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The High Honor of Being a Homemaker
INSIGHT magazine ^ | July 22, 2002 | Suzanne Fields

Posted on 07/22/2002 11:29:14 AM PDT by Stand Watch Listen

When my mother died last month at 92, I pressed the obituary writer for a major metropolitan newspaper to emphasize that she was a homemaker. "But what did she do?" the reporter, a woman, asked with just a hint of condescension in her voice. She clearly viewed motherhood through the lens of modern feminism.

"What did she do for the neighborhood, the community, the city?" I half expected her to add, "… the world?"

"She raised her family," I said. "She was a full-time mother, devoted grandmother, loving great-grandmother. She wrapped her extended family in hand-knitted sweaters, covered their beds with beautiful crocheted quilts and baked a favorite chocolate cake for birthdays. She made it possible for her children with ambitious careers to leave their own children in her care when they left town on business. She took her grandchildren to the pediatrician when a parent couldn't keep the appointment because one had to try a case in court and the other had to meet a deadline. She was an old-fashioned matriarch who eased the lives of others who depended on her to enable them to be independent."

The reporter wasn't interested in any of this and focused only on her volunteer work for various charities. She couldn't appreciate the idea that charity begins at home. At least she didn't trot out the feminist dogma that volunteer work is demeaning because you aren't paid for it. But the young woman on the obituary desk was only reflecting the culture at large and the doctrine, held as tightly as a theological creed, that a woman's worth must be measured only by what she does outside the home.

Is my mother's world (very different from my own) really as antique as the Victorian china she collected? If so, is it time for a reappraisal? That's the question I asked when I put my mourning clothes away and reflected not only on my personal loss, but on the public loss if we no longer are to honor the accomplishments of women such as my mother.

Modern feminists rail at full-time mothers who were relegated to the private sphere. Betty Friedan argued that the suburban homemaker was imprisoned in a comfortable concentration camp, but a concentration camp nonetheless. Of course, modern feminists also rail at their workaholic fathers, whose lives they often imitate. But there are growing hints of dissatisfaction among younger women today toward the current choices they see as thrust upon them. It's not unusual to hear them say that the pressure to succeed in the public world of commerce and culture is no better than the pressure women felt in those awful, benighted, 1950s to become full-time makers of a home for husband and children. Choice has its limits.

Alarms go off when the biological clocks tick faster than women are told they will. Sylvia Ann Hewlett's book, Creating a Life, documents what many women learn through pain and personal experience — that fertility problems are real for career women in their 30s, rising exponentially after age 35. "For just as there are no atheists in foxholes," writes Kay Hymowitz in City Journal, "there are no feminists in the throes of fertility anxiety."

Many of the women who have their children late are discovering that there is more to motherhood than working at an office from 9 to 9. A number of high-profile women have dropped out of their jobs as chief executive officers (CEOs), or even as the chief aide to the president of the United States, to put family first. The popular culture remains schizophrenic on the subject.

Remember when Murphy Brown, a high-octane TV newscaster of sitcom fame, had a baby (without a husband) as part of the plotline? The scriptwriters didn't know how to mix her career and family life so, unable to imagine from here to maternity, they dropped the child out of most episodes. Ten years later, Miranda, the single lawyer character on HBO's Sex and the City, is pregnant and it's not at all clear how this will affect the trendy, fashionable characters whose major preoccupation is sex in the city. It's ironic that Sarah Jessica Parker, who is married and pregnant in real life, refuses to play that role on the sitcom. When Julia Louis-Dreyfus was pregnant twice in real life, her character on the sitcom Seinfeld never was, so we never saw how she juggled home and work.

Although married women who work outside the home often complain that they are overburdened with the infinite chores that make family values possible, most mothers like being the CEO of their families. Men of another generation, who fought feminism because they thought a woman's place was in the home, are not so easy to find these days, so accustomed have they become to the luxuries of second incomes. Another cultural revolution would be required to change the order of the day, but then my mother never dreamed that the generation of women following her would describe the home as a prison.

As Mom's fine linen, china and silver were packed up for a final move, her children and grandchildren pored over photographs of her adventures with them to the zoo, beach and playground. Such precious memories. We were as pleased as she was that she never had to go off to an office every day. She wrote to all of us, in a letter written to be read after she died: "I'm sure you know how much love I had for all of you. I truly feel I was one of the most privileged persons ever to walk on God's green earth."

So what did she do? That's what she did.

Suzanne Fields is a nationally syndicated columnist.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial

1 posted on 07/22/2002 11:29:14 AM PDT by Stand Watch Listen
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To: Stand Watch Listen
Brava, Suzanne. A fine requiem to a life of huge value.
2 posted on 07/22/2002 11:38:37 AM PDT by MJemison
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To: Stand Watch Listen
An excellent piece, thank you.

When I realized how little I was giving my children when I was teaching full time and I realized how much they needed me, I gave up my much-worked-for career.

Yep, I miss the money sometimes, but the value of being able to attend every one of their field trips, classroom events, etc was far more rewarding then any monitary compensation I had ever receved in the workplace.
3 posted on 07/22/2002 11:45:56 AM PDT by Sweet_Sunflower29
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To: Stand Watch Listen
Dang it!!!...Where's my tissues?

Good post friend...My Mom left her mortal coils last year, almost to the day.

She worked for a short while out of high school for the RailRoad, but soon married...and then worked her butt off taking care of my Father, me, and my three brothers...

Hi Mom!


4 posted on 07/22/2002 11:48:20 AM PDT by nothingnew
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To: Stand Watch Listen
Great post!
5 posted on 07/22/2002 11:51:41 AM PDT by lsucat
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To: MJemison; Sweet_Sunflower29; nothingnew; lsucat
6 posted on 07/22/2002 12:24:40 PM PDT by Stand Watch Listen
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To: Stand Watch Listen
Excellent article. I must tell these feminists that having my mother home every single day when I came home from school was wonderful.

Let me tell you how we used to come in the front door from school to smell our delicious dinner cooking on the stove. Or...perhaps my mother was ironing our clothes and we could smell the starch as she ran the iron over the damp clothes. Or how she said hello to us or how we said hello to her. How we ran upstairs changed from our school clothes to our play clothes. How we ran outside to play for awhile.

Then we came in and set the dinner table for our family meal. How we said hello to our father as he came in from a long day at work. How we ate our wonderful dinner as a family no matter how big or how small it was. How after dinner we cleared the table, washed and dried the dishes, swept the kitchen floor then did our homework. How that evening we sat together as a family doing this or that and then it was time to go to bed.

I would not trade my mother being home with us for all the money in the whole entire world. I was able to do the same for our children too. We didn't have a lot but we had what we needed. My mother's warmth, smile, love and happiness when we came home each and every day was a great source of comfort for all of us and none of us...none of us would ever trade her being the housewife with the apron on for nothing in this whole wide world. She had a treasure trove of things in those apron pockets from picking up this or that all day long.

She had more going for her in her life and had so much to give of herself with personal satisfaction knowing she was the best mother she could ever be to her children than any feminist anywhere. She knew without the shadow of a doubt she had the love of my father and her children. More than anything else though she had the RESPECT she deserved from CHOOSING (which is what I thought the fems were all about) her career as a loving wife and mother.

For that, my brother, sisters and I will always feel blessed. She epitomized everything in my opinion of what a mother should be. So, feminists...go do YOUR thing. My mother has passed knowing she had the love and respect of her husband and children. A priceless trasure for sure. So, in closing, fems have no idea what being a mother is or they would not knock it. I think they are just jealous. Don't you? God bless all our mothers out there.
7 posted on 07/22/2002 12:29:41 PM PDT by cubreporter
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To: nothingnew
God bless your mother and the "Hi Mom" almost brought a tear to my eye. That was really cute and very special.
8 posted on 07/22/2002 12:30:51 PM PDT by cubreporter
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To: Stand Watch Listen
God bless the homemakers.
9 posted on 07/22/2002 12:39:45 PM PDT by Search4Truth
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To: cubreporter
Thanks for presenting your precious memories of your mom.

So many of today's children either go to an 'after-school child care facility or arrive home to an empty home. Only the tv, computer is there to greet them, to provide a 'simulation' for them. Their 'day at school' isn't asked about and is soon forgotten. Hollywood/MTV/advertising has more influence on their lives than the parents.

The working parents come home later, harried and distracted. Dinner is later or is from the 'fast food' neighborhood joint. Dinners are eaten 'on-the-go'.

Homework may or not be assigned, may or may not be finished. Family time is somewhat nonexistent. There are numerous scedules to be met, whether they are of the various in season sports practice, any arts/music, martial arts meets.

Homes now have multiple televisions with cable hookups, numerous computers with multiple phone/cable lines. The family withdraws off to their separate rooms.

And tomorrow the repetition continues.

10 posted on 07/22/2002 12:52:36 PM PDT by Stand Watch Listen
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To: Stand Watch Listen
I will never regret my decision to stay home for my kids. I love being able to keep my house clean and tidy, do laundry in the morning rather than trying to fit it in late at night or on weekends. I love not being physically and mentally drained at the end of the day, trying to fit in "quality time" with my kids. My kids and I love that I am able to help in their classroom, drive on field trips, help out at class parties. I would never trade my life and I can honestly say that I don't need a career to feel fulfilled. I tried that and there was nothing fulfilling about it.
11 posted on 07/22/2002 1:26:15 PM PDT by reformed_dem
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To: reformed_dem
I will never regret my decision to stay home for my kids.

Maybe the expression "stay at home Mom" should be changed to "Raise my own kids Mom."

12 posted on 07/22/2002 1:46:27 PM PDT by Freee-dame
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To: Stand Watch Listen
Funny. I think of stay-at-home moms as the producers of continuing civilization.
13 posted on 07/22/2002 1:56:53 PM PDT by stands2reason
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To: cubreporter
Are you sure we are not related? Except for a few details(Just 2 kids, me and my little brother), your recitation, sounds so very much like my childhood..

. Expecially the first part about coming home from school to smell dinner cooking on the stove..or the smell of starch, while the clothes were being ironed...I have such wonderful memories also....

The sense of smell, is very strong, and often a certain smell can transport one back to a particular time, or to a particular incident...any time, I smell a big pot of chili cooking, or a big pot of pot roast and veggies cooking, I think of mom cooking and my childhood

What I would add, is that being we were living in Chicago, chili and pot roast and veggies were big time stick to your rib meals, specially cooked to warm us up from the frigid Chicago winters....and since it was so cold outside, and so warm inside, the windows were all steamed up from all that good cooking...

And that is what I so remember....climbing the stairs to home, after school was done, opening the door and hollering, HI mom, I am home, and smelling those wonderful winter night special meals, and seeing the lovely steamed up windows.....

To me, there is nothing more reassuring to any child, than come into a 'warm' home...'warm' with love, 'warm' with the steam coming from the busy stove, 'warm' with the knowledge, that your family is there...

To me, too many of todays children return to a 'cold' home' one is there to greet them, no one is there to give them a nifty after school snack, ,no one is there to ask, "How was your day, today, in school" yummy meal is cooking, often the child is not allowed to leave the house for hours, until a parent arrives, often when the parents do arrive, they are tired, and overwhelmed by their jobs, and have little resources left for their children...

Now, I will admit, when I had my first baby, I did return to work, when he was 5 months old...but I worked only part time, and my parents took care of my baby for the hours I was at work...I was confident in their taking care of my baby, as I knew they would give him the love, and attention he needed...but I sure did not like having to work, as I missed him so much...

When I had my second baby 4yrs later, I was determined not to go back to work again, if it meant having to give up time with my boys...

But we sure did need some financial support, my husbands job at the time, not being fully adequate for our I found a job, which I worked only on Sat, and Sun, which, I will admit was lucky for me to find, and rare at that...

After a year of working just weekends, I found a job, which began 2 hours after my husband got home from work, and was for just 5hours a nite, during the week...

That job allowed me to work, and bring in money, yet I stil got home early enough to get an adequate nights sleep, and still be able to get up with my husband and children, and care for them, and be able to spend my days with my kids, which is what I wanted to really be able to do.....

The smell of a homecooked meal, steamed up windows, a mother there to greet a child at the end of their school day, a mother there to soothe a cranky baby, a mother who knows her children are so well cared for...well, to me, this is Heaven...

14 posted on 07/22/2002 1:59:20 PM PDT by andysandmikesmom
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To: Stand Watch Listen
That is truly beautiful!
15 posted on 07/22/2002 2:26:37 PM PDT by avenir
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To: avenir; cubreporter; Search4Truth; reformed_dem; Freee-dame; andysandmikesmom
16 posted on 07/22/2002 2:30:24 PM PDT by Stand Watch Listen
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To: Stand Watch Listen
Of course, modern feminists also rail at their workaholic fathers, whose lives they often imitate.

They also rail at what sex-obsessed bed-hopping jerks men are....and many of today's women have become exactly that. At least women used to get flowers, or some sense of responsibility from the man if she got pregnant. Now she's just a warm place to put it and expected to "take care of it" at Planned Parenthood. How desolate it must be to be a single nowadays.

17 posted on 07/22/2002 3:43:08 PM PDT by Lizavetta
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Comment #18 Removed by Moderator

To: Go Dub Go
Do you seriously think that working parents don't ask their children how school was, care if their homework gets done, or cook dinner?

Not all of them do, unfortunately. There are several "waifs", as I call them, in our neighborhood. Parents work 60-80 hrs a week. One girl in particular has been roaming the neighborhood since she was about 5, spending the day (or the time after school) with whoever would take her in. Her mom makes several phone calls a nite trying to locate her when she finally does come home and has "dinner" ready at 9pm or later. She was 11 before she could ride a bike, couldn't tie her shoes for the longest time, and is now so socially backward that at 13 she prefers my 8 yr olds as playmates (and often even they are beyond her in maturity). However, she has been to Disney World (several times) has done the obligatory dance and gymnastic classes with the fancy uniforms and extravagant recitals, so I guess their priorities are not completely out of place </>sarcasam off.

I realize this example may be a bit extreme, but I believe the effects of a 10 hour day (from day care to school back to day care) takes its toll on even the best-cared for kids. One child I know, in particular, comes from a beautiful home - great big wonderful house - he has everything he could ever ask for and more. He asked his mom one day if they were poor. Needless to say, she was quite surprised by this question - how could he possibly, being surrounded by such riches, believe they might be poor? His answer was simple: "Well, we must be poor because you and dad spend so much time working that you never have time to play with me." In his young mind, parents are SUPPOSED TO BE THERE for their kids, and if they are not, it must be some outside force that prevents them from being so - it could not possibly be by choice.

I left my management track job with a very prestigious company without a second look back when my first daughter was born. It hasn't been easy (my hub lost his job shortly after I left mine which really set us back), and gee, my kids haven't been to Disney World and don't have all the latest toys, but they do come home to their own house and their own rooms after school and Mom and Dad are there for them. Ask my 8 year olds if they feel poor in their hand-me down clothes, and they'll tell you that they're spoiled. And I plan on continuing to "spoil" them in this manner, with pleasure!

For moms who are struggling with this situation, you might want to check out my website at for some food for thought.

19 posted on 07/22/2002 11:17:25 PM PDT by Mygirlsmom
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Comment #20 Removed by Moderator

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