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Choosing to stay at home or go to work is a personal choice. Why do we need to judge and look down on women who choose to be housewives?
When I was a young girl, I was often asked a question that many children are asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The spontaneous thought that would come up in my mind was, “I want to stay at home.” But I never actually voiced it because the expected answer always seemed to be Engineer, Doctor, Lawyer, IAS, Teacher or some such “valuable” profession. No, actually that is not true. Once I did say it out loud and was promptly laughed at – that taught me.
So I too would give out an expected answer but always pondered, why was it wrong to be a housewife? My mom is a working woman, and she is still working. I grew up with the help of nannies and neighbours and an empty silent house, cold food and waiting for amma to come home was a daily reality for me. Sure, it taught me many things such as how to keep myself occupied and to be happy in my own company. In fact, after I grew up, I’ve lived for months together by myself and never really felt lonely – because I was used to solitude from a young age. And no, I don’t think my parents neglected me in any way – I know they love me and they did their best to give me the best.
But, perhaps because I saw how stressed and perpetually busy my mom was, juggling her responsibilities in a full-time job and home, I felt that maybe being a housewife was a better option. Also, I had seen how my friends were greeted by their mothers when they went back home and were served fresh and hot food, and I felt that maybe I was missing out on something. At times it was difficult for me to accept that my mom had to go to office as I felt that she chose her job over me and I’ve sulked and thrown tantrums demanding her to stay back with me, no doubt making her life quite difficult. Now, of course, I’ve realised that my mother did what she had to do and she did not exist solely for the purpose of ladling out hot sambar onto my plate.
“Just” a housewife?
I work too – earlier in corporate offices and now from my home – and I enjoy my work. Some days, work is the only reason why I even get out of bed in the morning. However, there was a short period of time when I happened to be a housewife or homemaker or whatever you wish to call it. After being an independent woman, the stigma that is associated with being “just” a housewife hit me hard. I cringed when I had to fill in forms asking what my “occupation” was and hated to hear people say, “Oh so you’re simply sitting at home?” I could not even resort to the tag of “stay-at-home-mom” because I am not a mother.
Eventually, my unanswered childhood question resurfaced – What is wrong in being a housewife? I feel that nowadays housewives face so much flak and are the butt of so many jokes that we as a collective whole have succeeded in making women feel guilty about their choices. I started seeing how wrong it is to judge women for a choice that they’ve made, each for their own reasons. Perhaps, someone wanted to spend more time with their kids, perhaps someone didn’t like their job or perhaps they simply liked being a housewife. Who really has the right to look down on somebody else’s choices and assign a value to them?
…nowadays housewives face so much flak and are the butt of so many jokes that we as a collective whole have succeeded in making women feel guilty about their choices.
Some may call it a lack of ambition. But ambition is not necessarily a virtue that needs to be solely linked to a career. Aspiring to become a better mother, a better cook or a better friend is also being ambitious. The competition really needs to be with you, not with anyone else. Are you a better person today than you were yesterday? That is ambition to me.
A woman is so much more than her educational qualifications or a job – then why do we need to define her by those limiting factors? Just because a woman doesn’t “use” her degree, does it mean that she is wasting her education? For one thing, having an “education” has no connection to having a “degree”. Plus, after your first couple of jobs, no one really cares about your degree – people want to know what you’ve learnt now, not what you did 10 years back in college, which in this fast-paced and ever changing world would have probably become obsolete. And often in life, we find ourselves doing something completely different than what we learnt in college – like me. But beyond that, the time spent in pursuing your degree, teaches you loads of things – about life, about people, about yourself – that you will continue to use throughout your life and those learnings cannot be contained within a square sheet of laminated paper. A few years after college, no one remembers what was taught in the classrooms. People remember what was learnt outside the classrooms. So in my opinion, an education can never really go to waste.
Does being a housewife mean that you aren’t using any of the skills that you’ve picked up? Of course not! Today, when you hear the term “transferable skills” thrown around when job-hunting, why can’t we apply the same logic to being a housewife? Any housewife would tell you that running a household involves efficient management, organization, delegation, prioritization, planning and so much more! Also, I don’t think that if you become a housewife, you’ll become dull and boring. For one thing, a housewife need not necessarily stay locked up at home the entire day – she can still go out, meet friends, volunteer, join classes etc. Plus in this day of instant updates and 24*7 connectivity, it really isn’t too difficult to stay aware of what is happening around us.
The issue of dependency
I’ve had many of my friends ask me, “But don’t you feel uncomfortable asking your husband for money? I could never do that! I would never be a dependent!” making me feel as though I had no shred of self-respect in me. But then again, “Why should I feel uncomfortable!?” I run the house, I cook food, I do the laundry, I even clean the toilets – surely, I contribute equally to the household? Perhaps not in the form of cash, but just because my contributions cannot be quantified in terms of money, does not mean that I don’t deserve money! It is not “my” home or “his” home, it is our home, it is our life, our children, our family, and similarly it is our money. If he has eaten the food I cooked and slept on the bed I made, then surely I have every right to the money. I don’t mean to imply that a marriage is like a barter system, where I get paid for my services. All I’m saying is that my contributions count too.
I have invested my time, effort and energy in the relationship, surely I shouldn’t have any qualms about taking what I deserve?
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for financial independence. If you are a working woman, I would think that in a healthy and balanced relationship, while you do, can and should keep a portion of your money for yourself (and his for himself), you would share the rest and both of you contribute towards a shared fund of resources. So now, just because I am a housewife and my contributions are not in the form of money, does it mean that we don’t have a shared fund of resources at all? Afterall I have invested my time, effort and energy in the relationship, surely I shouldn’t have any qualms about taking what I deserve?
Again, I think it all boils down to the fact that we look down on housewives and assume that their contributions are not worthy and thereby attach no value to it. I don’t view myself as a “dependent”. Yes I might be dependent on my husband for money (and of course a lot of other things too but I am steering clear of the emotional aspect here and only discussing the practicalities), but then he is dependent on me for a tasty dinner, for a clean home, for fresh clothes and so much more. Then, how can it be called a “dependent” relationship? Is it not a mutually rewarding one? The moment we change this attitude, no one’s ego or pride will be hurt because they bought a dress or an ice-cream with their “husband’s” money.
A question of choice
Ultimately, each person chooses to do what works best for them. Just because that choice doesn’t work for us, doesn’t make that choice an invalid one for someone else. And if we have no regrets and are happy with our choices, then why should we allow anybody else to tell us what should or should not make us happy? People are often unhappy because they try to fit their lives into someone else’s definition of happiness. I think it is time that each one of us define our own happiness and try to live a life in accordance with our definition. If meeting a deadline at work makes me happy, that is fine. If baking a scrumptious cake makes me happy, that is fine too. No one has the right to tell me that baking a cake is worthless and that it should not make me happy or satisfied.
P.S: I think this applies to men as well in households where the woman goes to work and the man stays at home. If anything, I imagine it would be even tougher for men.
*Photo credit: Shutterstock