Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Being a Housewife

A while ago I posted about how I thought "stay at home mom" was a stupid way to describe yourself. This was before little R was born, when I was working at my nonprofit job full time.

Now that description would fit me perfectly: I have a small child, for whom I provide basically all the care, and I don't work outside the home at all, for pay or otherwise. I spend the majority of my days engaged in baby-related tasks (since she is only six months old, she is still pretty helpless and needs a lot of input).

I wouldn't describe myself that way, though. While most of my day is baby-related, I do a lot of other stuff too: running the household and all house chores (laundry, cleaning, shopping, etc.) for instance. In addition, I provide a lot of support (emotional, intellectual, logistical) to my husband in his work. In fact, it would be pretty difficult for him to operate as he does if I was not helping me as much as I do. It was somewhat of an issue for us when I was working full-time, actually, because his needs would often have to be unmet since I was busy/tired.

My husband is pretty high maintenance, due both to his personality and his career. But I think often housewives have husbands who are similar (after all, to afford for one person not to work generally means that the other must have a fairly high-powered/stressful (=well-paying) career). So housewife really describes my "work" responsibilities much more accurately. However, I don't have the experience of dealing with older or multiple children yet, and little R is a pretty low-maintenance child as babies go, so it's hard to say how I would feel given different circumstances. One way that motherhood has changed me is to make me more tolerant, understanding that everyone's experiences are different. If you have very demanding children, then I could see that SAHM might really describe what you do.

Like any kind of endeavor, being a housewife has pluses and minuses. I like that my schedule is really flexible, that I don't have a boss to please or report to, that I can arrange everything according to my taste/desire (my husband lets me make pretty much all parenting/home decorating/household decisions, and even for major financial decisions, if I want something then I pretty much always get it), and that I am making sure that my beloved people (husband and little R) are being taken care of properly.

Things I don't like: the fact that it never ends (I am always on duty in one way or another: if little R is sleeping, my husband probably needs something, or there is some chore to do); that I get very little respect/positive reinforcement (my husband tries to be appreciative, but little R certainly isn't! and of course everyone in the broader world thinks I am boring and useless now); and that due to the nature of what I do, I must generally be patient, cheerful, industrious, prudent and well-organized. In other words, I have to act like a mature adult at all times (when I don't, bad things happen as everyone is depending on me to provide the emotional center of the house). This is unlike a typical paid job, where you can be grumpy, temporarily slack off (internet breaks!), and call in sick (even if you aren't really). What makes being a housewife hard is really this aspect, that you are now sort of managing everyone's moods and schedules. It's like a combination of therapist, maid, manager and nurse.

I will probably continue to be a housewife for the next year or so, until little R is old enough to attend preschool. Unlike many (most?) housewives in the US, I don't actually believe that mothers need to be with their small children. I do think that preschool/daycare is not ideal for small babies (under 18 months or so), but any consistent one-on-one or small group care is probably just fine, assuming that it is provided by a relatively normal (non-abusive, non-psychologically disturbed) individual. And even daycare is probably fine for most children.

However, since we can afford it, I would prefer to give little R the stability and consistency of my own full-time care. That way, I know exactly what sort of care she is getting; she doesn't have to adjust to changes in caregivers (which is always going to be a problem if you hire people); I can breastfeed her (with all the benefits that entails) more easily; I can control her schedule, eating habits, play time, and exposure to the world (enrichment activities, TV, values) more fully; and I have less stress, since I don't have to worry about her care, scheduling conflicts, or being too busy.

More selfishly, it's nicer for me to be a housewife. I think the worst part of being a working mother would be that you simply don't have enough time for everything. Something has to be dropped, and for most women, that something is personal time and sleep, since they can't shortchange their job, don't want to shortchange their families, and while you can avoid many household chores, most people have a limit as to how much squalor/chaos they can stand. Instead, I have a fair amount of personal time (since little R sleeps 15 hours/day) during which I can recharge my batteries and center myself, and I can take naps whenever little R is sleeping if I feel like it. It also means I have a lot more time for my husband, which is very good for my marriage (perhaps not surprisingly, full time housewives apparently have the happiest marriages of all groups of women). And then I get to spend hours every day with my darling little R, watching her grow and develop. I know I will be there to see all her milestones, and that I make her happy and comfortable every day.

Infancy is so fleeting and precious: little R has already changed dramatically, and the newborn little R will never return, but is gone forever. Little R might be my only child (I'd like another, but one can never predict the future), and this my one chance to experience all these little moments: her smiles, her small triumphs, her growing skills. Even if I have another child, it's the only time little R will be six months old. Before I know it, she will be an adult, with her own life and concerns, and even if we are close, I will only see her occasionally (like once a week at best). This is really a special time in my life, and I am so glad that I don't have to miss any of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment