Saturday, January 05, 2008
Domestic Bliss is an Oxymoron
Recently Kate wrote about giving up her doctorate and some of the guilt she felt as well as the relief of having less pressure on her already busy career and family life. Whilst for her, giving up this lengthy academic course brought relief. For others, plodding through it whilst also coping with everyday issues causes great stress - a male friend of hers in particular was feeling the pressure of full time work and completing his post grad to the point where his marriage was suffering because of it. A commenter on her blog mentioned that the stress was probably due to the fact that he is a man and living up to the expectation to 'provide' and that 'women have it easy' and whilst she admitted that it was a sexist approach, she felt it was an unspoken truth. I took umbridge (now there's a word you don't hear very often) in a light kind of way because I think women's work at home has never been fully recognised, valued or appreciated. Let alone the ability to juggle home, children, education and paid work, whatever it is.
For centuries, women have been the lynchpin of family life. Pre 20th Century, they were the domestic workers, educators, cooks, cleaners and bottlewashers. And don't think for a minute that the woman in 'paid' work was a rarity in the past. Quite the contrary, women worked in all kinds of situations and still provided the nurturing and domestic support for their families but it was their unpaid contribution as wives, mothers and carers that remained unvalued.
With the post war baby boom came the age of convenience. Automatic washing machines, microwaves, electric ovens and irons. Gadgets and appliances to make life easier for the 'little woman' at home. Traditionally, as was the case with my mother in 1952, women ceased paid work, in her case as a nurse, when they married. The intention being to start a family. For 18 years, she stayed at home. Worked with us on our homework projects, washed, cooked, cleaned, shopped, gardened. She darned socks (today we just buy a new pair), she sewed carpets and she made curtains. She was there with freshly baked cakes or cookies when we came home from school and whipped up breakfast when we rose bog-eyed in the morning. She was a very 'typical' lower middle class mother. At 45 she decided that she wanted to add a Midwifery qualification to her Registered Nursing quals and went back to study. It was hard. We chipped in with basic chores but I never changed my bed linen or did a load of washing until I moved out at 22 years of age! That just miraculously happened every week. My Dad worked full time in a macho executive position full of office politics which often led to after work drinks with the CEO and would come home lubricated and be waited on hand and foot. On the weekends he'd mow the lawn and spend all day Saturday playing golf. He provided a good income but that was it . . what 'pressure'?
When she went back to nursing and even whilst studying and working shifts, the pantry was always full, dinner often made in advance. Washing and ironing done and the house maintained in impeccable condition. We just had to keep it that way, put out the milk bottles, prepare the odd meal, feed the dog, run a vaccuum around when she worked weekends, wash up etc.
It was postulated some time ago that to 'replace' a non paid, stay at home housewife/mother would cost $250,000 a year and that doesn't include paying for sexual favours. That would be a further $100 an hour (an hour? Go figure!) . . you do the maths!
My point . . . I am waffling of course . . . is that from the 70s women went back into the workforce either part time or full time, en masse AND maintained the level of care, work and nurturing that they had prior to being 'gainfully' employed (What, being a wife and mother isn't 'gainful'). Interestingly, there were no day care centres or subsidies for day care . . .we were 'babysat' by school or Kindergarten and latchkey kids from 3:30 but we survived. My sister, 9 years my junior, and about 7 at the time, spent after school with neighbours until I came home.
Being a housewife wasn't enough. Women had to re-educate themselves . . go back to college or university . . they had to fight for jobs with equal pay to their male counterparts . . . something in which there is still great disparity despite equal opportunity laws. They had to have opinions as feminism was on the rise and a higher level of intellectualism was required of them. They had to deal with 'non family friendly workplaces'. One of my previous employers, a large multi national, was so anti family that I used to claim I was sick if one of my children needed me home to care for them. The guilt I carried lying about my health was awesome in a bad way and I had an awful attendance record as a result of repeated child ear infections, asthma and allergy attacks..
Kudos went to the provider who basically worked full time, mowed the lawn and put out the garbage. In my case, my father would occasionally spit and polish school shoes or iron our jeans with military precision including a nice crease down the centre (Now who wants centre creases in their jeans I ask you . . .?)
Now that my family are grown and in many ways less demanding, I can reflect on how bloody awesome I was, along with 3 million other Australian women, who worked five days a week, raised children (in my case alone but often with the help of their wonderful Grandpa on occasion), kept a clean and tidy house, had a meal on the table at 6:30 every evening, attended to their studies and general wellbeing. So, if you're a working mother, that's no mean feat. If you're re-educating and caring for a family well done. If you're working, caring and re-educating then you're probably superwoman. But if you're just at home, keeping house and caring for children - well that's OK as well. You have great value, you save the economy a small fortune, you free up places in child care centres, you have the blessing of being fully involved in the lives of your children as they grow and if you're lucky, you might be able to squeeze in the odd day of tennis! Just don't expect to have your daily drudgery appreciated by anyone until they have to pay for it!