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.)