Please Don’t Call Me a “Homemaker”

"Homemaker" feels more 1950 than 2014 (www.inlandempirefamily.com).

“Homemaker” feels more 1950 than 2014 (www.inlandempirefamily.com).

Ester Bloom, co-editor of the Billfold, opens “Reclaiming ‘Homemaker,’” her puzzling Slate article, by asserting: “Everyone agrees: The term ‘stay-at-home mom’ is no good.” Bloom offers no proof, or even an explanation of the mythical “everyone,” but I can confirm that it does not include me.

Bloom may hope to start a cultural movement, reclaiming words related to motherhood. She worries that stay-at-home mom “has become weighed down by Mommy Wars baggage, its meaning warped by a hundred parenting philosophies and the eventual backlash to them,” and champions “homemaker” instead. As both a writer and one of the 29% of American mothers, who would be affected by this linguistic shift, I have some thoughts about Bloom’s proposal.

First, the Mommy Wars exist mostly in the media. They are a regularly ginned- up anxiety-fest for women to worry about attaining impossible have-it-all ideals. The Mommy Wars also involve only fairly well-off mothers, since economic realities require most women to work. Given all that, I would argue the Mommy Wars are an insufficient reason to change terminology.

Second, I don’t consider “stay-at-home mom” an insult. In an ideal world, there would be a term to better capture that I write for pay – i.e., work – around my preschooler’s schedule, but to date, there isn’t. I don’t mind calling myself a stay-at-home mother, since that at least reflects that I am on-hiatus from full-time speechwriting, in order to be home with my daughter.

And that is the crux: my career is temporarily on-hold so that I can nurture my child, not so that I can excel at cooking, cleaning, and other household chores I associate with homemakers. While caring for a young child involves perpetual cleaning, I do it because it’s part of the deal. What inspires and motivates me is interacting with my daughter.

To Bloom, “A homemaker is a parent who prioritizes the home rather than the house, and the family as a whole, rather than merely the children.” It’s true that I take care of all the home-related tasks. I also care for my husband, just as he cares for me. The trouble is I don’t hear “homemaker” the way Bloom does. For me, the term conjures up my great-aunt, who chose to scrub her whole apartment daily. It feels anachronistic and baggage-laden, rather than retro-chic.

I presume that most other Americans likewise envision 1950s-era women who stayed home and excelled at home-related tasks, because that was their life-long career, if you will. It was also their only option. That doesn’t describe my life, which I expect will include several more career-heavy chapters. Calling myself a homemaker also feels like an unnecessary invitation to condescension.

For me, Bloom’s linguistic proposal recalls the American left’s adopting “progressive,” because they believed the “liberal” moniker had become tainted. However, this is one area where early 20th century terminology seems plainly unhelpful for conveying 21st century ideas. I have no idea what Bloom’s personal parenting situation is, but I do know mine. Until someone coins my perfect descriptive term, feel free to call me a stay-at-home mother. Just don’t ever call me a homemaker.

This article appeared in Acculturated.

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