I’ve been a housewife for 28 years and still am, even though my sons are mostly never around, living elsewhere. And by housewife I mean SAHM (‘stay at home mom’ in American) – although I barely qualify as an SAHM anymore, now the kids, as I said, have flown the nest.
Why am I still an SAHM (besides the fact that one son is still based here) at the grand old age of 54, when there’s actually only me in the house during the day and just two adults to pick up after and cater for? Because, unlike Oprah and the politically correct talking heads, who shout from the media rooftops that there’s no tougher job than being a stay at home mum, I happen to know that being a housewife and mother is:
- A complete doddle.
- A walk in the park (which I do every day and did when the kids were young)
- A piece of cake (and I have the time to bake a few)
- Child’s play – literally, during the early years you have to play with your kids; a lot.
- Like early retirement – without having to wait until you’re about 55-60
what it isn’t, is the hardest, most soul-destroying job on the planet.
I was amazingly lucky enough to be able to quit work – proper work, the kind where you have to show up early after a stressful commute in, spend roughly 8 hours mostly doing stuff you don’t want to do and answering to people you mostly don’t want to be answerable to – in order to take up non-proper work, to look after the kids I’d quit work to have and, in my household accounts book, that’s a housewifely privilege and a motherly blessing.
Yes, the tiny little sprog years for the SAHM can be difficult. There’s the sleep deprivation, for which there’s a politically incorrect fix – don’t breastfeed. (*warning* off topic) There I’ve said it, or typed it – which doesn’t take much courage on the blog that no one reads. I was almost physically pushed into breastfeeding all three of my sons by the midwives, the health visitors, the doctors. And being a dutiful kind of person, I went along with the mother’s milk is best propaganda, until Mastitis decided to show up, not once but twice, turning me into a sodden, with a 100 degree temperature wreck, swallowing antibiotic pills the size of marbles, while the midwives advised continuing to feed the baby ‘through it’, because clearly my physical and mental health didn’t matter.
After feeding son No.1 for 12 weeks, getting up approximately every 2 hours at night, I’d finally had enough and switched to the bottle – full of maternal guilt and a sense of failure – to find that son No.1 slept through the night, instead of constantly crying with unsatisfied hunger, and morphed into a fatter but much happier child – sometimes breast is not best.
But unlike the junior doctors working interminable shift hours, or the A&E staff dealing with the anti-social drunks at night, or the teachers marking books at night and into the weekend, my unsociable ‘working’ hours were spent with the three little entities that meant more to me than anything else in the world – that’s not a difficult job, it’s one to be thankful for.
But then there’s the constant surveillance I suppose and the burgeoning health anxiety. The need to have eyes in the back of your head to prevent possibly fatal accidents. The potty training. The going to bed early to read bedtime stories, and the staying in the room until they’re asleep. The not watching any night-time TV at all for about 10 years. The losing touch with popular culture almost entirely. The never ending washing, ironing and putting away. But doesn’t the properly working mother do all those things too? Probably in the evening after work, or at the weekend – shouldn’t the title of hardest job in the world, in this affluent western world, go to her? And why don’t we make being a Dad the toughest job out there too, whilst we’re at it.
Being able to stay at home and not hand my kids over to an expensive nursery, which would have eaten up any wage I was capable of earning anyway, meant I was there with my kids, every first step of the way; whether they liked it or not. No need to ask for time off to attend school assemblies or sports day. I could walk them to school and back again without dashing to the office in between; take them to the doctors at the drop of a hat; be with them at home for every school holiday because, unlike actual proper jobs, I was on permanent holiday, and still am.
Yes, being a middle-aged house frau comes with even more perks and benefits:
- You’re your own boss
- You set the working hours
- Rough nights sleep? Just lay in a couple of hours
- Want to spend hours on your new hobby – no problem
- Don’t feel like doing the hoovering today – leave it
- Want to spend a couple of hours looking round the shops – there’s no one to stop you
- Want to spend hours writing the blog that no one reads – just do it
The downside to young, stay-at-home-mum heaven is that it can feel lonely and isolating, particularly if you live miles away from parents and relatives, and the only answer to that is to get out there and join mothers’ and toddlers’ groups and later, to stand around in the school playground hoping to fall in with like-minded mothers. And this is where the housewife’s job can actually feel like work.
Just like a real workplace, the school playground has a pecking order. The cool mums will section themselves off into cliques, turning up like fashionistas and complimenting each other on their hair or particularly fetching footwear. Breaking into their inner circle is as difficult as hobnobbing down the pub with the boss at the office, if you happen to be the cleaner or a typist. Then there’ll be the average mums, in their comfort clothes, standing in isolation or daring to go up to another average mum and ask if her kid would like to come round and play, when what they’re really asking is, will you be my friend, person who looks a bit like me and is at least approachable.
I went through about five fellow mother contacts via the school playground, before finding the one who turned out to be a reliable friend, the one who didn’t dump me for someone better or just, inexplicably, stop being my friend. (Friendship – now that’s a whole other post.)
The ones who left me behind couldn’t stand being at home with the kids; they actually did think that getting to spend all day with your kids was the worst job in the world, akin to being sentenced to a couple of years in prison. For them maternity leave couldn’t end fast enough.
My mind is too active to just sit about at home with a sprog that can’t even talk, was their constant whinge. I feel brain dead. I hate the constant bottle washing (these were the mothers who didn’t even give the horrors of breastfeeding a go.) The nappy changing is a nightmare. You must be an uneducated dolt, was always the ever so slightly implied criticism, if you owned up to having no intention of going back to work for the foreseeable future, because looking after your own kids, instead of handing them over to strangers, seemed like much the better option.
There are mothers out there, of course, (and probably a few fathers) who’d give anything to be where I’ve been for the past 28 years. Who’d love to quit the daily slog in favour of watching kids TV with their toddler, or making play-doh animals whilst Philip and Holly blather on in the background, or bake up a storm like this year’s SAHM Bake Off winner. But, unfortunately, the purchase of a family home nowadays almost always requires two breadwinners, leaving a lot of domestic gods and goddesses out in the cold, cold workplace.
And it depends who you are obviously; what personality type. When my kids were young, I’d rather have listened to their incoherent babble than most of what your average adult has to say. I was happier to spend my days in domestic bliss rather than sitting at an office desk staring out of the window, dreaming of what I could have been/wanted to be.
Choosing to stay at home is not a career choice (because, rightly so, it’s not a career) and there’s no recognised job title because it isn’t a job (despite the PC lot calling it a ‘job’.) Being a stay at home mother is actually the only acceptable state of unemployment, which is probably why so much PC noise is made about how important it is.
Whenever I’m out and about meeting new people one of the first questions they ask is….’and what do you do’?’ ‘Nothing really’, I reply, ‘I’m just a housewife.’ ‘Never say “just a housewife”, the lovely new people will say – ‘ that’s the hardest job in the world.’
No, it isn’t. It’s a doss, a freebie, a lifelong vacation – one day I just might enlighten them.