full-time vs. part-time homemakers

I note this comment over at Alte’s blog, by David Collard:

My wife seems to manage to do both. She works weekdays, except Wednesday, which she basically takes off to catch up on washing (laundry) and sometimes shopping. She does most of the traditional housewife stuff but also earns some money in a more junior position than mine. I earn the bulk of (but not all) the money. I do home handyman (some) on the weekends. I think we are a bit overstretched, especially as we have three children, two of whom are on the autism spectrum.

And Alte’s response:

May I suggest that:

1. Your wife has much more income to her disposal than many/most housewives.
2. Your wife is not raising young children.
3. Your wife is not homeschooling.
4. You are not often away for long business trips.
5. If your wife is a part-time homemaker she will not accomplish as much as a full-time homemaker, and you simply do not miss the things she isn’t doing.

In other words, she manages to do it because she is doing less than I am, and she has more support and help than I do.

Which prompts the question (but does not beg it), are full-time homemakers doing it for themselves, or for their husbands and families?  The traditional response is that they are doing it for their husbands and families, and that they should be content and happy to work for such amazing “bosses.”  Fine, I don’t have contention with the idea that working to better the lives of the people you care about is a good thing (though it’s extremely idealistic to imagine most people will see it this way — sorry, that’s just the way the world works).

But I’m not sure that full-time homemakers are doing it for their husbands and their families.  Barring the existence of young — and we’re talking not-in-school (I don’t believe in homeschooling, but that’s a topic for another time) — children, a full-time homemaker is likely not improving the lives of her husband and/or children enough to warrant zero paid working hours.

As Alte says, “a part-time homemaker will not accomplish as much as a full-time homemaker, and you simply do not miss the things she isn’t doing.” And there’s the issue.  If the husband and/or children do not miss the things she isn’t doing, i.e. they are not critical for the happiness and health of the family, then why is she doing them?  I’m not talking about things that the husband is just “taking for granted” — no, because when you take something for granted you don’t miss it until it’s gone…but you do miss it, when it’s gone.  I’m talking about little homemaker flourishes that men don’t even notice — when it’s there, or when it’s not there.

As I stated in an earlier post, I am far from “a housewife.”  A commenter pointed out that perhaps my husband simply “forgives” me for not doing as much housework, because I’m tremendously sexy:

A husband only cares about his wife not doing enough housework if the house is a COMPLETE disaster, or if other areas are lacking. Based on this post, you do enough work around the house so that it doesn’t turn to hell, and based on other blog posts, you sex your husband up enough to the point that he should be a happy man. So yeah, you’re not a housewife but I’m sure it’s forgiven, lol.

Now, it’s true that my husband and I are always forgoing productive tasks in favor of sex, but that likely has little to do with his non-issues about me and my non-housewifeyness.  The reader did touch on the root of the issue, which is that the husband usually only cares “if the house is a COMPLETE disaster.”  Quite frankly, men often have lower standards when it comes to basic housework than do women.  It’s not until the laundry hasn’t been done for about two months, that my husband even takes note.  And this usually has little to do with the growing pile of laundry overtaking our laundry room, and more to do with the fact that he’s run out of socks.

Luckily for my husband, I have all the housework standards of a teenage boy.  So while we both do a little housework here and there, neither of us really notices if the house is going to hell until one of our friends says they’re coming over to hang out.  Then, of course, comes the mad dash to put everything in the spare room and close the door.  The point is this: I could cook and clean all day long, and my husband would hardly notice it.  In fact, if I were to clean all day I’m sure my husband would just feel uncomfortable, and like he didn’t live there.

My mother is impeccably neat and organized.  My father is not.  When my mother asks my father to clean something, he does what he thinks is a great job, but what is barely up to the standard of my mother.  Is the moral of this story that my mother is just that much better at housework?  No, it’s that my mother is an obsessive-compulsive crazy person who would find most hospitals to be full of uncleanliness.  When my mother is working, is there a drop in her housework and homemaking?


Thank god.


22 thoughts on “full-time vs. part-time homemakers

  1. I agree that a wife should not feel the need to do more housework than what is actually appreciated by her family. The other stuff can be stuff that she enjoys or stuff that benefits the family in other ways (employment, crafting, volunteering, sports, etc).

  2. The point is this: I could cook and clean all day long, and my husband would hardly notice it. 

    Your food isn’t that bad.

    but, seriously, the idea that i wouldn’t notice food? preposterous, woman

  3. but, seriously, the idea that i wouldn’t notice food? preposterous, woman

    ok, my husband would “notice” it and then be like “Y U TORTURE ME??”

    actually i just threw “cook” in there at the last moment, lest people think i’m overdoing the cleaning angle.

  4. paige —

    yes, my husband enjoys my having a job far more than he would enjoy an obsessively clean house.

    but if you are gainfully employed, then you’re no longer a full-time homemaker.

  5. that’s…a very small range.

    that said,

    I agree that a wife should not feel the need to do more housework than what is actually appreciated by her family.

    this is sort of what i was getting at, but not completely.

    i didn’t mean that a woman shouldn’t clean to her heart’s content if she feels like it (thought some people need to learn the meaning of moderation). i am trying to point out that there are a lot of hours in the day, and (again, barring the existence of young children), most housewives are not all that productive.

    in other words, it’s stupid to argue that a woman must stay home if there are no small children. that doesn’t mean a woman *cannot* stay home if there are no small children, or even that i look down upon women who do stay home all the time. hey, if you want to get married and “retire,” and you have found a man to do that with, then you are living the dream (your dream, anyway).

    i’ve seen it said that women should stay home no matter what. ok yeah so lady lydia is off her rocker, but laura at full of grace also says that “If a husband has a stable job, of course there is no excuse. Wives with husbands who make 100K plus a year (or less depending on area) really don’t have an excuse.”

    i guess my point is this: i have no problem with housewives, productive or not. but i do have a problem with holier-than-thou housewifey types who think that they are saving the world by knitting socks and blogging about how all women who work full-time are emasculating their husbands. (just a note, in case this comes off as too rant-y — this is in no way directed at you, alte, or any of the other cool wifeys in this sphere, but i’m sure you know that)

  6. It doesn’t make much sense to me to not work pre-kids. The more you save pre-kids the more likely you can stay home post-kids.

  7. Paige, I love your new pic. I liked the old Morticia (from the old tv series) I admit but this one’s cool too.

    In some ways, I wish I had children younger, I certainly thought I would do. But I am very lucky that things worked out as they did. And I can take time off for the chicklets, well I’ll be working a little bit even during what people normally would have as ‘maternity leave;, but it’s basically 1 day a week from home for about 3 months then I’ll be working part time for a year and we’ll see where they are then. I won’t be ‘forced’ back into work, we’re ok but if the worst came to the worst, we’d downsize. But certainly it wouldn’t be cheaper to have me at home, not by a long shot. Also, we don’t have cable guys visit like you seem to do in the US (I mean you had a whole movie about it), I think I’ve had one visit in the last 5 years. Is there something I’m not getting about cable guys? Are they like our milkmen? Do children look like them? Alas, we don’t have milkmen here anymore. Probably a good thing.

  8. Thanks. I love Angelica Houston in that movie. I love Angelica Houston in all movies but especially in that one.

    The cable guy is usually the same as the internet guy, and internet problems are semi-frequent.

  9. “The cable guy is usually the same as the internet guy, and internet problems are semi-frequent”
    Is there any particular reason?

  10. I reckon it must be some sort of scam. Or the cabling must be very bad. Still could be some sort of scam lol.
    Can you comment on my blog, I want to email you something.

  11. I ultimately just keep to my standard, which is much higher than my husband’s, and on occasion force him to keep his stuff up to my standards. This is because there is no ‘spare room’ and my husband *loves* piles. So, i contain his piles to baskets, and when the basket is full, i FORCE him to declutter it, which he hates.

    But, he’s good at helping out around the house — taking little DS through the ‘tidy away’ at the end of the day (i do the other one before quiet/nap time), doing some dishes now and again, taking out the trash, and good dad duties all around. he also cooks a fair bit. and does the groceries (we don’t own a car, he walks 3 kms to the store and hauls about 45 lbs of groceries 3 kms back). 🙂 he’s a good guy.

    i scrub the bathrooms once/twice a week, kitchen scrub once a week, dust/sweep, get kid coloring on the walls, laundry (including putting it away), meal planning, some cooking, recycling, mending (clothing, toys, teacups, etc), decluttering, home economics, etc.

    I also work full time.

    Fact is, I *need* the house to be clean. Not “as my mother keeps it” clean (which is, as you say, a hospital is filthy), but definitely more clean than my husband notices.

    Well, “notices” is hard to say. When the house is a mess, he’s a mess (stress ball with panic attacks and mild aggression such as being “snippy”). But, when the house is as i like it — neat and tidy and clean — then he’s calm and happy.

    So, what works for me actually works for him. 🙂

    But it’s really all about the standard that you like to live with/at. 🙂

  12. ah yes…i think i get a little stressed when the house is a horrific mess. i only notice because he notices and starts cleaning up.

  13. Alte is a stay at home blogger.

    Every few weeks she’ll say something like, “I won’t be blogging for the next few days because of such and such home crises or whatever” ….. otherwise she pretty much lives online.

    She also admitted to not being very organized when it comes to housekeeping.

    It’s no coincidence that since the internet went mainstream more and more women want to be “stay and home moms”. Dads are also feeling fulfilled bucking the system and staying home blogging all day with a cuppa java in hand as well – hell, who wouldn’t rather do that than fight traffic to go to work to make someone else rich in a boring job?

    Do you really think Betty Freidan would have had to write “The Feminine Mystique” if she could’ve kept her idle mind engaged in semi-intellectual blog debates all day?

  14. I’d really like to know how you feel about this issue after you have kids. I don’t think it’s right for you to write about something you really have no idea about. Yes, you are married but most housewives are also mothers (ie ME). I never understood it until I had a child. Never though I would ever be a SAHM but truth is, no amount of money would ever make me go to work and give a majority of my paycheck to some stranger to look after my child. And on cleanliness, again wait till you have a child, I doubt your husband will okay with the mess then. Most housewives can have opinions on working women because a lot of them have been such. You however, haven’t been a housewife, so it’s really hard to respect your opinion, which came off as discourteous, by the way. This comment is coming quite late and I’m very curious as to whether you have a child yet and your point of view on this now, if you do. Good day

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