Friday, April 29, 2016

The Paradox of Being a SAHM - Am I a Housewife or Part 1

When I was growing up, our mothers either worked outside the home or were "housewives". Regardless of what else they did with their time, the general expectation was that mothers were the main caretakers of their household and by inclusion, children while fathers played featuring roles as either chief disciplinarian just wait till your father gets home, chief maker of fun because he was driven mad by guilt for being away from his family, or that guy who hogs the TV when he is at home.

Over the years there has been growing discomfort about the term, 'housewife'. We've seen variations like home manager, homemaker, and more recently, the exceedingly annoying 'stay-at-home-mom' or SAHM. If I were your mom, I'd be your mother. It's not like these women are distributing business cards. Why bother with a designation?

As more mothers started participating in the corporate workforce hurrah for liberalisation and globalisation, suddenly, there was a monetary value attached to their corporate work. Non-remunerative housework could now be outsourced, thanks to her monetary addition to the household income. For all its flaws, one of the greatest things about living in India is that you can pay anyone to do anything for you.

In a curious turn of events, it went from, yay! it is now socially acceptable for women to add to the household income, to a dissatisfied, well, if she can afford to pay all these people to do her work for her, why isn't she contributing monetarily to the household income? 

That managing these service providers continues to be the woman's headache is something I'm still trying to understand. If I ever figure it out, I'll post it here.

Am I a Housewife?

I started thinking about this when I had to tick the box for housewife as my occupation while renewing my passport last year. I realised that I associate that word with an educated but unread woman who spends all day in a nightie, stuck at home because she happened to make babies with a man her parents picked for her to marry and who doesn't speak English.

It's okay for her to be a "housewife" but how could I possibly be one?

This is a housewife.
But it's not like these housewives don't love their families. They also cook, clean, and do the all-important job of maintaining a home life. The only thing I really do in the house is organise and stock the pantry.
My main job right now is being a mother. I do it with the same kind of passion as an ambitious office-goer who works 18-hour days so that he can become CEO 6-months earlier than his college friends. I do it because I want to be the 'best' at it whatever that means.

I wondered if the "housewife" felt this way about being a mother. She obviously loves her kids but does she yearn to be a fantastic mother? When she is responsible for the upkeep of the house, is her child just one more thing she needs ticked off her list? Cue the housewife's maternal guilt.

This then got me thinking about my desperate need to be the best mother on the block. We have people helping us out with cooking, cleaning, and laundry, so I'm more of a home manager - managing these people and keeping inventory for all the supplies these people need.
It's not like there is a tangible incentive to out-mothering everyone else. But I realised that I had to justify to myself, more than anyone else, why I wasn't working in an office and contributing monetarily to the household income.

When in doubt, I turn to Google and reading about the evolution of parenting lead me to a book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. I've only read a few chapters but in this book. the author, Jennifer Senior, attributes the reclassification of 'housewife' to 'stay-at-home-mom' to changing social priorities, from managing a house to managing your children.

Or doing both and making an art form of it. As my Pinterest boards will tell you.


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