The Feminist Homemaker

Feminist Homemaker

Choosing to marry my husband was very, very easy. I had known that I wanted to marry him for several years before we actually got down to it. I had already chosen to date him, to love him, to live with him, to take care of him and to let him take care of me… the marriage portion was legally-binding, and therefore important, but I wasn’t trying to create something new. I believed, as many cohabitators do, that Casey and I already had all of the major components of marriage. I believed not much would change.

In some ways, I was right. We still have many of the same faults and triumphs and joys and agonies that we did when we were merely boyfriend-and-girlfriend. He doesn’t hang up his towels, and he has never hung up his towels. I don’t do dishes after cooking our meals, and I have never done dishes at night. We still laugh together and tease each other and disagree over the entertainment value of various television programs. Our elder cat, my pet from way back in the hazy days prior to our relationship, still favors Casey so extremely that it borders on insulting. Our lives have trundled on, as I knew they would.

But in other ways, other very important ways, our lives have shifted dramatically. Most of the shuffling has been internal, and most of it has happened to me. Both of my mothers, biological and step, raised me with staunchly feminist values. I understood from an early age that I had exactly the same rights and responsibilities as a man. I should make as much as man, work as hard as a man, and reap the same rewards that men reap. Guarding their independence is vitally important to both of my mothers—they’ve always had careers and extracurricular interests that were separate from my fathers’. I’ve always respected them for that. My own sense of value and self-worth is rooted very deeply in my ability to do things for myself, to make my own way in the world. My mothers gave me that.

Since our marriage, I’ve been forced to reevaluate what that independence means. It’s a struggle. I’ve taken his last name—an issue I took months reconciling—because my mother and stepfather have different last names, and I saw what that did for their sense of belonging and familial loyalty. Although I’ve always worked close to full-time, my husband routinely works 80-hour weeks; that leaves the bulk of the homemaking responsibilities to me. I feed our cats and change their litter. I cook our meals and wash our clothes. I vacuum and disinfect and take out the trash. I pack both of our lunches every day, which apparently makes Casey’s coworkers particularly jealous. I write our holiday letters and purchase our groceries and prepare for any and all overnight guests.

Casey occasionally loads and unloads the dishwasher. This is the practical extent of his chores.

It sounds very much like I’m complaining when I lay it out like that, doesn’t it? Why is that? I’m not complaining. Casey doesn’t ask me to do any of these things. I like to do them—not just because I love caring for my little family, but because I honestly enjoy the mechanics of housework. It clears my head. It gives me the instant gratification of a clean microwave or a freshly-folded pile of laundry. I’m a homebody by nature, and I like to set my own schedule. When Casey helps me by carrying the heavy clothing baskets or cleaning up the kitchen, I’m legitimately grateful. I know how hard he works and I don’t begrudge him his very limited down-time. Especially because he really just wants to spend that time hanging out with me.

My homemaking makes me feel embarrassed. I feel like other women look down on me for not requiring more of Casey when he’s home. Actually, that’s not just a feeling. I’ve had personal experience with the negativity most urban twenty-somethings harbor toward “housewives.” Most of my coworkers and many of my friends think of housewives as lazy, or evangelical, or hopelessly backward. Usually all of those things. Most women in a big city like Chicago cannot afford to be unemployed (which is how their working compatriots privately think of homemakers). To afford to be with your children full-time, it seems you must dwell enviably close to that elusive 1%.

So now I’m unemployed, through no fault of my own, for the third time in four years. The job hunt is complicated by the impending start-date of my graduate school program and a recent flare-up of Crohn’s Disease. I’ve been on an interview, and I’m still sending out resumes. I’ve never had much trouble landing a job, current circumstances notwithstanding, and my heart goes out to those that do. A great many people are desperate to find good work. I hope that all of you find it, as soon as possible. But this new joblessness has forced me to own up to a part of myself I find very hard to understand and accept: the part that just doesn’t want to work outside the home. The rogue, latent, bottled-up part of me that really loves being a housewife. The part that, let’s be honest, just wouldn’t make my mothers very proud.

I’ve had lots of alone time lately, with Casey working fourteen hour days and no visitors or work hours to distract me. I expected that alone time to make me feel… well, lonely. But I don’t. I often miss Casey, and I’ve had some very long telephone conversations to fill up a few hours here or there, but mostly I feel very peaceful. Although it will sound crazy to some people, I’m much more productive when I’m at home full-time. I work on my writing with limited distraction. I can finish the household projects that make our lives a little easier. I get enough done during the day that I can spend time with Casey on his schedule, which means I see him more than I would if I were working. I know we can’t really afford for me to stay home like this, and so I pursue new employment relentlessly. And I don’t want to. And that makes me feel ashamed.Everyone I’ve told about this (up until now, a small group) is convinced that I’ll feel differently once I’ve received my Masters degree and can work in an area which interests me. Even Casey believes that I ought to have outside work; he thinks it will stave off my hermit tendencies. “Everyone” may be right but… honestly? My degree in creative writing is over two years away, and I always wanted to be a young mom, and I never wanted to put my kids in childcare. So what then? Do I launch a brand-spanking-new career and sidetrack motherhood? Does my need for independence trump my desire to be somebody’s mommy? I don’t think that it does. And I feel like it should. My brain and my heart are at war over this. Pop-culture feminism, it turns out, may have really messed me up.

Our marriage is forcing me to evaluate this part of myself against my own will. We’ve been married 13 months, and our biggest marital struggle thus far has been reconciling how I feel about this issue. In an attempt to reassert my independence, I sometimes become illogically possessive of my space and the things I owned before our marriage. I’ll find myself fuming over Casey using my computer or napping on my side of the bed. I’ve gone through short bouts of anger and mild depression. Nothing too unusual, nothing too extreme. Just the normal confusion and frustration of a feminist homebody with an incongruous love of liberal politics and cleaning the kitchen. I wonder sometimes if I was born in the wrong time period. Perhaps I would’ve been better suited to Jane Austen’s life, running a small country home and reading my novels aloud at the fireside. Of course, Jane Austen wasn’t married. She also could not vote. I want to have my cake and eat it too—I want to be my own woman, whose thoughts are just as valuable and venerable as any man’s, and I want to be my family’s caregiver. Maybe I do want to be a homemaker, and maybe I want to be a respected academic as well. I know those things aren’t really contrary, but it sure does feel that way sometimes.

Marriage didn’t make me into anything I wasn’t already. It just made me aware of so much more of myself than I used to be. I thought it would simplify things (our finances, our family obligations, our sense of unity) but I was wrong about that. My own internal shuffle has complicated nearly everything. I think it needed to get shuffled, to get complicated, so that I could gain a greater understanding of myself. It’s corny, of course, but this confusion is making our relationship stronger. I need a sounding board right now, and Casey needs a caregiver, and we are each uniquely suited to those functions. I don’t know what any of this means yet. I don’t have a plan-of-action. I’m just stumbling around the dark with a lit candle, that flicker of optimism that makes the darkness bearable. And Casey has a candle too, and he’s holding my hand, and I’ve realized that we need each other to find the path through this mess. Actually, we’re rather codependent that way. Egads… and thank god.

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  • Thanks so much for writing this, Jennifer. This is exactly how I often feel. I’m a well-educated, ambitious, hard-working, liberal feminist, but I want to be a homemaker more than anything else in this world.

    You may have already read it, but if you haven’t, I’d highly, highly recommend you (and anyone else who’s struggling with this issue) read the book Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes. That book went a long way towards helping me reconcile feminism and homemaking.

    Good luck!

    • Carissa

      Yes! I can’t recommend Radical Homemakers highly enough!

      • Shoshannah


        • Zan

          As a dissenter, I liked parts of Radical Homemakers (my husband bought it for me while we were having a discussion very similar to the one Rachel has written about) parts of it made me CRAZY. Like the part where she essentially implies that you can stay healthy with herbal remedies and by eating good food and that not having health insurance isn’t a big deal. As if anyone ever planned to get hit by a bus or have a complicated pregnancy. Medical bankruptcy is a huge issue in this country and … sorry, I’m ranting, just wanted to add that Radical Homemakers is great, but maybe needs to be taken with a slightly skeptical grain of salt.

          • Oh I totally agree that the health section of the book came out of left field for me. I actually kind of forgot about that part because as a Canadian – I don’t require expensive private or workplace sponsored insurance to cover basic medical costs – it’s covered by our taxes. So while I do need insurance for many varieties of medication and certain types of care like physiotherapy and so on, I don’t need it for emergency care, prenatal care, doctors visits, or really any kind of basic healthcare. As a result, I only skimmed that chapter, but what I did read, I totally agree – was a bit too extreme for my tastes. The rest of the book, however, is awesome!

    • Thanks for the book recommendation! Adding to list.

    • Marissa

      Yes! I sent Meg an email about this book a year ago after I read it. There were a few parts in there that made me go “OMG APW would be all over this!” (in a good way)

  • I wish I could *exactly* this whole darn post. I’m a bit older and around the age at which I’d always intended to have kids. And I am just finishing grad school this year and about to launch on a teaching career. We’re getting weddinged in December, and there’s a real part of me that wants to start trying for kids and stay home for awhile (we can afford it where we currently live but not if we move). I was musing over this the other day and wondering why this felt so weird, and you hit the nail on the head. It feels like a betrayal of all the good feminist principles I was taught.

    On one hand, I love to work. I think I will miss it if I stay home with my kids. But I also want to raise good, happy, healthy kids with a strong influence from mom. I know you can raise kids with all of the above while still using daycare (I certainly see it with some of my friends). But I’m just not sure. I figure I will make the decision when the time truly comes. Know, though, that you are not alone in your ponderings.

  • Um, wow.

    Sometimes when I go to book club and hang out with all these totally awesome APW ladies (women? heifers? ;) ), I feel a bit embarrassed for these exact reasons. I mean, for financial reasons, I do work outside the home now, but have always ALWAYS wanted to stay home and raise my kids. And so I keep quiet, because it feels kind of shameful that women fought so hard for all these things, and yet I want to be a homemaker? The traditional role that women have so bravely clawed their way out of? And I didn’t understand how you could really be a feminist and want that at the same time, so I just kept my mouth shut about it. But this– “I want to have my cake and eat it too—I want to be my own woman, whose thoughts are just as valuable and venerable as any man’s, and I want to be my family’s caregiver.”– this is how I feel, too.

    • meg

      You know, my mom was a 60’s and 70’s feminist, and serious about it (fuck, and published on it) and she stayed home with us. Isn’t feminism about fighting for the right to make our own choices? YES!

      • Elle T.

        oh my god, Meg!! Yes!! Exactly! It is completely about choice!! I had just been writing/talking about the idea of CHOICE and what it means for women, in particular, yesterday (after the election results came in from Mississippi).

        And Jennifer, thank you. I have always felt like I belonged in another time period. I have always felt at odds, a contradiction. I have ambition. I am a lawyer, went to law school, did the whole thing. Feminist, equal rights activist. And proud of that. But…I want kids, I want a family. I LOVE cooking and baking, cleaning the kitchen – is there anything more peaceful, really, than a clean kitchen?! I have always felt that these dual sides of my personality were contradictory. Talking w other girlfriends (most met in law school, some no longer practicing or trying desperately to not be) I find so many of us feel this way. It should be comforting and yet…

        I then am overcome with this fear, that if we share this, if we talk about this desire, that men (and those women who don’t apparently want women to have choices) will just use it as an excuse to take away our CHOICE. It will held up as “proof” that we aren’t really suited to work in a man’s world, or don’t really want to and that we really do, somehow, biologically/evolutionarily BELONG in the kitchen and nowhere else.

        So thank you, thank you for this post, for this blog. That recognizes that it’s, in essence, about our choices and respects that we all make different ones, for different reasons.

      • Sarabeth

        So, I’m really late to this, but I have to say that “choice feminism” (as feminist theorists call it) is only one strand of a much richer and more vibrant movement. And while it can be powerful, it can also tend to elide the broader critique of a patriarchal culture that many other feminist would like to see.

        We don’t choose freely–as I think this essay actually illustrates quite well. Our desires are shaped by our experiences and the culture in which we live, for better and for worse. And feminism, in my opinion, needs to address that as well, rather than just hang its hat on the idea that it’s all well and good as long as we get to choose in the end.

        • z

          YES, YES, YES. The heavy emphasis on “choice feminism” in our generation really bothers me. I want all women to be able to make their own choices, but there’s so much more to feminism than that. I sometimes feel we’ve conflated being a feminist with being a beneficiary of feminism. And not all choices advance the project of feminism, no matter how “free” or “right for me” they are. It’s a hard thing for me to face up to, and really hard for groups of women to discuss. None of us live our lives 100% around feminism, and we shouldn’t have to, but I wish we could talk about it more forthrightly. People make these vague comments like “I feel like a bad feminist” or “I feel like I’m letting feminism down,” but it seems taboo on this site to explore those feelings in any depth or specificity.

          The great thing about books like Radical Homemaking is that it endeavors to defend homemaking on explicitly feminist terms, rather than just saying “my choice, my choice, it’s right for me” as if we aren’t still engaged in trying to change our culture, as if the personal isn’t political anymore.

        • Leslie

          Agreed. Part of feminism’s critique of patriarchy is questioning a system that forces Casey to work an 80 hour work week in the first place. Since the 1960’s, more women haven’t just gone into the workplace because of feminism alone, but because the economy demanded it. Elizabeth Warren’s book, The Two Income Trap, explains this really well. Nowadays working couples make 75% more than a single income family a few decades ago, but have less disposable income once their bills are paid. That’s a problem in our society. Another problem, that Jennifer’s post hits on really well, is that domestic labor is not valued as work, and is therefore is unpaid labor, unless you pay for a domestic worker (which many people do pay for in order to compensate for this gap in two incomes). Ideally Jennifer wouldn’t have to choose between work and home to get an income; back in the 1930s women did receive a government stipend in order to stay at home and raise children. So the problem Jennifer is describing is not one of “abandoning feminism” — it’s a real problem that everyone in this country faces: how to make up for the unpaid labor of household work.

          • Katie Mae

            Another good book on this subject is Unbending Gender by Joan Williams. It talks a lot about different kinds of work and how they are valued (and gendered, of course).

    • I wish you were able to be at this past weekend’s book club! We talked about *exactly* this. I hope to stay home with our children, but at the same time, I am terrible afraid of what others will think. I am a college-educated feminist with a successful career – why wouldn’t I work?! Clearly we need to redefine what it means to be a homemaker/homeworker, for others and also for ourselves.

  • Jennifer, this was wonderfully honest and well-written- thank you! I am unemployed (by choice) at the moment, and although I plan to go back to work in a few months, and will be excited about it when I do, I have really, REALLY enjoyed these months at home, by myself. There are things you can only learn about yourself when you are forced to be alone for long periods of time, and that has been really good for me.

    Just a note on the mom issue- my mom was really upset when I told her I was leaving my job (“Can’t you just stick it out?” “Isn’t it better to have a paycheck?” “You’re going to get depressed and lonely.” etc etc) and although it took her a while, she has become incredibly supportive. I think that though our moms want what is best for us, they also are normal people who have their own expectations that they have to work through. Once they do that, though, at the core of things, they love us and want us to be happy. If you choose to stay home, and once they SEE you happy and healthy and thriving, I expect they’ll come around too.

  • If you want to stay home, you can afford it, and you enjoy it, do it. Life is too short to beat ourselves up with what we ‘should’ be doing. Do what makes you happy. And forget about titles. Homemaker, housewife, whatever. You’re a person. You’re not defined by your job, or lack thereof.

    • Oh I so so so agree. It took me so long to realize that I shouldn’t feel guilty for being happy. So what if other people judge? I’m happy and my husband’s happy and so there. We win.

  • z

    I think it’s unfair to say that all working women think of homemakers as unemployed. I think working women have a much more nuanced view, because a lot of them were homemakers at one time. I understand that you’ve had some bad experiences, but perhaps you’d care to retract that generalization?

    I don’t think it’s automatically unfeminist to want to be a homemaker, but there are reasons, huge reasons, that the feminist movement so heavily emphasized fairly-paid work for women. Hard experience has taught that women’s earning capacity and the relationship leverage that it brings are really important, not just for identity and self-worth but for basic financial security. I’m not trying to tell you that your marriage will fail or become troubled, but nobody is immune to these possibilities and they were a big part of the feminist movement. Or what if your husband lost his job? Perhaps it would benefit you to talk with some older homemakers about their experiences. This essay, for example:

    I thought working was really fun when I was 22 and it was all new and exciting. Now that I’m a little older it’s kind of a drag, and I wonder if the projects and responsibilities of homemaking would similarly become less thrilling after the first few years. The flexibility and independence are really appealing, as is the opportunity to focus on me and my family’s needs rather than what someone else wants. But I know I wouldn’t be satisfied in the long run– all I really need is a month’s staycation to get some things done. Also, it’s a lot simpler and easier to care for a household of two adults. You might not enjoy it as much when there’s twice as much laundry and dishes, or if you’re doing because you can’t find a job, or if your husband stops being so appreciative. Meanwhile, the jobs people can get as a young person are often not that satisfying, so homemaking looks better in comparison, but in the long run those jobs can be the pathway to some truly great professional experiences.

    • Did she say that all women who work outside the home think of homemakers as unemployed? The only thing I saw her say in her post was that most of her coworkers think of homemakers as lazy, which may very well be true of her workplace. I don’t think she made a generalization there, she referenced her own experience at her own workplace.

      And I know it surely wasn’t your intention, but the wording of your post almost seems to suggest that you think people are becoming homemakers simply because they’re bored with their work outside the home, or because they think it’s the easier route, rather than because it’s something they’re truly passionate about. While that may not be your own experience, for many women who become homemakers, it is because they’re really, truly passionate about it, full stop. Again, I know that’s not what you meant (at least I hope it isn’t!) but as someone who’s passionate about homemaking, and who has no interest in the corporate world, it rubs me the wrong way when people insinuate that I’m doing this for any reasons other than passion and genuine interest.

      • Miriam

        I don’t think she was suggesting that women who want to be homemakers leave the working world out of boredom. But I also don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibilities that different kinds of responsibilities will interest us more and less over the course of our lives.

        I also take issue with the way you’re presenting “homemaking” and “the corporate world” as the two main options for women here. There’s part time work, there’s the nonprofit sector, full-time telecommuting, and there’s lots of paid work that can be done in the home and community. Maybe these options aren’t as visible as they should be, but I think feminists should keep trying to ensure that there are a range of ways that wage earning can fit into the lifestyles that women (and men!) want. When we see ourselves as locked into a “work or home” dichotomy, then we haven’t made the changes necessary to ensure that everyone can support themselves and their families in the ways that work best for them.

        • Shoshannah


          I often think about how much better our “work-life balance” would be if both my partner and I could work part time and still have health insurance. :(

          Broadening our ideas about “real work” and types of families will be good for both men *and* women. Not to mention children.

        • Oh absolutely! I really hope I didn’t come across as suggesting that the corporate world and homemaking are the only options (this would be ironic, as I fall into one of those ‘in-betweens’ – I consider myself a homemaker because that’s my passion, but I’m also self-employed). In fact, re-reading what I wrote I can definitely see how you read it that way, and for that I apologize! I was oversimplifying my argument.

          Anyway, the main point I was getting at is that we have to be careful not to get into the dreaded ‘you’ll see’ conversation pattern with women’s work choices – much in the same way people often do with women’s other choices (such as decisions to have kids or not have kids, to get married or not get married, etc). I often hear the ‘you’ll see’ based argument against homemaking that goes roughly along the lines of ‘it’s dangerous to not be financially independent’ – and while I get where it’s coming from, I really do, it still comes down to negating each individual woman’s ability to make her own choices for her own life by instilling fear of what COULD go wrong. And I don’t want to speak negatively of the people who say that sort of thing, because I genuinely get that they’re (usually) coming from a place of good intentions. But really, I’m a smart woman, I’ve thought through my options and made the choice that is best for me based on all the information available to me, and if that turns out to be the wrong decision, those are my consequences to deal with. Like Miriam said, we need to “ensure that there are a range of ways that wage earning can fit into the lifestyles that women (and men!) want” – and we can’t do that if we write off certain options as risky or ill-advised.

          • z

            You know, I really don’t mean to be condescending, and I know there are plenty of homemakers who fully understand the risks they are taking. If people fully understand the risk, with real research, I have no objection whatsoever. But I think it’s very important that those risks and vulnerabilities and sacrifices be part of the broader discussion of homemaking. Pretending the risks don’t exist is one of the ways our society devalues and takes advantage of homemakers. Because it’s connected to what I do for a living, I always try to be an advocate for this cause. I really wish we had better financial support for homemakers in the US, and raising awareness is the first step.

            I’d love to believe that everyone’s making a well-informed decision, but through my work I read a lot of surveys of people’s financial knowledge and beliefs, and they really would make your hair stand on end. Just the basics of income tax, Social Security, 401k, compound interest, credit cards– it’s shocking how poorly the average young adult understands personal finance. So I really don’t mean to second-guess individual people’s decisions, but I do see this as a major social problem especially for homemakers. It’s an issue I’m really passionate about, as a feminist.

        • MadGastronomer

          Not to mention academics, owning your own small business, myriad creative and artistic pursuits, freelance work, medical work… the list goes on and on.

          • And I guess it’s also important to note the importance of our own cultural contexts to this discussion as well. You mention the situation with homemakers in the US, so I guess it’s important to point out that I’m Canadian, and our situation is not the same as a result.

            The Canadian system is far from perfect, but at bare minimum, regardless of whether or not I’m in the conventional workforce, in an alternative line of work, or a homemaker (or anything else you can think of) I still have access to basic preventative healthcare, all emergency care, prenatal care, etc – without requiring private insurance. I never have to worry about being bankrupted because I’ve broken my leg, or had a complicated pregnancy, or fallen ill – which is a huge security blanket that can’t be underestimated.

            And our universal maternity leave policy means that I can take close to a year off after having a baby and still be guaranteed my job or an equivalent position when I return, and I’ll receive 80% of my salary (or more, depending on my employer, but 80% is the minimum) for the duration of my mat or parental leave. Again, far from perfect and lightyears behind say, Scandinavia, but miles ahead of the US which if I’m not mistaken, has no job protection for new parents, and no guaranteed mat leave?

            This means that after having a child, I can essentially do a ‘trial run’ of homemaking to see how it suits me without having to risk my job (or at least that would be the case, if I wasn’t self-employed). Even in my case, as a self-employed woman, I get government ‘mat leave’ benefits after having a child.

            So I guess what it comes down to, is that although our system is far, far from perfect and still has a long way to go, it’s still less risky to become a homemaker in Canada than it is in the US. And that’s definitely a cultural context that I didn’t factor in to my initial thoughts about homemaking.

  • Jess

    Girlfriend, you do what you do. Life is entirely too short to be worried about what other people think (also *entirely* too easy for me to just write this, when I know you already know it).

    Feminism is about having a choice to do whatever you want, not an excuse to be a judgy b@#%$. Maybe a lot of women can’t understand why someone would want to do chores and be happy with it, or maybe they wish their husbands would be like that, or maybe they’re just mean. In any event, if it brings you joy, do it. I am ALL about young parents. As a product of a 40 year old mom and a 50 year old dad (26 years ago, no less), I can tell you that even though I enjoyed my stay-at-home dad (he was retired), I desperately wish my parents had been even five years younger, so I could enjoy them more. And my kids enjoy them more. And so on.

    But, this is all fairly moot. You are a smart, feisty, thoughtful woman who has a supportive partner. It’s taken me a long time to figure out that things take time (I know, DUH), so maybe now isn’t your ideal, but you’re working towards it. Maybe he’ll get that promotion that will allow you to stay home, or maybe you’ll do something surprising that opens another door.

  • Breezy

    I’m newly married; to a doctor. *** cliche alert!!! ***
    We can afford for me to stay home. My husband works 70ish hours a week, and we also have to maintain a second household 1000 miles away, where we live with his three sons one-third of the time. Realistically, our household and our marriage can’t support TWO high-earning professional careers. Someone has to make the dinners!
    So there is some justification for why it’s not straightforward to put my expensive, protracted education to “proper” use in a law firm.
    But WHY do I feel I need to justify my preference to stay home, run my vintage clothing businesses part-time and care for my overworked husband and our home? I’m a proud feminist, but some people’s idea of loosening traditional gender roles seem to be, if not as dogmatic as those of yesteryear, at least tending toward the normative.
    On a practical note, I find that however part-time it is, my business saves me from the unsolicited critiques you describe. I play it low key; frankly, in my real life it has only been other medical partners who seem to understand. The choice I enjoy is enviable, and I try not to rub it in.
    It would be nice to feel a little less judged, though.

  • Kate

    Thank you for your bravery and good luck in your struggle to figure it all out.

    The thing that stuck out to me from this essay was, how the h*ll have we allowed our society to become a place where one adult working the kind of job that gives you EIGHTY HOUR WEEKS can’t support a family? If you were working full time there would probably need to be a lot more dry cleaning, take out, pet sitting etc. paid for–and then you would be two people working 120 hours/week, and it’s just wrong that we allow that to be necessary just to survive. Allowing one spouse to spend full time dealing with home and kids is a luxury, true, but it shouldn’t be a luxury that only the 1% can even hope to achieve.

    • this.
      sorry, “exactly” wasn’t enough.

      and, just, all of this post and the responses makes me so pleased. it’s funny (and unfortunate) that there are so many of us who had to (or still need to) reconcile the idea of wanting to be a housewife. and it feels like a lot of camaraderie on that subject, which is lovely.

  • Jennifer, I feel like you wrote the post that has been bouncing around in my head lately. Although I’m not married yet, I’ve been unemployed for the last few months and unlucky in my Chicago job search. I’m applying to grad school in creative writing. I’m fortunate that my fiance’ has a great job that allows him to support us both, but I’ve been looking for a job just because it feels weird not to have one. It feels weird when I ask him for money. It feels weird when I buy groceries that only I like with his money. It feels weird to find satisfaction in a clean room and a made bed and an empty dishwasher. And it feels weird to enjoy this time to just breathe.

    Until now, I have always been employed, and always managing 3,000 things at once. A few years ago I thought I would never marry and I didn’t want kids. Now I find that things are changing.

    So thank you for writing this and putting a more organized voice to some of the things I’ve been feeling!

  • E

    Wow – what a great post! Though I am the breadwinner wife of our family, I definitely relate to the “zen” feeling of of housework, so don’t be ashamed of loving the laundry! I do, too!

    But I especially needed to read this line near the end of your post: “Marriage didn’t make me into anything I wasn’t already. It just made me aware of so much more of myself than I used to be.” I’ve been married about 6 months now, and I’ve been going through some really intense feelings of soul-searching and identity-defining that I never expected to experience. Although I can’t say these feelings were CAUSED by getting married, my hunch is that there is a connection. I feel like I’m in a transition period and trying to figure out what sort of person I really want to BE. Which, when I say it, makes me feel dumb, because I’ve always had a pretty strong sense of self and of ethics – but something has definitely shifted and is causing me a great deal of emotional turmoil.

    So it was good to hear that you are experiencing some heightened self-awareness and shuffling as a newlywed…it makes me feel less alone in my turmoil!

    • Amandover

      E, you’re definitely not alone.
      I think no matter the amount of emotional preparation, discussion, and planning you do before a wedding, there’s gonna be a LOT of identity-defining afterwards. Once you’ve gotten through the doorways of lifelong commitment, soul-deep love, mourning & celebrating the changes in family dynamics… suddenly there’s the rest of your life spread out before you. Suddenly, that hazy “who knows?” future has a very real constant in it, and kids are a very real possibility, as are major financial decisions like home buying and (ack!) paying for retirement. Which is to say, I think it’s crazy *not* to reevaluate exactly what makes you feel fulfilled in life, both individually and with your partner. Having a lifelong partner gives you a lot of options (while also limiting them to what Partner needs), so keep on soul-searching. And know that no choice is set in stone.

  • “In an attempt to reassert my independence, I sometimes become illogically possessive of my space and the things I owned before our marriage”

    Me too, friend – me too. Sometimes I also exaggerate the importance of things I did when I was still “on my own.” I make sure to remind my husband of them, as though this will convince him (me?) that I’m me, myself, a singular worthwhile person first and foremost. Luckily this feeling passes quickly.

    And can we please re-name “homemaking?” I really can’t stand the cheerful bon-bon-eating woman-in-an-apron connotation it carries. Though I’m not such a fan of “domestic engineering” either, though it is fun to spring on people who need a little waking-up in the feminism department. “Homeworking,” perhaps?

    • Kess

      Sorry, just as a little aside, (and not to you in particular Kerry, just to everyone) please don’t call it domestic engineering. As someone who has worked as an engineer it’s, well – not insulting – but very aggravating. To me it’s kind of like those people who claim to be doctors but have never gone to medical school or actually practiced medicine.

      But, I totally do agree that some better term needs to be determined.

      • Wait, are you talking about PhD’s? As in “pretending to be doctors?”

        • Kess

          Oh gosh no! They totally get the right to Dr.! Heck yes they get the right to Dr.!!!!

          I’m talking about the people on TV shows and the like (Dr. Phil, etc.) who aren’t really doctors but use the term.

          • Well, as much as I loathe the guy, Dr. Phil has a degree in clinical psychology so I don’t think we can revoke his title just because he’s a fame whore. As much as I’d like to!

            I guess I just don’t know who uses “Doctor” without actually being a doctor. Unless they are on soap operas :)

            And as tongue-in-cheek as the “domestic engineer” term is and despite the fact that I don’t acutally use it for real – I still hold to the fact that it makes sense. When you seperate it from the academic field of study, “engineering” is using scientific knowledge (which can be economic or social in nature) to refine and improve processes. Sounds like what a lot of homemakers do, to me.

            (This is all polite devil advocating, by the way. I do understand your frustration)

          • Kess

            Ah, you learn something everyday – I thought Dr. Phil failed or something.

            I guess I just feel that engineer is a title you get though school and work. It, like doctor, is supposed to indicate some level of expertise in a certain area – one that could cause people’s lives. Maybe I’m guilty of devaluing domestic work, but I don’t think you can really have expertise in keeping a home, or at least if you can, it typically doesn’t mean that people would die.

            And don’t worry, I like devils advocate discussions – usually it makes me question my own assumptions which is always a good thing!

      • MadGastronomer

        Er, “doctor” is the correct title for anyone who holds a doctorate in any subject. The only profession I know of in which it’s extremely uncommon for holders of that degree is the legal profession (lawyer hold doctorates in jurisprudence).

        And indeed, the term doctor originally had nothing to with medicine at all, but from the Latin for learn or teach — a doctor was a learned person who passed on their knowledge. Professors are much closer to the original meaning than medical doctors, and it is entirely correct for doctors in any subject to call themselves that. The attitude that they shouldn’t privileges one field above all others.

        • Kess

          I just wanted to assure you I was not talking about PhDs in other subjects. I had originally thought that many TV personalities calling themselves “doctor” did not have actual doctorates or hadn’t gone to medical school. I just wanted to clarify that engineer was also a similar term that shouldn’t just be thrown around – you’ve gotta earn it! And I really don’t think that running a household is quite on the same playing field as engineering – although it certainly can be more difficult sometimes!

    • Not gonna lie. I wish “bon-bon eating” applied to me more often. But I see what you mean. Too bad “homeMAKING” can’t get a little better polish, in light of all the attention on DIY and Makers, and the current traditional arts renaissance. Perhaps attaching “artisan” somehow…

      • I like that! “Artisan de le domicile!”

        People will respect it more if it’s in another language, non?

    • How about “facilities manager” :)

      • HA! Brilliant.

      • My cousin’s husband, who left his engineering job to stay home with their three kids full time, proudly calls himself “house manager”.

        • AJ

          I have a friend who calls herself Co-Chair In Charge of Child Development and Home Affairs.

    • Shoshannah

      I suspect the reason people get so irate about homemakers’ attempts to “professionalize” their work (and it *is* work), is that those of us who are employed outside the home do all the things homemakers do, *in addition to having a full time job*.

      So it strikes some as an attempt to claim special status and recognition for things that all adults have to do as basic processes of daily life (laundry, cooking, cleaning).

      Personally, I get annoyed when stay-at-home moms tally up the “cost” of all the work they do and then claim they should be paid $200,00 or some such nonsense. Of course it’s WORK. But the rest of us do it, too, and don’t get paid, either. This is not so much the fault of either “career women” (another term at which I grate, despite being a full-time office worker with no kids myself) or “housewives” as it is symptomatic of the historic nature of our culture’s tendency to see women as chattel: people who do the background work that makes society run, for little or no pay.

      We need to revolutionize the way “work” works, and acknowledge that home-based work IS work. We need to fight for a society that recognizes that *everyone* needs “work/life balance,” and that supports all types of household and family arrangements to that end. A good start would be universal healthcare and more part-time and telecommuting opportunities, for both men and women, as well as a change in social attitudes toward men who want to do these traditionally feminine tasks.


      • Hm. I don’t know if I agree with your stance on this. I think that’s because, as someone who works outside the home, I DONT do all the things that a homemaker does on top of my job. Maybe other people do, but I don’t. I think about the stuff my mom did at home when she was a homemaker, and she did a lot of cleaning and maintenance stuff that my husband and I outource to save time, and a lot of relationship/social stuff (sending notes, cards, baking for others, visiting those that need visits, shopping) that I either don’t do at all, or do on the internet.

        And I don’t quite understand the thing against identifying the cost of home-care. Maybe I’m just not processing it correctly? – but if you are working during the day for 8 hours, you aren’t home with your baby or sick parent during that time. They aren’t doing one on top of the other…

        • What about when the homemaker is the mother of young children as well? Because in that case they are also actively taking on tasks that we otherwise HAVE TO pay someone for (daycare etc), or what if it is a mother homeschooling her children – that also is most definitely work that is associated with costs either way.

          But I think that being a homemaker goes deeper than just the stuff that gets taken care of anyway.

        • Shoshannah

          I work 45-55 hours a week. Before my partner moved in with me, I did all my own cooking, cleaning, and laundry. In fact, I have a food blog. I also write thank you notes and Christmas cards. I take my pets to the vet. Etc. My load is slightly lifted now that I have a partner living with me, as we can trade off on the tasks, but of course the workload is also higher.

          We can’t “outsource” anything, because we live month to month as it is.

          Just to clarify.

          • liz

            I’m uncomfortable with this comment because it sounds so much like, “I do all of that PLUS this PLUS this,” that it almost seems to say that those who only do one of these tasks are not contributing? Or are not valuable in the work that they do?

            I went from a career that required mondo unpaid overtime and working after hours at home + raising a baby + half of the housework (during the time my husband was working) + the things you mentioned- cat, christmas cards, etc…. to staying at home. My days are no less packed and my life is no less fulfilled. I don’t want special status, but I do expect my contribution to be acknowledged as more than “just staying home.”

      • liz

        Agreed with Kerry- when I worked, my husband did the housework.

        Meanwhile, similar to what you’ve said, I have heard that perhaps the push to act as if “homemaking isn’t a job” is a result of the anti-feminist mindset that housework is woman’s work, and woman’s work by it’s very nature is less valuable. Worth pondering.

        As a “career woman” turned “homemaker” who will eventually return to her career- I’m interested in thinking and discussing about it.

        • Granola

          I think there are definitely tasks that fall by the wayside for someone who has a paying job that a “homemaker” might do – the thankyou notes or visiting for instance (though my mom works at least 40 hours a week and visits many elderly relatives).

          But the idea that there are some non-paid tasks that fall under the rubric of Adult Duties has some merit to it. I know that I think that way when I feel like I’m the only one who thinks about getting the laundry done or the dishes or making the bed – these things aren’t “a woman’s work,” they’re “things an adult needs to take care of.” So perhaps there is an upper echelon of tasks that a full-time House Manager would oversee, there is also a basic core of things that must be done in any household, regardless of whether the person or people doing them also have other paid responsibilities.

          I think a big part of the problem is that one of the only ways we have culturally to talk about value is to put a dollar amount on something. So the full-time House Manager is attempting to place an easily understood value on the work he or she does. But the problem is that than can devalue the “work” that another person does if they’re not placing a dollar value on their home responsibilities in addition to their jobs.

          Sorry, went kind of long and complicated, but this post and the comments have make me think in great ways.

          • Shoshannah

            I agree with all of this. We need new ways of talking about this.

            That was my point, not to demean anyone who works at home and not in “the workforce.” I *wish* I could stay home. Haha.

      • Annie

        I’ve gotta back Shoshanna up here—she says homemaking is *work*. It 100% is. It is a job. But whether you’re a Christmas card sender or a wear-laundry-out-of-the-dryer-so-you-don’t-have-to-fold-it-type (and those don’t each apply specifically to homeworkers or outside-homeworkers), there are some things, like paying bills, eating food, and making your house not a biohazard, that also are part of being a grown-up, and that that’s the reason some people don’t understand homeworking. I think she was just pointing that out. As far as the “my job deserves a $200,000 paycheck” bit, I could not agree more. That drives me up a wall. It’s not because homeworkers don’t deserve mad props for their job—they do. It’s just something that bumper stickers say that doesn’t make sense logically or even math-wise. You are saving money by providing your own childcare, right? Is there someone I should be talking to about writing me a check to watch my own kids and prepare a tasty meal that I am going to eat? (I’m being jokey here, I understand that these checks do not exist).
        Awesome conversation, y’all. I’m going to think about it every time I spend an hour at work filing recipes on my computer while reading feminist blogs.

    • meg


      God, I love it. I know, reclaiming terms, blah blah, but I remember when “homemaking” was brought to the fore by the super super culturally conservative gay bashing types in the 80’s (I grew up around them) and it makes me tense up. Homeworking is so much radder.

      • I agree that Homemaker needs a new term, but I think if you say your job is Homework, people are going to think it’s a clever way of saying you’re a student.

      • MWK

        And for the love of God, let’s let people who do it earn social security at level of what the work of valued at! Oh wait….we might not have that at all anymore. Well, let’s do something like that.

  • Jennifer:

    Thanks for saying all these things. THESE are the things that have been making me feel, well, a little downtrodden lately, and just generally feeling like I’m sucking at a whole bunch of things.

    Married for 6 months, I work from home at a low-maintenance job, without a lot of structure or responsibility, or for that matter, income. My husband is in school for nursing anesthesia, so although I am the only income right now, my paycheck just offsets the cost of student loans for us. Before getting married, I was considering a career in physical therapy. Which is basically 4 years of school with pre-requisites. So before we got married, I was thinking of going to PT school, and starting a new career. But now, what with me being in my early 30’s and wanting to have kids and stay home with them, I know that I’ve put off that career change for basically a decade. And frankly: i’m kind of okay with that.

    It was in my late 20’s that i began to discover how work around the home gave me such satisfaction and pleasure, particularly cooking, gardening, and all things food. So, now that I work from home (for a produce company, no less), these food and home tasks have become a major part of my life. And yet I too feel like I’ve betrayed some sort of feminist inner self that while my husband is studying 65 hours a week, I do the vast majority of the household chores. But I also feel like he’s working so hard, that I’m not earning enough or doing enough. Wait. So, let’s lay that out here. I feel:

    1. That I’m doing too many of the chores and that as a feminist, I should insist on my husband’s equal participation. SO I feel like a bad feminist who’s a doormat to her husband’s career.

    2. That I’m not doing ENOUGH around the house and earning income, that I’m not doing my part because he’s working so hard to build a career that will basically financially sustain our entire family adventure, and I should be working HARDER.

    I know these things are irrational. I cannot help but feel them. And so now, I’m in my kitchen this morning, crying over an arguably enviable life, and caught between this rock and hard place. I LIKE being at home, I LIKE keeping things together here, but accepting that THAT is enough, that’s the tough part.

    • Abby C.

      Oh my god, you are SO preaching to the choir. Your statements align so much with what I’m going through right now that I’m having trouble keeping it together at my job. My dead-end, politically charged, no hope of promotion under paid job. The job I feel like I have to keep even though it makes me miserable because I’ve been looking for alternatives, but I don’t have another job in hand. And even though I make a fraction of what my fiance makes, I still feel like I need to have a job to at least be contributing *something.* So I work harder at housework to make up for the fact that I don’t contribute enough wage wise, while my fiance works 70+ hours per week. But then I simultaneously feel like a bad feminist for not asking my fiance to do more (though he does some) and a bad housewife for having such limited time after my own job that I can’t do everything. Honestly, I enjoy cooking and having a clean house, so it’s not like I hate it. But having the chores take away from my limited free time does irritate me.

      How did we get to such a state where two educated people can both be working full time and it’s not enough?? My fiance has a Masters in CS for crying out loud!! I have a bachelor’s in graphic design! We consciously live modestly, we don’t spend above our means. And yet it’s expected in my fiance’s industry that you will never work a mere 40 hour week, and to search for a new job you need to spend months studying (in what copious free time??) to update yourself enough with changing technology to be competitive.

      Maybe this is more of an economic rant than a relevant discussion to Reclaiming Wife, but seriously, simultaneously job searching (for both of us) while planning a wedding that’s three weeks away BLOWS.

    • Melissa K

      Yes! It’s the “feeling bad either way” thing! Why do we women do this to ourselves?

    • Rachel

      YES YES YES!! I feel the same way all of the time. I work at an average 9-5 job, that gives me a lot of flexibility and downtime, but I make *so* much less and have so much less work (even though I put in 40 hours/week at my desk) than my husband, my income and time feels a little worthless. He has a big, important job, makes a lot more money and works a lot more hours than I do. I feel like I have to “make up for it” by doing more stuff around the house and for our (combined and individual) social calendars. I feel embarrassed talking about my job in social settings because it’s just, well, not that interesting or something I’m really excited about most of the time. I’m really okay with that, because it allows me the time to do the things that *do* get me excited, like write, and cook, and plan fun trips and parties, and train for marathons. But then at the same time I’m feeling all of these feelings, I also feel like “hey, I work, too, dammit.” and like I should be insistent upon his equal contribution in the household, like I should be more ambitious, work harder and longer at my day job/get a new day job that makes me work harder/longer, etc.

      • I also have a job I’m embarrassed to talk about it social settings (it’s pretty low level) but one of the best things about it? It will be so easy to leave. I’ve been saying that this it the first and last time I’ll be working full time for someone else, I’ve been self employed in the past and definitely want to get back to that when we have kids. And I totally agree with feeling like I should be more ambitious, but I really have no interest in a high-powered career and much more interest in working from home (especially a clean, organised home!)

  • melissa

    My feelings are very similar to yours. I think it’s just that the things I like to do are things that take place at home. I love to cook and want to organize everything, though I never find the time. I’d like to be growing my own vegetables (need to get a small yard though). If I have babies, I want to spend more than a couple of hours a day with them. Maybe I would start to want to do something outside of the house, but I know I don’t want to do something 40-50 hours a week outside the house. But the male-dominated work world wants all or nothing. In order to only work about 20 hours a week, I’d have to take some menial job where the pay didn’t even make it worth while. Yeah, all those years of college weren’t to be a part-time paper-filer and phone-answerer. So, basically, nothing is resolved.

    • This is where going into business for yourself is a really empowering concept. If your household isn’t dependent on your income, starting a home business can be one way to work fewer hours and still have a job that holds meaning…

      • melissa

        Agreed. Just not sure what it is I’d want that business to be about.

  • Ann

    Wow. This is me exactly. I have been married 9 months, my husband is an engineer working at least 60 hours/week, and I am currently about 2/3 done with my Masters in Creative writing (which I absolutely love, btw. I hope you love your program, too!) When we got married I had a pretty solid part-time job, but about a month later the store I worked in closed due to some silly conflicting policies about the lease on the building. Since then I would say I’ve been… slightly employed? I’m not teaching SAT prep classes for high school kids, but it’s only 10 hours/week max, and that’s only when I actually have a class going, which I often don’t because not that many parents are willing to spend $1000 for their kids to take a class like this these days (and I don’t really blame them.)

    In any case, my husband and I talked long before we were married about how I never had the drive to have a real “career” of sorts, but I would love to stay at home if we could afford it, and certainly once we had kids I would not work unless absolutely necessary. But still I find myself feeling guilty. And attempting to make my part-time work sound a lot more exciting/important than it is when poeple ask me what I do. Because I don’t think they’ll understand. Because we don’t have kids yet, and while our finances out pretty comfortable on one income for now, after my Master’s is done, my boatload of student loans is going to kick in and how could I ask my husband to take on that burden while I spend most of my time at home?

    And I’m in much the same boat as you. I like spending my time caring for my baby family and making sure that when my husband has free time we can actually spend that time together. And he admits that it’s awesome that rarely has to do any housework at all. And I, too, enjoy have this time to myself during the day. I like the peace and quiet and the time to work on writing and the freedom to even have some otheer hobbies. And I keep silently hoping that by some miracle I will get my book published within two years and maybe, just maybe, make enough money off of it to put a big dent in those student loans, and the I won’t have to go find a real job. And meanwhile I keep trying to enjoy this time I have and not be bogged down with that guilt…

  • Lethe

    “I’ve taken his last name—an issue I took months reconciling—because my mother and stepfather have different last names, and I saw what that did for their sense of belonging and familial loyalty.”

    I appreciate the author sharing her internal struggle, but respectfully, I don’t think this kind of comment is very helpful. This is a negative judgment about others’ choices from your external point of view – only the people in the relationship can know the truth about what is right for them or what effects their personal decisions do or do not have on how they relate.

    I think you could make the point just as well by saying that you personally feel that if you had a different name from your husband, it would affect your own sense of belonging and familial loyalty – which would be a perfectly fair thing for you to say.

    • Hi Lethe.

      I don’t normally respond to my own article comments, but I wanted to let you know that I agree with you. I don’t much like the way this sentence reads either. I’m not knocking the editors here AT ALL (because lord knows I need some editing) but that actually isn’t what I wrote. The original sentence read:

      “I’ve taken his last name—an issue I took months reconciling—because my mother and stepfather have different last names, and I saw what that choice can do to a person’s sense of belonging and familial loyalty.”

      Not “did”, but “can do.” I think the APW staff were trying to personalize my sentence, but I think the change made me seem a lot more judgmental than I meant it to be. I respect a woman’s right to retain her last name… like I said, my mother did it. My perspective is very personal and very difficult to articulate. I’m sorry you were offended.

      It may seem small, and perhaps it still reads too inflammatory to you, but I wasn’t trying to generalize and I wasn’t saying that changing one’s name automatically leads to any particular result. My husband and I struggled very much with that decision. And I probably should have mentioned that Casey took my name too… we both changed our middle names to my maiden name. Our kids will have both of our names as well.

      I wish you well.

      • Alyssa

        Lethe, changing of the words “can do” to “did” do not affect the fact that this is a personal account and unfortunately not all aspects of a post will come across in a way to encompass everyone because it is written from a single point of view. This post is in large part about not making people feel badly for their choices or feelings in their own life, and part of that is understanding that their point of view will not always be helpful. And as Jennifer showed, that wasn’t her intent. But thank you for expressing that in a respectful way, Lethe!

        Sidenote, I am always so blown away by nicely people in general tend to disagree around here! Typical comment sections are like screaming matches at grade-school lunch tables; APW is like sitting around and having occasionally tense, yet always earnest, conversations over tea and coffee…

      • Chris Bergstrom

        I just want to say that wow, is this an amazing exchange between Lethe and Jennifer. So honest, so thoughtful, and so respectful. Kudos to you both. I think our world needs way more exchanges like this one.

      • meg

        I actually edited that, because I was uncomfortable with the original statement what it can do to “a person’s” sense of belonging… etc. Obviously, as someone who didn’t change her name, and has tons of belonging and family loyalty, I don’t think it’s a true *general* statement. So, I changed it to make it clear you were discussing your own family, not judging others or making a sweeping statement, which I knew was not your intent. I was trying to avoid this exact discussion, but we’re still having it, I’m afraid! If you have further questions on editing, please email me directly.

        • Don’t worry about it, Meg. Editing is very difficult work. I understood why you did it, and I knew when I included that point that I’d rub some people the wrong way. I know as well as anyone how contentious the name-change issue can be. It was my choice to include it and open up this can of worms. I kind of like worms– they help turn what could’ve been nothing but garbage into something living, something beautiful. Which is exactly what this kind of discourse should do.

  • Becky2

    This was a great read! It’s funny how conflicted we get about the things we love even though making the best choice for you is what feminism is all about. It’s all about choices, baby.

    I am someone who’s never wanted to be a stay-at-home anything. If I don’t have projects during the summer when I’m not teaching I feel claustrophobic and overwhelmed by household chores. However, (and I’m using this term because I don’t have a better all-encompassing one) “women’s work” is not valued in our society (as evidenced by the fact that it’s called women’s work), but it should be. I can undestand wanting to stay home and have control over your home environment the way I have control over my work environment. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but housework is actually worth a huge amount of money in dollar values. And it shouldn’t just be respected because it can be assigned a monetary value. Keeping house serves a vital function within a family, with or without children, and expresses a particular set of values. If your bliss is knowing that you have an orderly place to live your life and take care of the ones you love, than do it. Wanting to stay home is not inherrantly bad or anti-feminist. What would be anti-feminist is if your husband was making you stay home because you’re the woman, and that’s clearly not the case.

    And, as my mom says, education is never wasted. If you get this master’s degree, have children, stay home, and become the primary caregiver and homemaker…YOU ARE NOT WASTING YOUR EDUCATION!!! It may feel like it just because of the money spent, but you will be intentionally and unintentionally educating your children just by spending time with them. They will glean things from you and your education that will make them interesting, compassionate people and good writers (since you’re getting you degree in that). It took me a while to fully understand that not using a degree in a formal job doesn’t devalue it, but my mom is a lot smarter than me and I learned from her :0) Anyway, ramble over. I’ll step down off my soapbox, but I hope this helps. After the book club discussion and in my life in general, I really feel like this is what APW is about and this is what feminism is about for me: choices and the value inherant in one’s choices whether you agree or not.

    • SJG

      I so appreciated what you said in your comment RE: wasting your education, Becky2. I too am pursuing my Master’s degree (in English literature), and I’m newly pregnant. My husband and I have been married for a little over one year, and we planned the heck out of this pregnancy (got on “good” insurance, leased a bigger vehicle, saved money, etc.). But the one thing that we didn’t plan – my seriously debilitating morning sickness that is THANKFULLY now subsiding (knock on wood) – has made me think about my education and my thoughts about motherhood and what kind of role that I want to play in terms of being a mother.

      I’ve always imagined myself as a career-oriented person that would work and put my kids in (a great) daycare. Yet, my husband is currently pursuing a promotion at his job that would allow us to double our monthly income, which means that I may not have to take on a job (at least a full time job) after our child is born next summer. I’ve had to postpone my graduation date because of the morning sickness, and I’m not even a little bit upset about it. In fact, all I can think about is that taking a little extra time to graduate with my Master’s degree will allow me more time to stay at home and care for our little one.

      The feminist in me outright rejects household chores – ever since my husband and I have lived together, he’s done the cooking (because he enjoys it, just like his dad), the dishes, cleaning the bathroom, etc. I do the laundry and the dusting, but our division of labor in terms of household chores largely relies on him doing the brunt of the work. Yet, I’m aware that if I’m not working outside of the home, some of these duties would need to shift to me, and I’m anxious about reconciling my feminist side with the homemaker role. I’m decidedly more anxious, however, about hearing (from my husband and others) that I’ve “wasted my education” by not pursuing a career field that is directly related to my degree. How have others reconciled this?

      In other words, this post was super thought-provoking for me. Thank you, Jennifer, for writing it.

  • I was just laid off from my full-time job and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’m taking time to figure out what I really want—and my new husband completely supports me.

    Something that I do (which I can now do more of not being employed full-time) is focus on volunteering. I sit on two boards—one for the local chamber of commerce and one for a statewide organization that raises money and gives grants to organizations and people who support the mission of women and girls. I’m very passionate about it. When my husband travels, which he does frequently, I have housework for sure, but I also have meaningful duties to these nonprofits that I completely support.

    If yo have the time, volunteer for a cause you are passionate about. It’s a luxury most younger people (ie. not retired) don’t have. Plus it makes you feel good!

    • Question about the volunteering. How do you go about finding the kind of volunteer work you enjoy where you live? I had previously volunteered with Legal Aid in Colorado but since moving to Georgia I am having a tough time figuring out how to allocate my volunteering interests!

      • I don’t know if it exists for all cities, but when I moved here, I googled “volunteer + city name” and a huge database came up of every volunteer position available in the city.

  • I may have a more coherent post later. The one I just wrote invoked civil rights, Dan Savage and why gays need to come out of the closet. There was a point there, I’m just not sure how much sense it made so I deleted it.

    For now I want to tell you that I get you, that we all get you. An entire generation of women who have been told they should have it all even if theu don’t *want* it all, gets you.

    • Yowzah. I didn’t know I needed that affirmation until I burst into tears this morning. Thank you, big time.

    • Gigi

      I did the same thing…got so wrapped up in the words that were spilling out of me that I totally lost the point I was trying to make. You ended up saying it much better than I did. The “should have it all even if they don’t want it all” – this, I think, is the crux of the problem. It’s not an acceptable choice in our current society to say “no thanks” to having it all. Why can’t that be a valid choice?

  • Thank you so much for writing this, Jennifer. I’m sure you will hear this a lot today, but anyone who judges your choices based on feminist principles is a shitty feminist. As Meg reminds us, feminism is about having choices–not conforming to someone else’s priorities or doing something (like working outside the home) just for the sake of doing it. My mom was also a staunch feminist who (in between debriefing Disney movies and buying me Barbies of Color) talked often about my right to a career. BUT, in the video she made me before she died, she also spoke at length about how the greatest struggle of her life was balancing her own (high-powered, overtime-ridden) career with being a mother. There is nothing wrong with wanting to exempt yourself from that struggle, especially given the peace and fulfillment work at home gives you. I hope you’re able to find a balance that works for you and your family.

  • This ” I’m just stumbling around the dark with a lit candle, that flicker of optimism that makes the darkness bearable. And Casey has a candle too, and he’s holding my hand, and I’ve realized that we need each other to find the path through this mess”.

    I am not exactly in the same situation but similar. Trying to find a job in my area, which is extenuating, frustrating, and driving me crazy . At the same time. we would like to start a family soon (which does not seem to be something we can control, as in, we are having more trouble than we thought we would) and I am also considering starting a master, in the hopes that a new diploma might increase my odds at getting a job that matters. Combining all those things is difficult and it makes me cry sometimes, because if I do get pregnatn, how will I go to school? But if I don’t, I can not be stopping my life for it. And if I can not get a proper job I might as well use this time to go further in my field.

    Anyway, all this to say that you are not alone in this struggles.I am sending you support in trying to find the balance that is best for you, it is not easy to figure it out. I do not know your field, but maybe you can manage a way to work from home? Thus having your cake and eating it as well?

  • Great post.
    There are many things you can do at home besides homemaking – you can start community work, run online businesses, write books, secret kitchen rebellions and revolutions, become a campaigner, paint, host wild parties, adopt local waifs and strays, set up wildlife sanctuaries, make things to sell, become a philosopher, organise summer festivals. Maybe it’s an ideal life.

    Check out ‘How to be Free’ by Tom Hodgkinson. It’s not written from a female or feminist perspective, but I found it an inspiration when it comes to feeling less guilty about non traditional careers and work.

  • Anonymous


    And I think some of it has to do with the economy, and job prospects right now. Because I sent my high school and college years doing all the right things, but then I graduated and didn’t find a career, just jobs. So then I went to grad school, but by the time I graduated the economy was awful and I was supposed to just be happy with ANY job. So I got one, and I like it, I don’t dread work every day and I leave at a reasonable time and I make enough money, and the news is telling me that I should be thankful for that and cling to it. But the thought of staying in this job forever is just… no thanks. Especially once I have kids and presumably won’t want to leave them behind every day. Maybe I’d feel different if I’d found that elusive career.

    My other worry about working and having kids is the idea that kids will become just another chore to add to the list of chores that need to get done in the off-work hours. Right now we just have a dog, and I love him but sometimes I come home from work and I’m tired and hungry and it’s cold and I just don’t want to walk him. And that’s all the dog needs from me! A 20 minute walk and some food! I’m terrified of having kids and finding myself resenting them for taking up space in my day.

    I have a million scattered thoughts on this… for example, if I am a working mom, I would NEED to hire a maid, but then would it get to the point where I’m just working to pay the maid and the daycare? that seems crazy!… but I also go crazy for lack of human contact when I take a sick day from work, how could I possibly stay home all the time?… and then, how do our husbands factor in? How fair is it that women tend to get the right of first refusal when it comes to the homemaker role?… I have no idea how it’s all going to work itself out.

    • “and then, how do our husbands factor in? How fair is it that women tend to get the right of first refusal when it comes to the homemaker role?…”

      This is something I really am interested in. Because in our family, my husband would enjoy the homemaker role just as much as I would. We have kind’ve settled it at this point with a tentative plan of me staying home with kids (when we have them) while he continues working, mostly because my current job isn’t a career path I’m interested in, and his is. But I’m also starting grad school for a career path I AM interested in, knowing that with our current outline, I would be homemaking/side business-ing/volunteering and growing my local professional network from when we have kids until I get back into the professional workforce. Which seems… FUN to me, and I feel a little guilty that, as you say, I get first refusal, and get to choose the fun, mostly by virtue of those traditional roles that feminists have fought to NOT choose. Makes my head spin…

    • Elizabeth

      Just as “women tend to get the right of first refusal when it comes to the homemaker role,” men tend to get the right of first refusal when it comes to the breadwinner role. It is my suspicion that men and women desire those roles at much more equal rates than society would have us believe. If we can shift the “right of first refusal” for housework and professional work to be less about gender and more about true desire, I think we’ll make huge feminist strides that will benefit everyone, women and men.

      • There is a niggling sense that us getting the right of first refusal here is unfair.

        But then, there are so many places in our lives where we don’t get ANY say, or men always get the first choice … and that makes me want to own this right. Enjoy it. Revel in it.

        There aren’t many places where our choice comes first.

        • Elizabeth

          Having the first right of refusal comes at a huge cost. It reinforces the idea that raising children and running a household are women’s work. If we can make these first rights of refusal less about gender employers won’t be able to make such clear assumptions about women leaving their jobs after having children because men will leave to raise children often as well. Making these decisions fall less along gender lines could also increase the urgency society feels around solving problems like expensive childcare, maternity/paternity leave, etc because these would be issues facing men and women more evenly than they do today. Relishing our right of first refusal here feels like we’re thanking society for giving us something when really we could have so much more.

          • Rosamund

            This. Because (and this happens in all minority groups) society persists in seeing what we as individuals do as somehow representative of all of us.

            (See )

            Which is total crap and also opens up a dilemma. Because on the one hand everything you do, especially around political footballs like this, affects other women’s lives, but on the other hand, you simply can’t let that affect how you live yours.

  • Cass

    Great post. I’ve struggled with this to some degree too. Last summer, I quit my job and moved back to my home state to look for a new one. When I went to purchase insurance for my car, they asked me my occupation and I told them I was currently unemployed, but looking. The CSR asked, “So I should put you down as ‘homemaker’?” I was seriously ticked, but mostly because he never would have asked my husband that question.

    In theory, I don’t have a problem with being a homemaker, but I worry about the impact on any future career I might have if I leave the work force for too long. I have a serious back problem and life would be so much easier if I could either work part-time, work from home, or just not work at all. I’m taking steps so one day I can hopefully do one of those things someday, but for now it simply isn’t possible. I’d like to find a way to “keep an iron in the fire” professional, even if I’m not employed full time.

    I’m terrified of becoming irrelevant. I have a friend who decided to stay at home after being laid off while pregnant and returning to the work force has been a huge struggle for her. Employers seem don’t seem to take her seriously because of the larger than average gap in her work history. This isn’t right, but it’s an unfortunate reality.

  • I know exactly how you feel! As a relatively new “official” feminist (i.e. having realized that what I believe falls under “feminism” only a few years ago) I am ardent about women having the same rights and general capabilities as men do, and for social and financial security reasons I will definitely get an outside-the-house-job once I finish my studies even if I should be married by then. But I was raised by an intellectual and at times obsessively perfectionist stay-at-home mother, so I got to witness first-hand how homemaking and parenting can amount to a full-time job. In addition, I love being creative and being my own boss, away from external control and judgment, and I know that being a homemaker would allow for this. The problem is, at least in the countries I’ve lived in (Germany and the US), homemaking and parenting are only recognized as “real jobs” with a salary as soon as someone other than a mother/wife is doing them – cleaning personnel, cooks, personal secretaries, home decorators, and nannies / babysitters all get wages, if low ones… It should not be that way. Homemaker should be a career option, for people of any gender, with a mandatory salary and social benefits, and of course without being enforced as the only career option for married women. I wish our respective societies could get there within our lifetime, but I highly doubt it.

  • CB

    Thank you for writing this post and for all the replies too, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one feeling like this. I’m currently unemployed and will be for probably the better part of the next year while I wait for my permanent resident status so I can legally work. This is the first time since I was 15 that I don’t have any source of income and it’s scary. We are lucky that my FH makes enough to support both of us, he keeps telling me I don’t need to work if I don’t want to, but it is just such a strange concept for me. I have a hard time thinking of our financial resources as “ours” and not as “mine” and “his” because right now the only money going into the pot is from him. (I worry about splurging on the groceries that only I like too Clarissa!) I feel like doing most of the housework and cooking is my way of contributing right now, plus it means when FH comes home at night that we can just spend time together instead of worrying about chores. I found out that I actually LIKE doing housework too, please don’t tell my parents, they would drop dead from shock. When I think about staying home after I get the right to work I’m torn, I like being able to spend all the extra time with FH, he works long hours sometimes and he has his share work travel too, but then I worry about not being able to contribute financially and feel like I should have some kind of job at least. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life worrying about buying the expensive cheese at the grocery store…

    Aside from the financial aspect of working or staying home, there is the social aspect of having a job. I’m going a little crazy with that one right now actually. We just moved across the continent and I find myself missing the daily interaction with my co-workers. Then I wonder if maybe that’s just because I haven’t gotten back into my hobbies here yet and maybe that will be enough social activity. What are your strategies for keeping the social needs met when you work at home?

    • Yep. I went through this because of immigration while waiting on PR. And the financial realities of immigration impacted our approach to finances as a couple. We made some changes to how we looked at money- basically moving to more of a “it’s OUR money” approach, which has remained our preferred method of finances even after I got PR (and have now started working again). I dunno….me *having* to depend on him because I was unable to work changed how we looked it all. I learned a lot through it, and realized that we both take care of each other in so many different ways which have value and meaning, regardless of if there is “income” attached. Anyhow, the process of immigration, moving, etc, is hard….as is figuring out how all that that impacts your identity. I wish you all the best!

  • Ceebee

    You are certainly not alone. I was raised a boy, after 2 girls and by the tome I came my parents aren’t going to give up the little things that they’ve wanted for a son. In fact I didn’t become in my skin as a girl-woman till I was about 24 or 25 after some encouragement to ‘follow my bliss’ by my then-boyfriend-to be.

    I am extremely type A ( or so thought) and he’s laid back and hopelessly doe-eyed romantic. So i’ve always thought I’d race him to the top, he could be the stay home dad if he wants and I’d be sn iron lady. But I’ve never been able to reconcile that feeling of being against my own current.
    None of the married women in my family are the homemaker type although they’re excellent in that role. They gain as much mileage as the men. They run the world.
    5 years on, I realized that I am really kicking to want this. I want to be a homemaker, I’m good at this. I get a lot of inner peace.
    The pop culture feminism is all about making peace with ourselves as women, singularly or as a community. Knowing our opportunities, options and making those choices that make us happy. Even if it’s not what we grew up with. Because what we didn’t grow up with may be the chance that drives us.

    Although I’m not married, I understand this. Gettinh married outs out the question of life choices, what works, what needs to be done, how we need to grow up to uphold wach other and be a family. Being Fully ourselves, fully comfortable and at peace with one another ans ourselves. Being married allows us to find a role that fits – inside or outside the home. Filling the gaps and leaning on each other healthily to create a life that works.

  • LPC

    Ooof. I could write an entire post on this. Several separate strands to be teased out. The personal, the political, the biological. At the end of the day, if it works for you and your husband, damn the naysayers. And your mothers might be proud of you anyway. We have enormous capacity to see our children’s choices in heroic light.

    • kayakgirl73


      Please do submit a post on this.

      • LPC

        Ah. Thank you. Thank you very much. I will mull it over, and talk to my kids. The level of personal disclosure required might be more than they’re in for. They may be two of the very rare grownups who have a mother out on the Internet.

  • anonymous

    Great post. As a feminist I certainly wouldn’t judge or put down another woman, feminist or not, who *chose* homemaking. Because it’s a choice. I’d raise my eyebrows (internally) at someone’s idea that they *had* to do it, that the job had to fall to them, but if it’s a choice? No way. That’s the whole point of feminism, and the beauty is that MEN HAVE THAT CHOICE TOO!

    Now, what I”d like to see someday as a follow-up is a post about feminism and homemaking from someone who doesn’t actually enjoy housework.

    Because while I love this post, and I sympathize with the writer, I don’t empathize, because I HATE housework. I really, truly hate it and have reconciled myself to the idea that I can’t trick myself into liking it or rationalize why I should like it: I just don’t. And yet I do it. Not most of it, maybe slightly less than half (my career is the one that’s really taking off now), but I do it, and I despise it. It’s not a big deal for me because I’m the career-focused one, but I’d like to see a post for all those kick-ass feminist women who chose to stay home, who discussed it with their husbands and agreed that she was the best choice of at-home parent/spouse, but who hates housework.

    • meg

      I hate housework! But, I can’t write this post, because the idea of staying home sounds… like my personal hell ;) (Which doesn’t’ mean I don’t think everyone should be empowered to make that choice, if it’s their personal heaven!) Though, hilariously, I do stay HOME. I just work 8+ hours a day from the kitchen table there.

    • liz

      I’m kind of sort of there-ish. I enjoy housework- but only the kind that makes things pretty. That’s when I feel fulfilled. Folding endless baskets of laundry? Mmm, no. Washing piles of dishes? That just chips my nail polish. (and besides, not having any pots clean means that we need to order in because I can’t cook…)

      Though I get lazy, I do enjoy cooking. I also like straightening up and putting things in their place and lighting a yummy candle so the house feels pretty and cozy.

      But does anyone really LIKE housework? As in, like ALL OF IT? The litter box dumping? The toilet scrubbing? Probably not. I think that becomes less of a “feminism” issue and just a “Well, I’m home, so I need to be the grown-up and do it” issue. (because when my husband was home, he did crap he certainly didn’t want to)

      • You know who LOVES housework? LOVES LOVES LOVES it? Would do it gladly from the minute he got home from work until the minute he went to bed if he didn’t have a needy wife nagging him to “quit it already and come watch Colbert with me?”?

        My freaking husband.

        Put that in your WTF feminism pipe and smoke it.

        • M.

          That is awesome. Hooray for people being who they are! Especially when strengths are complementary and such. :-)

          I’m guessing, though, that Liz was mostly asking about how fighting against traditional gender roles works in the (frequent!) case where the people in a partnership both Do Not Like to do a particular item of vacuuming/taxes/toilet-scrubbing – in which case, yes, some grown-up compromise will need to be made, probably with reference to relative amounts of time and specific virulent hatred of kitty litter and comparative talent/rapidity at the task. When in that situation, both the “if I agree to do any housework I don’t inherently enjoy, or allow it to be divided in a way other than 50/50, I’m betraying feminism!” thing and the “women must do/like all housework!” thing can unhelpfully electrify attempts to reach grown-up compromise. (although, of course, outsourcing or lowering expectations is often an option)

      • anonymous

        You know, I do love my career (my actual job is great, although of course there are issues, but whatevs).

        That said, sometimes I wonder if I am so adamant about really going as far as I can with it not just because I love it, but because I NEVER want to be the one for whom it is “the best choice” to stay home.

        Having so much work and such a good career absolves me of the housework I revile so much. If I worked less hard or took things easier, I’d have to do that horrid housework, and I’d much rather be doing things related to my job any day.

        Really and honestly.

    • Hmm… I was unemployed for the first months of my marriage. I like cooking but good-G*d do I hate cleaning. And the guilt that came along with hating the homeworking and not being able to contribute (much) to our family in another way (i.e. through money) was, at some points, surprisingly debilitating. Plus? The guilt took away a lot of the fun I could have been having with my time off. So silly. Where did the guilt come from? Certainly not my husband. So, pop-feminism? Academic feminism? Some idea of what it means to contribute to a family? Some twisted disappointment in myself for NOT being a good 1950’s homemaker? Sheesh, I don’t know. But I do know it was a deep dark confusing hole.

  • Jennifer

    Thank you so much for writing this. I have struggled with the same thoughts ever since I completed my Master’s. I am now engaged and we’re intending to move shortly after we marry and that seems like the perfect time to start a little family. But I also want to work and feel like it is unfair to start working with the intention of getting pregnant and then taking extended leave. I feel like I am always trying to reconcile my desire to work outside of my home and move into positions with more responsibility, with my desire to have a baby before I’m 30 (I’m 28) and stay at home with them for at least the first six months to a year. Sometimes I feel like the best option was the one that I never, ever, considered…have babies in my early twenties, stay home with them until they were in school, and then go back for a Master’s and move into the workforce with no foreseen breaks in my job experience. Anyway, thank you again for writing this, it made me feel better to read it and know that there are other women out there that are experiencing the same feelings.

    • Melissa K

      Yes yes yes! I am totally torn about whether to job-hunt when I intend to become pregnant as soon as possible and would not want to work full-time after that.

  • Kashia


    It’s as if you can read my mind. I’m at home right now because I’m writing my masters thesis, but that still leaves me with more time to do the household tasks than my husband who works crazy long hours and wants to start his own business sometime in the next few years. And as much as my ardently feminist self has a hard time admitting to it, I love being home. I love working on my thesis from home, and I love cooking and keeping things tidy and comfortable for myself, my husband and any guests. We’ve talked about the possibility of me being home part time once I finish my masters and then see what happens once we have kids. But finances are another matter, and me working would make a huge difference to our ability to save money, provide for future children etc. Plus, I’ve always pictured myself as someone who will have life work, who will work at something meaningful and deeply satisfying and get paid to do that. So figuring out how to reconcile that is an on going internal conversation. Thank you for sharing your perspective on this. It is nice to know that I’m not alone.

    PS creative writing masters? You can do that? So cool

  • Jo

    I also feel this way. I also struggle with it and what it means about my internal willingness to “work hard.” Yay for owning it! And as always, the uncharted course is the hardest.

  • kireina

    I’m not sure how to phrase this without sounding whiny, but I’ll have a go.

    This post really hit home with me, because this is where I thought I would be right now. I was somewhat employed (temping, volunteering), taking care of making a home, trying to find my place in the world, wanting to magically discover the career that would make me want to work. Life happened, though, and my fiance and I ended up breaking up before the wedding. This whole situation seems to be so much more troubling now, when I finally, finally accepted the fact that I want to stay at home. That the job I was looking for would be a placeholder until we were ready to have kids and I could stay at home without feeling guilty. That it was *okay* to stay at home and raise a family and make home. It was a relief to me to let go of the conflicted feelings that had been bothering me for years, the inkling that a job or a career was, in fact, not fulfilling for me. The things that make me happy don’t happen in any workplace I’ve found so far.

    But now… Now I have to put that feeling of zen on hold, because I’m not on a kid vector anymore. I’m single again. And trying to find a job now is So. Much. Harder. Because finally, finally I know what I want to do with my life, and it’s out of my reach for the moment.

    So, Jennifer, I know this is totally useless to you, but I completely envy you. I hope you find that zen place.

    • That must be so very difficult. :(

    • Amy March

      And that, in a nutshell, is why my mother, who stayed home until I was 12, has always pushed me to work outside the home. When your fulfilling life’s work is financially dependant on a partner, you risk losing everything if anything should upset that reliance. And although it would be great if you could pick back up on a career easily, I think she, and many women her age, (50s) have seen too many women find contentment in homemaking for decades, only to be left financially lacking and with their sense of purpose taken away.

      Which is why I struggle (silently!) with supporting this choice for my friends- because I want you to be happy, but I love you, and I worry.

    • Ceebee

      *hugs* to you baby girl.
      Same for me too. I dated this great guy that we wanted to marty immediately for 4 years. Only then we didn’t know that part about Reclaiming Wife and Ambition Squared yet. So he gave me 5 years to rule the world before I came back home. Then my huge, huge depression struck, for Yearrrrssss, only we didn’t know what it was. The only place i’d be normal was at work. Then I break into anger and tears from the stress AT him. For years I was an endurance race. And we broke up. I went on my big adventure that would have taken that 5 years, squeezed into 1 (like instead of 2 years grad school, I took a semester abroad, instead of months, I travelled weeks at a place).

      But I’m single. I can’t find the happiness streak in my job. I can’t go off and do those mighty things that I want like starting a business of a social nature alone. I went through my round the world year and I was Going through the motions.

      Then I knew he was right. All I want is to come home, raise a family. Just like he said I would (he fell in love with me watching me with kids and he always knew).
      Only now home is out of reach.

      And dating in my 30s is so hard in Asia. Just a lot of men looking to ‘settle’ or really anti-establishment :(

  • “I should make as much as man, work as hard as a man, and reap the same rewards that men reap.”

    Can I just say, first, that with two-thirds of the world’s working hours being worked by women, I think we need to stand up and start saying that men need to work as hard as us. Just a little positive hoorah.

    Second, I know how so many of you ladies feel. I moved to small-town, retirement area with my husband to support him in his military career and the job search here did not go well for me. I spent a year feeling secretly defeated while getting only one interview and no responses to dozens and dozens of applications. During that time, a lot of my new friends would interject when someone asked what I did. “She’s a housewife,” they’d say but it wasn’t true. Being a housewife is about a conscious decision not to work outside the home and also genuinely loving taking care of your home and providing for your family in that way. Technically, the last half of that was true for me but really, I was just an unemployed woman who did whatever she had to around the house to keep her sane. I like housework but it is not my passion. So I respectfully draw a line between being unemployed and being a housewife. They deserve so much more credit for their love.

    It was the biggest trial for me to conquer in our first year of marriage. Not having any income was tough on my independence and my ego, if I tell the truth. It was one of the most important and life-changing things to happen to me, as well. I have my undergrad in creative writing so during those months, instead of sitting around and feeling sorry for myself, I worked on my writing skills and really honed my craft. I owned up to being a writer, even if I didn’t make any money doing it. It was real work for me–something that I made time for every day–and when people asked me what I did, I told them very proudly that I was a writer. I even got published during that time.
    I also volunteered at an animal shelter and at our local library and that helped me feel like I was contributing to society in ways that I was really passionate about. It didn’t matter if I didn’t make any money doing it, I took it as seriously as a job. Now that I’ve started my graduate studies in library science, my dedication as a volunteer landed me an all-new part-time position that the library made just for me.
    Not giving up on myself and not letting outside judgment cloud my self-worth helped me figure out what I really want from life. While I’m passionate about the library, I would eventually like to have a part-time career in the field so I can spend my love equally on writing and volunteering in the community. My husband fits into the picture because I’ll be finishing grad school as soon as he’s getting out of the military and going back to school for engineering. Hopefully, I’ll be the one carrying us then and when he’s established in his own career, I can strive to draw back my hours and let him become the main source of income again. It’s beautiful that our lives have worked out in the way of this rolling tide, caring for each other as we can and just being endlessly supportive no matter what the picture looks like or what other people say.

    And I say all this not just to gloat (although it feels nice to celebrate with a bunch of women who GET IT), but to say that you can really find meaning in a life without a career, even while you’re struggling with it and crying over it and possibly feeling un-feminist. Just let yourself be unafraid and rejoice a little in whatever happiness you discover.

    • Ceebee

      This is so beautiful – that’s what marriage or a partnership comes in as it should – a commitment to carry each other through – whether together or taking turns being in the forefront.

  • It’s all been said, but I just wanted to add a thank you for this honest and well written post. I’m sure whatever direction you decide to take you will do it with grace and thoughtfulness.

  • I think our mothers and grandmothers push us to have jobs outside the home because so many of them didn’t have that option, but with that came this feeling that there was something wrong with being a homemaker. Like you, I enjoy the act of taking care of my husband and home — I love to clean and cook and do other domestic things — just as I’m sure some women in previous generations enjoyed to do, regardless of not having much of an option. And that’s what makes us feminists — knowing we have choices, embracing whatever choices are made and supporting others as they choose for themselves.

  • Alyssa

    I was a smug gender studies minor in my youth and I once made a crack to my mom about how Dad made her stay home with me growing up and how I’d never marry someone who’d do that.
    She gave me a look (y’all know the look) and said, “NO, Alyssa, we talked about it and decided that it was best for me to stay home with you. Your grandmother always worked when I was growing up and you know how your dad’s mom had to leave him with family and leave the country to find work. We didn’t want that for you, which is why your dad worked two jobs until he was prompted. It wasn’t easy, but we made a choice and did it.”
    The “You little a**hole” was not said out loud but implied.

    Jennifer, you may be stumbling, but you are part of a long line of stumblers and I think y’all are awesome. And I know reading about your journey is helping others find their footing, which is even more awesome. Rock on wit’ yo bad self.

    • liz

      After all this time, I still love when Alyssa comments.

      • Me too. Her getting hired by Meg has made all our lives easier, because now her comments are so easy to find :)

        • Alyssa

          Aww! Thank you!

          And y’all don’t even KNOW how much I’m in love with the blue comments. IT’S JUST SO PRETTY…

      • Zan

        I know, it’s like she has an endless supply of smart with a funny on top. Love!

  • I think the beauty of being raised in a feminist home and acknowledging your independence and work ethic gives you the freedom of doing whatever the hell you want.

    There is nothing wrong with staying home, finding clarity in housework, and raising children. If it makes you happy, it’s perfect. That, I feel, is where the dividing line occurs. Women who feel forced into those roles are trapped. Feminist women who choose those roles are liberated.

    Don’t let society tell you you are wrong for wanting these things. Raising a family is ADMIRABLE. MORE POWER TO YOU for finding the thing that BRINGS YOU JOY.

    Yesterday, everyone talked at length about reclaiming words and titles – why the hell can’t we reclaim Housewife, too? It’s not the 1950s anymore; kitchy aprons & beehives may be making a comeback, but only stylistically.

    We help rule the world, ladies. Be it in the home or in the office. And face it – your husband would probably fall to pieces without you. It doesn’t mean you’re his little pet who fixes his house. It means you are his partner who helps hold his head up in different ways than he holds yours.


    Shut out those stupid, awful, negative voices.

    PLUS (as someone who is also a Creative Writing major <3 <3 <3) writing from home IS STILL A JOB. Stomp all over those naysayers, girl. It's your life. Live it however you want.

  • Thank you so much for writing this. This is exactly (well, almost exactly) what I’m struggling with right now. I was the first woman in my family to even graduate from high school and after doing that, plus putting myself through college and law school then landing a “prestigious” job at a big law firm, I feel conflicted. I want to leave my well-respected job to start my own thing but I know that part of doing that means that I will be “unemployed” for a while and depending on the boyfriend (we live together) to pay the bills. He is fully supportive and has been encouraging me to do it for months but I can’t help but fret over how I will be seen. I’ll go from having this great job as a successful attorney to being unemployed house-girlfriend who does laundry and cooks dinner every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking and taking care of the home much in the same way you described. But the internal struggle is still there. Even though I know it’s the best choice both for me personally and for us as a couple (how can we not benefit from me being happy and doing something I truly love?), I still feel like I’m somehow betraying my feminist leanings and letting down my fellow sisters by reverting to a role our mothers and grandmothers fought so hard to break away from. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one dealing with this struggle.

    • I think you can do it, with a careful plan. I think that’s a great part of having discourse with other feminists- you can slowly mull something over, hear a lot of options from people with different life paths, and realize whatever option YOU pick was the feminist choice to make.

  • It’s as if, just when we found out what makes us happy, someone comes along and reminds us that we might be More Happy. But we already feel happy, feel like we figured it out and that we haven’t settled…

    Choice is good, reflection is good, questioning is good. Too much a good thing is a pain in the a**.

  • LPC

    Here’s another thought. THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT, YOUNG WOMEN! It’s an artifact of industrialization, i.e. commuting, offices, etc., and reproductive biology. I only wish the entire society felt it was a shared problem, not a women’s problem.

    • meg

      Indeed. And isn’t making it a shared problem, not women’s problem, the core work of feminism? I say yes.

      • I second that yes! I think that the idea of it being a women’s issue is what’s perpetuating the entire false dichotomy of “homemaker vs career woman.” There should be more than two choices, people! And the more that people can get on board with the fact that these are systemic problems instead of just personal choices for women to make, the easier it will be to create alternatives that can satisfy people’s (of all genders) desires to work in or outside of the home, to varying degrees.

      • LPC

        Exactly. Oh, wait, you have an app for that:).

    • YES. A million times, yes.

    • MWK

      InDEED. I was about to write a comment about my opposite worries: we just put an offer on a house this week (!!) and I had several days of internal freak-out because the price of the house pretty much means I won’t be able to stay home (for more then a few months) when we have our hypothetical-future-babies. I don’t think I want to do that anyway, but I told my husband that I felt that I was selling my children down the river in order to have a “nice” house. He looked at me (kindly), and said: honey, that emotion is entirely about you. You don’t think I’m selling our children out by working, do you? Why would you think that about yourself? I just sorta took a deep breathe and thought: OH.

      It is a shared problem from either side of the coin. And like so many people on this comment roll have said: you have have to do what is right for you and your family (and try not to talk about it too much at parties, or get really good at not throwing drinks in the faces of people who are jerks to you about it)

  • As many other here have said, I also identify fairly strongly with this post. But what really resonated for me was the internalization of the judgement about being a homemaker – it’s so much less about what other people think/say (because I’m pretty good at telling people to f off) and so much more about the voices of my mom and grandmother in my head (which, in all honesty, only represent what I *fear* they would say) and the weight of my own plans for the future from when I was younger. Getting past that internal judgement is, I think, much harder than getting past the external voices.

    Turning this over in my head for the past six months, I also think some of the problem is seeing it as so black and white – even if I leave my corporate job, I’m still going to be productive and productive for people outside my nuclear home. I, personally, hope to write more and hope to volunteer more, but there are plenty of other options.

    Good luck to you Jennifer – it’s nice to know that we all struggle with this.

  • carrie

    I’m so happy to see so many comments on this wonderfully written post. I immediately agreed with so many points here and started composing portions of my comment in my head. Then I read the other comments and saw a lot of what was kicking around in my brain on the screen, and that is thrilling. I can’t stop thinking about what Meg said about the word feminist means earlier this week, which kickstarted the thought in my head that the word has way too much of a negative connotation. It’s not a bad word. It’s not a bad thing, to be mocked in comedy sketches. It seems like APW is shame blasting once again, with the negative view of “homemaking” AND I LOVE IT.

    Cooking for my husband and I, baking for birthdays in my office, or treats for my husband’s department on certain Fridays is one of my biggest joys in life. I had a friend ask me if I did all the cooking between David and I, I said yes. She was all, “wow, that’s such a traditional gender role.” Yeah, AND? I love doing it. I love cooking and I also love that my husband enjoys it. So no matter what that is – for me it’s cooking – dishes, laundry, whatever. Make no apologies, if you love it, do it.

    • Make no apologies, if you love it, do it.

      I would like this framed, please.

  • KateM

    I think it is very hard for the generation above us, to accept when we make the choice to be homemakers and stay at home moms. They see it as giving in to a patriarchal society, because for many of them that is not the choice they would have made. Either side of the coin should be treated equally, but women as whole (and yes I am generalizing) are being pushed to only see one side. We are still in a reactionary time. It was only our mothers generation that really started working outside the home and they fought hard and struggled for it so it hard for them to see staying at home as a choice. It is very difficult to silence how we were raised when it conflict with our natural inclination. And that is going to be our struggle, how to even the playing field completely for our children. As was pointed out yesterday, more women are going to college than men and they are increasing in the work force. It will be a different climate for them that it is for us.
    You and your husband together get to choose what is best for your baby family, you stay home, he stays home, neither of you does. You do what works and the rest of the world can shut up.

    • meg

      You guys, I don’t know. I think this may be our assumption, not the truth My mom fought hard as a feminist, and she didn’t have any guilt at being a stay at home mom. She fought for that right, just like the other rights. There were a LOT of feminist stay at home parents in the generation before us.

      • liz

        Ditto that. My mom stayed home, and I always assumed it was out of some obligation- but as I got older, I realized this wasn’t the case. Even now, no kids at home, she has a job but is trying to find a way to be home all day.

      • I also grew up with a feminist stay at home mom (and a feminist working dad!) who *really really loved* staying at home with my sister and I when we were growing up. Interestingly, she has told me many times over the last few years that if she was going to do it over again she would stay in the work force at least part time, because so many of her friends have had late-in-life divorces, or spouses who’ve died unexpectedly in middle age, or a variety of other unforeseen circumstances, and she realizes that if she’d had to start supporting herself/her children after she’d been out of the workforce for 15+ years, she would no longer have been very employable.

        I, personally, have no desire to ever stay home full time, but that’s because I’m a workaholic who really, really, loves my job. And while I realize that some people are completely fulfilled staying home with (or without!) children (see: my mother, who is not just super smart but also has two masters degrees) I know deep in my soul that I never could be.

    • yeah, I just wanted to offer a counterpoint to this. I was raised by a feminist mom. A stay-at-home feminist mom. She had a job before she had kids, but she *chose* to be at home with us, at least until we were all in school. Then, she got a second degree, and then a master’s and has had a stellar career ever since.

      And what’s interesting to me is that she has expressed some angst over the fact that I am choosing *not* to stay at home and raise kids, even as an interlude in my career at this point.

      I think, from talking with her, that her concerns boil down to this: she wonders if I feel I don’t have that option (and that’s true – I don’t feel it’s an option, for me, right now, for financial reasons, but my choice would be the same if it were), and she’s worried that I am missing out on something that was the source of much happiness (for her) because once again, even after all that hard feminist work, women now feel as if their options are restricted.

      It comes from both sides.

  • Melissa K

    I loved this post and can really relate. I would love more posts exploring these issues!

    This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:
    “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” -Krishnamurti

    This quote is a shame-blaster!

  • Kira

    Oh man, as a strident feminist and enthusiastic housework-doer and future kid-raiser, it makes me sad to see how defensive and conflicted people feel about this issue! A big part of feminism is trumpeting the value of what has historically been women’s work. Not to mention campaigning for changes to social structures that make it absurdly difficult for people to maintain reasonable work/home life balances while working, and to make it possible to spend a few years raising kids without forfeiting the possibility of returning smoothly to their careers (and, you know, maintaining their own bank accounts in the interim).

    You are not betraying feminism by enjoying “women’s work,” ladies! You are supporting its very core!

    • meg


    • MEI

      Exactly. In fact, as someone who would probably even accept the moniker “radical feminist,” I’d argue that women not only ought to have the rights and freedoms to do these things, they ought to be paid for it (or at the very least, as you mentioned, supported by society to do this incredibly important work.) Imputed income is huge. So yes, let’s keep working for a world in which “women’s work” is valued and appreciated. I shouldn’t have to have mini panic attacks once a week that I’ll never be able to get back into my field (the law) if I take a few years off to care for children. But I do. And in my feminist world, that wouldn’t be true.

  • Melissa K

    I am getting guilt from a lot of different sides. My mother is a professor with a doctorate, and I feel that I need to live up to her career success. But my mother also judges anyone who doesn’t stay home with their babies for at least the first year. This worked out for her because she had her kids a decade earlier than I will, so there was less interference with her career and she was able to cruise into a doctoral program when my brother and I were in grade school.

    I excelled at school and never skipped class and now am in a totally unfulfilling career where I regret my master’s degree and have no idea what I even want and am hoping to stay home part-time when I have kids. Meanwhile, my husband who did poorly in school and regularly skipped class is in an incredibly fulfilling career where he makes much more money than me and works 50-65 hours a week. I feel him wanting me to find what fulfills me and go for it — there’s support, but also pressure and judgement! I worry that he was initially attracted to me because I seemed like an ambitious go-getter on a mission, and now am revealing myself to be directionless and domestic.

    I don’t know how to be all of these different things at once and fit babies into it, and I don’t know what I truly want. I hear distant voices from my grade-school years urging me to “live up to my potential” — but what does that mean when America doesn’t really seem to offer fulfilling options these days? I think we need to chart our own unique way forward, and it will be confusing, but I sense my generation will re-imagine what is possible for feminism, careers and American families.

    • liz

      It may be helpful or more discouraging- but someone recently posted an article about how a woman’s career is impacted equally, no matter when she chooses to have children. I found it thought-provoking and kind of let out a sigh of relief.

    • Sarah

      YES on the first paragraph — but not from MY mom. My husband’s mom stayed home for years and years, which is totally and completely fine and awesome, but she doesn’t look kindly at the idea that I wouldn’t choose to do the same. Like me. If I even have kids at all, which I will raise in (God forbid) a completely different state than hers.

      So BOO to guilt and pressure and cross-cutting desires. I don’t know the answer to your questions, but I’m sure many people are in the same boat.

    • ” I don’t know how to be all of these different things at once and fit babies into it, and I don’t know what I truly want. I hear distant voices from my grade-school years urging me to “live up to my potential” — but what does that mean when America doesn’t really seem to offer fulfilling options these days?”

      Yes to this! I feel guilt for not “living up to my potential”. According to some I should have gone to school to be a doctor or lawyer. It just didn’t interest me. I wound up majoring in studio arts with an emphasis on photography. It doesn’t really lead to many job opportunities in the traditional business world. And I’ve been too chicken s$it to start my own business. Now that I’m about to turn 30 (in one month!) I’ve been telling Mr EG that we need to start thinking about babies (and, you know, set a date for our wedding).

      Still, I feel as if I haven’t accomplished anything professionally. When we do have kids I want to stay home to raise them, at least until they get into school. By that time, I’ll have been out of the workforce and my not so specialized skills will be even more not so specialized. What will I do then? Still feel like a failure since I don’t have a specific career?

      I kinda wish life as an adult was like how kids see it- “When I’m grown up I’ll be to stay up as late as I want and eat ice cream for every meal!” *sigh* If only it was that simple.

  • Sarah

    I am so happy to read this piece and the comments — so many smart women grabbing life by the proverbial horns. Jennifer, you rock.

    But, can I say, that I desperately want to see the same pro-houseHUSBAND type of comments and article? I think the place men is in is also very hard –few men stop working, even if their wives make a ton more money and like their jobs more.

    Personally, I love my job and want to make a career out of it. If my husband didn’t like his job, I’d be the first to encourage him to stay home. But I can only imagine how our families would react…

    • liz

      Interestingly, I think many of the women who comment on APW are the breadwinners. I know we just finished a 2 year stint of me working while my husband was home, and I often felt other women around here were in the same situation.

      • Sarah

        Maybe that’s why this place rocks. :) All types.

    • meg

      I’d love a post like that. Because, look, I was our only breadwinner for years, and I love my work and am not going to give it up. That said, my husband also loves his work, so we’ve figured out how to both have flexible situations, and we’ll be using childcare as well one of these days. No shame in that! Both of you can totally work.

      Anyway, I’d run a househusband post in an EFFING HEARTBEAT if I had one.

      • Sarah

        I saw something on Arirang (the Korean channel that for some reason I get with my cable) about how the economic situation has pushed men back into the home from work — it followed a bunch of Korean househusbands(?) around all day and was trying to confront the idea that staying home as a man is a-ok. I was pretty impressed. Now… if we could only find one of those Korean guys and tell him to write an APW post…

      • I should flag this to my partner – he isn’t a househusband (or husband at all, in fact) but he has just started working from home and it’s been really interesting for both of us to have him be home to do more of the household management.

    • Both my parents and my husband’s parents have recognized something funny (before either of us did). We’re probably going to run into a problem where we BOTH want to stay and do the “homework” and be at home with the kids.
      I grew up with my mother running our house, and my husband’s father was the “househusband”, and still is, while my mother-in-law is an economic professor. So we’ll both think that we’re the one to stay at home, is their thinking. I don’t know if they are right or not – we daydream about ways to open a cafe / farm / library / amazing place together as an outlet for all of the baking and cooking we do. And yet I’m in grad school working towards a Master’s degree in the sciences, and he’s a freelance writer.
      Maybe we’ll wind up with him as the househusband, maybe we’ll both be working at our dreamland cafe place, or maybe I’ll be the one staying at home. At this point, who knows! Maybe I’ll get him to write in about househusbanding some day, if that’s the path we take.

    • My cousin works and travels (a lot) for work while her husband stays home with the kids. My family talks about it ALL THE TIME. Which drives me up. a. wall. Seriously.

  • liz

    At this point in my stay-at-home momness, I no longer feel guilty/unfeminist about staying at home. (which is amazing, since my husband just lost his job and we’re financially reeling from the decision I made several months ago- would we be able to pay our bills right now, if I hadn’t left work? etc)

    Right now, my struggle seems to continually be about semantics. What do I call myself? Stay-at-home mom, full-time mom, homemaker, housewife all have their own issues- not even to me, really. I’ve “reclaimed” wife and mom and even woman, I’m okay with what all of the above terms say about me. But other women find the above terms offensive.

    So, if you look at my Facebook I call myself an “illustrator” even though I’ve only illustrated a handful of books and have a teeny etsy shop. It’s a nice and neat way to avoid the problem- but avoidance isn’t the same as resolution.

    • meg

      Did you see someone above suggest homeworker? I kind of love that.

    • AMY LOU

      I think you are ALL of those things and there’s nothing wrong with owning any or all of them. I’m still fairly young and don’t have a lot of friends who are mothers yet, but I will make it my mission to ensure they don’t have to feel uncomfortable or deficient about their choices if those choices are best for them and their families. So I’m proud of you for being empowered by your and your family’s decision and I give a big “sod off” to any woman that tries to make you feel less!

      When people ask me what I do, I say I’m a college career counselor/artist/mother of two of the-most-adorable-tortoises-you-have-ever-seen-in-your-life-wanna-see-a-picture?


    This will sound out of place, but sometimes I wish there were a few men kicking around here.

    I credit my mother and my father as being the first feminists in my life. My parents both worked full time, but my mother did the vast majority of the housework – not because she was the woman, but because she absolutely loved to have a neat clean home and cook yummy meals. My father couldn’t have been more supportive and grateful for the work my mother did both outside of the home (as in income contributor) and within the home (as a homemaker). I know that if my mother had decided to choose one over the other, my father would have been as equally supportive and done whatever he could have to make things work.

    When I’ve spoken to male friends, colleagues, relatives about feminism and feminist issues, they all seem to be completely on board. While it’s important that women respect other women’s choices and not make harsh judgements about them, it’s also important that the men in our lives respect these choices. And in my experience, they do!

    It seems like Jennifer’s husband is incredibly supportive and that makes a huge difference. Can y’all imagine living in a world where men really believed that they called all the shots and made all the family decisions? That they could deign to dictate whether we could have careers or not? I’m grateful for all the feminists (male and female) who’ve raised us women to know that that is not acceptable, and I’m grateful for all the feminists who’ve raised their sons to know that that is not acceptable.

    • Sarah

      Yeah… for many people, Amy Lou, I think what you’re saying is true. But for lots of women in the US as well as in other countries, the hypothetical world you describe is reality. And I think that sucks.

    • meg

      There ARE men kicking around here. They just tend not to comment or write posts. Anyone who can convince them otherwise is my hero.

  • mimi

    Thanks Meg for making us think! You don’t just write about weddings, you write about important things that we all should be thinking about.

  • This is an issue that has been in my head and my heart since getting married. I could never have expressed it as well as Jennifer has. Thank you Jennifer and APW for this post. And thank you for a forum to discuss women’s work with so many intelligent and thoughtful women!

  • Madeline

    I think modern feminism should embrace this idea that the right is the choice. We certainly have some many miles to go to attain equal pay and respect that women most certainly deserve. However, it disgusts me that women judge and belittle each other for making a completely self-sacrificing and loving choice to stay at home with their families. Yes, it takes some certain level of financial stability, but no matter what percentage group you belong to, having one member of the family stay at home requires financial adjustments and sacrifice.

    I’m currently attending a fairly prestigious school and after my graduation I will most likely get married within the year. And although I am excited to be looking for my first “real” job right now and to be able to contribute to my family’s financial well-being, I cannot wait to be a mom and raise my children. I hope that I would be able to stay home with my children and I would certainly expect to be respected for that decision. Among the close friends that know that “homemaking” is my eventual goal, a few have made remarks that I’m wasting my education and nothing will set me off more.

    Go you for acknowledging that this is what you want. Don’t be afraid to do it! THIS is, in my opinion, what our predecessors protested for. That we would have the option and the right to choose what is best for us and our families. Good luck in your decision and your job search.

    • LPC

      It is what we were after, we predecessors. At least this one.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I’m trying really hard not to be offended at seeing “evangelical” sandwiched between “lazy” and “hopelessly backward.”

    Can someone clarify what the word means in this context? Surely the author didn’t mean to imply that one of the nation’s leading religious outlooks is inherently or commonly lazy or backward.

    • No, that is not what I meant. I meant them as three separate opinions often applied by non-housewives toward women who choose to work at home: 1) lazy 2) evangelical and 3) backward. Sometimes all three, but not necessarily. There are plenty of backward, lazy atheists out there. Also, this comes from my experience and perspective, in my part of the country and my age bracket. To be fair to my friends and coworkers, the vast majority of homemakers that I personally know are evangelicals. But certainly not all. And their religious affiliation has no bearing on whether they are modern or not, lazy or not, feminist or not. I only meant that this is an unfair generalization of homemakers.

  • Angie B.

    There was a time that the only reason I could think of that I wanted kids was so I could “legitimately” stay at home without people thinking it was just a lazy decision. Then, I got laid off. Unemployed I was, housewife I was not. In my seven months of searching for a job the house had never been dirtier, I had never cooked less, I was out of touch with loved ones, and all the other signs of depression that go along with being stuck in a place in life that wasn’t for me after all. My fiancee was supportive, but utterly confused about what was going on with me. I FAIL at being a housewife.

    My point? I don’t function well staying home at full time. I need to work outside the home and enjoy doing it. But guess what? What works for you and your family is YOUR CHOICE. Please don’t let what other people think of their judgmental stereotype of a housewife deter you from finding your niche and happiness, whether it’s outside the home or within it.

    • M.

      That’s a really useful thing to learn about yourself!

      I would note that, in my experience, being unemployed and searching for a job was a specifically terrible thing and is a hideous overlay to being at home (insecure. no humans around. continuously wondering if maybe The Job was just one more search results page away from where you stopped today. wondering if you need to just try a little bit harder. wondering when you will get a job and how you will make it until then. feeling unproductive, because the Most Important Thing was getting a job, so even if I completed some other useful thing, it didn’t feel like it really mattered. and, of course, the hovering stench of failure.). This was a bad perspective/headspace to have, but there it was. So, judging your ability to be at home full-time while under that pressure is maybe kind of like judging your ability to run a marathon when you have rocks in your shoes. You may still not be able to run a marathon even if you don’t have rocks in your shoes (um, I can’t), but you’ll probably get farther and enjoy the process more?

      Of course, please take this with a HUGE grain of salt, not least of which because:
      1. you may deal better with being unemployed than I did – I was a *basketcase*, and
      2. I’m on the introvert side. When I started working from home, yes, I missed my in-person co-workers, and yes, I talked a *lot* to farmer’s market employees, but it was ultimately just fine as long as I made sure I saw assorted human beings a few times a week. I know plenty of people who *neeeed* more human contact than this, though.
      3. Even though I’m at home, I’m still doing very fulfilling, paid, external work. If that productivity-outside-these-four-walls wasn’t an option, I might be a basketcase again, even if I wasn’t job-searching. I’m not sure (and not presently interested in trying it to find out!).

      It’s really useful to know who we are and what conditions we thrive in (like houseplants: water weekly, partial sun, etc.), and we’re all different combinations, and my experience is certainly not universal – I just wanted to note, since my experience was also jobsearch+home=misery (and general productivity crash and spinning wheels), but it turned out that in my case work+home=awesome, and that totally surprised me, that it might be useful for other people of the jobsearch+home=misery crowd to know that that’s a possibility?

  • I am totally late to this party, but in some ways, I was a day early to it! After the Book Club discussion on Feminism the other day, I did some thinking about why the word “Feminist” has never worked for me. I don’t feel connected to it, and this post today is exactly why. What I said on my blog was essentially this:

    I think it’s time to re-think, re-brand, and re-evaluate Feminism for this generation.
    Maybe Gender Egalitarianism is a better word? Because it’s not just women who are pigeonholed into a societally approved lifestyle (in this case – working full time when you’d rather be home-making), it’s men too – some of whom I’m sure would make incredible house husbands if it weren’t seen as emasculating. We should be pushing to be able to live our best lives free of judgement, pressure, and oppression. And for a lot of us, that pressure is coming from our cultural inheritance of the 1970s era brand of feminism.

  • Carrie

    This brought up some interesting thoughts for me.

    I have daydreamed about staying home off and on since I started college (well before I got married). Usually, when I start really, really wanting to just be a housewife, it’s because I’m starting to burn out on school or career.

    I’ve always found practical, concrete work with my hands to be calming and meditative. So when I’m badly burned out on theory, programming, experiments, and statistics — when I’m burned out on working with my mind — it truly is good for me to spend some time on cooking, sewing, cleaning.

    And through years of living with my now-husband, I’ve learned that I like taking care of the house and taking care of him. But I’ve also learned that I quickly get frustrated if he doesn’t also take care of the house and take care of me. I love to cook dinner — but I don’t like being the only one who ever cooks dinner. I start to feel like I’m being taken for granted.

    I guess having acknowledgement for my work, in the form of getting paid and/or being recognized by the outside world, is really important to me.

    And I have tended to default to the assumption that his work and needs are more important than mine — that it’s my job to do the work to take care of him, so he can concentrate on his job and hobbies. And that has sucked. I’ve had to learn to assert my own needs rather than apologizing for them or trying to make them invisible so he won’t have to think about them.

    I think some of these issues would probably come up for most feminist homemakers. It tends to be a caretaking role — would that make it harder for a woman in that role to assert herself in the relationship in general? Would it create a power imbalance in the marriage? Would she feel like it was always her job to take care of him and make things easy for him, even if that means sacrificing her own feelings and interests?

    It also plays into questions of money, which can be an issue in marriage. Is money under his control because he earns it? Or does she make all the decisions about investing, saving, and spending, because it’s part of running the house? Does he feel entitled to spend money on himself because he’s the one with the paycheck, while she feels like she has to ask him to spend anything on herself? Or does he feel like he has to ask her for permission for every purchase, because she keeps track of everything? Is everything in a joint account, or are there separate accounts? If separate, how is money divided between the accounts? (Money and its control are really issues of power.)

    Obviously, these questions come up just as much for feminist non-homemakers. But marriage in general can catch people in preconceived notions and roles of how they should act as wife and husband — preconceptions they may not even realize they have — and people can find themselves acting out roles that make them unhappy, because they assume that’s how it has to be. And being a stay-at-home wife could get into even more of those preconceptions, because it is a role that carries a whole lot of assumptions in our culture.

    It calls for the kind of awareness, intelligence, and questioning that is so clear in this post and APW in general. If we can reclaim wife, we can reclaim housewife!

    • Kathleen

      “I’ve learned that I like taking care of the house and taking care of him. But I’ve also learned that I quickly get frustrated if he doesn’t also take care of the house and take care of me. I love to cook dinner — but I don’t like being the only one who ever cooks dinner. I start to feel like I’m being taken for granted.”

      I was really surprised when I started feeling this way after I got a job, because I NEVER felt this way when I was unemployed. While I was owning being a housewife, I got up and made my husband his lunch every morning and I liked it. Now that I have a job, if he goes more than a day or two in a row without being the one to get up and make lunch for both of us, I get cranky and we start fighting. I really think it’s all about division of labor – if he’s doing all the work outside the home, I’m perfectly happy doing all the work inside the home. When we’re both working outside the home, we both have to pull our weight inside the home – which ended up being tricky to negotiate, because we’d both gotten used to – and been happy with – the one breadwinner/one bread baker situation we’d had earlier.

    • z

      Great comment– the skewing of the relationship would be a major concern for me too. It seems like the “acts of service” balance could become so far off that I would feel like his assistant. He would have input into how I do my “job,” because the job is maintaining where we both live and managing our lives, while I would have very little input into how he does his (earning the money somehow). Because it’s such a caregiving job, it would be hard to draw the boundary of what I would do as “homemaker” and what he still needs to do for emotional maintenance of the marriage.

      It would be really, really hard to fight off the cultural baggage of the role, and I’m not sure I would be successful.

  • Kathleen

    I’m in almost the exact opposite position – or the same position, from the opposite perspective. I generally don’t call myself a feminist. (I totally would if believing that men and women are and should be treated equally were all that were required, but, alas, that is apparently not the case. It seems I don’t qualify.) I always knew I wanted to stay home with my kids, and was regretting grad school before I even graduated. Although I liked my chosen career path, if I were only going to work for a few years before having kids, what was the point in getting a very industry-specific degree? When unemployment struck right as I got married (husband made the $$$, so I had to leave my job to live in his city where we would actually have a livable income), I reveled in being – and calling myself – a housewife. I cooked, I baked – I probably didn’t clean as much as I should have, but who likes to clean, anyway? We always had a home-cooked meal, I shopped sales like it was my job (ha! no pun intended) since we were living off of one income, and I although I looked for work, I was pretty happy with our situation. Then I got a job. A dream job. I’m at a place in my career where I never dreamed I’d be at this age, and I’m completely reeling from the implications.

    Now, if I want to stay home with my kids, it’s not “getting to stay home,” but “having to leave my job.” If I give up an awesome job at this stage of my career, I’m terrified that I’ll never find an equivalent one. We’ve talked about having kids within the next couple years, but I can’t imagine being ready to leave this job in just a couple years. I also can’t imagine being ready to put my kids in daycare at 3 mos old so I can come back to this job.The bright side of an entry-level, low-paying job is completely gone, and I’m terrified at the thought that the near future will involve such agonizing choices.

    • liz

      “(I totally would if believing that men and women are and should be treated equally were all that were required, but, alas, that is apparently not the case. It seems I don’t qualify.)”

      Wait, WHAT? What else is there?! This is just what we were talking about yesterday!

      Meanwhile, I left my dream job to stay home. It’s definitely entirely different from person to person. For me, it was a matter of knowing that I can pick my job up again at some point in the future- I’ll never have Little Josh as a 9mos old learning how to walk again. Like I said, that’s a different choice for everyone- but for someone like me, who had a dream job AND felt a burning desire to be home, it was easy to decide based on timing. I miss my school a lot and see my students around and it breaks my heart. But I’m still content in my choice- happy to be home, but looking forward to going back to work.

      • Yikes! I’ve been busy lately and haven’t been able to read regularly; my comment about feminism was in no way a comment on the discussion here yesterday! I didn’t even know it happened. Going back now to read the discussion from yesterday, I see that the abortion issue did come up. My experience has been that as someone who is personally and politically pro-life, I’m disqualified from the feminist movement. Besides, while I suppose I do consider myself a feminist, I NEVER refer to myself as such. It would require far too many caveats, because in common usage, the label implies that I believe certain things that I definitely don’t believe.

        • z

          I don’t think anyone really has the right to disqualify anyone. There’s no official definition of feminism, and there are definitely a lot of people in your situation who consider themselves feminists, and other pro-choice feminists who would agree. (Of course, there are also people who strongly disagree, but that’s just a normal part of life in a large political movement.) Feminism is a big tent, and much like at a wedding, if the tent is really big it can take a while to find your seat.

    • Arachna

      That does sound difficult.

      Maybe your husband could stay home for a year or two with the kids?

      • Kathleen

        That’s an idea we’ve discussed, but fortunately, he, too, has a job that he loves. It’s also better paid than mine, and I doubt we could live off of just my salary, regardless of how much I love my job. Even more importantly, though, is that he doesn’t WANT to stay home. Maybe he’ll feel differently when once we have kids, but as it stands now – if I stay home, I’m leaving a job I love to do something else I love, whereas if he stayed home, he’d be leaving a job he loves to do something he doesn’t want to do. (Not implying that I’d be the only one of us who wanted to take care of our kids, just that I’m the one who looks forward to the whole stay-at-home package – cooking, cleaning, child care, etc.)

  • Emily Rae

    For years I’ve thought that being a stay-at-home married lady was what sounded really good to me. That theory is about to be tested out after we get married while I wait for my green card. I have freedom of choice, my husband supports whatever decision I make… but I still find myself going ‘what if’. What if he dies, loses his job, leaves me… How do you all deal with these fears? The hard part is that they don’t seem unfounded. I’ve seen women who were left floundering after circumstances like this left them with no money and no support.

    • z

      Maybe your question was more rhetorical, but FYI, people deal with it by seeing a financial planner. You can get all kinds of insurance products for a drop in salary, disability, post-nuptial agreements, etc., that can make the risk more manageable. The only thing there isn’t really a solution for is if he loses his desire to work– if he wants to become a starving artist or backpacker or whatever and live in intentional poverty, you’re pretty much out of luck. And of course, insurance costs money. So it’s manageable, but definitely a serious issue that homemakers should consider carefully.

      • Emily Rae

        Thanks for the reply. This whole post led to a really good discussion tonight. He’s a financial planner for sure (personally), while I come from a family that didn’t. I appreciate his planning, and am working on becoming a planner/saver myself.

        Meg, thanks for working to make marriages great!

  • Erin H

    So many other people said the various options on what I think, but I just wanted to point out, This? “….the normal confusion and frustration of a feminist homebody with an incongruous love of liberal politics and cleaning the kitchen.” —>ME! So many of my friends! We knew we weren’t alone, but it’s so good to talk about it.

    • Shortly after getting married (and planning on being a housewife for a little while) I bought “Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House” by Cheryl Mendelsohn. She’s a lawyer and professor who had a secret love of all things related to housework. She talks about this weird secret love and not feeling like it was okay to talk about with her professional life. She says that when she started writing the book a lot of people were confused about what exactly it was about.

      The book itself is in depth and very thorough. I haven’t been able to get through it. I mostly use it as a reference guide and as an example, i.e., I used her weekly schedule to set up one for me, so that I do laundry on one day and cleaning on another and it has freed me from the CLEAN THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SATURDAY! cycle I used to do and get overwhelmed by.

      My point is, I think lots of women have this secret, she just wrote a book about it. :)

      • z

        Ha, I absolutely adore that book. It’s so well-written and informative. Having a serious book really helped me and my husband with cleaning fights, because then I didn’t have to be the authority on cleaning– that made me feel like I was the mom and he was the child. And it helped him understand that homemaking is not just a recurrent list of chores, it’s a greater system that can be manipulated and customized for maximum functionality.

        I also love how in the preface she says something along the lines of “compared to working at a big law firm, cleaning is really fun.”

    • LPC

      And I too was a feminist who discovered she loved to be a mother and take care of a house. That wasn’t the end of the story. The kids get bigger. Then those of us who like theory and abstraction and speaking in front of crowds can’t find that very easily in the out-of-institutional-work arena. Society would need to be more flexible, at more points.

  • I ♥ this post. A lot.

    That is all.

    Oh yeah – and I ♥ you guys. For realz.

  • Meg

    I don’t really have anything to add, but I had to comment, because oh man, it feels like you plucked this eloquence out of my mangled brain. I feel this way a lot.

    Also, as a fellow Crohnie, I hope you’re feeling better soon! Flare-ups can be pretty rough. :(

  • Jacque

    Thank you for writing this post! It’s reassuring to hear someone else say this out loud. I’ve been a feminist since I can remember, went to an elite women’s college, and… really want to stay home and raise my kids and be a homemaker. I’m currently pre-engaged and luckily my parter supports this plan, but I’m honestly terrified for the reaction it will elicit from family and and friends, who for some reason I envision as expecting me to “do more.” I’ve got to say, in general, APW is my anchor as I navigate the really complex ideas and issues of feminism, weddings, marriage and the like. I so appreciate this site, Meg, and the amazing women who post here and make me feel just a little bit better about life. So again, thank you.

    • Kira

      Tell them that as a feminist, you value what has historically been dismissed as “women’s work” and are working to create a society in which homemaking, childcaring, and other traditionally feminine skills are seen as valuable and fulfilling. Take that, patriarchy!

      • RandomLurker

        I really, really love this one. Really, really love. I can’t click ‘exactly’ hard enough.

  • A couple of you already touched on the issue of men (as husbands and partners) and where they fall into place in the context of this discussion. I guess my bigger issue with this — other than the guilt most of us seem to feel about choosing working-at-home-but-not-being-employed vs. working-for-money-outside-of-the-home vs. actually enjoying whatever it is we choose to do — is that this discussion is just taking place among us women. What I mean is that yes, we talk about it with our partners and how it will affect our homes/marriages/ambitions/financial statuses, etc., but we’re the ones worrying about what it will do for our future careers if we take time off, we’re the ones worrying about how our children will turn out if we don’t stay at home with them, we’re the ones worrying about what other people (alright, I’ll say it, other women) will think of us based on the choice that we make and how that will reflect on our visions of ourselves as feminists or as independent women or as a great mom or as a adequate caregiver or whatever.

    Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely appreciate and am incredibly grateful for the ability to make this choice . . . but in making this choice, we’re also taking the burden of the responsibility, which sucks. It’s our “fault” if we take time off from working-for-money-outside-of-the-home to be around more for the kids but then find it really hard to get back into the workforce. It’s our “fault” if we continue to pursue our career by working-for-money-outside-of-the-home and then find ourselves stressed and overworked and trying to keep things together at home and at our workplace outside the home and we should’ve known better (cue the “you’ll see”s) and dammit, apparently we can’t have it all but we were told we could and we kept trying even though we knew that we couldn’t and now we’re just tired and damn it all.

    I kind of hate that we’re the ones having this discussion that affects all of us, men and women alike, and our families. And I can’t help but relate it to the recent book club read and the conversation yesterday (or was it Wednesday?) . . . “Are the men worrying about this as well? Is this taking up the men’s time?” And I’m not a betting woman (/lady/heifer/female/vagina/whatever), but I would bet money on the fact that for the majority of the masses, the answer is no. Now. I know that many of us would consider our partners involved and enlightened and it’s a topic of conversation within our partnerships. But on a larger scale, it pisses me off that it’s our problem. And I know that biology is a huge factor as to why this is our problem and it’s all about us. I get it. I GET IT. But it still pisses me off.

    • That’s an issue we seem to continually run up against here … somehow, the problem disproportionately affects us. As women, we are in a place where I think most decisions about how we want to live our lives (particularly our family lives) is just so much more loaded than the decisions men make, as a rule.

      Biology and societal expectations are not always the nicest of bedfellows.

  • I’m late to this, but awesome post. A lot of what the writer said I could have written. We just moved to a new city that we both wanted to live in (hello, Austin!) but at a time when we knew I couldn’t get a job immediately and he had one lined up. So I’ve been a newlywed housewife for about two months now, which is a little weird for me, and also a huge relief after the stress we’ve both been through in the months leading up to our wedding and move. I’m working part time at a job I really enjoy right now, and plan to go back to work, but it is so nice to get to clean and cook for my husband and make a home. It could be him doing this for me, and he would, but it’s nice to know that when the breadwinner comes home there is delicious food being made for them and clean clothes, no matter who makes them that way. I might start making his lunches for him too… if he’ll let me. He gets a little weird about some things, like wanting to fold his own laundry when he’s around so I don’t have to do it. I don’t think he realizes that it’s sometimes nice to do things for him like that.
    And, it has given me the chance to pursue writing, something I’ve been wanting to do and putting off for a long time. Now I have no excuse not to try.

    I also debate internally about what this says about me though. I have a Master’s in English and want to get another degree to continue my career, but at the same time, I’m not sure how we’re going to work children into the mix. I have a feeling I’d want to spend some of that time home with them, but would also need to help support my family. I wonder what it means that when I was single I was willing to get the degrees and do the work, and now that I’m married I sort of just want to make a home. At the same time, I’m ambitious and driven and I don’t think that I’d feel fulfilled if I never get the chance to try for the career I’ve been working on. It’s hard, when you’ve been given everything, to make decisions that might limit your world.

  • This topic is near and dear to my heart. It’s the thing that has made me the most like former Presidential hopeful John Kerry. It has made me flip flop. I started out a young overachiever, staunchly feminist — but not the affirmative action kind of feminist, I would explain, not the kind that thought women should just be given things for being women, but who thought, rather, that women should have an equal opportunity alongside men to kick ass and take names. I started out with degrees and careers on her mind. And then I found myself in a PhD program, working on a dissertation, miserable and looking for a way out, interviewing for jobs I didn’t want, and suddenly realizing that maybe what I really wanted was to have kids and stay home with them.

    And after a couple of years of still thinking that same thing, that’s what I did. And at first it was hard (anyone else here have a kid and remember those first few weeks completely alone with that kid, all newborn-y and screamy? oh, the tears (the baby’s and mine). But then it got easier and I was like, ahhh… yes… perfection. And then I got bored. And then we both got sick. Over and over and over. And then I was struck down with what they used to call a nervous breakdown. Full, debilitating post-partum depression that had its onset around my baby’s first year.

    I went home to stay with my mom for eleven days. I had to put the baby in fulltime daycare when I returned. And so it lasted for 6 months as I reacquainted myself with me. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do with my free time each day while my son – who I loved desperately – was at daycare. I was so lost.

    At first I started working for myself purely to fill the time and occupy myself. Making things was all I really wanted to do, so I just kept doing it and trying to sell the things. Then I realized I was working in order to — and this sounds worse than really is — afford to keep my son in daycare. And finally I realized I was working in order to have both – the mine-all-mine pride that comes with achieving something each day and working hard and seeing results AND the joy of giggles and a little boy running away from me bare naked and hysterical.

    And then we moved home as a family, and I was home with the boy full-time again and it was fine.

    And then it wasn’t. And then it was again.

    And now I’ve got two kids and a thriving business and this is still always going to be the thing I struggle with. I will always want to work and I will always want to be with my children. I will change my mind and change it again. There will be something that works now and something that doesn’t, and then they’ll change.

    I’m not so good with change. But alas, this is my life now, and I wouldn’t change it even if I could. The best I can do is try to keep checking in with how I’m doing and what I need and what my kids need and what my husband needs.

    The best thing I can do is keep imagining. Imagining what our life can be. How it can look. What a day can be for us at this point in our lives. And then when the time’s right, I can make those things happen, one by one for as long as they work and no longer.

    • Kira

      This is beautifully put. Thanks for reminding us that our stories and our desires are complicated.

  • Jessica D

    Anyone have ideas of how to find/get these work from home jobs (that aren’t total scams)? I’d love to find something like this, as we are planning on starting a family soon, and I’d like to do something.

    And I totally get what the poster feels. I left a big corporate architecture firm to become a dental hygienist (well, still in school and doing prereqs). I love my four day workweek, patients and blackberry-free lifestyle, but I do sometimes feel like I’ve sold out on my feminist principles, and I feel like a loser compared to our friends who all have “big, important” jobs. But I get to make dinner, clean the house, go on roadtrips and get all the happy hour deals with my husband!

    • Caitlin B

      This is all a bit late, but first of all I just want to say I heart APW! I’m really enjoying this discussion and it’s given me a lot to reflect on (But really when do posts not?).

      Anyway this is a little off the topic of the original post, but I’ve been researching work from home jobs recently and I suggest going to It’s a forum for people working at home. They have lots of regulars there willing to help out newbies and lots of stickies with advice on how to get started and how to avoid scams. I’m not working from home, but I’m debating it and I’ve found the resources on that forum to be very helpful.
      I should note that I’m not in anyway affiliated with the forum, I just thought I’d try to help out a fellow APWer, since it’s a topic that’s been on my mind recently..

  • Sarah

    Thank you. This is me dead on. After finishing graduate school in a couple of months I will be taking a several month hiatus from having a paycheck. I am looking forward to this so much but I also hope I hate it and get lonely so that it drives me back to work. I believe this desire mainly stems from not understanding myself as an independent woman when I’m relying on a man to take care of me. (It may also in part be sue to the fact that I know we can only afford ~6 months of me not working so then, like it or not, I will need to find a paycheck.)

  • Cat

    I work from home, and my work is less stressful than my husband’s, and so I am the House Captain. And I hate when people frown when I let slip that I am working — cooking or cleaning or folding towels — while my husband watches TV. So thank you. :)

  • I knew a guy once who thought that either you weren’t a feminist and were thus barefoot, uneducated, and pregnant in the kitchen, or you were a feminist and burned your bra (which is a highly exaggerated story) and thought all men should be gathered up and shipped to Mars because they weren’t needed for anything.

    The fact that I could be a strong woman who was sure of herself (a feminist) and still love to sew and knit and take care of a home and want to be married completely confused him. Poor guy, I think he’s still alone.

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  • TDK

    Thanks for this post!
    I’ve always fancied that I would be a career woman. I come from a large woman-centric family but not highly educated. (My mother didn’t even graduate high school & worked low-paying jobs to support me and my two siblings as a single parent) I went to a women’s college, studied feminist anthropology and vowed I would never be put in a situation like my mom. I now find myself living in a beautiful small town in the SW, engaged and working a very part time ad sales job (just to feel like im doing *something* until
    my yoga teaching takes off) while my fiancé is sole breadwinner. I’ve just become certified to teach yoga and have the ability to teach out of our home. My fiancé has a very stable job and life is just now feeling like we can finally for once make it what we want.
    But theres always that pressure to have a career AND do the home work just as so many other women do.
    In my heart of hearts I’ve always wanted to raise a sweet family where I could really be a part of their lives and not just struggling to make ends meet while the kids are left unattended (which was a big part of growing up for me).
    So it depends on family history a bit and in the end, what is truly important to you? I can relate to the inner turmoil, believe me, and the judgement by other people and by myself toward myself. But in the end we have to honor our hearts desires.

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