Lenny: You take money from guys, and you perform all these
You could be... hey! I'm talking to you.
- You could have a family.
Linda: - Let go of me.
Lenny: You could have a husband and a child....
Linda: Stop! Stop it now.
Now listen, I don't like possessive men.
- Partial transcript, film “Mighty Aphrodite” (Lenny played by Woody Allen and Linda played by Mira Sorvino)
“What is the difference between a housewife and a prostitute?” my Sociology professor asked my class, when I was around age nineteen or twenty. The females waved their hands agitatedly, and when called on, tried to articulate how the two “occupations” were different. After a few minutes, the professor dismissively said something like, “Of course they’re different. A prostitute takes money for sex. Being a housewife is based on love and partnership.” I don’t remember what else he said, but the whole discussion didn’t sit well with me. In a good marriage, sex is a mutual (and hopefully, frequent) perk of being in a relationship. But is it somehow implied that it’s a housewife’s responsibility to provide sex because she’s being financially compensated?
When I began this blog, and wanted to have four categories, I struggled to come up with an alternative to “Housewife”. Although a “Homemaker” makes a home, that wasn't how I wanted to define myself. I ended up with “Domestic", as in, matters pertaining to the home.
And when does a woman become a housewife? Is that the old-fashioned notion of a woman’s role immediately after marriage? My childhood friend’s mother used to say, “I’m not married to my house!” (She took Valium to cope).The definition for housewife on www.thefreedictionary.com is: A woman who manages her own household as her main occupation. So, for the most part, a woman may be a housewife when she becomes a mother. Like me.
For those who seek it, motherhood is a gift. But historically, motherhood has also been a curse. Caring for children meant that women rarely were provided with education, or had a voice in the laws of government or rules of religion. The negative impact on too many women’s lives around the world has been the unfortunate consequence.
In my previous post “Roles”*, I discussed my uneasiness with the inequality of my financial contribution in comparison with my husband’s salary. If it was agreed that when I took over the majority of the household chores and responsibility for the children, does that make us equals? Even if my husband helps to run the household and care for the children, am I an equal partner in this partnership?
When I have heard people say that their husbands are “babysitting” I always correct them, “You’re husband is watching his children, just like you watch your children. You’re both parents – not hired babysitters.” I’ve certainly seen my share of mother hens, taking over every aspect of their child’s lives, leaving their seemingly incompetent husbands on the sidelines. My feeling is that if we’re going to make the men witness the horrors of childbirth, the least we can do is act like they’re also parents, rather than assistants. Although it would be nice to always get my own way, it would mean I’d get the entire burden too (Leading to resentment).
I learned a valuable lesson by exclusively nursing my daughter since I wasn’t working. I started off having her take both breast and bottle, like I did with my son. With him, it was essential since I’d be working and going to school. At some point, because I stopped using it, my daughter refused the bottle, and I was only able to leave without her for a couple of hours at a time during the day. Before the invention of the bottle (unless one could afford a wet nurse, whenever that horrid job was invented), women were stuck solely having to feed their infants. Other than the nursing fiasco, my husband and I have had pretty equal say in how to raise our children.
But raising children as a unit more than our parents or our grandparents still doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. I recently tried to articulate my misgivings about my role as a wife and mother, and I’m sure this would be the same for stay-at-home fathers too (But maybe not). By becoming a mother, I’ve lost my independence until my youngest child leaves. No matter what, I'm the primary person responsible for our kids. If my husband has some vague idea of their schedules, it’s not the same as what I need to know and coordinate. It starts off by making sure they’re eating from all food groups for all three meals, and goes onto minor details like making sure they’re dressed for gym. Then I must keep track as to what they have after school, and get them there and back. I'll make sure they do their homework, music practice, reading, and bathing and bedtime. My husband may do a piece or take over for a day or two if I happen to travel, but it’s not the same. For me it’s just about all of it, virtually every day, for every year until the youngest is eighteen.
Before children, I could come and go as I pleased. Now I need to ask permission to meet up with a friend or go shopping on my own or go to a writer’s conference. My husband used to just tell me he was going out after work, but in our more recent history, he asks. But he doesn’t have to. If I just decided to walk out at night without a plan in place, I’d be a neglectful mother. The police could be called. It would be the equivalent of my husband walking out in the middle of the day at his job. But his work ends at some point during the day. The older my children get, the more leeway I have, but their hold on me is always present.
It may sound like I feel as if my children are a burden – I don’t. Having my children was a choice. After my life-changing first one, I even had a second. Part of the reason I became a teacher was in order to spend more time with the kids I planned to have. It’s just that for the past eleven years, my independence has been snatched, and while I don’t always notice the loss, sometimes it presses on my chest. Nor do I think my husband shirks his role as a father – far from it. I never have to stand in the cold and watch my daughter play soccer on Saturday morning, unless I want to (But when baseball was in the late afternoons, I did have to shiver in the stands for my son). I suspect that even if I worked more, and my husband helped more with household tasks, the majority of responsibility of the children would still fall on me. What if my husband was the kind of person who wouldn’t contribute? I would be left with no choice but to do it all. Since I’ve become a mother, I feel that dearth of power.
Why is it that, after all the progress women have made studies show that even if two parents work, the woman still does most of the work in the home?** I’m not minimizing the work men do outside the home nor the contributions that many do in the home. A few friends have recently have had children, and even if they plan to go back to work, they haven’t right away. Between nursing and staying home, the routine of the parental roles begins immediately. When I see a friend running the show, leaving her husband in her wake, as if it gives her power, I can never adequately explain to her the sacrifice she is making in the long-term.
I remember those early days after I had my son. It was probably my hormones, but I remember dissolving into tears a number of times because the responsibility for a tiny being became overwhelming. This baby’s wellbeing rested with me. There would be nothing to stop me from harming him (Not that I would). But the totality what that meant – I was in charge of this tiny one who couldn’t take care of himself. For hours on end, he was wholly dependent on me, and only me.
My children can do more for themselves, and I can even leave my son in charge for a couple of hours. It’s nice to have that breathing room. But when I advocated starting a family, I don’t think I really comprehend how much who I was and what I could do would shift. When I was pregnant, every parent I came across would say, “Your life is going to change forever.” I prepared myself for what I understood would change, but how much could I prepare for what I hadn’t experienced?
Though my children are everything to me, and I (usually, if they're behaving) love spending time with them, I only have so much control over their lives for such a short time. Each day they grow older, the less control I have. It’s the responsibility of the parents to remember who they were before they had kids, and to make sure they don’t lose themselves along the way – especially by making a laundry list of grievances against one another during these years. The best way to prevent that is to keep having the conversation.
“We know that birth takes a woman from one place in her life to another. The birth of a child certainly does change her viewpoint of herself and I believe her viewpoint of the world.”
- Sameerah Shareef
**A related article:
**Another related article: