In an episode of the Donna Reed Show, Donna Reed notices that housewives tend to designate themselves as “just a housewife,” belittling the important vocation of wife and mother. She goes on a crusade to show the world that housewives are as skilled as professionals who work outside the home, since the housewife role comprises many jobs: chef, seamstress, accountant, psychologist, tutor, etc. Therefore, they shouldn’t refer to themselves as “just” a housewife any more than professionals refer to themselves as “just” astrophysicists or college professors.
Nowadays, many housewives engage in an even greater variety of tasks: running a business on Etsy, writing widely-read “mommy blogs,” homeschooling multiple children while simultaneously caring for an infant or toddler, telecommuting from home part-time. As Jennifer Fulwiler argues, this array of options has enabled women to balance family with intellectually fulfilling work and has, to a great extent, rendered the “mommy wars” obsolete.
However, I worry that people now look askance at women who don’t take advantage of these opportunities–like a woman is lazy if she “just” cares for the household and children. But as a person who wrote and defended my dissertation while also caring full-time for a baby, I can attest to the fact that there can be disadvantages to working, even inside the home. In order to get work done, I constantly tried to get my daughter to play by herself–and resented her when she wouldn’t. (She does like to play with her toys, but she lets out bloodcurdling screams if I don’t sit down on the floor playing with her, preferably no more than 2 inches away at all times. I hope this doesn’t portend future psychological issues). I was always distracted from both tasks and probably performed poorly at both. Had I maintained such a work schedule long-term, I would have either had to 1) drug my daughter with television or 2) stop talking to my husband, washing the dishes, and other little niceties of life.
I somehow got through this past year with a completed dissertation (and a modicum of sanity still intact.) My graduation has prompted many inquiries: “So what are you going to do now? Are you going to teach/go on the academic job market/publish your dissertation as a book?” I wish I could retort “Do you not see the giant toddler velcroed to my leg? I think she constitutes an 80-hour work week in and of herself,” but instead I usually mutter something about working on articles for publication and starting an academic editing business. While it’s true that I’m undertaking the latter tasks, they only constitute a tiny part of my daily life. For the most part, I really am “just a housewife.”
And I think that should be enough. A job is just a job, but being a wife and mother is a vocation.