providers and homemakers

          disclaimer: I'm talking about life choices that work for me, and my family. I recognize the validity of many life choices for many different families, including those incorporating "traditional" gender roles or work/life arrangements.

             I made dinner tonight. Nothing to clap your hands about, but it was edible and mostly healthy, and when we sat down to eat, I exclaimed, "Look! We are eating dinner like a real family!" I know, I know, I'm lame. This dinner was approximately the 28th meal I've made in 6 years of marriage. It is probably the 19th meal that was actually tasty.Not that I'm counting. (Of course I'm counting, I'm obsessive compulsive about numbers.)

           In my defense, I'm married to a man who enjoys cooking, and it made sense for him to be the meal-provider in the first few years of our marriage. He had flexible work hours, he liked it, it worked for us. But in the last few months, his work has become increasingly demanding, and with me working part-time, it made sense for me to bite the bullet and learn that my husband wasn't playing a trick on me when he sent me to the store for white pepper. White pepper is a thing. Shallots look like onions. Things bake differently at different altitudes. Flour and powdered sugar look the same, but are not the same, so maybe taste test first if you are an idiot.

            Tonight was my best dinner yet, and I felt stupidly proud about it. I felt really happy to provide food for my family. I wondered if this is what women felt when they talked rapturously about the joys of "homemaking." You make something nice for the people you love and it makes you feel proud and happy.

           I'm not going to lie, it also felt really good to be successful at something traditionally "feminine." I made dinner! I'm practically June Cleaver! In many ways, I am not great at the "girl" thing. I don't wear make-up frequently. I hate my hips and boobs because it means I can't wear the androgynous clothing that looks so effing amazing on "boyish" figures. My hair sucks a lot of the time. Beauty magazines confuse me. I know those are stereotypes, and not truly "girl" or "female" things, but I live in a culture that values those things, and I can't help feel defective sometimes when I don't measure up. But I cooked dinner, so I'm not a complete girl failure, right?

            I realize though, that the feelings of pride, the feeling of happiness that stems from providing something for my family is something I've felt frequently the last few years. I feel the same thing when my husband breaks his hand during ward ball, and the surgery to wrap his bones in titanium wire is covered by my health insurance. I might not make much as a teacher, but my insurance is good, and has been invaluable to our family, since Spouseman is self-employed. When Clara needs antibiotics, or I need a C-section, I don't have to worry about where the money will come from.

            Similarly, when Spouseman has a slow month at work, I take pride in the stability my income provides us. Every year when I sign my intent-to-return form at school, I am guaranteeing my family one more year of stable income. (Unless I sleep with a teen or something. Cross your fingers THAT doesn't happen.) You can say it is superficial or silly of me to need the validation of a paycheck for my hard work (Shouldn't the kisses and hugs from your child be enough you say?) but I love knowing that I help contribute financially to my household. It makes me feel like a good parent, the same way feeding my daughter home-made enchiladas with broccoli tonight made me feel happy and proud.

            This is why I get so annoyed when people suggest that men and women are inherently better at certain life-functions. I'm not saying men and women are the same, so put your biology book down and spare me the "men are physically stronger" and designed to work outside the home lecture. My annoyance lies with the idea that men are men, so they do xyz, and women are women, so they do abc. Throw a line about how archaic and grossly-oversimplified gender roles are somehow "divine" and I'll have a hard time controlling my eye-rolls.

             Some people would like me, at this point, to say that I may be a great provider, but it's because I'm not very nurturing. That I really am a failure at the "girl thing" that is being a mother. That isn't true. I'm a great nurturer. Like any parent, I'm flawed, but not only do I love my child, but I am good at translating that love into caring for her emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. But I'm not a great "nurturer" because I'm a mother, or a weirdo who doesn't recognize my divine role when I provide financially for my family. Working and parenting aren't gender roles: they are people roles, and anyone can be good at them, or alternately, suck royally and raise a psychopath.

             Awhile ago, my friend pinned this C.S. Lewis quote: "The homemaker is has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only...to support the ultimate career." I didn't like this quote. Mostly because I don't like C.S. Lewis, (I know, I know!) but also because it seemed like something I would read on some mommy-war internet forum, in which the working moms and stay-at-homers battle it out to the benefit of no one.

            But after thinking about it for awhile, realizing I didn't like it because I didn't think I could claim the title of "homemaker." And I want all the things. It made me mad I couldn't be a "homemaker." I mean, I signed a contract to go back to work full-time next year, didn't I? But then I realized that if "traditional" gender roles are antiquated, this word, this "homemaker" thing is probably due for a revamp too.

           I'm a homemaker. I'm a homemaker in the most literal sense, because my income pays for stuff in our home, sometimes including our home.  I'm a homemaker in an emotional sense: my income allows my husband to recognize his dream of starting and growing a business from scratch. We are both happy and fulfilled in our careers (but also sometimes very tired,) and what could be more important in the creation of a home than filling it with happy people? Our daughter is happy and healthy and thriving, and we couldn't imagine our family without her. She is a homemaker too. *

            Even when I'm at work, I'm  homemaker. My work, like everyone's work, influences the world around me, I'm part of my student's homes, and my husband helps build companies that sell the goods and products in your homes. Homemaker. Something no one told me about work-life balance is that work and life are not two separate things to manage. They are two things that have to work together to be successful.

          So yes, C.S. Lewis, even though I think you were occasionally a dickalope, (Did you have to ruin Mere Christianity with that bit about how women shouldn't be allowed to work because they would just gossip and back-stab each other too much?) you might be on to something. My ability to make a home, through my work, through my parenting, through my relationship with my Spouse: it's the ultimate career. But I couldn't do it without Dan, both of us, providing and nurturing and mother-effing homemaking together. 

*This is not to say we don't sometimes screw up, or that I don't come home so tired from teaching that the idea of taking care of Clara until bed-time makes me want to throw-up, or that everything is perfect. Perfect doesn't exist, good-enough and mostly happy does.





SLC Domestic Goddess said...

Love the post. As I love all your posts.
Remember that Lewis is a man defined by his time. I personally believe he would be someone you'd like if he had been born 50 years later.

Katherine Of It All said...

Oh man, this one's a doozy for me. As a stay at home mother of four, I love being with my kids and doing traditional "mom" stuff all day. But I also miss working outside the home so, so much. It's just so different. I like different. I need different. And I want to contribute financially, even though my husband more than adequately provides for us. I don't know what it means about me as a woman or mother or spouse, but every day I wish I had an outside job and I envy women who have one. I also know women (and men) who envy my position of getting to stay home all day. Thanks for writing so eloquently about this. It's nice to know I'm not alone, even if our lives look pretty different on the outside.

Holly said...

this is a terrific post! Still, I'm going to refrain from praising or seconding any of your brilliant insights and instead say 1) it's a travesty that we don't provide free universal healthcare in this country and 2) it's a travesty that teachers are paid so poorly in this country and 3) I hate CS Lewis too.

amanda said...

I especially like your posts about gender roles, working outside the home, etc. because you always have good insight and I feel validated when reading them... Which is apparently something I need. :S

I work outside the home and I remember reading and pinning that quote about homemaking being the ultimate career. I liked it because I realize that to me it really IS the ultimate career, and it's one that my husband and I get to share. We both work, we both nurture our kid, we both cook and clean. Like you said, it's not always perfect, but it works for our family. For now. If there is an ultimate career out there, I really want to share it with my spouse.

It feels good to have "all the things." The hardest part for me and my eager-to-please, guilty conscience is the friends and relatives that think I'm doing the wrong thing by not being a SAHM.

As we have another kid this year and my husband graduated and is wanting to devote more time to his job, what works for our family may change. I just have to keep reminding myself to make decisions based on what works for us and makes us happy and secure, and not what makes other people feel like I am doing the right thing.

Fitting in isn't as important to me as it once was, but I do still struggle with bucking the trend when so many people seem to have such strong and vocal feelings about it.

Piper said...

SO MUCH I WANT TO SAY! I come from a family where I was well taught the virtues of the SAHM, and promised myself that I would love my children enough to sacrifice my life (or shall we say life outside the home?) for them. Fast forward a few years, and I married a (Mormon!) man who loved me because of my other passions. When I apologize for not being able to do it all, because I can't, and when I feel like a failure because last night was only the second time in our three years of marriage I ironed one of his shirts, he just laughs, and reminds me that we're a team! Then he apologizes for not helping out more, and I'm like, Woah, a man does laundry every week, and he's not a bachelor? AMAZING!

The hardest part of being married to my husband is adjusting my perspective that I have to do all the "girl" things. He doesn't expect that of me, why should I? Plus, sometimes he just wants to be The nurterer, which is so damn sexy!

For myself I'he decided that when the proclamation says, "primary" it does not mean "exclusive", and that's what works for me, and I'm only just beginning to figure out my role in this family. I think it will change with the dynamics of our lives. I'm grateful that there are others who can relish both their "feminine" moments and still be trying to figure it all out.

Miranda said...

I tell my husband (who agrees with me) that while there might be some divine roles, some boys are going to hit the divine afterlife a lot sooner if they don't learn to take care of themselves.

wendipooh13 said...

oh my gosh I LOVE this post and couldn't agree more.. We do things that work for us in our house, even though they may not be the traditional or perfect rolls. He helps getting the kids up and ready for school in the morning, I make sure the cars have oil changes and tires on them. It works for us and there's nothing wrong with it.

Amy said...

My husband is the chef in our family, too. Not that I can't cook. He is just better at it. And faster. And he likes it. I'm gearing up to be a SAHM (which I know not everyone is in the position to do) with the birth of Baby #1 due next month and I'm getting that same feeling of gosh, even though hubby can do certain things, I feel like I need to do a better job of pulling my weight around here. I've been deep cleaning/nesting/organizing like crazy and I have also been getting that "homemaker high" of DANG! I am good at getting stuff done around these parts, too! And not that hubby didn't love me when he cooked, but he's been excited to come home and see all that I've accomplished. I don't think it is what we do so much that matters as long as the division of responsibilities is arranged so that everything that needs to be done is getting done by someone.

Angel Larsen said...

I love this.

Lani Wendt Young said...

Thank you. This one hit home for me. Ive been married for 20 yrs and we have 5 children. Ive been many things - worked as a high school teacher full-time (and had a full-time housekeeper/nanny to help with the kids), stayed home full-time with my children and even homeschooled them, and now I work as an author "part-time" and help my husband who is the full-time parent at home with the children. I have felt inadequate and guilty and rotten many times no matter which role Ive filled. And Ive had my share of "judgements" and criticism. I like your conclusion about parenting/income earning/homemaking etc being people roles and not gender roles.I too am grateful to be in a partnership with my husband as we muddle along, get very tired, and try our best in our own individual and united ways - to raise our family with love. No matter who's turn it is to earn an income or manage a household. Great blog

Linnea said...

I love this. Redefining "homemaker" like this is perfect, and how I feel too.

My husband is going to grad school right now, and I just landed a job I start next week that will be a huge game changer for us financially - great salary plus a discount on his tuition. I am so proud of myself and what I am able to contribute. A lot of people tell me I need to be having "more faith" and just start making babies, but I know this isn't the right time for us. Plus, in redefining "homemaker" I think it's worth mentioning that you don't have to have children to be a homemaker, either.

I was the kid in the corner reading Phillip Pullman instead of CS Lewis, and I turned out fine.

Stephanie said...


Phillip Pullman for the win!

P & J said...

Yes! I got that a lot too when my husband was struggling to enter his profession after graduation and I was supporting us financially. I got a lot of advice (mostly unsolisticed from strangers) to quit working and start having babies instead. I could not imagine a worse time for us to begin our family- while my husband was unemployed and we had only been married a couple years! I considered that time in our marriage and my time now as a mother as being equally contributitive! Strange advice!

Shelby said...

I am so glad there are women who are willing to work so hard for their families. Especially when it is necessary, it gives me hope that women like you are capable of taking the role as provider, and aren’t afraid or embarrassed to do it. Women weren’t meant to be completely submissive to the man. In fact, sometimes I like to feel more powerful than my male companions. It’s exhilarating, and it makes me feel useful.
I too am quite the independent soul. Throughout my high school years I rarely asked for or wanted help from anybody. I gain satisfaction from doing things completely on my own. I grew up dancing competitively, and a lot of the time I was competing alone. I wanted to win. Always. Granted, it is hard and I sometimes come off as a bitchy girl, but I like feeling worthy of my very own praise. I don’t want to be that ditsy valley girl with primped hair and blush pink lips talking like I have never read a book in my life. Or even that homey girl whose hobbies consist of sewing, baking, cooking, and babysitting on the side. I want to be strong. I want to compete against boys. I frequently show off my muscles, bruises, scrapes, etc, happily.
Like you, I want to provide for my family. I want to have a role as a strong matriarch in my home. I want to work side by side with my husband teaching and nurturing my future children. I’m planning on having a job at least until I have children, and maybe even as we are raising our children. I want to be a homemaker: your kind of homemaker and a cliché “Mo-Mo” mommy’s kind of homemaker. It makes sense to count things like providing insurance, finances, furniture, medical payments and other things that help your family while thinking about what makes a “homemaker”. But why devalue the ‘cliché’ stuff too? A woman who cooks and cleans for her family shouldn’t be less of a woman or “homemaker” than one who works outside of the home and decides to swim against the crowd. In fact, for me, it would take even more sacrifice to decide to do so in order to maintain a healthy environment in the home.
I have thought a lot about what I am going to give up when I have kids. Sure, I would love to go off and dance professionally forever and ever. Sure, I would kill to manage my own dance studio, or travel the world teaching and choreographing. Sure, I would love to feel pushed every day to grow and learn more so I can be a better dancer and teacher. Sure, I will probably feel useless and boring some days when I am taking care of my kids instead of pursuing my lifelong dream of making a difference in the world of dance. I know that one-day when I have to give up performing on a stage and feeling that exhilaration, I am going to miss it terribly. Dancing will always be a part of me, and the things that it taught me, and the happiness that it brought me will continue to serve a great purpose in my life. But as I grow up, as I learn, as I find other things that strike that passionate bone in my body, I realize it will be okay to one day give it all up for a greater purpose.
I’m not saying that the battle is too hard, and I that I am giving it up so I don’t have to fight anymore. I’m saying that there is cliché Mormon housewife crap that will make me incredibly happy, even happier than I could ever be as a professional dancer. Every day I notice what my life could be like as a married woman, with children whom I love more than life, with a calling in church where I can help others, or with being an important part of my community. As I see glimpses of what could be, it gives me such excitement and hope. Because I gain fulfillment from being a strong leader and matriarch, like I know you do, I can’t wait for opportunities to do that as a future homemaker, in every sense of the word. I know that the more I sacrifice for my family my own happiness and satisfaction will only increase.

Stephanie said...

@Shelby, of course you should make whatever decision makes you the happiest and most fulfilled. Only you know what is best for you and your family.

I do wonder though, if you would expect the same thing of your husband. I assume he will have a career, be a great dad, AND have a church calling, without giving up professional ambitions. Why can't the same be true for you? Can you be fulfilled as a dancer and a mother and wife just like your husband will be fulfilled as a whatever profession husband and father?

Obviously it takes a lot of compromise to have both parents pursue meaningful careers. And if you want to stay home and give up certain aspects of your professional life, if that's what you truly want, then you should be supported.

But you can have all those things you mentioned and make a difference in the world and have a successful family while working. Maybe not in the same way you would work as a single person, or a childless person, but this is not an all or nothing game.

Shelby said...

That is so totally right, and for some reason convinced me. Maybe your approach to me personally was different than your post... There's no reason we couldn't be successful "working-outside-the-home" homemakers. I completely agree with you.

Kelli Anderson said...

i'm freaking in love with this post. every word of it. i whole-heartedly agree.