’t assume that women who choose to be at home, do not feel ambiguous about this decision, or are not intelligent women with educations that they hope to use later on in life, when the children are grown. They deserve respect for sacrificing the kind of fulfillment that a career can bring. Maybe some of them have never wanted or dreamed of doing anything except raising a family, but there are many who have to fight the daily feeling that they are missing something vital by being at home. But in supporting the at-home-mothers, let us not put down the working ones. Let us build that system which supports all women and mothers.

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5 Comments»

  Cindy wrote @

Your blog provides a fresh look at the subject. You might want to take a look at my blog and possibly become a regular reader.

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  Nicola Ries Taggart wrote @

Wow! What a post and what a topic! I admire you for taking it on.

What it gets down to again and again is how each of us women feel about our choices. Choices are great. What I think many women struggle with is MAKING choices. We don’t want to make the wrong choice. We don’t want to make a choice someone else isn’t going to like or will look down at us for making. We don’t want to miss out on X if we choose Y. And we haven’t been taught or empowered to make life choices based on who we are and what we really want in life.

Becoming a mother is a roller coaster of emotions. I don’t think that roller coaster was non-existent for those women in the past who didn’t feel like they had a choice and that they were just supposed to be home with the kids. It was there, I just think they didn’t talk about it as much.

In my line of work, as a life and leadership coach for professional women who are moms, our focus is all about getting clear about what will FEEL best for each individual, whatever that may look like.

Becoming and being a mother is a journey–in many ways a spiritual journey–and having support and guidance to explore your feelings, emotions, thoughts through the journey is so valuable, and yet not done very often. Deciding to work or not work, continue a career or not, find a new career or direction or not, stay home full-time or part-time….these are all decisions that should take discussion, contemplation and exploration.

  Anjali wrote @

This topic has been at the front of my mind, lately. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I have a documentary idea (same format as the Valentine’s documentary) I’d love to talk to you about after I defend my thesis. Love you.

  Jessielme wrote @

Thanks for the comment, Nicola. Your service looks very helpful for mothers – I like that you offer coaching and support for working mothers AND for couples (marriage is my other favorite topic).

I think it’s important to acknowledge that roller-coaster of emotions (which is probably the thing I liked best about Darla Shine’s book), and to acknowledge that the decision to work or not is not one-size-fits-all anymore. Thanks for encouraging women to explore their inner-selves in order to find what works for them personally.

  Jessielme wrote @

Anjali, I look forward to doing another documentary with you. Good luck finishing your thesis!


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