I don’t think the term housewife is even allowed anymore. Homemaker is the preferred term, I think. Or maybe stay-at-home mom. Personally, I like fire tender because I tend (and put out) a lot of fires around here. But despite its extreme un-PCness, I sometimes like thinking of myself as a housewife just because it has wife in there; and I waited so very, very long to become a wife, so I have a lot of catching up to do in being called one.
I do work, actually, from home (work-from-home mom?), doing the same work I did before I met my husband, but over the time I’ve been a wife (notice how I sneaked calling myself a wife in there), I’ve worked less and less. I’ve always felt a little guilty about this (especially in the beginning), but my husband seems okay with it and has even mildly encouraged it. “If you worked more, you’d just put us in a higher tax bracket,” he has said. And once when I expressed guilt about not working more, he said, “I don’t want you to work more. I like our life the way it is.” He has also said, “I want you to work only as much as you want to work, and no more.” He’s very thoughtful that way.
It’s not that I don’t want to work, but I must admit that I am a little burned out, so doing some time as a housewife has been a refreshing change. I’ve enjoyed tending to my husband like a 1950s sitcom housewife. But a few days ago, my daughter noted how I pick up after my husband, and she editorialized, “You’re his maid.”
Am I? At what point does it cross the line from housewife to maid? And what kind of message am I sending to the kids if the perception is that I’ve crossed that line?
I feel grateful to my husband that he is willing to be the breadwinner. I’ve never really thought it maidlike to pick up his dirty clothes or bring him lemonade because I think he probably feels a little grateful, too, for the things I’m willing to do. Or at least he did. Maybe complacence has set in.
Used to, when I picked up his dirty clothes by the side of the bed, he protested that I didn’t have to do that. Eventually he got where he didn’t say anything, but that was okay because I knew I didn’t “have to” pick up his clothes. But one day when I was kind of annoyed with him already, I sighed in frustration when I saw the massive pile of clothes he’d accumulated that day. I knew some of them he’d only worn a short time and would want to wear the next day, and some needed to go in the hamper, but they were all piled together. He bristled and said, “Just leave it. I’ll get it.” So I left it. And he didn’t get it (till two days later).
Since then, I don’t always pick up his dirty clothes anymore. And I’m not sure, but I think that bothers him (asking would be pointless because of course he’s going to deny it). Does he now expect me to pick up his dirty clothes? And if so, as the housewife, do I have the obligation to pick up his clothes? I used to not mind it; in fact, I felt happy to do it. But if he expects it, the voluntary element is removed, and it starts to feel a little maidlike. And that’s part of the reason I don’t always pick them up anymore. I want him to feel a little pampered when I do, not served.
There are things that I think I really have to do as a housewife (for example, making sure my husband has clean clothes for work). But then there are things that I think are truly optional (bringing my husband’s dinner to him in front of the TV). Truth be told, I often enjoy doing the optional things for my husband, but that’s only because I regard them as optional and I’m doing them because I love my husband, not because they are duties.
My mom was a housewife throughout her entire marriage. And she really earned the title stay-at-home mom. She had their first child a year into their marriage, and her last child didn’t turn 18 until nearly 35 years later! Now that is making a career out of motherhood! But additionally, she was a better housewife than I am. She kept a cleaner house, she attended all sorts of business functions with my dad, and she never had to ask him for suggestions of what to make for dinner. But she did complain a lot, and I think she felt very maidlike. My dad has been dead nearly 13 years, and my mom is still complaining about him. And she often remarks how his death, though tragic and sad, set her free. I don’t want to be like that.
One of my sisters is a housewife. She keeps a cleaner house than I do, too, she’s a great cook, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard her complain about picking up after her husband. But they fight a lot about other stuff. And they’ve had separate bedrooms for years. It works for them, I guess. But I don’t want to be like that, either.
After that, aside from watching old television shows, I’m fresh out of role models. Housewives are kind of rare these days. Maybe this would have been easier if I’d married straight out of school (like my mother and sister) instead of spending 40 years independently becoming who I am. My husband (all of whose previous wives were, he says, “very dependent”) often comments on how independent I am. He always sounds a little proud when he says that, but is independence compatible with the kind of marriage we have?
If my husband (whether consciously or unconsciously) expects me to perform certain tasks in exchange for his being the breadwinner, does that make me a maid? Does a part of who I am dissolve into who he is?
I want a good marriage, but I don’t want to lose my own sense of self. I enjoy tending the home fires, but I want my motivation to be love, not obligation. Is it possible to be a housewife with that kind of wish list?