Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Yep, that's me, the human parasite

There was a Wall Street Journal article that came out at the end of July about a mother's first year homeschooling and how it was different from her preconceived ideas of what homeschooling was like. It was a generally positive article and I didn't really have any problems with it. And then I read the comments. (I don't know why... it's a bit like picking a scab. Painful, but sometimes you just can't help yourself.) And in the comments were these two gems of public opinion: "Simply consider the opportunity cost of an educated mother spending her day at home teaching her children." and, "Not working in the labor market means you are a parasite even if your hubby approves." 

Wow. One hardly knows where to begin with those two statements.

Pretty much, my first thought is that the authors of these statements must have had a pretty impoverished home life growing up to not understand the value of home and of homemaking. I am saddened for the writers and also that these sentiments are not so unusual today, because a home (as in the place you live, not the type of building) is important.

What the whole thing boils down to is the assumption that what happens in the home and in the making of a home is not important. I believe this is mainly because most of what is involved in making a home does not generate income. Our society has become so fixated on money... its making, spending, borrowing, and saving (well, maybe not so much the last), that it cannot fathom anything of benefit happening without it. Home and homemaking have become  non-essential with all of the duties (cleaning, decorating, cooking, the rearing of children) being farmed out to other people, often for negligible amounts of money. The thinking then goes, if you can hire someone, often of marginal status and not well educated for low wages, to do a job, then it can't be a very important job to begin with. The only reason a woman would choose to stay home and not work is that she is either lazy or stupid or both.

So then you have women who are well-educated who voluntarily choose to become homemakers. These are women who stay home and take care of the household, and cook, and care for children, and sometimes even homeschool. Clearly, this becomes a problem because it doesn't fit the current sentiment over what is and is not important. These women are not stupid... many have multiple degrees... and they are not lazy since taking care of small children while keeping the house from looking like a battlefield is no small task. The cognitive dissonance that this causes forces the holder of these opinions to do one of two things. Either they must confront the inconsistencies of the the truth with the opinion they hold and rethink their opinion or they ignore the truth in front of them and carry on as before, right or wrong.

And it won't surprise you to discover that I think these opinions are wrong. Home and the making of a home is important. It is where the real living of life occurs. Home is where we eat and are nourished, sleep and are refreshed, where we find companionship, play, relaxation, and, yes, even education. All of these things can happen elsewhere, but then why is it we react so viscerally to the idea of a 'home cooked meal', or why we get homesick, or why hotels, restaurants, and other places of business try so hard to look like a home? We all need a place where we know we will be loved, cared for, and safe. We long for a place to rest from the business of life; a place where we can be ourselves. Deep down we all know home is important.

But making a home, a real home, requires time and effort. It is not something that just happens. There has to be someone to buy the food and cook the meals, to wash the sheets and make the beds, to keep things relatively clean and orderly, to welcome the family member and stranger alike in. It is real, honest-to-goodness, important work.

Before I finish, I want to tackle that last bit, the one about the parasite. (And for the record, J. is my husband, not 'hubby'. He is a grown man who takes his responsibilities as a husband seriously and does not need a diminutive to make that job less important than it is.) Where were we? Ah, yes, parasite. Let's look at the definition of a parasite. From Merriam-Webster: 1. A person who exploits the hospitality of the rich and earns welcome by flattery 2. an organism living in, with, or on another organism in parasitism (an intimate association between organisms of two or more kinds, especially one in which a parasite obtains benefits from a host which it usually injures.) 3. something that resembles a biological parasite in dependence on something else for existence or support without making a useful or adequate return.

I think we can cross off definition number one, unless we are talking a marriage of convenience where the only reason for the union is money for one party and a boost to the self-esteem of the other. It really doesn't have to do with the topic at hand. The second definition is the biological one. It is interesting to note that a parasite must be a different kind of organism from the first... ring worms and dogs for instance. While husbands and wives can seem very different to each other at times, they are still the same 'type' of being. We'll cross that one off as well. That brings us to the third definition. On the face of it, this could be an accurate description of a husband and wife where the husband works and brings home a paycheck and the wife makes a home which does not bring in a paycheck. That is until you get to the very last phrase, "without making a useful or adequate return". Since we have already discussed that making a home is important and that it is something that takes time and effort, it would seem that this is symbiotic relationship where each party receives something of benefit from the other. 

My staying home actually saves my family money. For example, I have the time so I can make much of our food from scratch. This is a labor intensive practice, but also one that uses the least of amount of money to feed a family. I won't go into all of them, but there are many instances where the fact I am home and can do a job means that we don't have to pay for a more expensive option or to have someone else do it. At this point, it would probably end up costing us money if I were to go outside the home to work. 

My husband and I are partners in this endeavor of making a home and raising a family. We may not do the same job or receive the same pay, but we are equally important.

(Wait! Before you write out that comment and hit publish, read what I wrote again. You will note that I have said nothing about working women, positive or negative. I am writing to defend a viable and important choice for women against those who would denigrate what homemakers choose to do.)


Nancy H. said...

Excellent article, E. I'm a single woman, so this issue does not directly affect me, but I still get so angry at the ignorance of some people about stay-at-home moms.

LisaE. said...

Wow! I've been told a lot of things mostly, "Don't you want to do something with your life." But I've never been called a parasite. It's funny because I always wanted to be a nurse or a teacher and I get to do both with the people I love the most. It doesn't get any better than that. You have to feel sorry for people that would think that.

Gerri said...

In our society, we are taught in every way that our lives are about ourselves. We are told that we are #1, that we have the "right" to this or that, that the pursuit of our own happiness is of utmost import! We are taught to value things only in regard to what it adds to ME, to MY life, to MY happiness....i.e. vote for the person that will benefit YOU the most, not society...take the job that pays YOU the most, not the job where you can contribute to the greater good, etc. So I can see why staying home to create and care for the home would seem a ludicrous and ridiculous idea. What would I get out of that?? Hmmmm...well, if that is the direction that you approach life from, you will never want to be a homemaker, nor will you ever see the benefit of doing so. Being a homemaker is all about the family... and mostly about the OTHERS in the family. If I am looking at staying home from the perspective of what it would give ME, then I guess I could see where people come up with the "lazy" or "parasite" comments. Because if I do life for MY OWN benefit above any others, then I have to find a personal benefit to me staying home....and that must be that I can NOT work and I can, instead, watch TV, hang out, talk on the phone, etc... I guess it would mean being a perpetual teenager (from society's viewpoint, because I assure you that no teen of mine behaves in such a manner...:) ). So, if you choose to stay home INSTEAD of finding that "self-fulfilling" career that pays top dollar for your skills, then you must just be lazy. You must just not want to work hard. You must just be of weaker constitution, or else you would never do it. Or so the thinking COULD go.
But lets look at life differently...lets consider it from a family viewpoint. Lets think about working together with those we love the most to get through this life in the very best way possible. When you have a family, there are people other than yourself involved. A spouse, and 1-20 children give or take. Someone must care for the clothes they all wear, buying/washing/folding/mending... someone must provide meals and snacks for all of them... which includes shopping/storing/cooking/cleaning/planning... someone must clean the house they all live in... which includes a list of chores miles long... and someone must get them all to where they must go. That does not even count the emotional support they all need, the instruction, the guidance, the encouragement, the discipline, etc. And since these things must be done, then I guess you have a choice. You can do them yourself, or you can hire others to do them for you...but either way you have to be sure that they are getting done.
It just seems to me that if I care the most about my family and their experience in this world, I will find a way to ensure these things are done and done VERY WELL. And for me, and many other moms, that means I choose to have direct oversight and involvement in all these tasks to be sure they are done to the standard that most benefits my family. NOT ME...but all of us...

And let me say for the record...I have even tried it the other way for a year or two...and believe me when I say it was NOT pretty! :)

LawMommy said...

I stopped reading the comments on news articles of all kinds because they make me weep for humanity. (The ones that upset me most were the comments that followed news articles about my cousin's disappearance...the number of people who implied that he life was insignificant and that her family was to blame for her disappearance literally made me weep.)

Anyway, the idea that you are a parasite is absurd. You are shaping the minds of TEN people, a job that you, as near as I can tell, take quite seriously. And I can say with certainty that your children are both interesting and interested, as well as polite and kind. The world needs more kind and interesting people. You are doing yeoman's service in the art of sending kind and interesting people into the world.

Pam said...

Amen! And beautifully stated.

Anonymous said...

Good points here, but considering that you're preaching to the choir --and that this post must have taken you a lot of time to write--wouldn't it make more sense to avoid the comments posted on hot-button topics? We all know that people "overstate" online and that they're more apt to post negative comments than positive ones. Besides, the worst offenders are the ones whose minds are the most fixed and the ones who most enjoy arguing.

thecurryseven said...

Dear Anonymous,

As a rule I do avoid the comments on just about everything. Most of the commentors who post outrageous things are writing just to get a reaction and they are often are saying something they would never say to someone in real life. While I find it difficult to take them seriously, I do feel the need to address some of the underlying assumptions every so often.

I know there are many women out there who do choose to be homemakers and who perhaps do not have quite the same amount of self-confidence in their choice that I do. I think it doesn't hurt to have someone stand up in their corner every now and then and cheer them on.

Also, I'm not necessarily preaching to the choir on this blog. Yes, many readers would line up with my way of life, but I have information about who reads my blog and it's a pretty diverse readership. Who knows who is going to come across something I've written because they've landed here by searching for something else?

And, lest anyone worry about me or my family, due to what looks like extensive amounts of writing that must take me hours. Truth be told, it really doesn't. I happen to type very fast (thank you touch typing classes in high school) and I have no problem typing at just about the same rate I think. I wouldn't have the patience to write the length of posts I do if it took me forever to hunt and peck for the keys. (I also use the scheduling function on Blogger quite a bit which allows me to write ahead when convenient and then schedule things to post at a later date.)

Thanks for reading.


Anonymous said...

Good old touch typing! Learned it in 11th grade in the "business" wing of my high school.(Instead of talking, the teacher played instructional records with bouncy music.) And good point about cheering others on.

emily said...

thank you. This post gives me a great deal of encouragement. I struggle with those outside voices more than I would like to admit, but I remind myself that they aren't only denigrating the home, but also the individual human. If I'm wasting my life and education, and if staying home for a vocation is leeching on society, then what that really means is that my children aren't important enough to warrant that kind of time, energy, and attention - that no one's children are. In other words, individuals aren't worth much in and of themselves - they're just one more block of energy to keep the group alive (which is a pretty gross evaluation of human purpose). It's shocking to me that some folks would find more value in my existence if I worked a monotonous job at a company that doesn't really do anything worthwhile than if I stayed home to exercise a variety of skills to raise healthy, thoughtful children and provide a space of welcome for the weary, simply because of the existence of a paycheck (and regardless of its size). I believe that Wendell Berry's Feminism, the Body, and the Machine has some good things to say about that.

sandwichinwi said...

"Simply consider the opportunity cost of an educated mother spending her day at home teaching her children."

My first thought here was, gee, her children aren't worthy of the time and knowledge of their educated mother? Better she's off sharing her education with strangers?? How about, how much richer the world will be for the presence of these children, whose educated mother has imparted her knowledge upon them.

And Gerri, snort! "A spouse, and 1-20 children give or take."


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