Being a homemaker

“The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career”.

This quotation, attributed to C.S. Lewis, has popped up on my Facebook feed again. I can’t detect if this was actually written by Lewis but it connects clearly to this quotation from a letter he sent to a Mrs Johnson in 1955:

“I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely, in reality, the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, mines, cars, government et cetera exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, ‘To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour’. (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real Home hereafter: 2nd, in the meantime, to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist.”
― The Collected Letters of C.S Lewis, Volume III, 581-582

Turf house in Iceland

Turf house in Iceland

There’s a debate to be had about whether being a housewife / homemaker / stay at home mum is actually a realistic option for many women today, even if they would prefer it. Financial pressures, absent fathers and technological advances mean that more women can (or need to) work from home, combine parenthood with part-time work (or more) or at least spend less time cooking and cleaning than would have been required in the 1950s. I am grateful for the changes in society which mean that more women can be successful in a wider range of careers than might have been thought possible in 1955, but even then, as an unmarried woman I think there would have been some expectation on me to work outside the home unless my family were extremely wealthy.

I am sure Lewis was seeking to encourage Mrs Johnson and I think the kind of recognition he gives for the work she does strikes a chord with many mums who are sharing and blogging about the quotation. While I can’t fully grasp the day to day struggles and joys of raising a family at home I certainly have a lot of respect for those whose lives revolve around their children, even if I find their Facebook updates wearying at times. I have to acknowledge that the reality must be much more wearying, even though I hope that the good times make up for the hard times, eventually at least. I have many good friends who might call themselves homemakers and I want them to feel valued and affirmed and strengthened with everything they need.

But some people don’t even have a home. Some people live in a house that doesn’t feel like home. However godly it may be to care for and support your family, Jesus actually said that he didn’t have a place to lay his head and went on to stress how following him may mean sacrificing some things normally expected of a family member. Jesus’ ideas of who were his mother, sisters and brothers went a lot further than just a cosy nuclear family.

Taking a wider definition of being a homemaker, perhaps we could be valuing anyone who offers hospitality to others; anyone who seeks to encourage a lonely person or who works to provide for those in need. Some important organisations in the fields of homeless support, providing sanctuary for refugees, housing charities or even building projects could be seen as literally making homes for people. Maybe like The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, we need to leave the comforts of our own homes at times to help others who have no home find justice. Perhaps some of the home improvements we desire but don’t need could actually fund more basic shelter or furniture for someone else. Lots of people are dreaming of a place called home.

I’ve tried to explain before how I don’t see my own career as existing to support someone else’s home-making. I think it’s important that those without children or who are single can be fulfilled and valued in their careers and life choices as well as those who consider themselves homemakers. I guess historically society valued more impressive careers more highly, hence the need for Lewis’s comments above. Maybe as a lecturer with a PhD I already have the validation that some people who are less happy at home would envy. While I don’t want to brag about my achievements, I could say that I do find some comfort in having something concrete to show for my life. Even though I’m not married with children, I tell myself, at least I have that. But hang on a minuGingerbread housete.

I don’t actually believe that my worth as a human being is dependent on my career or my achievements or my children or my homemaking. And I don’t believe that my purpose in life is to have a comfortable home or even a happy family. Looking back at where Lewis quotes Dr Johnson, he alludes to our “own real Home hereafter”. If I believe I am a child of God, there is my worth, and my purpose in life is to love Him and build His Kingdom. Jesus said:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

One day we can share our heavenly Father’s home. If this world or our current life circumstances don’t feel very homely, we have a hope that there is a place where we will find eternal peace, joy and security. I suppose in one way, we’re on earth to invite others to enter this home as well, so we can be seen to have the job of supporting our heavenly Father’s home-making. Yes, we have responsibilities to our families and children, and at times these can seem all-consuming. But part of the task of parenting children is to show them how to care for others and look beyond our immediate surroundings to see God’s purposes in our lives. There are a lot of people dreaming of a place called home. We have a big family. We have a big God. Neither can be contained in a bungalow or a hobbit-hole.

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9 Responses to Being a homemaker

  1. I don’t think ‘home’ necessarily has to be about children – my student house was very much a home and somewhere we offered hospitality very deliberately.

    I really hate the idea that bringing up children is the Most Important Job In The World. I think if you have children then bringing them up well has to be your priority. And it obviously shapes the future of society as those children grow up to be teenagers and adults. But I’m not sure why that is more important than anything which involves looking after other people and other adults now.

    And I also think it somehow seeks to keep women at home, restrict them to the domestic sphere – it feels like some kind of pat on the head: “But what you’re doing is SOOOOOOO important too!” I would actually like to be able to stay at home at the moment. As a separated parent to two small children (18 months and three years old), I think going between two houses is enough for them and nursery is just one place too many for their lives to be spread between. And I’d rather spend three days a week seeing them rather than not seeing them, and not have the stress of trying to get us all up and out to nursery/work.

    I love them, I miss them when I’m not with them, and they bring me a great deal of joy. But… when I’m actually ‘homemaking’, a lot of it is drudgery. It’s not stretching, challenging or edifying. Dealing with poo. Endless laundry. Washing up. Putting toys away only to have them tipped out again. Wiping noses. Online food shopping. Cooking meals which don’t get eaten except by me, and then cold. And all this while also trying to look after two small children without resorting to too much Peppa Pig on far too little sleep.

    I wouldn’t not have my children. I want to have them more. I’d rather have them with me all the time and I hate sharing them and I don’t begrudge them anything (except the sleepless nights). But for personal satisfaction and a sense of achievement, I’d stick to an actual career.

  2. Hearten Soul says:

    Thanks for commenting – I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. Part of what I left out of this blog was a more personal reflection on what home means to me – I don’t think it has to involve children. Coming ‘home’ to an empty house after a week staying with family and friends over Christmas wasn’t a great feeling, although I was very glad to get my own bed back.

    I don’t know about an actual career being better for personal satisfaction and achievement. While it might seem so at times, a career can’t love you back or care for you in your old age except financially I suppose. I wouldn’t want to diminish anyone who chooses not to get married or family. Or to assume that someone without a family or partner will be unsatisfied. I would love to be more content and more grateful for what I have got. Debunking the myth that life is all about having a beautiful cosy family in a pretty house is a challenge to me as well.

  3. Nola says:

    Oooo love the article and comments. I spend a lot of my time home making for adults. It is hard work but really satisfying. I think it is important to be more inclusive and support people everywhere find community and love. I guess my worldview enables me to think more broadly of “home” as a community of people who share rights and responsibilities.

    I think it will really be cool if we invest as much time in older people and those on the margins as we do with children. I appreciate projectawesome’s comments. I thought the fascination with homemaking for children was linked to the natural bond parents share, real hope they will respond positively to the grooming (not quite the same with adults already set in their ways) and recognition from society. When dealing with adults we have to account for their likes, preferences, acknowledge their human capacity to reason, most of us find this uncomfortable. Perhaps as communities we should be sharing these responsibilities a lot more.

    I am no longer convinced waiting for a home in the skies will be gratifying. I cringe when I think I will be happy to share a home with people I am not willing to share with now, because their roles and labour are far down the global value chain. I will very much like to live in a space where I can appreciate the work and contributions of all without having to place some arbitrary value on the great work people do to feed, clothe or improve our lives. Perhaps again I just want heaven now.

    • Hearten Soul says:

      Thanks for commenting. I guess I’m not surprised that we agree on a lot of this. I think you raise a really interesting point about how we will get along with everyone in heaven. Thankfully there will be a lot of grace to get us through but it’s a great argument for getting in some practice at sharing our lives now 🙂

  4. This is a very thought provoking piece for a number of reasons. We can go round the “work or stay at home” debate for hours without getting much further, but being in a fairly unique position due to my circumstances over the last 12 months, I wanted to add my thoughts on my situation. It doesn’t mean it applies to anyone else.

    12 months ago, I was working as a solicitor in what I would describe as a fairly successful career – I’d won awards, worked my way up in the practice I was working and was considering partnership, sat on umpteen committees, and so on. I also have a husband who has a successful career as a teacher and is a head of department. And we have 2 children. I was abundantly aware that I just couldn’t give me children or my home the attention they needed but could do nothing about it, financially we weren’t in a position for me to give up work and so things had to carry on as they were.

    Then I had a stroke, And combined with life and critical illness cover, meant I could give up work if I wanted to. Which, for a number of reasons, I did.

    Since then, I have been reflecting on our lives as women in work in particular. Like you, I think its great that women now play such a role in society and I am sure if I’d had to live in the 19th or early part of the 20th century I would have hated it. But – and thats a big but – I do think nowadays we as women in particular are sold in our later years at school and at uni, a very big lie about needing to be “independant” and to “have our own money”. The more I am a stay at home mum, the more I see the value in it, and agree with what Lewis had to say. I have never been happier than I am now, able to give my children, my husband, and my home the time that they want and need, as well as some much needed time for myself (which I simply never got before). Interestingly, its also the case that my children have never been happier than they are now (they actually get to see me, eat proper food, and have friends round to play) and neither has my husband (he doesn’t have to do half the housework and the child care and I dont expect him to, and he no longer has to worry constantly about the stress I am under at work). So its a win win situation. I realise now that other than an income, although I did help many people in my job, my work added virtually nothing to mine or my family’s lives.

    Women do play a valuable role in society whether they work or not. In my life I am now sure that for me being at home is far better than working – at least for the moment whilst I’m trying to get my health back on track. Overall I think there needs to be some balancing in society about the roles of women and I think we need to be reminded that those who stay at home are equally valuable than those who work. Because in the push for women to be “independant” we have lost that.

    Which moves me on to my second point. What happens when we don’t have a “family” in the traditional sense? what is our worth then – particularly as Christians? Well I have made the point before that I think we have to lose this idea of a “family” being our immediate next of kin. Yes in an earthly sense they are, but ultimately we are working towards a life in Heaven which we will share with ALL of our fellow believers. So we’d better get used to this idea. This is our real family who we will spend eternity with. The sooner we get out of the mindset of our spouse and children being our “family” the better. Look at the example of the early churches in the Bible – they really knew what church as the family meant. We are all, single or couple, young or old, male or female, equally part of that family. And we need to treat each other as such.

    We also dont need a career, or a particular role, to be accepted by God. I went to a talk recently about the “cycle of grief” – how society expects us to be “doing” all the time and how we view each other by our achievements and its that that gives us our worth, and its this that gives us our ability to go on and achieve more and more things. Interestly we were looking at how we do this in churches too – people are assigned a “role” within a church and we do that to be accepted by our fellow believers, which then gives us the ability to go on and do more in church. What the talk was saying was reminding us that our acceptance comes not from the work that we do or the role that we take – but from the Cross – and absolutely nothing else. Ultimately we need to break the cycle that to be accepted comes from “doing” something at all because it doesn’t. Nothing we can ever do will give us the ultimate acceptance that we need from God, and God alone. Yes wether we are working or being a homemaker gives us some sense of earthly worth – and indeed in many senses is in itelf an outworking of our faith – but its not the be all and end all. We need to keep reminding ourselves that the most important thing we ever do in life is not our job or our family, but how we develop and maintain our relationship with God. And how did that start? With the Cross.

    • Hearten Soul says:

      Thanks Claire for sharing your experiences. I think you may be my longest comment ever! I’m glad there have been some real blessings for you in being able to be at home more – I certainly don’t begrudge anyone the chance to be fully part of their children’s lives. I think I feel uncomfortable when homemaking is portrayed as something exclusive, but you certainly don’t talk about it in that way. Having said that, your previous experience when you weren’t able to be at home as you would like is just another reason why we can’t assume this is an easy option for anyone.

      I like what you said about our big family and the need for our acceptance to come from God. Amen to that.

    • I’d like to see us move away from constantly discussing whether women should be at home or at work, and talk more about how parents can balance their work and family care commitments. And I think recent legislation allowing for men to take a share of maternity leave is a good step towards this. It’s difficult because women’s careers are automatically disrupted by having some leave to have a baby, and why disrupt two careers?

      My personal, and very painful, experience means that I now disagree with you that women are being lied to about needing independence and the ability to earn their own money. My marriage ended very suddenly and very unexpectedly leaving me with two small children: because I still work I am able to continue to pay the mortgage and support them. If I wasn’t able to be financially independent (to an extent – I rely quite considerably on tax credits) I would be in a very difficult situation now.

      I do actually think society would benefit from a reduction in dual-income families – I think it could stop the increase in house prices, making it more affordable for everyone to buy or rent, and I do think it would be better for people to have more choices about whether to stay at home with children or work, and it would give people more flexibility and reduce some of the pressure. But I think this should be about everyone working flexibly and considering their work and home balance, rather than women continuing to carry the burden of juggling home, family and career. (And I think I’ve gone completely away from the original point of the piece – I got carried away a little there – sorry).

  5. Projectawesome : I do agree with you to a certain extent, which is why I did make it clear in my reply that I appreciated my comments applied to me and not necessarily to anyone else. People have very different experiences and what is right for one is not right for another.

    I have, over the years, met many people with similar situations to yours – I was in my career a family solicitor and dealt with many people suffering a relationship breakdown when they least expected to. For those people, and particular people who have suffered in violent or abusive relationships – a working life and income of their own is very important.

    However I do maintain that there is a lie – and what I mean by that is the impression we were given when we were growing up that we women absolutely must have a career, as if no other life route or choice was an acceptable one. I don’t think women working is inherently bad (I did it myself for almost 2 decades and intend to go back to it) but I do think each path is as fulfilling and valid as the other.

    You are right when you say we shouldn’t view either working or homemaking as mutually exclusive – and of course as many women these days know, life for them is often a balance of the two. It was for me – after I’d had children I didn’t go back to work full time. But to be honest what ended up happening is that I did a full time job with part time pay and part time hours. And I believe that many women who do that end up feeling the same way as well. I think this is part of the problem – women end up feeling that they need to give 150% to their job and 150% to being a homemaker, and in the end something has to give. In my case it was my health.

    I do think women should be supported to do both, and that is great. But I also think women should be supported whatever their choice – if they choose to work full time then there needs to be appropriate resources to enable them to do that. If they choose to be at home then there should also be resources and funding to enable them to do that as well. But for many women, staying at home these days simply isn’t a financial possibility, so they end up having to work whether they want to or not. In reality therefore having one parent as a homemaker isn’t an option for the vast majority of families. Is that really fair?

    And I don’t think you’ve gone off topic by any means – all of these issues are intertwined in the idea of someone being a homemaker. I think its a great discussion.

  6. Pingback: Hearing them sing | Hearten Soul

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