This morning, a friend and co-worker of mine (I will call her, DT) were having one of our morning coffee line chats. Today’s topic of interest was what a luxury it is in this day and age to be a ‘stay at home mom’. I have to admit that we vented (a little!) about how we often feel run off our feet between caring for our children, maintaining relationships, and taking care of the day-to-day tasks such as cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry, paying bills, buying groceries, errands and general home maintenance – while also working full time outside the home. And we lamented the change in our society that has made the ability to be a stay at home parent/homemaker, rare. We both agreed that, over the decades, it appears that being a homemaker has evolved into one of the least respected and underappreciated jobs in the world. I mean, really…where else would a person work that hard only to go unpaid? And in contrast to those in the business world, be made feel to be uneducated, unproductive and not ‘professional’?
Not professional. Hmmm…Meaning not an actual ‘profession’. Ha! The career of a homemaker has a major, important impact on the maintenance and wellbeing of others (encompassing the overall health, education, emotional and spiritual development of their family), combined with the general maintenance of the running of a house and family like overseeing a corporation. Homemaking is one of the hardest, however most important and most rewarding jobs in the world. A homemaker is a chef, a CEO, banker, teacher, doctor/nurse, contractor, maintenance supervisor, gardener…and the list goes on. A homemaker is on call 24/7 – even when on vacation; their job goes with them. People’s lives and well being are at stake – making it a huge responsibility, yet also very rewarding and empowering. And while the personal rewards are great, homemakers rarely receive financial compensation for their efforts. Yet, if you ask a homemaker what they do for a living, most will shyly respond with, “I work inside the home” or “I’m a stay at home parent” and conversations usually stop.
For such an important job, why are many stay at home parents geared to feel this way? Feeling almost embarrassed to admit that they don’t ‘work’?
I ask this, because I have a childhood friend, (I will call her Betty), who is a stay at home parent. To me she is a super-star! A rock star! Her home is immaculate, her meals beautiful, healthy and well-planned, her laundry always caught up and her family so well cared for. For her, her home and her family are her job. And it’s a job in which she gives her all and takes the ultimate pride. She is well-spoken, intelligent and beautiful. Once, we were chatting and I was complaining about having to work full time and how much I envied her being a homemaker. And in response, she confessed that there are times, when she actually feels embarrassed to tell people that she is a stay at home mom. Some of the situations in which she feels this way, in particular, are when she is attending business functions with her partner. The vast majority of the people attending would be business professionals with university degrees who work outside the home. Polite chit-chat inevitably segues into ‘So, what do you do for a living?’ Most people comment that they are a manager or director of this, or a CEO of that, and Betty, on her turn, would bravely respond that she was a homemaker. To which she would often get an “Oh….” or a “How nice.” And although it would never be verbally articulated, she would still get a feeling that they were saying (without actually saying) that what she did wasn’t as important as what they did – that of having a real job. This upset me. For while my friend doesn’t have a formal ‘degree’, she is well-educated and has attended university. She acts as a teacher at home to children and can teach things in ways that I never could. To me, her job is one of the most important in the world – caring for her family and shaping the lives of human beings. So, I told her that the next time that something like that happened at one of those functions, she should just respond in a haughty voice and say, “Work?! Oh no, dear. I don’t HAVE to work.” And then just sit back and smile.
Because, truly, in our present day society, being a stay at home parent really is a luxury that few can afford. Or if you can’t afford it but still really want to do it, it can’t come without a certain amount of sacrifices.
Stay at home parents are usually:
- A two-partner household where one partner makes a significant amount of money, enabling the whole family to easily live on one income
- A two-partner household where the family has decided to make specific lifestyle sacrifices in order to live on budget so that one partner may stay at home.
- The household is on a form of social assistance – which in our present society, has a negative stigma attached
But with how our society has evolved into a place where homemaking is undervalued and workaholics are revered, one wonders if our children are ‘missing’ anything. Some might say that you can’t miss what you never had, however, sometimes it takes something like a movement or a subculture to subtly highlight the fact that we are missing something. For during our morning coffee chat, DT also brought me up-to-date on something known as the ‘hipster movement’ – which she explained to me a group of individuals in the 20 to 30-something generation who are a bit artsy – in that they like anything natural and organic… they tend to be foodies and are drawn to anything that seems a little ‘old fashioned’. They have honed the art of taking the time to put their ‘look’ together, without looking ‘put together’. For example, you would see hipster men wearing home-made-looking knitted hats and sporting beards. (Aside: Did you know they are actually selling these hats with beards attached on Etsy! Seriously? OMG.). She said it was like that generation has realized that there is something good and wholesome and natural that’s been intrinsically missing from our society – something ‘nurturing’ perhaps? And they are trying to recapture that – such as diapering their children in cloth-only diapers and drinking their coffee or wine from Mason Jars!
The on-line Urban Dictionary defines Hipsters as “a subculture of men and women typically in their 20’s and 30’s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter. Although “hipsterism” is really a state of mind, it is also often intertwined with distinct fashion sensibilities. Hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers, and are often be seen wearing vintage and thrift store inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick rimmed glasses. Both hipster men and women sport similar androgynous hair styles that include combinations of messy shag cuts and asymmetric side-swept bangs. The “effortless cool” urban bohemian look of a hipster is exemplified in Urban Outfitters and American Apparel ads which cater towards the hipster demographic. Despite misconceptions based on their aesthetic tastes, hipsters tend to be well educated and often have liberal arts degrees, or degrees in maths and sciences, which also require certain creative analytical thinking abilities. Consequently many hipsters tend to have jobs in the music, art, and fashion industries. It is a myth that most hipsters are unemployed and live off of their parent’s trust funds”. Hmmmm… I’m thinking that DT is a gal in the know – and her explanation was way more entertaining!
And while I don’t categorize myself as a ‘hipster’ by any stretch of the imagination, I do feel that one of the things we have lost over the years has been the Art of Homemaking. Never quite seen as the ‘profession’ which it should have been – the art of nurturing and taking care of one’s family and home has unfortunately taken a backseat to:
- Working outside the home for monetary compensation. This is done in order to pay for the basic needs of life (or at least what is determined to be basic within the particular socioeconomic bracket in which you choose to live)
- Or an obsessive drive to climb the ‘corporate ladder’ for reasons such as money, fame, ego, social respect, prestige, professional accolades… any rewards one would feel from being ‘out’ in the workforce, putting a career over family/home life.
Work outside the home has become such an unfortunate expectation of our society. I’ve been to business functions and meetings where the topic of conversation always seems to become a ‘pissing contest’ of who is the most busy. The most important people are simply run off their feet! It’s considered a good thing to come in early, stay late and work through your lunches. And for all the soap boxing that many corporations tout about ‘work life balance’ if you really look around your place of work, take a note to see which employees get promoted, and who appear to have the respect and awe of everyone else. And you will probably find that vast majority of those people are the ones who have absolutely no work life balance.
And I have found this, personally to be sad, but true. In my personal experience, I would love to be a homemaker/stay at home mom. However, I also want to live in a certain area of the city. I want this because of the convenience of where I live (walking distance to everything I need/want), an excellent school for my son and a neighborhood filled with good neighbors and children he has known since daycare and plays with every day. I want to be able to take him on a vacation every year and I want to be able to afford for him to be able to participate in any extracurricular activities that he would like. I also like some little perks for myself – like to have my hair colored and cut at a hair salon. So in order to maintain this lifestyle (while not overly extravagant) I must work full time in order to have enough money pay a mortgage, and pay for heat, electricity, food, clothing, etc… All the basics one needs to live.
But all that being said, I still have a family and a home/property that needs taking care of – homemaking. And that is where work/life balance becomes very important for me. When I am at work, I work. I put in my day. I arrive when I’m supposed to, I take my lunch, (because I get a lunch) and I leave when it’s time to leave. And because I have to and choose to work, it is very important to maintain this particular balance – because I work to maintain my lifestyle. It is not my life. My life is my family and my home.
I really feel that those people who can have one parent stay at home full time to devote themselves to being the primary hands-on caregiver for the home and family is so beautiful and such a luxury that I will admit, I’m a bit envious. Like all jobs, there are good, mediocre and bad employees – some people go above and beyond, while others do the bare minimum. And others, still, slack off whenever they can.
Similarly, this can be said of homemakers. Some just take care of the basics, others may just throw in a load of laundry and proceed to sit on their ass and eat a tub of ice cream while watching Jerry Springer all day. Yet there are others, still, who value this as their ‘job’ and take such pride and care in it. And THOSE are the ones of whom I’m envious. Sadly, the pay is all the same – whether you do a little or a lot – it’s still nil. However, the personal satisfaction of a job well done in being able to undistractedly care for your home and family would be enormously rewarding.
I think of how much I could do:
- Meal planning/making meals from scratch
- Regularly scheduled daily cleaning rotations
- Dropping my child off at school, picking him up for lunch and also being able to pick him up again, immediately when school was finished for the day.
- Volunteering at my son’s school – class trips, in the classroom, fundraisers, etc…
- Keeping up on household maintenance – any painting touch ups, etc…
- Paying all the bills
- Keeping up on the household filing
- (And that is all I can think of off the top of my head!!)
Now, don’t get me wrong – I do my best. I work all day and then run home after work to pick up my son and get supper. Laundry is thrown in when we can and put it away when we can. My son is taken to his sporting events, bills get paid, and when we have a few minutes here and there we run on the fly to get groceries or help out the grandparents. However, the office is usually filled with unfiled papers, I frequently forget and/or miss appointments, and the ‘to do list’ is always a mile long. I don’t get time to make cookies for the school bake sale and my son always has to remind me when it’s his gym day or library day… And while he is clean, fed and happy, I don’t get to volunteer at his school, and I don’t always get time to read to him every night. He is one of the first children at school in the morning and often one of the latest ones to leave, because I work.
I have heard fantastic rumors of some countries where a parent is actually paid to stay home. Now, that is fair. When I am actually home, I work. There is never a shortage of things that need to be done and I am enthusiastic to do them. I don’t know how true it is or have any facts on the country or countries that may or may not do this – mainly because I live in Canada and well…here in Canada we just don’t do that sort of thing (other than the standard 12 months of maternity leave) – which given the alternatives, we feel we’re pretty damn lucky to have!
When you think about it…a person is at home, caring for his/her family: cooking, cleaning, purchasing, making, organizing, volunteering, and being a large, positive presence in his or her child’s life. And that kind of presence can’t be bad. Additionally, if there are two parents, I think that the parent working ‘outside’ the home ultimately has less distractions and can more easily become a more productive employee. For example, no more having to leave work early for medical or other family appointments, or to pick up a sick child from school, because there is a designated parent whose full time job it is to take care of those tasks. No more sporadic lack of focus while at work, worrying about whether or not you put little Jimmy’s sun hat in his backpack this morning, or trying to figure out what you’re going to manage to whip up for supper that evening, or even if you have the particular ingredients in the fridge to make it…
And ultimately, healthy meals for all and no more latchkey kids – I haven’t done a survey, but I would think that this would lead to better health, less drug/alcohol use in minors, less childhood obesity, and better health overall, leading to better academic achievement, appreciation of family, etc… And these children, in turn would grow up to be the kind of people we want more of in this world.
However, in Canada (or any other country that I’m 100% aware of), no one is paid to stay at home and care for their family. Unless they opt to go on social assistance – where there is such a negative social stigma attached, that those who do are often are made to feel degraded and ‘less than’ or just plain lazy. But like I said – just there are good, mediocre and bad employees, there are good, mediocre and bad stay at home parents on social assistance.
And while Canada is a wonderful place to live – we have public schools for everyone, basic free Medicare, and forms of social assistance, I think that it’s kind of unfortunate that these benefits are the by-products of the systemic social problem of poverty in our country – contributing to a vicious circle of poor nutrition, education and health – requiring our society to NEED more Medicare, and social assistance.
I would like to think that someone in their vast wisdom could take a look at the possibility of paying a parent to stay home, considering it valuable work – and not a form of ‘social assistance’, and perform a study on how it, over time, impacts their society. Are the children healthier, better educated and thus end up utilizing less social assistance in the future? It would be an interesting study, for sure. However, right now I’m too busy working full time and trying to keep my child fed and our house from falling down around us to undertake it…!