By Didan Ashanta
I am a stay-at-home-mommy, a full-time/executive homemaker, a domestic logistics engineer, a housewife. Yes, I resigned from my middle management position in the food production and service industry to ‘stay home, keep house and mind baby’. No, we are NOT rich. No, we do NOT have a trust fund account to live off of. No, we do NOT have a fat salary cheque coming in each month. (In fact, I’ve prided myself on keeping our family budget below normal.) However, we do have some family values and principles which require us to make some sacrifices so that our child will have a strong developmental foundation and also that we’ll be intentional about how our family culture evolves. This arrangement may be temporary, but is keen to be sustained for the early years of childhood when little ones are most vulnerable and absorb most of their life lessons. So, at this time, our family has one main provider and one home & family manager.
Interestingly, I’ve had persons – twice in the same week – completely disregard my relevance as a full-time home and family manager (referenced in most data capturing systems as ‘housewife’). The first occurred while on a call to the bank’s customer call centre. The representative, as she updated my account info, responded, “Oh! You’re unemployed.” when I told her I was now a housewife. Then a day or two later, an older lady in the supermarket asked if I wanted to hire a babysitter. When I declined the offer, she questioned me about who was taking care of my baby, and after I told her that I provide my own child care services, she exclaimed, “Oh! Yuh not working… Is a work mi a look – fi tek care a baby.” *mouth drops* So… the WORK you want me to PAY you to do, is not a WORK if I do it myself? *blank face*
While offended, I must admit that these two reactions are accurate reflections of our society’s perception of the role of a woman. Today’s wife and mother is almost always in a salaried occupation outside of her home. Very few persons will say they know a ‘housewife’ and even fewer see the need to ‘stay home, keep house and mind baby‘. Ask any woman you know, and she will often give the knee-jerk response that she “needs the money and this is why” she has a job away from home. But, like most Jamaican women in the 60s, both my grandmothers practised full-time homemaking (even if they took on part-time gigs from time to time), because that was the way of being back then. Instead of enjoying the leisured lifestyle of the “kept woman“, both of them still saw the need for and consistently generated supplementary incomes (to support that of their spouses). These women were mompreneurs before the word was coined and operated various cottage industries, e.g. chicken farming, dressmaking, ice making and vending, cornershop, etc. This is because – even back then – one income just didn’t cut it for most families, especially since they had 6 and 10 children per household. So, from the pre-independence years until today – fifty years later, money has always been an issue for homemakers, whether they stayed at home or went out to work.
That is why these “you don’t work” encounters had me wondering if many women who are employed outside of the home realise that while they slave away at the company, their hard-earned money gets redistributed where my labour is spent. Those salaries come back to pay the housekeeper, the wash-lady, the child care service (sitter/daycare), the homework centre/extra lessons, the quick-service restaurants, school and company canteens, and supermarkets (rotisseries, pre-seasoned/pre-cooked meals), and so on. Then either way, we both still have to cover the rent/mortgage, grocery bill, utility bills, transportation costs (though mine would be lower), medical expenses, savings, etc. The reality is that every home and family needs to be cared for and managed – it is not optional. So, if you aren’t providing all of those services all of the time, then you will have to out-source them to other persons or organisations.
The homemaker, as main manager and facilitator, fills shoes in almost every department. Let’s look at some of them:
- Delegation of duties
- Vacation planning
- Healthcare (Dental, Optical, Immunisations, etc.)
- Sanitation & Laundry
- Decluttering & Organising
- Meal Preparation & Planning
- Lawn & Garden
Finance & Procurement
- Budgeting & Controlling Expenditure
- Banking, Taxes & Investments
- Bill Payment
- Purchasing Goods & Services (Food, Clothing, Furniture, Appliances, Cleaning Supplies, etc.)
Public Relations (Marketing)
- Neighbourhood Relations
- Family Life Event Functions
- Family Holiday Functions
- Community Volunteerism
After a review of the various responsibilities of the homemaker, I’m convinced that the following courses (two of which I happened to study did up to CSEC level) should be pre-requisites for all high school graduation candidates – both male and female:
- Home & Family Management
- Principles of Business
- Child Development
When I got really overwhelmed in the beginning, I turned to Uncle Google and found that there are probably more blogs on homemaking than on hair and make-up (I could be wrong – LOL). The veteran homemakers even have homemaking binders or household notebooks that they make and maintain for efficiency on the job. Some are very basic, others are quite fancy and some are even designed for resale. They can include: schedules/calendars, menu plans, to do lists, shopping lists, daily routines, homeschooling lesson plans, bill schedules, children’s duty rosters, etc. Clearly an organised and efficient professional needs her tools of trade
I’ll say that after personally observing family life in various countries and exchanging thoughts with my associates all over the world, I have concluded that the more family-oriented the culture, the more prevalent and respected the role of the housewife. However, the more individualistic and materialistic the society, the prestige is more likely awarded to the career-woman.
But, at the end of the day, a woman’s worth can never be measured by the presence of gleaming white nappies on her backyard clothesline nor the frequency with which her picture hangs in the ‘employee of the month’ frame. It is in the warmth and welcome feeling that greets visitors to her home, in the lovingly prepared meals that her family consumes and in the sense of stability and direction with which she lives from day-to-day. Today’s wife and mother is empowered enough to decide how she will function – whether she will work from home or she will go to the company for a 9-5. Neither approach to income generation and home management is faulty – it is the implementation that matters. So, my encouragement is for us to respect every woman – salaried or not – because we all have to manage our families and homes. Some of us have different strategies and priorities, but respect is due either way.
Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at DidanAshanta.com. She currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 9-month-old daughter.