One for the Ladies: Suburban Housewife Fail

The following is a rebellion against the modern structure of suburbia. It was originally written in 2012 as a long rant, and is first published here with editing. This article relies heavily on stereotypes, because I lived those stereotypes for so many years. Oh, and the above woman is not me, but isn’t she adorably retro?

Doing housework all day can be a drudgery, but many housecleaners I know really enjoy what they do because they get the variety of different homes every day and can see the value they bring. Dusting the same tables day after day and ironing tablecloths is a shame and total waste of time. However, the idea that being a wife and mother is the problem is a false leap in logic.

Being a wife and mother can be incredibly satisfying, but the current suburban housewife model is very artificial and suffers because the law of “form follows function” has not been observed. An artificial illusion is created whereby the husband (often with a wife’s encouragement) wants the largest home they can possibly afford with a 30-year mortgage. Then the husband proceeds to work longer and longer hours due to the pressure of that mortgage and the wife effectively becomes the ‘maid of the manor’ because constant maintenance is required to keep up appearances that the family is rich. All the other neighbors are doing the same thing, so husband and wife assume this is correct and ‘go with it’ while having several children who also treat mom as a maid and dad as a taxi driver and ATM.

We have become a nation of maids and maintenance men in order to keep up this artificial facade.

Perhaps 50-100 years ago we had a more logical set-up:

The mother, as a “Family Manager” trained each new ‘associate’ how to do small tasks in line with their physical and mental abilities, enabling them to become more and more satisfied with their contributions to the family. The wife, also organized the household not as a show piece to impress strangers, but as a mini-farm where organic food is raised for improved health and to save money. Today the financial value of a stay-at-home mother who just performs the ‘façade’ function is well documented as very financially beneficial due to the cost of child care, but the emotional cost is draining. However, the Mini-Farm Model is a win-win-win situation on the financial health, “job satisfaction” (mental health), and physical health benefit front. If a wife chooses to involve her husband it can strengthen the marriage and give the couple common goals and points of interest, but she was/is free to take the lead and direct that area of the family. If the children are taught new skills and responsibilities along the way, then it may become clear to a new generation why our great-great-grandmothers loved their jobs as ‘house wives’. The deeper we look, the more we will realize the term never applied to that generation in the first place.

If you read “Farmer Boy” from the Little House on the Prairie series you will see the role a mother played in the financial well-being of the family along with all the other things she did. One of my favorite quotes from the book is Laura Ingalls’ husband speaking about his mother making so much money from her superior butter, “I was so proud of her”. Really warms the heart. There is something to be said for tangible work and concrete results that a family can actually hold in their hands.

Like many of our Great-Great-Grandmother’s, Almanzo’s mother was quite capable in all the areas. She did interesting and useful things like weaving the family tweed even though she dropped a few of her past activities: “Mother didn’t card her own wool any more, since there was a machine that did it on shares. But she dyed it. Alice and Eliza Jane were gathering roots and barks in the woods, and Royal was building huge bonfires in the yard. They boiled the roots and the bark in big caldrons over the fires, and they dipped the long skeins of wool thread that Mother had spun, and lifted them” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy

In 2011 I was a ‘façade housewife’ that felt like a bored Chihuahua…trembling with fear that I might mess up some insignificant detail while maintaining a uncomfortable illusion. Our great grandmothers where like powerful Alaskan Malamutes that knew their worth, had goals and loved the freedom of ‘getting after it’. I hope to someday achieve that level of intense confidence.

Today (2012) I’m working through the process of turning over the most repetitive housework tasks to my growing children. The tasks that bore me are a challenge for them and the few dollars that they earn help the kids learn to save money, give and spend on things of value. Every onion and asparagus I plant between the roses is my little statement that the façade is crumbling. My husband may not concede to a dairy goat in the three-car garage, but the garden will expand and the children will learn more useful skills and will train their taste buds to distinguish between a garden tomato and grocery store one. In just the first year of gardening, I caught the kids eating the cherry tomatoes off the vine just an hour before I could harvest them for salads. Oh well….wasn’t that the point in the first place?

Any human deprived of work that actually contributes will become dissatisfied, so go ahead and deride the modern housewife façade. Don’t assume that being a drone at someone else’s company will fill all your needs. We are incredibly complex. Maybe it’s time for we ladies to take control of our lovely homes and turn them into Fine Little Farms.

One last quote from that great book Farmer Boy:

“A farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you’re a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with wood out of your own timber. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You’ll be free and independent, son, on a farm.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder, quote from Farmer Boy

Originally written 9/17/2012. Edited 2021.

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