Sometime in 2016, I wrote a piece about identifying as a queer housewife. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever written, not by a long shot, but it was something I was feeling really intensely at the time and really wanted to talk about. The extremely simplified version is that I had, as a younger person, really wanted to stay home and raise babies and keep my house. When I grew up and became a feminist and realized I was a flaming queer… this didn’t seem like it was going to happen, so I set the dream aside. But having a baby FORCED me to stay home (in the same way it forces many parents, including many new moms and other birthing parents who aren’t ready, back into the workforce). And while I was forced to stay home, I fell in love with it, and came to identify with that word, housewife.
The whole thing ended up sparking a bit of a debate about terms. Many people told me they preferred homemaker to housewife, as it was gender neutral and less derogatory. But the term “homemaker” has been tied up in a very particular brand of conservative Christianity, and benevolent sexism, for decades now. And besides, I wanted to be a housewife specifically because it was gendered work I was doing. Are there men who cook and clean and budget and organize? Absolutely. But my own housewifery made me feel connected to generations of women who cared for their families and homes. I couldn’t divorce it from that, and I found that I didn’t want to.
Anyways, I got paid for that article about being a housewife. I think I made seventy-five bucks.
This spring, my spouse and I made a rather huge change. Specifically, she cut her working hours, from four days a week to three days a week. This way, I could also work three days a week, and we would split childcare duties equally. With our toddler weaned, this seemed like the perfect setup for our little family. Now no one would be carrying the brunt of the kid-wrangling, we would both work, and both do childcare, and have one day off a week in common. In many ways, it was a dream come true for me.
I started freelance writing at the end of 2015 and very beginning of 2016, and I started really small. I was just bringing in enough money to take the edge off, the edge of living in poverty. I was really proud of my contribution, even though I try very hard not to assign value to myself based on money earned. For so long, I hadn’t been able to financially contribute to my family, and I had watched (and felt) us struggle to try to survive on one income.
Since then it has been a (more or less) uphill climb. But there is never enough time. I work nights. I get behind on projects. I get behind on the blog. And my work time always gets eaten away at, slowly but surely. My spouse and I may work the same number of hours… but one of us works outside the home (her) while the other works inside the home (me). When doctor’s appointments have to happen, it’s easier for EVERYONE to schedule them for my work days. And then I take part of the day off and scramble and it sucks. Often I work nights. Often I work too many nights in a row (because I don’t know when to give myself a break) and make myself sick. Often freelance payments come late which makes it feel like I’m working this hard for nothing.
The switch from two work days a week to three work days a week alleviated some of the pressure on me, but not all of it. And it also added more. The income I make long ago ceased being “extra” money. I am now responsible for a rather large chunk of our monthly budget. If I don’t work, we can’t pay our bills and buy our food, period.
And the switch also meant something else… it was the end of the housewife dream.
A lot of times, I am too tired to make dinner, so my spouse does it. The livingroom which I used to lovingly pick up on the daily… well there are dust on top of the toys left on the floor now. The exciting DIY projects are all left for… another day, someday, maybe one day. All of this is in the service of my career.
I’m not complaining exactly, but it’s like I accidentally morphed from a housewife into a career woman.
And here’s the thing. I’m not even sure how I feel about that. I love my job. I love the work I’m doing. I’m writing some really interesting and exciting things that I never would have dreamed of a few years ago. It’s just that some days, I would rather be making my own granola bars and tending my little garden, you know?
Not having the identity of housewife makes me feel a little bit like I’m floating. I no longer know what my roll is, I’m no longer entirely sure I fit my roll. The reality is, of course, that I desperately want to do both. I want to do more things than there can ever be time for. I want to make pie crust and write interesting and well researched pieces, and do creative projects with my toddler, and organize the pantry, and work on my novel. But I also want to be kind to myself and read books and watch Doctor Who. There isn’t enough time, and I’m getting frustrated, and I’m burning out. And I’m not the only one. Women (and other people, but largely women) are so often tasked with doing the impossible in not enough time, we are so often racing the clock, we are so often torn in a thousand directions and unable to feel anything but guilt.
I don’t have an answer.
But I do have an idea.