Saturday, February 23, 2013

Being controversial

Would it surprise you to know that I am extremely conflict avoidant? I really do not like it and while I enjoy a good discussion, the second it seems to take on an angry tone I immediately feel panic welling up inside and seek to find a way to flee. I've become a little better about this over the years, but it will never be something that I seek out. Every so often I feel the need to write about something that could be viewed as controversial because I feel it needs to be said. But I do not relish the task. On most days, I will frequently check to see if anybody has commented on a post, but on a post I fear could be misconstrued, I will avoid the comments and often have J. read any comments first to see if they are 'safe' to read.

All of that is a lead up to what I fear may be one of those controversial topics where I post and run. (That may actually be a good thing for my to-do list.) There have been several conversations I've had over the past few weeks and various comments I've encountered that lead me to write about the choice a woman may make to stay home and be a homemaker. I'm really, really not meaning to jump in on the mommy wars; about shoulds and shouldn'ts. What I want to ask has more to do with options.

Why is choosing to stay home and make being a wife and mother one's occupation not really a viable option according to society? We live in a time where 'choice' is king, but really it's only some choices. It does not seem to be acceptable for a young woman to state that she aspires to be a homemaker. Don't believe me? The next time someone asks you what your daughter thinks she wants to do when she grows up (particularly if this daughter is in high school or college, little girls don't know any better), tell them that she wants to be a mother and stay home and raise her children. My guess is that some of you would be hesitant to do this, whether it's true or not. If you feel this way, think of how the young women must feel. It is just not the decision that society expects, especially if that young woman has gone to college and even more especially if that young woman has a graduate degree. The subtext seems to be, if you aren't smart enough to go to college, then we can't expect much more out of you and we suppose it is alright for you to stay home. But, really, do us a favor and don't breed too much because we don't want to have to support your kids. But if you are smart enough to go college, then surely you could do better than to just stay home. We expected better from you and maybe you aren't as smart as we originally thought. There is a tacit sense that a young woman has failed.

This societal expectation plays out in several ways. Few women will state up front that they are going to stay home when the children arrive and even fewer choose to stay home before children. (Just think about that for a moment. We have become so distant from the norm of a wife not working that we find the whole idea jarring. Why is that? What does that say about the importance our society places on the idea of home?) I've had conversations with young women where I mention that I think being a homemaker is a very valuable and honorable and smart occupation and the relief that the young woman expresses is palpable. Suddenly the flood gates open and I hear about what her real dreams and desires are. Trust me when I say this is not a singular occurrence. I am so sad for these women that they do not feel free to share what they really desire. I've been there in fact. I can remember knowing deep down that I wanted to be a wife and mother and wondering what I should come up with instead. I never felt free to say to someone that my first choice would be a career as a homemaker.

In the Christian world, this plays out in a slightly skewed way. While it is common to give lip service to the idea of making a home and raising children, I have discovered that many young women feel as though that can't be important enough to be God's call on their life... surely if they are truly devoting themselves to following God, He will expect much bigger things from them. In some ways, 'just' being a wife and mother isn't 'good' enough. That's probably a topic for another day, but it shows how much the church has followed society in devaluing family.

And sometimes this plays out in just making women miserable, those who have bought into the whole idea that one is not really fulfilled unless they are employed outside the home while raising a family. This is the tricky part, huh? If you are happily employed and making it work and your children are content and healthy, then my hat's off to you. That is no small feat. Also, if you are working outside the home because for right now that is absolutely your only choice in order to house and feed your family, then I am so sorry and pray that your situation will improve soon. But there is also the population of women who are working because they feel that is what they should be doing, plus trying to keep their house and be a mother to their children, and they are not enjoying any of it. They are so entrenched in their thinking about work and value that they don't see that the job could actually be optional; that fulfillment and self-worth can be found outside a paycheck; that they are trying to squeeze at least two lives into one and it cannot be done. Who is going to tell these women that it is OK to not do everything? The minute someone tries, they are shot down and accused of being 'anti-woman', or idealistic, or a pawn of the paternalistic system that desires to keep women in their place. This is hardly the way to start an intelligent discussion, I might add.

So I will continue to tell young women (and maybe not such young women) that it is OK to want to make a home; that making a home is valuable and is a way to serve others. I will tell them that our value as women is not dictated by what we do, but by the fact we are created in God's image; that merely being ourselves is value enough, we can't add to it by what we do. I will tell them that being employed for money can actually be limiting to what a woman is able to accomplish; the freedom to set one's own schedule can allow a woman to befriend, aid, comfort, and support so many more people. I will continue to tell them that a family does not need very much to be happy; that what society tries to sell us as being necessary really isn't. Why put yourself in bondage to a job to pay for things your don't really need?

Other homemaking posts: Inefficiency, Cozy, Cozy, Cozy, and Purpose in the Ordinary

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I generally agree with you about the value of homemaking and raising children, although I think those choice should be equally available to men and women. I thought you might be interested in the affirmation of homemaking in this article. http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/02/i_m_a_married_guy_with_no_kids_and_i_cook_clean_and_mend_call_me_the_stay.html

Shonya said...

I appreciate this post, esp as my 17 year old daughter keeps getting the "so what do you plan to do after graduating" question a lot and her heart's desire is to be a wife and mother.

Jessica said...

I think this is why women often associate their jobs with their identity. I know I did and when I left my job to be a full time homemaker it took me a year to adjust. It was a struggle to find value in being home with my baby. I honestly felt like I was not contributing. Now, 12 years later, I see how foolish that was but I never gave much thought to the fact that by asking our girls over and over about the future we are perpetuating the same model.

Thank you for giving me much to think about. This topic has been written about often but your point of view is one that gave me pause and made me examine my own life as a mother to two daughters.

Shecki Grtlyblesd said...

It used to make my feminist mother crazy when her friends asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said a housewife with 6 kids. (We are working on bringing home 9 and 10 from China now, call me an overachiever, lol) Sadly, she still doesn't see the value in what I do.

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