Is "homemaker" a dirty word?

is homemaker a dirty word

I’ve really been loving writing about HOME, our October theme here at The Happiest Mom. Judging from the number of half-finished posts sitting in draft mode and still more on my mind, I’ve got a lot to say on the topic of home: how to make a house a home, what home means to me, what I hope it’ll mean to my kids.

What’s tricky, though? The wording. Just what do we call these people who water the plants, set the thermostat, call the plumber, load the dishwasher, put away the laundry, purchase the throw pillows? In each post I’ve had an occasion to refer to the person who takes care of things around the home–but each time I’ve stumbled over the word “homemaker.” It just seems so outmoded, so hopelessly retro, something that doesn’t belong on any modern woman’s medical registration form, even if she does, in fact, spend much of her time caring for her home.

Why is that?

There seem to be three camps in opposition to the word:

  • First, there are those who treasure the title “stay-at-home mother” but dislike “homemaker.” To them, the work of raising children is more important than the work of caring for a home, and should be emphasized.

I totally agree that spending time with my kids is, overall, way more important than a clean floor or grocery shopping. But sometimes I wonder if, in our zeal to showcase the value of mothering, we forget that household tasks are also a valid, important and even necessary use of our time–even if they sometimes come at the expense of yet another round of Candyland. In fact, I’d argue that there’s something very valuable in moms who are usually at home allowing the children to see us engaged in the grown-up work of running a home, instead of always spending time absorbed in their world. And for working-out-of-the-home parents who feel too guilty to take care of housekeeping while the kids are awake, I wonder: do the kids think the house magically cleans itself while they’re asleep?

  • Other moms I spoke to aren’t opposed to the term, but feel they aren’t entitled to use it. To them, a homemaker is somebody who’s well, home all day. Or she (or he!) is somebody who’s really good at all those things that we think of as going hand-in-hand with housewifery: cleaning, cooking, sewing Halloween costumes, darning socks, you get the picture. When I asked my Twitter friends why we have such a hard time with the term, The Feminist Breeder–who’s a full-time student and working mom–said “I’m sooo not a homemaker. Heck, calling me one is an insult to people who are good at homemaking…I think it’s an important job, it’s just not my job, so I don’t want to take any credit.”

fireplace or no, somebody’s got to keep the home fires burning…

      I get where she’s coming from. After all, we have (limited) child care and (not enough) cleaning help, something that will get your ‘homemaker’ credentials quickly tossed out in some circles. Of course, the truth is that I still spend

at least

      50% of my waking hours attending to some sort of home care above and beyond caring for the kids: the cleaning, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the organizing, the decorating, the budgeting, the bill-paying…it all has to get done, and unless you are well-off enough to have an entire housekeeping staff or better yet, a home manager, getting those tasks done falls to you and your spouse or partner to divvy up. So I think that working moms (and/or dads) have the right to think of themselves as homemakers, even if they aren’t physically home most of the time, or doing all the work. To me it’s an attitude, a feeling, more than simply a set of tasks. Like

Melissa Michaels of The Inspired Room

    wisely shared when I interviewed her, “You don’t have to be a full time homemaker to make your home and family life a priority.” (Check back to read the interview tomorrow!

And then there’s a third camp that just finds the word plain ‘ol offensive precisely because it is a throwback: to a time when women had few rights and ‘homemaker’ was really the only acceptable thing you could be. I get that, too. I just wonder if maybe it’s time we gave the H-word, Homemaker, back some of its status. After all, most of us live in homes of one kind or another. “Home” is a very powerful concept: it’s not just a place to sleep, or store food, or keep out of the elements…it’s also a place to enjoy our family, to spend time with friends, to retreat from the world, to be at peace, to feel safe and loved. No matter how high-powered or important our jobs outside of the house are, and no matter how busy and active we are in outside-the-home pursuits, home is really the center of the world for most people…and from keeping it warm to keeping it safe–to maybe even keeping it attractive–there’s plenty of work to be done at home.

So what’s wrong with being a “homemaker” after all?


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