Posted Monday, March 3rd, 2003
Confessions of a Househusband
7:45 - 8:15 Wake up to alarm. Hit Snooze button. Repeat until one of us says "You gonna getup or what?"
8:15 Get up and make coffee. I love the smell of the beans and controlling the fineness of the grind with my beat-up little grinder. Read something while it's brewing. Grab two mugs, fill, mix with sugar and milk. Bring one to wife and start drinking the other. Throw on some clothes.
8:45 Shepherd the showered, dressed and mostly-together wife out of the apartment and down to the garage and our car. Drive out of our high-rise building and navigate morning rush hour traffic downtown to her office. We both enjoy this ritual, for the brief together time we reclaim early from the busy day. Most mornings we don't argue.
9:30 Back to the apartment. Some more coffee. Sit down in front of the computer. Check out online banking. Pay some bills or otherwise fidget around with money. Check out email, all 3 accounts. Never, ever look at porn.
11:00 Realize I haven't eaten and have drunk a quart of coffee. Make something to eat in my kitchen with the breathtaking view, where it's easy to just stand there and get lost in the landscape. Crack a book, on one of several topics I'm obsessed with. The chair is harder here in the kitchen, and when my butt begins to get numb or my back is stiffening up, I have to stand up and start to…
12:00 Clean! I am a cleaning artist, with the power of Hercules in the Aegean stables and the attention to detail of a white-gloved British butler. It takes a while. There is laundry, bed-making, vacuuming, picking up (I have to say, my wife is pretty messy, but in a loveable absent-minded sort of way), dishwasher loading, grocery list making.
2:30 Out into the world. To shop, perchance to buy. Perhaps over to the church where I have a part-time job as a youth group leader, to pal around with the godly. Actually, it's a pretty chill Episcopalian church, with more emphasis on community than liturgy. Which is good, since I'm not even a baptized Christian. These folks don't really mind that I'm a heathen.
5:00 To the grocery store to select the finest morsels to make for dinner. I'm into cooking, so I go to the store almost every day. There's always something one needs to make the awesome recipes in Gourmet magazine. Saffron, cardamom, wild rice, arugula, fancy, stinky cheeses. Probably a bottle of wine or a sixer. I live in a very yuppie area that caters to decadent consumption, and I sadly see a lot of the problems with this side of our culture. But man, it's nice for now. Sold my soul to Whole Foods.
6:00 To the gym downstairs for an hour, in order to sculpt my body into the finest instrument of pleasure to delight my girl wife. I admit I also get a nice buzz from the endorphins.
7:00 Shower and make dinner and greet the girl with kisses. Listen to the frustrations of the day, the miniature river of complaints that issue forth for a few moments every evening from this charming but grumpy person. Pour us each a glass of wine.
8:00 Dinner and TV, two great tastes that go great together. The rest of the evening is ours.
Certainly, the above lifestyle is not how a "real" housewife/husband would function. Having anything more than two semi-adults and a cat to care for would require me to curtail many of my extraneous activities. Actual care of real children is a very time-consuming job. But "homemaker" can mean many things, and I suspect that there are those of you out there who for a few moments would be tempted to have someone else finance your Pradas and allow you to goof off. And most likely you could find someone to do that for you, if there was a tacit
understanding that you were "in charge of the domestic". I have legitimately been in charge of the domestic in that sense. However, here's the dirt that I have uncovered from my homemaking experiences.
I have come to the conclusion that the caretaker role in families is primarily a boring and thankless job. No one notices how well you clean that toilet or fold the clothes. No one really notices the subtle perfection that you are approaching with the plant and furniture arrangements. Everyone enjoys the meal, but no one truly understands the process or the importance of the details that go into it. Surely, much of this work is worthwhile in its own right, particularly when one is raising children. But mostly homemaking goes unrrecognized. And yet one still might argue that, in the long term, a homemaker is the one that contributes the most toward the psychological and emotional health of all the family members. They instigate a family's soul-work, and thereby growth. That lack of recognition of what appears to be mundane, but is not, is the disconnect. And therein lies depression, ego problems, and if you can find the right doctor, Mother's Little Helper. And it's not just men who are guilty of this omission; being a breadwinner is what signifies worth in this society, sad fact that it is.
Clearly, I have not escaped completely unscathed from my adventures into the domestic. What I want to point out, though, is the interesting paradox of the situation and what it means for women (and men) of my generation. I have noticed a trend, even in my most enlightened and empowered female friends, towards the occasional pining for an experience of a "traditional" mom role. Even those with degrees and abilities to match or surpass their boyfriends and husbands seem to speak fairly often of wanting to "just have a kid" and stay home raising it and washing undies. To be able, they think, to spend the time with themselves in peace, nurturing and coddling and embodying their own bit of Earth Mother.
Not to toot my own horn, but I am better at most of these things than a lot of women. The irony is that it just doesn't matter. While someone does need to do the washing up and baby feeding it doesn't matter who does it anymore (nursing being the sole exception). Modern conveniences and appliances have reduced the time required for a household's maintenance duties to a minimum. There's just not enough housework to make it any adult's full-time devotion anymore.
I'm a damn good homemaker and an unusually nurturing man (I work with kids by choice). Despite these reasons why logically and on paper I should be cut out for house-husbandry, I have found out that it just ain't gonna work out like that. Even I need a career. Or at least relatively fun and gainful employment.
Sadly, I have learned that what makes life valuable, what connects the dots of our moments of existence, is actual, honest-to-god employment. Don't get me wrong, I am an undefeated champion in laziness, time-wasting and lollygagging. I certainly know how to enjoy free time like the best of them (never with pornography, unlike the editor of this fine website). But I'm in school now, and back in the game.
I am here to tell you ladies (and any men who may be listening in) that I doubt if you're all that different from me. In today's androgynous-leaning world, duties, roles and possibilities are all becoming much more balanced. Granted, there is still a long way to go. But, at least for the women I hang out with, at this point I think it's safe to say ain't no man gonna hold YOU back! Really. It may be more work for you than for a man, but the possibilities are all opening up. And for your daughters, it will be even better (unless they elect Bush emperor for life). So the question is how you take advantage of that situation, those newfound possibilities. As I have experienced, you may find the temptation of eschewing the responsibilities inherent in choice extremely alluring. And you may convince yourself that it is logical and good to return to a simpler and more emotionally gratifying way of life, as the role of mother appears to have been in antiquity. But as I have found out, you can't ever go back.
And now my personal plea: we need you. Your brothers and sisters need you to stay and WORK with us. Without you it's just the same blah old world, meaningless and male-dominated. Work is the instrument for change, and the only personal legacy we really leave. Yes, our children are our continuity and immortality in a sense, but they are ultimately their own people. They are their own legacy and not ours.
Remember, you can still do all those things that are attractive about being a stay-at-home mom (or dad). Spend copious amounts of time with your children. Take time for yourself. Read a book. Take a class. Decorate and cook seriously. You can still do all of those things. In fact, you should demand these things! But find the right job, and do it. This is the challenge.
Note: Any unsavory and/or ego-tripping commentary in this essay are the opinions of the author and in no way represent this website, the women I hang out with, and probably not my wife.
Comments [post a comment]
Posted by Megan Gillespie [ firstname.lastname@example.org
] on Wednesday, March 5th, 2003 at 7:14 PM
Firstly, thanks, Man, and welcome to Salome! This is a well-written introduction to an energy I hope continues/develops into exchange. I will say though -- you may have been better served to have stuck solely with your experience as a man in your situation rather than your comment (shallowly perceived) on where we stand. Your argument (finally) that the childless housewife/husband is completely obsolete is correct, I think -- of course we need more. But there is more that you're missing here. It's good you at least admit that "real" households entail a tad more time, but your attitude -- your treatment of both parenting and work as choices, little things we just do to enrich our lives -- reveals a naive perception of what those "real" households actually are. Most real adult households involve plenty of burdensome responsibility and even pain that the rare one you describe doesn't even glimpse. Saffron is never on the grocery list, ok -- there is no grocery list, we're lucky when there's toilet paper -- we're lucky when we remember to ask for juice instead of soda in the kids meal for the rush-hour drive home. I'll point to your last paragraph. For future reference, when one is NOT a stay-at-home mom or dad one CANNOT "spend copious amounts of time with" one's children or "cook and decorate seriously." That's even true of working married parents -- I won't even touch working single parents here, much less working single-parent artists. And that's the problem. What your essay points to that's really interesting is that "pining" for simpler times when our roles were basic. I'd like to know how much stigma plays a part in this -- sure we're "equal" on paper these days, but then there's that other ball of wax. And it goes everywhere -- stigma associated with deciding to be a stay-at-home parent, stigma of career over famiy (and the guilt -- it's just not natural to leave our children everyday, and somehow we know that), and then there's the Super-mom complex. Nothing is cut and dry anymore, and we're still changing -- of course it doesn't feel quite right. It's probably normal though. Social change tends to be a process that sees extremes, then revises -- and that's when the quest for balance, the REAL meat of this issue, (and I'd add we could apply it to our marriages as well as gender roles) really begins. It's good to know you're doing your part.
Posted by Nicholas Taylor on Thursday, March 6th, 2003 at 3:43 PM
I heard someone say recently that both parents have traditionally always worked outside the home. The 1950's American housewife was actually an aberration, not a time-honored role at all. After World War II, when American buying power was higher than it is now, many middle-class families had the luxury of a stay-at-home mom. From my own experience, I'd guess that period lasted at least into the 1970's, because many of my elementary school friends had non-working mothers, even the ones without a lawyer or a doctor at the head of the table. These days, as Megan points out, those same families need two working parents just to pay the bills.
By the way, did you know that in France, college is free and everyone has health insurance? And nobody works more than 35 hours a week. My wife and I are planning to get divorced, marry French people for citizenship, then divorce them and get remarried. How's that for family planning?
Posted by sarah musgrave on Thursday, March 6th, 2003 at 4:55 PM
If you believe that "what makes life valuable, what connects the dots of our
moments of existence, is actual, honest-to-god employment" what held this sweet world together before (i wnat to say forever, but for argument's sake will limit myself to a specific time) the industrial revolution, which in the grand scale of time and history happened yesterday.
There was a time when work was life and life was the homeplace. These categories we have invented of work time, family time, my time, etc. had no place. It was all one an same, and the challenge was to find a way to make it all happen using everyone's tallents and skills . If you could find some pleasure in the meanwhile, then bully for you. There was none of this whining for aesthetic fulfillment. Would I want to live like this again? Was it a better way to live? I suppose it depended on who you were or where you were, and I don't have an answer, but I
do think there was something to knowing what needed to get done in order to stay warm for the winter or have food on the table, real tangible
needs. I imagine the same is true when you have kids--you know what needs to get done, whether you like it or not, as Meagan states.
I also take issue with the idea that work is, or should be androgynous. I do farm work. I can toss 50 pound bales of hay, milk a cow, turn wool into clothes, drive a tractor and grow vegetables, but there are some things I simply cannot do, am not as good at or don't have much interest in learning. I take pride in the fact that there are certain tasks better suited to my nimble frame and patient motherly demeanor than that of a big burly man with hands the size of dinner plates;but in the same breath, I am thankful that there is someone whose stature and disposition is more suited to the tasks i do not want or that are really hard for me, like butchering the meat or sawing wood for timber and firewood.
I have found a simple beauty in embracing the differences between men and women, not as a dispationate resolution but as a gift of freedom. I am able to find the things that I am good at and realize that there is a lifetime's worth of work in learning to do them well. I am also learning the humility that comes along with finding strengths, because it slaps us dead in the face with what we're no good at. But therein lies the beauty; it creates gaps that need to be filled by the strengths of others if we have the humility to accept them.
So I would argue that it is this give and take that connects us to one another, whether we can see it or not. This is the "honest to god work" that is the stuff of life, whether you leave your house or not, whether you get paid cash dollars or not. WHAT IS REAl WORK? Can we be allowed to define it for ourselves within the context of our families and communities? I wonder.
Posted by Amanda French [ email@example.com.
] on Saturday, April 5th, 2003 at 2:07 PM
Lots of truth here. I always think that there's a lingering cultural thing still hanging around--sort of a gender memory--that makes women a bit scared of competition, which is what so much of the work world is about. Measuring yourself against other people. That desire to retreat into the nurturing home is (for me) a desire to get away from that nagging career imperative to prove that I did something worthwhile today.
Of course, there's competitive home-making, too! Wouldn't be so bad to be Nigella of Nigella Bites as a career. I love the way she scoffs at everything Martha Stewart stands for.
Posted by Jean Lorber [ firstname.lastname@example.org
] on Tuesday, April 15th, 2003 at 11:56 PM
I disagree with the statement "Work is the instrument for change, and the only personal legacy we really leave."
Would this country be better off if we all worked harder and better, or spent more meaningful time with our kids? I say the latter would affect more societal change, which is a good working definition of a legacy.