I spent 15 years as a housewife. This is not a term often used anymore, for obvious reasons. It’s specific to the mother, for starters, and ignores that many fathers are stay-home parents. More to the point, it has become a term that is loaded with negative connotations, an outright passive-aggressive insult when the word “just” is thrown in front of it.
We now use more gender-neutral titles, such as stay-home parent, homemaker or household manager. I heard and used all of these, but 20 years ago, the terms I heard the most often were housewife and stay-at-home parent. The word “just” was often present.
This is the part where stay-at-home parents typically state that the job is one of the most difficult and thankless on the planet. Or perhaps enter in a debate as to whether one should stay home with their children versus continue working.
I will do neither here. Stay-home parenting is a difficult, thankless job. So is working full time outside the home while managing one’s family and household. Sometimes, there is no choice in the matter. Which route an individual takes should not be debated because frankly, it is no one’s business outside of the immediate family.
Rather, I would like to talk about something those stay-home parents are doing — or more accurately, feeling. It might be the benefit of hindsight, having already lived through this stage of my life, but I have noticed that stay-home parents, when asked what they do for a living, no matter what job title is used, still squirm and apologetically say they are just staying home with their kids.
There’s that word again. “Just.” Did you even notice that I used it? It slipped in there so seamlessly.
It turns out that we use it against ourselves, too. I’m just a stay home parent. I’m just going to do this until the kids are in school. We just don’t have a choice, one of us had to stay home.
Maybe you are staying home out of necessity. Maybe you’d rather be working. I hear you.
But I am here to tell you, that is not a universal truth. When my kids were young, I bought into this trope, too, that I should be working and have an “actual” career. I thought once my kids hit school age, that the only logical step was to resume my interrupted career path.
I didn’t. Let me tell you why: I was good at being a stay-home parent.
I didn’t “just” stay home, I thrived at home. I learned to manage, prioritize and delegate. I learned how to better empathize with others, as well as when to speak a difficult truth. I learned to think outside the box, when to let things go, and how to listen to my gut. My job as a stay-home parent taught me dedication, reliability and perseverance. When the kids slouched into the late teenage years and I re-joined the “real” workforce, I was more than equipped to handle the job.
In other words, looking back shows me that being a stay-home parent wasn’t all about the kids. It was my first career, one that turned me into the successful, happy, well-adjusted adult I am today.
I learned so much. I would do it again in a heartbeat, had my kids not done the unthinkable and grown up.
I am well into my second career now, one that I have approached with the confidence of a person who knows they did well in their first career and is ready for the challenges that lie ahead. Call it what you will — stay-home parent, household manager, housewife — but do yourself a favor and don’t say the word “just” in front of it. It is your career, and you should be proud.
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.