“So you’re just a homemaker now?” my grandmother asked as we watched the cousins play together during a summer visit to my hometown. I wasn’t sure how to respond. The term “homemaker” seems so outdated. And “just a homemaker?” What does that even mean? I’ve never thought of myself that way, although technically, I suppose she was right. “I guess so,” I answered.
It got me thinking though, why don’t we say “homemaker” anymore? Far more common is the cumbersome “stay-at-home-mom,” abbreviated SAHM. The latter is a passive term that seems to be defined opposite “working mom,” while “homemaker” implies an independent role that involves actual work being done in the home.
Various articles in recent years have addressed this job title issue. A 2014 Time article notes that the term “stay-at-home-mom” came into use in the 1980s, replacing the term “homemaker” as more and more women returned to the paid workforce after having children. Those who chose not to return to work were labeled by their rejection of that option, rather than their choice to opt into productive life in the home.
A 2013 Slate article rejects both terms and asks readers for alternatives. It seems this debate and the tension between titles reflects an underlying uneasiness our culture has with mothers who stay home with their children (and mothers who work outside the home, for that matter). Our culture is unsure what to think about people who work in a very real sense, yet don’t get paid for their labor. There is a strong feminist push to continue one’s career while raising children. But at the same time, there is still an expectation that mothers should stay home with their children. No matter which path a woman chooses, it seems, she’ll receive judgment from someone.
Before my daughter was born, I was unsure whether I would continue working from home for my employer, or stay home full time with my new baby. Childcare was not an option in our situation so my husband and I were hoping to switch off duties to make parenting and two full time jobs work without any outside help. How naive we were! After a few weeks of new motherhood, I realized there was no way this scenario would succeed. Feeling equal parts guilty and relieved, I gave notice to my boss and began my journey as a SAHM.
Why did I feel guilty? I suppose like many other parents who stay home with their children, I had some sense that my years of education and work experience would go to waste if I was “just at home.” Before the transition, thinking about spending day after day at home with a baby was like looking into a black void. What would I do all day? What do babies do? My mother worked from home part time but my only memories of her day to day life were from when I was older and she spent her time homeschooling my sister and me.
In the last two years I have learned a lot about what it means to be a SAHM. I have realized recently that the old fashioned term “homemaker” would probably be a more fitting title. I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace the identity of “homemaker.” It still sounds dated to me, but I appreciate that it acknowledges the activity and work involved in the days at home with my daughter. My life is not exciting, but it is busy in a small way. The days can be long and, admittedly, boring. But aside from the full time task of caring for a small child, my days are filled with laundry, cooking, baking, cleaning, and shopping. In short, things that make our house a home.