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.