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?

Yes.

Thank god.