Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Feminist Homemaker

"And what do you do?"

It's an innocent question, neither nosy nor rude. One that pops up in the most casual of introductions all the time. And yet it can haunt some of us for hours afterward.

Why am I a stay-at-home mom?

I found myself mulling uneasily over this question after a conversation this summer exposed my own doubts and I got defensive. When I am uncertain, I tend to flounder and feel guilty. Should I want a career? Should I want to stay home?

When I was homeschooling, the justification was simple. I was already doing a "job". (In hindsight, it's apparent I wasn't aware I had other options.) I have no regrets about those early years of pottytraining and naptimes and going to the park and teaching my little bookworms to read. Still, now that they're older and in school all day, I've felt the need to rethink my reasons for not earning a paycheck.

My feminist values tell me that I need to be pulling my weight, that I should have the resources to support myself instead of being financially dependent on a relationship. I'm also afraid of perpetuating an outmoded patriarchal family model or unhealthy expectations of what a mom should look like.

However… not working does not automatically put me in the same category as Michelle Duggar. :) And I'm privileged to know other ardent feminists who are unemployed, by choice, for various personal reasons. And so, I ponder.

As for expectations, my children see me pursuing knowledge and new skills. They see me involved in the community. They see me actively promoting equal rights for women. They see that Chris and I have independent interests and relationships. They know women working in a variety of fields. And they know every family operates by its own rules.

Chris and I have shed patriarchy gradually and embraced gender equality together. While there has been some shading and blending as we've adapted to these values, he remains our household's breadwinner. And yet, we are a symbiotic team. We eat better food less expensively because I stay home and cook (our meals average $1.25/person!). He can focus on his career from eight to five and college classes on weekends because I can run the errands, take the cars for service, schedule appointments, shop, and sign the field trip forms. I can take classes, volunteer, exercise, help kids with homework, and cultivate supportive friendships because he brings in the income. And since he currently works at home, we get all kinds of extra moments during the day to connect as friends, freeing us to better focus on the kids when they are at home.

While extra income could ease some stresses, we are financially comfortable enough. If I worked part-time, my earnings would quickly diminish in higher food, fuel, and insurance bills. If I worked full-time, we would have more stress around daily school pick-ups and drop-offs. I would have much less time for the self-care that helps me manage my mental health. And instead of relaxed evenings together, we would have to pack all the laundry, shopping, organizing, and meal prep into that time slot.

To us, that time to just "be" after dinner and homework is worth more than we would gain if I went to work. It is a matter of what we value most this year. Our schedule and priorities are always evolving and we are open to change. But for now, we are savoring that closeness and flexibility.

On a personal level, overcoming years of emotional trauma and cult mind-control has been a long journey and there are still days when the demands of motherhood on top of that seem overwhelming. I'm grateful that I've had the option of concentrating on those aims without trying to hold a job at the same time.

Reflection on my domestic role has been time well-spent. These days I find myself prouder than ever of what I do and of the ways I contribute to our family's well-being. I am a feminist homemaker: a cookie-baking, jelly-making, youngster-shuttling thriving woman who thinks for herself while advocating for the right of every woman in our community to make her own choices.


  1. Love this so, so much, Jeri. :-) I too have struggled with being "allowed" to love things that, because of our upbringing, feel like patriarchal roles. I've come to peace with the fact that I really love home-makery, and, like you, am delighted that I can be a strong feminist, humanist, etc at the same time. :-) Thank you for articulating it all so beautifully. :-)

  2. Ultimately, it is about a division of labor, and that breaks down differently for every couple. In our case, that means my wife works part time on nights, I keep my schedule to about 35 hours a week, and do a significant amount of the homeschooling, housework, and general child care. But that wouldn't work for everyone.

    My main concern (not about your post, which is beautiful) but the "homemaker as full time job" crowd in general is the lack of recognition that it (like my own schedule) is only possible because of economic privilege. For many, having one spouse at home full time (or two spouses working part time like us) isn't financially feasible. I don't see this as a reason to feel guilty, but a reason to recognize that a two-income family is not a moral failure. As you know from our shared fundie upbringing, this is indeed what we were taught...

  3. You know, I really admire stay at home moms. The problem for me is that a lot of people I know, who grew up homeschooled, became one because they never really knew their options. If it's best for a family or if it's affordable for them and their dream, I'm all for it.

  4. You articulated well - being a feminist homemaker - where we can do what we enjoy because we enjoy it and because it helps our families not because it is THE way or the RIGHT way or because others tell us we have to. Thanks!

  5. Great post! There is absolutely nothing "un-feminist" about homemaking. However, I do want to quibble just a tiny bit about your list of advantages. My husband and I both work, and we still spend quality time together-- it's just that some of that quality time is spent cooking together, doing laundry together, and washing dishes together. We are able to eat cheap, home-prepared foods, see friends, and take walks with our son. Both of our jobs allow us time to do things like schedule appointments, and time off to stay home with a sick kid or take a well kid in for a check-up. We don't have to pay for extra transportation costs, because our workplaces are near each other-- near enough, in fact, that we can eat lunch together nearly every day.

    I quibble because the rhetoric I was raised with indicated that my life was an impossibility, and that the only alternative to having a stay-at-home parent was a fast-food diet, a hectic, stressful home life, and strained familial relationships. In reality, we have a peaceful, creative, and happy home life with two jobs in play.

    That said, there are definitely feminist strides to be made. Neither my husband nor I make enough on our own to meet our household needs, even if one of us took over full-time child care and canned more jelly, and so I went back to work sooner than I would have chosen after my son was born. And the cost of child care is a significant chunk of our income. It just wasn't quite significant enough to make having one of us at home make sense. If we had another child, that would change, and we wouldn't hesitate to re-evaluate.

  6. Welcome to the family, fellow feminist homemaker! I myself am a self-appointed Radical Housewife.

  7. I would love to be a feminist homemaker but unfortunately I don't feel like I can justify staying home since my husband and I don't have children and never will be able to (we are in our late 30's and have been married for 14 years). I am all for women having the power and authority over their lives and choices. I grew up in a family where hard work was valued above all else. Both of my parents worked full time my entire life and staying home was frowned upon. My mom used to say that women who choose to stay home are un-feminist and that they are setting the women's movement back. I admired her so much and wanted to be like her: a strong and extremely successful career women. They instilled those values in me and I became an overachiever at a young age. I got my masters degree and started climbing up the career ladder before I even realized that was not what I wanted out of life. I had never considered homemaking as an option. I love cooking and cleaning and being home. Home is my favorite place on earth; its my sanctuary. Its becoming increasingly difficult to leave and go to work. I am so unhappy and unfulfilled with my career and I want to give it all up and stay home where I am happiest....but since we have no children I can not justify it. :( The older I get the more I realize that feminism is all about choice. For my mom that meant working 40-60 hours a week and never cooking (we always went out to eat or she brought fast food home for us.) For me, it could mean staying home and taking care of the household (if I could find the strength to justify that choice since I am not a mother.)