Since Rosie laid down her riveter and returned to the kitchen, the debate has raged. Should women just be in the home or can they “have it all” and “do it all.” Kids, careers, homes, husbands, hobbies, friends. Where is their place? In the home, the workplace, both, neither?
If you were raised in certain denominations and cults, this is a very emotionally loaded subject. It was definitely a topic discussed in great depth in my cult-like home and continues to haunt me to this day. This article is me putting it to bed, for once and for all. I hope.
It all began for my family around 1977. Cue Abba music. On the rebound with the ink still wet on Dad’s divorce decree, my parents met and married in late 1978. They both worked in the same industry, Mom for five years and Dad…well, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his Bachelors Degree nor his life. So Mom suggested he join her industry…then she left it.
Actually, she’d been the sort-of token female career woman at her office for five years. Promotions and raises kept coming. Her star was on the ascendant until, one day, they promoted her too far, too fast, into a position she didn’t enjoy. So with Dad’s blessing, she became a homemaker. Shortly thereafter, I was on the way.
That’s when Dad got religion and things began to take a more and more cultish turn. The role of the woman came under new scrutiny. What did St. Paul have to say about it? So I was taught that women belonged in the home, especially if they had children.
But somehow, that memo didn’t make its way to our local church. When meeting new couples at church, the wife would invariably turn to my mother and ask, “And what do you do?”
That’s where Grandma went wrong. That’s where I’ve gone wrong. We were making homemaking an end in itself when it’s really just a reaction, a necessity, of a life well-lived. We were imbuing it with all our self-esteem. Feeling good (but mostly bad) based on the state of our homes. Dust always wins.
Second Law of Thermodynamics: 1.
When Mom responded, “I’m a homemaker” the conversation ended summarily with silence and strange looks cast her way. According to my dad, this hurt her very much. “Career” was a real issue to her because she was treated like persona non grata with no intelligence, no interests, no conversation simply because she didn’t have a business card. I’m one of the lucky few who know how intelligent my mother is, how interested, how widely read, how creative. It was she who introduced me to poetry and made me conscious of Beauty as a Thing.
Fast forward about thirty years. I’m newly married and just quit my eight year job at a company I’d grown to hate. Wait! Did you notice it? I called it a “job.”
No, no. That’s wrong. It was a career even though my parents never acknowledged it as such and never used that word about it.
Anyways, I find myself, very happily and by choice, in the same position as my mother, her mother and her mother’s mother before her. When we get married, we quit our jobs. I mean, careers, for full-time homemaking.
And that’s where the trouble started. Because there simply wasn’t enough homemaking to be done and dusting just doesn’t keep the ol’ gray matter occupied.
I should have seen it coming.
During the year I lived alone, it surprised me how easy it was to have a career and homemake. A little in the morning before work and/or a little in the evening after work and I could keep up with everything quite nicely, thank you very much, and have plenty of time leftover for gardening, sewing, teaching a bored and condescending Adele-the-Bichon to “shake,” and being creative.
Narcissistic Granny (of that trilogy fame) had always presented Homemaking as a Much Bigger Deal. “I used to run through the house to get all my work done,” she would brag. “If you do your homemaking right, you don’t need to go to the gym,” she’d say.
Seriously, Granny, could you raise the bar any higher!? Were you bragging…or complaining? Did you intentionally set out to torture us? Because Mom and I have never attained this Nobel Prize Level of Homemaking.
For starters, neither of us have much energy and I was wildly hypothyroid for many years.
Secondly, we’re much too interested in reading and learning than to wage war on dust as Granny did. Grandma would rearrange her Living Room furniture weekly as a new wife. Pull out the stove and clean behind it weekly. She created work for herself. (Fifty years later, all that work was finally rewarded when her realtor off-handedly commented, “I’ve never seen a behind-the-stove so clean.)
An “old maid” of twenty-eight when she married Mr. Wrong in 1955, Grandma’s Played House with a vengeance ever since, sinking all her self-esteem into the shininess of her mirrors, the spotlessness of her end tables and the perfection of her meals.
Nowadays, I call it “Toxic Homemaking” but when I embarked on homemaking for Michael in 2012, it was my guiding light.
But it didn’t satisfy. I never felt good enough. Couldn’t imagine Granny looking around our cottage with four pets raising the dust in high-speed games of chase and Michael’s mounds of radio-electronic-vacuum-tube-bric-à-brac-found-in-the-dumpster with any approval.
So I raised the bar. Higher. I grew our own food. Higher. Canned our fruit and vegetables. Made jam. Higher. Made our own bread. Higher. Attempted sewing. Higher. Played hostess. Higher! Higher! HIGHER!
No matter what I did (and frankly, I hated doing most of it), I never felt good enough. And Grandma never did any of that. Hmmmm.
Worse still, call it OCD or circadian rhythms, to this day it’s hard for me to homemake during working hours. I guess I spent so many years “working 9-to-five, yeah they gotcha where they want ya” that I can’t get out of the Do-Your-Homemaking-Either-Very-Early-or-Very-Late pattern. Grandma would never approve. Dad would never approve. Tut, tut, tsk, tsk.
Welcome to the life of narcissist’s kid/grandkid. No matter what you do or how hard you work, you are a perpetual “failure.”
Michael really doesn’t give a shit. My record, to date, is serving him dinner at 2 a.m. But it was a very good dinner indeed. Roast pork with garlic and rosemary. Fondant potatoes. Rich, decadent flourless chocolate cake. I actually hate cooking.
After about three years marriage and with health insurance premiums increasing exponentially under Obamacare, I realized that something had to be done. We weren’t going to make it financially if Yours Truly didn’t do that “career” thing again. So, after a few job interviews and hundreds of emails, trials and errors, Narcissism Meets Normalcy was born. It felt good to have a little employment again. I guess I’ve just been a workin’ girl too long. It’s in my blood. Rosie just can’t stay in the kitchen. She’s gotta rivet!
And this is where things get really interesting. Less than two months after this blog started, on February 29th, 2016, my mother posted these words in a comment: “Can it really be that in your pursuit of your writing career, you’re willing to throw your grandma under the bus?”
Did you catch it!? The key word was “career.” It was l-o-a-d-e-d. This was the first time, as far as I know, she had ever acknowledged that I had a “career.”
She too could have a side-gig to ease the burden of being the Sole Breadwinner off my dad, but she hasn’t had a side-gig since her babysitting job of 1985. It was easier to deny herself, Dad and me things we wanted that would’ve made life so much fuller, more interesting, sweeter so she could save, save, save. It was easier to begrudge me hot water and pocket the rent I paid for hot water. Looking back, I see a theme of money. She controlled it. She could be generous to me herself, but she’d cop a ‘tude when Dad wanted to buy me a shrimp meal at A & W, hire a music teacher or buy me that little floral doorknob I wanted for my closet door.
Now she attacks me for my “career” which they handed to me, on a golden platter, through thirty years of narcissistic abuse. Thanks, Mom, thanks a lot.
There are thousands of girls in cults who aren’t as lucky as I’ve been. Citing the whole “Keepers at Home” thing (Titus 2:3-5), their fathers and cult leaders forbid them from seeking employment outside the home. Age does not matter. They are impoverished, brainwashed and permanently stuck.
They must remain in the home, waiting for Mr. Right to magically come along (or Daddy to pick him out for them,) being “Keepers at Home” for their fathers in the meantime. Pseudo wives, members of his “harem,” with all the work of wifehood but none of the perks.
Some of these Keepers at Home are allowed online side-gigs to earn a little bit. Some are not. Like all things cultish, this breaks my heart and infuriates me. It reeks of misogyny. Show me a woman in a cult and I’ll go all feminist on her Daddy’s ass. It makes me sad. That could, so easily, have been me. How can we help these women? HOW!?!
So, in a very long-winded nutshell, here’s my conclusion:
Homemaking is not an end in itself.
That’s where Grandma went wrong. That’s where I’ve gone wrong. We were making it an end in itself. Imbuing it with all our self-esteem. Feeling good (but mostly bad) based on the state of our homes. Self-Esteem: 0. Second Law of Thermodynamics: 1.
Yes, a meal well done is a boost to the ego but the point is full tummies, good nutrition, delicious flavors. It’s not an end in itself. As three-star Michelin Chef Santi Santamaria said, “All good meals end with a good shit.”
Laundry is for clean clothes. Dusting is for clean surfaces. Gardening is for free food. On and on it goes. They’re not ends in themselves. Living makes it necessary. But life isn’t about the dusting. It’s a “which came first” scenario. Once I figured that out, homemaking fell into its rightful place in my life.
Okay, I’m done now. Just needed to get that off my chest. I hope reading it has helped you as much as writing it has helped me.
Thank you for reading and have a good weekend, y’all!