04 August 2015

In defense of homemaking, even without kids

I originally left the workplace to see if our unexplained infertility could be fixed by eliminating stress.  Now we know that’s not the case, and we aren’t ever going to be parents.  So, logic dictates it’s time for me to go back to work.  To continue my contribution to the GNP.  To be an adult.  Right?

This is where I make my scary confession: I don’t want to return to the workplace.  Like, ever.

Until a couple weeks ago, I felt tremendously guilty over that sentiment. I felt pressure from society to get back out there, be “independent”, to not "waste my life", as if the only way I could possibly contribute to our world was by punching a time clock.  I felt like I wasn’t allowed to admit I was happy being a homemaker. Like, really genuinely happy.

The topic of homemaking seems to be polarizing.  On one side, you have those who believe every human being should become and remain self-sufficient, even within marriage, you know, “just in case”.  Being dependent on someone else’s paycheck, especially as a woman, is a four-letter word in this camp.  On the other side, you have the extreme traditionalists, whose reasoning seems to be comprised of nothing more than recited Bible scriptures and could easily justify the need to stay home solely on the size of their large family.

Once again, I’m stuck in the middle and can see valid points on both sides.  I believe everyone should take the time to find themselves and know they can be self-sufficient if the need arises.  I don’t have any kids, either.  I also believe strongly in traditional family values. I don’t agree with going into a marriage with a “just in case” plan.

As a teen, I lobbied hard against early marriage and parenthood in order to finish college, see the world, “find myself”.  I worked my butt off in the workplace for 15 years, including 4am bakery shifts, soul-sucking retail Black Fridays, awkward temp jobs, and downright demeaning internships. I crammed homework into lunch hours in order to pay my own college tuition and expenses.  I learned a lot of skills out there, as well as a lot about myself, and I believe those years were vital to who I am today.

However, I also learned that I have strong interests and skills in domestic areas, though I wasn’t able to pursue them very much while working.  There are only so many hours in a day, only so much reserve energy when you’re living within the constraints of a typical work week.  I felt torn and began to weigh which of these worlds would bring me the most personal satisfaction.  Much to my surprise after all that effort, the workplace did not win that battle.  While my husband loved his job so much, he'd go even if they weren't paying him, I was downright miserable in mine.

And then, the day came that my husband hit a pay level in which his paycheck covered all our bills and then some.  We no longer needed two incomes.  I was actually grateful to infertility for giving me a valid reason to escape the grind.  And even though staying home and taking on all the domestic tasks felt like a breath of fresh air, I expected I’d have to return to the workplace eventually.  This setup was too good to be true; I wasn’t allowed to be this content.  I also expected I’d eventually get bored.  That’s what everyone says, right?

Oh, what everyone says…

Stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs) deal with a lot of flak from working individuals about how they could possibly be satisfied in life.  And yet, even many SAHMs sometimes dish out that same flak to stay-at-home-wives (SAHWs), those of us that choose to stay home despite not even having a family to raise.  Once Hubs and I realized we were never going to have children, the pressure I felt to return to the workplace became overwhelming, despite the fact that we still didn’t financially need me to do so, nor did I actually want to.

And then, I was introduced to the world of Career Homemakers.  People just like me, who proudly have cleaning schedules, meal plans, and Christmas binders.  And I’m learning that there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing - and loving - this life, as long as we can financially manage it and it genuinely makes me happy.  Which is does.  Wholeheartedly.

And yet, I still have to deal with rabid judgment.  “What do you do all day?  I’d get SO bored!”  “I would have such a huge problem not contributing to the world at large. Don’t you feel useless, like your intelligence and your skills are being wasted on laundry and dishes?”  “I could never be entirely dependent on my spouse’s money.”  “If you don’t have a career outside the home, you don’t have an identity.”

If your career brings you genuine satisfaction, that’s awesome.  Own that proudly.  You deserve to be happy, and the world needs people just like you.  But I’m realizing the world needs people like me, too.  The idea of meetings, annual reviews, and punching a time clock gives me the same anxiety as you feel about doing nothing more than laundry, cooking, and running errands all day.  Being a career homemaker is freedom to me, and I love doing it.  Some of my fondest childhood memories involve making an “apartment” in the woods behind our daycare.  I was so proud of that tiny plot of dirt then, and I love keeping a home now.  Sure, there are days it’s akin to being a maid, but there are also days when I get to be a chef, an interior designer, a gardener, a professional shopper, an artist.  I’m not stuck behind a desk, I make my own schedule, and I’m my own boss.

“What do you do all day? I would get so bored!”

First of all, let's destroy the stereotype: the words homemaker and lazy are not synonymous.  I'm not watching TV and napping on the sofa all day.  I may sneak a YouTube video now and then, but the TV doesn't come on during the day at all.  Ever.  Instead, my alarm goes off every single morning, and I maintain a strict schedule throughout each day.  In fact, the time it took to type this post was a scheduling splurge.  Also, when your home is your job, you're always "in the office".  I don't get to collapse at 5pm and relax all evening like other careers; if something needs doing at 10pm, it's my accepted responsibility to get it done. Just like a SAHM, I accept that I am always on call.

I’m never bored.  When I worked full-time, I only did the bare minimum around the house just to get through the week, but that's not the case anymore. You'd be surprised how many projects present themselves when you finally have the time to do them.  There is always another improvement, errand, idea, or chore to undertake.  I consider myself the CEO of a very efficient household, but it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make things seem effortless.

I accomplish far more in a single day of being a homemaker than I ever did behind a desk.  Not only do I no longer have to deal with wasting loads of valuable time on red tape and typical workplace redundancies, my efforts affect me directly and immediately. As a result, my sense of accomplishment is much more tangible than it ever was in the workplace.  I finally feel like my efforts matter.

Furthermore, I love this kind of work.  Putting a home together - a clean, organized, stable refuge for myself and my loved ones - makes me downright giddy.  Sure, there are days when dishes and laundry seem endless, but working on projects like a well-organized closet, a properly prepared meal, or a well-hosted party gives me a unmatched sense of satisfaction.  I'm sincerely happy doing this on a daily basis. (Except vacuuming stairs. That task can be banished to Hell for all eternity, as far as I'm concerned.)

“I would have such a huge problem not contributing to the world at large. Don’t you feel useless, like your intelligence and skills are being wasted on laundry and dishes?”

No, I don’t.  In fact, I feel like I finally am making a difference; it’s just secondhand.

I see my career as a homemaker as my vital contribution to our family dynamic and financial situation.  I'm in direct support to my husband, the one bringing home the actual paycheck from a rewarding, yet exceptionally challenging, career. I've willingly taken on the important responsibility to keep him going at home so he can keep going at work.  It's a balanced system that works well and has actually made an enormous difference in both our lives.  I love knowing I’m able to provide a place of peace and rest when he returns home from working all kinds of odd hours in a stressful environment.  That alone has improved our quality of life and our relationship.  We’re healthier and more relaxed now.  We eat better, we sleep better, we get to spend quality time together, instead of just trying to cram chores into the few spare hours we have at home between workdays.  Everything just runs better.

Many of my other friends and family are also in positions of direct contribution to the improvement of society: moms, teachers, police officers, heads of non-profits.  They are on the front lines of positive change in our world today, pouring their lives into their work and left with very little time or energy to take care of themselves.  That’s where I come in.  I’ve never been comfortable in a front line position in society, but I'm an excellent number two, and I absolutely thrive supporting others.  I now have the energy and resources to help take care of them so they take care of everyone else.  I can make them meals, watch their kids, help with projects, surprise them with escapes.  Things they don't have the time or energy for, and things I never could've managed when I worked full-time.  This is my ideal way to give back, and I love it.

Furthermore, I feel this freedom has only increased my intelligence and creativity.  When I worked, I learned a lot about expense accounts, shipping routes, data processing, customer service, and other things I, frankly, couldn’t care less about.  And whenever I sat down to pursue knowledge of my own choosing, I’d fall asleep from sheer exhaustion.  There was no room in my life for what I wanted, because it was too cluttered with what I didn’t.  Now, I have the time and energy to research interests and learn skills I actually care about and can be applied directly to my life, including volunteering with organizations that I sincerely believe in. My intelligence and ability to give back has only grown since leaving the workplace.

“I could never be entirely dependent on my spouse’s money.” 

Yes, we have traditional values and I consider my husband the head of our household, but a huge part of that is a relationship built on trust.  I have to laugh when “enlightened” people think being a homemaker means I’m at my husband’s mercy, as if I’m on my knees begging for a fiver for a latte or something.  It’s actually the complete opposite.  I control the workings of our entire household, including all our bank accounts and financial holdings.  We make major decisions together, but when it comes to the day-to-day minutia of running the house, I’m pretty much judge and jury around here.  Translation: my husband trusts me enough to hand me his entire paycheck and walk away in complete confidence.  I know he'll provide for me, and he knows I'll provide for him.  Neither of us are at each other’s mercy; we rely on each other, and I'm actually very proud of that. To me, it's a symbol of our commitment to and faith in each other.

And to anyone who views homemaking as negating woman's rights, I'd have to argue the exact opposite.  Should woman be forced to stay at home, hidden away and uneducated solely because of their gender?  No.  But giving women the option to make their own life choices should include the option to stay at home, if so desired.  Denying us that right under the guise of equality, thereby forcing us into the workplace unwillingly, is actually its own form of oppression.  Those of us happy to stay at home are not resigning ourselves to this lifestyle; we want it.

I also feel to specify that when I say these things are my responsibility, this is not a reflection of an authoritarian husband with a grading sheet.  That couldn't be further from the truth.  My laid-back husband wouldn't even notice if I let things slide.  Instead, my new boss is me; my tasks, responsibilities, and expectations are self-chosen.  And believe me, you are the toughest boss you'll ever have.

“If you don’t have a career outside the home, you don’t have an identity.” 

This is the one statement I’ve really struggled with, a challenge I believe many SAHMs can also relate to, because it's so ingrained in our society nowadays.  But it’s one I’m learning simply isn’t true, because being a homemaker is just as valid as any other identifier.  We all have homes we return to at the end of the day, and when they run better, we run better.  If we as a society would start paying due respect to our home lives and those of us that maintain them, the rest the world might just run a little smoother.  Life might be a little easier.  My “job” matters, and the belittling belief that it doesn’t is society’s problem, not mine.

So, world, consider this my official announcement: as long as we can responsibly afford it, I’m remaining an entirely contented Career Homemaker.

Since deciding to own this position and its validity, my world has exploded a little.  My hobby room has seven new piles of projects I've thrown myself into, and my computer currently has four Excel windows crammed with home management spreadsheets.  I've unabashedly become Martha Stewart and Ina Garten on a steady drip of caffeine, finally giving myself permission to be good at this, to be who I think I always was, and it feels really good.  I've even ordered contact cards to carry in my purse, just like everyone else’s business cards.  Why?  Because this is me, and I’m just as valid as everyone else.  I’m proud to be a homemaker; we’re the backbone of everything else, and we matter very much.

*** This post would be amiss if I didn't acknowledge our fortune to even have this option to consider in the first place.  I hit my knees and thank God, my wonderfully supportive and hard-working husband, and our generous friends and family every night for the freedom to live this life.  It hasn't been without blood, sweat, tears. We've endured anxiety over many carefully-planned decisions and one major life-altering circumstance to build our life together. But we're no better than anyone else. We're just grateful and blessed, and if circumstances ever called for it again, I'd return to work immediately. I just really hope I don't have to answer phones ever again...


Debbie Halverson said...

Wow, Lisa that was such a good article. You truly are gifted and I pray that the Lord will continue to show you what he has placed inside of you.

Linda said...

Bravo! Fantastic article. You rock!