Do you work???
If that isn’t potentially the most insulting question anyone can ask a woman who works 24-7 in a household I don’t know what is.
“Do you work?”
When do you not work?
I recall when my family lived in a suburb outside Chicago, circa 1960, and every woman “worked”. Every woman worked all shifts, day and night, tending to her family and household.
There was one aberration in the neighborhood -- a curiosity, in fact. Just across from our house, another suburban home had two cars, not just one. Most needed only one.
Every morning the Mrs. exited her home dressed in high heels and office attire. She was gone all day and came home in the evening, just like her husband. Besides that they mostly kept to themselves. Children brought about interaction between neighbors, but that couple, though friendly, no one knew much about.
They were the only childless family on the block. I was especially aware because I was the chief babysitter for everyone else. In those days, you didn’t need CPR certifications and business licenses to babysit or run lemonade stands. It was pretty cool. A kid could learn many things by providing a neighborhood service and have a full piggy bank, too.
Of course we knew the lady in the high heels worked. We never questioned if the other women worked.
So what happened?
When did “work” become equated only to a standard paycheck? And when did it become demeaning not to have one? [This is despite the fact that studies showed a woman in the 1980’s doing all the usual tasks of running a household was worth $50,000 in equivalent outside services.]
For years before I had my own family, I was a manager in many businesses, launched newsletters, worked in many consulting fields and finally co-founded my own company all while running several other projects on the side.
Of course I worked. But not in the same manner of sacrifice as a full-time homemaker. I actually had moments to myself, time off, and predictable rewards. If I wanted to load myself up, all I had to do was ask to take someone else’s kids off their hands for an afternoon or longer and take them someplace. That usually eviscerated the rest of my stamina. It creates a drain that is hard to describe.
It is true that working for a regular job is instantly more gratifying. There are paychecks, bonuses, vacations to look forward to, and even appreciation from co-workers and superiors (maybe). You don’t get thrown up on. Not usually (not true in the health care field). Women who have worked office or other jobs and then transition to being stay-at-home wives and mothers often miss those benefits, unless they have a particularly appreciative family.
There is very little, if any, satisfaction of “completion” with any work done in the home. It’s always repeat, repeat, repeat, and human beings, especially little ones, being what they are, crisis follows crisis, problem follows problem, until notoriously enough, there’s hardly time to go to the bathroom.
So I think it’s time to level the playing field. There is no such thing as a super-woman if only because no one has more than twenty-fours in a day, and part of that has to be sleep. I know because if anyone could have done it all, I would have. I knew better. I’d already done everything, just not all at once. When I had children later in life, I focused on what I knew was going to be my biggest job ever. And it was. And still is. It cost me, but I gained something else.
I have a marvelous sense of completion. Hurray! I DIDN’T MISS ANYTHING! Any of my other jobs could have been done by someone else, but nobody -- NO ONE -- could be the one and only true “mom” to my children. I didn’t miss any of my children’s silly moments, didn’t miss their first steps or their first words. I searched out their talents and nurtured those, then home schooled through their elementary years. I missed no opportunity to teach and correct while we played. Kids who end up raising each other without an on-duty parent have no such advantage. There were tough moments, many of them. But when it came time for graduation, and for leaving home, I was ready. Totally ready. I had finished, done my job. No regrets. No empty nest syndrome either. Just an immense feeling of achievement and an eagerness to resume my prior interests having grown myself from the sacrifices I’d made.
So, did I work? What a silly question.
Please don’t ask women who stay home if they “work”. Those who manage or try to do both, kudos if it works for a while, but no one can be two places at once. Eventually the burnout comes, when time has passed, and there is no way to recapture the lost moments.