Column: A career in homemaking is not without its difficulties

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Last week I wrote about homemaking as a career choice, one that I see becoming socially and politically unpopular. I noted that fewer and fewer people feel able to choose it. I also wrote that no career is more important, for either children or society.

This week I offer another perspective on homemaking, one from the inside, because as important as raising children is, it is not an easy task, and many of the difficulties come from the job itself.

Picture the homemaker’s life: We wake up each morning facing dozens of chores &045; most of them tedious &045; that will never be finished. There are constant demands on our time and energy from human beings who are more-or-less dependent on us for everything. At the same time, we have become dependent ourselves, on the income provided by the spouse who works outside the home. There is no free time, unless we count the hours we spend sleeping. And we have no privacy; everyone who comes into contact with our home and our family will be judging the quality of our work (or at least it often feels that way).

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It takes awhile to get used to all of this. It also raises the question of why anyone would want to do this, especially if we pay attention only to the short term.

What I have learned is that satisfaction in this career comes from seeing how things develop over years and decades. Success means raising children to become adults who will make a positive difference in the world. And that depends on the quality of home life. It comes from constantly teaching children about big things, like taking responsibility for their choices, and little things, like taking turns at play and with all those tedious household chores.

Setting aside any discussion of families without a stay-at-home parent, I’ve observed that no two families end up organizing things exactly the same way, whether we’re talking about raising children or washing dishes.

On one extreme there is the family where the homemaker becomes a servant, responsible for everything, with authority over nothing. The wage-earning spouse does all the decision-making, but does little to help with household tasks and raising children, except for an occasional household repair or a spanking. The homemaker has no life outside of household responsibilities. Children in these families often spend their first few years as adults learning how to take care of their own basic needs. I still remember my first semester in the dorm at college, seeing the difference between the &uot;boys&uot; who had never washed their own clothes, made their own beds, or cooked their own meals and the &uot;men&uot; who could do all of those things without conscious effort.

On the other extreme there are families where the wage-earning spouse just hands paychecks over to the homemaker and steps back from any decision-making about family matters. Childrearing is jealously guarded by the homemaker, and woe to any non-homemaking spouse who presumes to decide even little things &045; like the color of socks or how many cookies for snack time. These homemakers take charge of every aspect of life at home. Children in these families often experience difficulty adjusting to life as an adult, because the homemaking parent rarely relinquishes control over their lives.

Most families fall somewhere in between, with successful families finding ways to share responsibilities and, more importantly, communicate with each other. Homemakers need to recognize that we are not alone, even if it might feel like it. We do not have to do everything ourselves. Non-homemaking spouses are not around as much, but as parents, they need to share in the task of raising children. And other adults, like grandparents, aunts and uncles, members of our church, neighbors and family friends, also have roles to play in raising children. It can’t &045; it shouldn’t &045; be left just to the homemaker.

And it is healthy for homemakers to have outside interests, like music or writing. Taking a day off from daily responsibilities to go to the library or hang out with adult friends can be a valuable guard against insanity.

Full time homemaking is not the easiest job in the world, but it is one that can be satisfying, if we look at the long-term benefits for both children and ourselves and remember to rely on others to help out.

David Rask Behling is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.