When I was in junior high, I joined the Future Homemakers of America. Several years later, the organization changed its name to Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), which I suppose is more fitting, since the hours I spent doing parliamentary procedure and putting together illustrated talks on anorexia didn’t exactly prepare me for a lot of my work in the home. At the time of the name change, I was a junior or senior in high school, and I must say it didn’t make much of an impression on me.
But now that I’ve been at this gig for a few years, I’ve had time to think it over. And I’ve decided that “homemaker” is the best possible term for what I (strive to) do. For one thing, “family, career, and community leader” doesn’t fit very well in that little space after “Occupation” on the forms you fill out at the doctor’s office.
There are also the terms “home economist” or “family and consumer scientist” … but those kind of make my skin crawl. The origins of the word “housewife” are respectable enough, but now it’s kind of wrapped up in that 1950’s-Donna Reed high heels and sparkly appliances thing. And anyway, I don’t technically live in a house. And “wife” is only one of my roles. Same with my role as “mom,” which is one of the reasons I don’t call myself a “stay-at-home-mom.” I also dislike that term because there’s no doing implied in it; I don’t just stay home, I work pretty darn hard at home (well, sometimes I do).
I don’t mean to be too nit-picky. When people ask me “Do you work, or do you stay at home?”, I know they mean do I leave my house to go to a job or not. I know that they do not mean to imply that if you “stay home” you do not work. It is a hard question to phrase, and I’ve not found a better way to do it myself. But still, there is a tiny twinge of annoyance when that question comes. Of course I work! I have a full-time job with no paid vacation, no benefits, and sometimes I don’t even get a lunch break. But I digress…
My point (if I haven’t already completely lost you) is simply this: I like to call myself a “homemaker” because I feel it is the most accurate description of what I do. Sure I cook, I clean, I take care of kids. But my work goes deeper than that. “Homemaking” is about so much more than just “housekeeping.” A few years ago I read a book called Montessori from the Start, and while I wasn’t too keen on the book in general, these sentences really struck me:
“The mission of developing the home environment has belonged primarily to women in past civilizations. Whoever may now assume this responsibility, the role of homemaker remains essential to human destiny. Today, although some of us enjoy the greatest affluence the world has ever known, we find that developing a home environment that serves the human spirit, a home of beauty, order, and simplicity, remains a very challenging task.”
I love that — developing a home environment that serves the spirit, creating a simple, orderly, beautiful home. So this is how I view my job: I am to make this space between these walls into a refuge for my family, to create a place where we feel comfortable, secure, and happy. I am to provide us, to the best of my ability, with nourishment, warmth, and love. Do I always succeed at these things? Of course not. But it helps me, when I’m on my knees scrubbing the floor or toilet, to remember that my goal is not just to have a clean bathroom (though, oh, how wonderful that is!), but to create a place that we as a family are happy to call home.