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!


Anonymous said...

I take umbrage alongside with you Baino about having it easy! In my office right now which is in my home and don’t get paid for either! Won’t go into the course completed a few years back which took 7 YEARS to do … not that I have time to make use of the qualification …

Kate said...

Never fear, Baino... I always knew you were awesome. ;)

I don't think it's as gender-based as the commenter suggested. I think in a lot of ways, my decision(s) to step out of the workforce and be a stay-home mom, back when we could afford to let me do so (and hopefully again, someday) were both the hardest AND the most feminist decisions I ever made - because in my world, true feminism isn't about a job or credentials, but about making choices unencumbered by societal expectations. As unencumbered as possible, anyway.

It's especially odd to me, the comment, because she is a stay-home mom. I hope I'm misreading it, and I hope she values her own contributions more than it seems.

And did you see my husband's follow-up silliness? Boys.

Baino said...

Anon: see, no peace for the wicked. Truly underrated our contributions are . . it's almost time to revive some militant feminism. We've become soft and put up with too much.

Kate: couldn't agree more and thanks for the complement. I'm just a woman! We all do it. And you're absolutely right, all are rewarding in their own way. I hate when you ask someone what they do for a living and they say 'Oh, I'm just a housewife', or '. . .stay at home mum' as if it has no real value simply because it's unpaid. And you're quite right, feminism is about choices and always has been,not conforming to some male stereotype.

Yep, saw the lad's contribution, nice sense of humour!

Anonymous said...

Went to write a story but then I thought...nup you've summed it up. I'm not a great housekeeper and not a particularly good cook either, but my children are happy and smart and they and my husband love me...hell I even get to play a little tennis every second Monday! Now if only I could ditch those 3 days a week of work! I might really get into some mischief! Mmmmm but how would I pay for those damn Labradors of mine????

Anonymous said...

I made a decision to stay home when I married and had Elly. Cooking, baking, cleaning, sewing, nursing dealing with the finances and I could go on and on….were all part of my routine. For homework one day Elly had to write about the work her mum and dad did. Nosey teachers! She knew what her dad did and wrote it down but had difficulty when it came to mum’s job. “What can I say?” she asked “You do nothing.” We went through the list above and she was not happy putting down a long list like that. I solved it! “Ok you put this down” I said. My mum is a Chief Executive and Financial Controller of a small non-profit making organisation, unpaid!

Unknown said...

Respect to you, Baino. I take off my hat to any woman who holds down a full time job and raises a family. Frankly, I'm never sure how it's done and I'm not convinced that those women who choose to be superwomen (note, I say choose, not have to by necessity) always make the right choices. A friend who doesn't need to work but chooses to do so, does so, I feel at the expense of her children. When asked by her daughter why, when other moms didn't, she had to work, she replied, "Well you want nice stuff don't you and to go to the mall on Saturdays? Right? Well, that's why I have to work." My worry is the kind of whacky values that creates.

By the way, there're some "thingies" for you over at my place :-)

Anonymous said...


I think what you describe is more an urban/suburban thing. Growing up in a farming community, I never remember the men having much leisure time, and, certainly in the case of my grandfather, my grandmother controlled the house and the administration. There was division of labour, but while the attitudes of the time would have seen the man as having the upper hand, there weren't the sexist attitudes that seemed to characterise middle class suburbia

Baino said...

Babysis: you are a good cook and housekeeper when the mood strikes but you've got the balance right. At least you don't get stressed because there's a cushion out of place or doggy snot on the sliding door!

Granymar: Good summation. But because the work is unpaid, it isn't generally valued and that's simply not fair.

AV: I take your point but at least that woman has the 'choice' to do what she wants. As Kate says, that's real feminism, being in a position to take advantage of equal opportunity as it arises. Maybe she feels some self worth in the workforce that she doesn't get as a stay at home, I know I do.

Ian: Brave boy (and the only man going where angels fear to tread!). I think you're right about the rural life. The Division of labour, in my experiences on a dairy farm, is distinct but valued. Women in the bush out here are indeed of a different ilk. Farming by nature is a different kind of occupation requiring incredible teamwork between women and men as a matter of survival. Although I'd like to see him bake a batch of scones for the Country Women's Association morning teas!

I think women whose husbands are in small business are similar. Many taking on the book work BAS statements etc. so the 'salary' is seen as shared, not earned by one in a 'stay at home' situation. But I'm not speaking wholly about money, more 'attitutde' and I stand by the embarrassment some women have admitting that they're just a housewife and the 'exhaustion' some women suffer trying to be all things to all people.

Anonymous said...

Oh Baino! xxxxxx

Thank you for these words. They're exactly what I need to hear as I sit here considering my options. And it's all the sweeter coming from you when I know you've had no choice but to work full-time all these years to keep the show on the road. Bless YOUR cotton socks!

As if you haven't guessed by now, I'm an unpaid slave in the home but this hasn't always been entirely by choice!!! Not everyone can claim to have an annual holiday in hospital, and often several!

Anyway, I applied for a job a couple of years ago (not one I really wanted) simply to sound the ground and polish up on my interview skills. I was in hospital at the time *surprise, surprise* following a repair op when a phone call came through telling me I'd been short-listed. I had to be driven to the interview and hobbled in to the board room pretending all was well only to be faced with three very young, career oriented women. When asked what job I'd done that I was most proud of, I replied "being able to say I'm really glad I stayed at home to raise my own kids". I thought I'd probably blown it but the three women (obviously working mums) were like putty in my hands afterwards such was their level of respect. I didn't get the job but I walked away from that interview with my head held very high!

And if I were you, Baino, I'd consider myself totally awesome!

Baino said...

Steph: Thanks -Awesome's a big accoldade and really not warranted. I do a lot less than many believe me and I feel enormous guilt about my lack of community involvement, something I'll put right over coming years as the kids leave and retirement looms. I assure, you, I'm very lazy. Good luck with the latest job venture and I have to say, even though I wasn't a full time mum, I'm pretty proud of the job I've done in raising my kids. Extended family helped as well but they've turned out just fine and are by far my greatest achievement!

Anonymous said...

I don't have kids, Baino, but I can well remember my mum's heavy schedule when she was bringing up my sister and me. She looked after us, our dad and the house, did part-time work to bring in some extra cash and later on trained to be a full-time teacher. Even more remarkable, I don't recall her ever complaining about her lot while my dad complained endlessly that he was expected to earn all the money and do all the DIY. And there are still plenty of women working just as hard.

Anonymous said...

Baino, you have won a "You Make My Day" Award!

Baino said...

Nick welcome!(Even if you are a vegegtarian) Yep, I think the housewife's lot is generally unappreciated. I'm training up my future DIL to make sure she starts as she means to go on and make my rather macho son do his share of the chores!

Anony: Why thank you flower! Although clearly you and I spend too much time in front of a PC!

Brian Damage said...

Stick to the trivial ;)

Baino said...

Brian Damage: I write what I think about at the time, sometimes it's meaningful sometimes it's not. I'll leave the trivia to you - to date, you're quite good at it. If you don't like what you see? Then click away.