Becoming a Homemaker: What You Should Know
This is what most have come to believe in the last few decades: that a homemaker is a person that has either given up on the work world, has failed in other endeavors, or is unemployed. We are patronizingly sympathetic, and say things like,"Isn't that sweet, stays at home, but I'd lose my mind doing that." But herein lies a secret: some women actually choose to stay at home and care for the house and other family members. Why? For one, some of us are discovering that if one person stays home instead of working the family saves money in terms income versus expenditure, or because quite simply, it allows for the family to spend more time together. However, choosing to be a homemaker is not an easy choice for a myriad of reasons. If you choose this path, you should be prepared to encounter certain challenges. This is a list of some of the realities and issues at stake in being a homemaker.
1) Going out on a limb: You have to depend on someone else financially
A homemaker has to give up some of the independence garnered from having one's own paycheck, in having to rely on spousal income. A couple that decides to live on one income has to have a great deal of trust between each other in order for the non-working spouse or partner to feel comfortable and safe in giving up work and in order for the working partner/spouse to not feel taken advantage of.
You may have to from time to time demonstrate to your partner that while you don't earn money, your time is equal to whatever salary earned by a "estate" manager at the very least. You can always list out the chores your partner doesn't have to do because you do them if you have to prove a point. In my marriage I do the laundry, clean, do most of the cooking but not all of it and make some repairs to the house - this work I do gives us spare time on the weekends to be together because most of our mutual errands and chores are already taken care of.
2) What's in a label? You will have to redefine who you are. Sort of.
You quit your job and also, it seems, your identity or in essence, the definition that underscored your name in every situation especially if your work was highly skilled. A homemaker in giving up a job or career will no longer be able to emotionally depend on "work" out in the world for leveraging their identity or self-esteem. That definition of oneself, "I am a nurse," "I am a tech consultant," "I am a researcher," will no longer be in place to grasp onto when you meet new people and have to explain to them what you what you do. But it only takes time to try to integrate your role as a homemaker into who you already are.
You may feel that in some ways you are betraying all the feminists, your mother or grandmother or aunt, who wanted so much for their daughters to be able to have the same job opportunities as men do and to garner respect in the work world. But the Women's Movement could not have taken into account the vast social and economic changes that have occurred in the past 25 years that has meant a shrinking middle class and financial hardship that has forced some American families to re-think the common, two income family structure.
3) Do-It-Yourself identity: You will have to sculpt a sense of self through interests, activities and hobbies.
If a person is lucky, their job will be profoundly connected to what they enjoy doing: a person who loves buildings becomes an architect, a girl who sews her own clothes becomes a fashion designer. The ugly truth is only a percentage of Americans like their jobs; Forbes magazine claims that for every one person who loves their work, two people hate it. Furthermore, after working all day, going to the gym, fixing dinner and getting kids to bed, few adults have time while raising a family to cultivate their own interests.
Chances are that being a homemaker is not your dream job and you are not June Cleaver. However, if you have a decent relationship with your spouse and you like your kids, you won't hate being a homemaker either. In fact, as you watch your working friends struggle with office politics, lay-offs and job insecurity, you will appreciate the fact that your work is done for people you care about and like to be around. You will also appreciate the fact that your schedule is relatively flexible and allows for down time - kids at school, baby is sleeping, etc... during which you can do what make you happy. You might even take a class or start a blog. I took courses online in subjects I always wanted to learn more about buy didn't have time to with my job.
4) Stating the obvious: You will have to explain what you do and justify its importance.
I had an Indian-American friend many years ago. She had her MA in Psychology and was training to be a therapist. In the middle of all that, she met an Indian man who met her parents' requirements - to be from India and Hindu with a good job - and in no time, she had given up her PhD program, got married and left behind any semblance of a career with few regrets. She would have made a wonderful child psychologist I am sure but when I asked her why she gave it up, she explained that she wanted to be with her family. It was that simple.
I have friends that are confused by my choice to not work and be a homemaker. "I don't know what you do all day," people say to me. At first, I would laugh uncomfortably at their reaction to my being a homemaker. Now, I have no problem articulating to them what in fact I do as homemaker and remind people that it involves many skills. To really drive the point, I can also mention that if I was paid an hourly wage for what I do and include over time ($20 an hour for sometimes 50/60 hours a week), I would make over $100K a year.
5) An Island unto Yourself: You may be lonely from time to time
If you go to an office or school or clinic everyday for work, you are surrounded by co-workers and other people. I rarely felt lonely when I was in the work world even if most of my relationships were superficial. I did not take into account the role work played for me in terms of having a social life until I was at home by myself after deciding to be a homemaker. Sitting in my kitchen in the suburbs of central New Jersey, there were days that I would count the minutes until my husband came home from work, so desperate was I for human contact. I quickly realized that I would have to change something in my immediate environment in order for my to feel less alone.
The solution for me was that we moved out of the suburbs and to a small city with a busy Main Street lined with small businesses, that has a diverse community that includes many artists musicians, writers and also tele-commuters that work from home wanting to avoid the crush of New York City. Hence, a short walk brings me into contact with interesting and friendly people that help me quell my loneliness. I also got a dog. Of course, a stay-at-home parent would be able to quickly build a social life with the parents of other kids and through their kids' schools.
6) It's Your Time: You set the schedule, for better or for worse
It sounds like a fantasy - you set your own schedule for the day and the week. This may depend of course on your family's schedule as well in work, school and other activities. But in terms of housekeeping tasks, no one else is going to tell you when to do them or how. While I have appreciated this aspect of being a homemaker, I also have been frustrated with it at times because inevitably, I find myself imperfectly following the schedule and falling behind. I also tend to underestimate the amount of time it takes to accomplish certain tasks or something comes up that prevents me from doing it. The best I can do in this case is to remember that I am not perfect and that what I have accomplished I have done well. After all, tomorrow is another day.
Being a homemaker is the best job I have ever had. My schedule is flexible and the hours are great: about 6 hours a day, 6 days a week. My business partner, or my husband, respects the role I have in the family as homemaker and intrinsically knows the value of my work. I am able to make time in my life to learn and enjoy what things I love most. I don't mind extolling the positives to staying at home to anyone rendered speechless by introducing myself as a homemaker.
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