Fact about me: I appreciate the shock value of telling people that my true life aspiration is to become a housewife. That statement has become so foreign that as soon as the words leave my lips, all present company turns and laughs nervously, mouths agape.
I’m not joking, but I do understand why laughter is a natural reaction. OK, sure, there may be a little bit of facetiousness to it, but I think the reason people find it so funny has a lot to do with my disposition. I’m fiery and like to do things my own way, with a temper that’s at times a bit quicker than I’d like it to be, and tenacious to a fault, and I need to keep my hands and head busy at all times—not exactly the type of woman usually “perceived” as someone who would like to squeeze out a couple of pups and get domestic.
Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t want to do that right now. I’m in my early twenties, and though I’d consider myself more “grown-up” than most people my age (thanks not only to a natural tendency toward precociousness, but also to a number of variables that ensured I grew up real fast, and not always in a good way), I’m still not dying to show up to my quarter-life crisis with a toddler on my hip.
With that said, I still can’t entirely wrap my head around why people act so appalled when I say I’d eventually like to be a stay-at-home mom. It doesn’t mean that I’m not ambitious, or that I don’t see more for myself beyond eventually becoming an undersexed drudge to domesticity. Not only that, but it’s also my choice, which leaves other young women no reason to squawk in opposition. Just as women don’t want to deal with people telling them that they should have children, I don’t understand why my saying the opposite gives people license to tell me I’m wrong.
I don’t think being a working mother makes you a bad parent, or a bad wife. I’m a huge proponent of finding the middle ground between what you want to do, what makes you happy, and what works for you and rolling with that. We’re all doing the best we can. But even that’s something women haven’t always been able to decide. Far from it: As recently as fifty years ago, women weren’t housewives and stay-at-home moms because they wanted to be. They were housewives because that’s what women did, and because they had no other option.
The role meant something entirely different back then, and for so many generations before that. It meant your life’s work was doing everything for your husband and family—cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children, the pets, the plants. There was no room for self-expression or for personal choice. That’s not to say that all men and husbands were drill sergeants who insisted that they come home to dinner on the table and a martini at the door, but it was almost invariably expected for a woman to find fulfillment in the home, not in the office.
A woman who did otherwise, and whose spouse allowed her to do otherwise, was an outlier, an eccentric, even a black sheep. To wit: Sigmund Freud famously said if a housewife desired a career, she was neurotic and suffered from “penis envy.”
As society has evolved and women are treated more like individuals and less like breeders, the tables have turned and the backlash has begun. A woman who chooses now to stay at home rather than exercise her right to do with her career as she pleases is considered a woman whose choices fly in the face of everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve. But that’s the point: We’ve fought for our ability to make choices, not to restrict ourselves to yet another one-way-only role. Furthermore, technology has made the ability to work from home a common reality, so you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice making money and utilizing your education to be a “housewife.”
My mom became a housewife, but only after she became a mother. She got married in the late ’80s when she was around the age I am now, left her job when she had me, and stayed home with me and my younger brother. She was pretty amazing when we were growing up, and at times I really, really needed her—I had a tough time in school, and when I’d come home on the verge of tears she was always quick to put pasta on the stove or whisk me off to the petting zoo a couple towns over. (I’m very easy to please.)
That was my experience as a kid as well as later on as a wayward teenager, when my close relationship with my mother was my saving grace, and though it speaks a lot to my mom being very cool, it also speaks to her being privileged enough to make that choice to be able to stay home. Many, if not most, women don’t have the luxury of being able to forgo an income, and to be frank, I don’t know if I ever will. I am lucky to work in an industry that could enable me to work remotely if I chose to do so, but kids are expensive. Food is expensive. Rent is expensive—I live in NYC, and don’t envision myself moving to the suburbs for any reason in the foreseeable future.
Is it possible that I’ll change my mind about all of this at some point? Of course. People change their minds about all kinds of things all the time; that’s life. But right now I’ll say that if my future circumstances enabled me to drop everything and hang out with my kids, I would do it in a second—and in 2015, as part of my generation, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong or weird or un-feminist about that. And before you ask: I love to cook, but I do not clean.