Another post makes me ask myself: Do I under-value the role of stay-at-home-mom/dad? I think maybe I do, a little. Or rather, to cut myself a little slack: although I believe homemaking is as *important* as anything we do, I am guilty of considering it less demanding than other types of work.
I think this has to do with a number of factors, but first a little prolepsis to forestall your many angry protests:
Taking care of a house and kids can be hard work. They are a constant drain on your time and energy. It feels like your work is never done, and you may spend years doing the same thing over and over to minimal applause. It often takes forever to get a few simple things done. At times it can be highly unpleasant, mind-numbingly boring, and physically exhausting. There’s no question it is critically important work, and is usually under-appreciated.
Furthermore, I think we *do* place too high a value on the dollar, and too little on quality-of-life issues (ie, many of the things a home-maker provides).
And all that said, on to why I think homemaking is often valued less than market work:
1) Immediacy. It might take years to see the results of good parenting vs bad parenting. On the other hand, doing poorly in “market” work (ie, a paying job) may mean you have to give up eating and sleeping indoors, starting next month. The immediacy of failure looms large.
2) As well as being more immediate, the needs supplied by earning money (ie, food, shelter, clothing) are more basic and more universal. The needs met by good housekeeping (clean towels, made beds, ironed clothes) are luxuries. The needs fulfilled by good parenting (life enrichment, education, self-esteem, social adjustment, self-fulfillment, etc) are higher on Maslow’s hierarchy; while they may be considered just as essential as physical needs, they aren’t as generally understood or as universally satisfied.
3) Penalty for failure. With the significant exception of parenting, the rest of a SAHM/D’s duties carry a smaller penalty for failure than a typical market position does. If you don’t do laundry, cook, clean, or make beds for a week, the result is inconvenience for a handful of people; there are many market jobs where significant amounts of money, time, opportunity, or even life & death is riding on adequate performance.
4) Training. Again, with the significant exception of parenting, housekeeping requires less training and less experience to achieve a satisfactory level of performance.
5) Pressure. The pressure to be a good parent, to keep a clean house, etc, are mostly self-applied. On the other hand, unless you’ve been there you probably have no idea of the adrenaline and gastric juice a lone wage-earner goes thru in trying to fulfill their responsibility for the survival & well-being of several people, while balancing their portion of parenting, role as spouse, personal pride vs boss’s demands, and personal and professional integrity.
We all speak from our personal experience, and I’m no exception. I had heard from everyone how a woman’s work is difficult and never done, but I remember when Hannah was in the hospital, and I took several days off from work to keep house and care for our small children. I assumed it would overwhelm me. It didn’t – it was bliss. I had no deadlines, no cranky boss breathing down my neck threatening to fire everyone and close the company, no agenda, no difficult clients or insecure and ill-informed supervisors to work with (or maneuver around). I did not spend my day wrestling with knotty design challenges and making difficult decisions with inadequate data that left me mentally exhausted.
I dressed the kids, I bathed the kids (not in that order); I fed the kids; I vacuumed and did laundry. I took the kids to the park. I took the kids to the hospital to see Mommy. I put the kids in pajamas. I read the kids a story. I blew on their tummies and practiced counting and what all the animals say. I put the kids to bed. I sat down in the living room and read a book. I practiced my guitar. It was wonderful, and I hated to go back to work.
I readily concede that:
a) it might become boring to do every day
b) anything seems like a vacation if you only do it for a week
c) my standard of neatness/cleanliness was lower than Hannah’s
d) I didn’t have chronic back pain like Hannah did at that time
But then again:
a) boring doesn’t mean difficult
b) see above
c) one’s neatness standard is one’s own choice – nobody’s forced to scrub their floors till you can eat off of them, or buy bed sets with so many pillows & shams & ruffles that bed-making takes 10 minutes per bed per day, or have thousands of china plates, figurines, and houseplants that require dusting, watering, etc
d) when people talk about how difficult homemaking is, they’re not assuming the pain Hannah had
And great gosh almighty, the lack of pressure! If I made a mistake with the housecleaning, no one got fired, no client called the boss threatening to leave, no one noted it on a performance evaluation, there was no danger of not being able to buy groceries, of ruining our credit, of having the sheriff put our stuff out on the curb. I could run the house as I pleased. I could chat on the phone for an hour while folding laundry, and no one looked askance at my use of time. I could get a babysitter for an hour if I wanted, and take a nap. I could take the kids for a drive. It was great.
My point, as I look back on what I’ve written above, is probably really less to do with how easy homemaking is (not that simple to do well) as it is this: Because homemaking has been under-appreciated, we’re used to hearing a lot about how SAHM/D’s should be valued more. Which is all true. What I guess we (or maybe just I) haven’t heard acknowledged, is that the complementary role to the SAHM/D – that of single wage-earner – often carries a significant amount of pressure. And many wage-earners – or at least, me – have learned to just suck it up and produce, not whine about it. Until now, that is...
It’s also possible that I’ve been doing it wrong. That is, that I find the idea of home-making attractive because my jobs have sucked so badly; that other wage-earners have jobs that are satisfying and pressure-free. But I doubt it.