A homemaker’s job is to sustain the life and well-being of the individual, the family, and the larger community. To say that the contributions of a homemaker are a luxury represents a complete misunderstanding of what a homemaker is. A homemaker maintains the conditions of health and well-being for all the members of the household. This is not a luxury to be afforded only by a few privileged families but a necessity for everyone, rich or poor, old or young, strong or weak. A homemaker makes the difference between merely surviving, and thriving.
A homemaker not only cooks nourishing healthy meals which keep the body, mind and spirit together, but also maintains the physical environment in a way that makes the spaces not only healthy but enjoyable to be in. A homemaker often manages other things as well, such as purchasing with an eye to specific values, proper disposal and recycling or donation of items no longer required, organization of storage, building repair and maintenance, keeping financial affairs in order, storage and filing of important records, and making and attending medical or other appointments for all members of the family. A homemaker helps to maintain the connections of family and community by hosting social gatherings, volunteering in their community, and celebrating special occasions and religious traditions. A homemaker may also be filling the role of a live-in caregiver, providing personal care support to infirm and/or very young people, and animals.
Can there be a home when nobody is home? Is home a physical building or a place where one feels a sense of belonging, connection, and comfort? Does the physical structure create these feelings, or is it the presence of the person or people who perform the home-making functions?
The impact of no one being home is devastating on the individual, the family, and society. If the spaces are not orderly and uncluttered they are unpleasant to be in. When no one is there to comfort, to connect, to care, then we experience a profound sense of loss (loneliness). Loneliness and feeling disconnected from others is one of the primary causes of depression. When we experience loneliness and disconnection we are more vulnerable to unhealthy types of self-soothing (numbing) and social pressure such as profit-motivated advertising and unwise choices of peers. This puts young people especially at risk of life-threatening consequences.
If no one is home to share meals with, and if no one has enough time to prepare meals, we end up eating food mass-prepared in factories or restaurants, with all kinds of unhealthy “ingredients” and massive waste of resources in creating and disposal of packaging. This leads not only to devastating physical health impacts and environmental degradation but also affects mental health. Preparing food and eating it is something we need to do together. How can young people learn to have the life-skills to thrive when no one is available to teach them?
When no one is available to take care of family members when they are ill over a prolonged period it often forces people into long-term care facilities where they are isolated from those they love and have only their basic physical needs attended to. This results in further health degradation, depression and death. We need our families, especially when we are sick or disabled.
WHERE DID ALL THE HOMEMAKERS GO?
Humans, being social animals, are instinctively compelled to contribute to the well-being of the group. Engaging our energies and time in activities which don’t benefit the group are detrimental to society, and cause that particular individual to be less valuable to the group. This devaluation results in poorer outcomes for that individual and their offspring.
In Topsy-turvy land however, where we currently reside, the essential homemaker role is NOT valued, while other roles, even especially those which are completely non-essential, are HIGHLY valued, such as performers and performance athletes. We have actively de-valued the homemaker in comparison to all other jobs in society by our group choice to pay all other workers except homemakers and other types of volunteer work. It seems as if we value the roles that help us to escape our own personal realities instead of those roles which actually make our lives more enjoyable and fulfilling. This is a very serious problem on multiple levels.
In practice, people who devote their time and resources to providing these services experience undue stress when they are not valued for their contributions. We are all denied the security of being taken care of by our loved ones when we most need it, and of the fulfillment of seeing the effect of our contributions on the ones with whom we are most connected. Furthermore, when we experience our own values of caring and connection as being the opposite of the ones espoused by our culture, it creates a sense of individual alienation and despair from which we would rather attempt to escape than deal with directly.
It makes perfect sense that many people who have no economic necessity to return to the paid work-force do so for the following reasons:
1) No visible results.
If the role of the homemaker is performed well, it is easy to take for granted. The work becomes invisible even, and perhaps especially the most repetitive, tiring, and least creative parts.
2) No respect.
The home-maker is undermined every time they are asked what they ‘do for a living?’ – like they are somehow under-performing or not contributing in their current role. Especially as in “When are you going to go back to work?” which assumes being a homemaker is some sort of extended vacation.
3) No co-workers.
Being a home-maker, as any home-based employment, can be isolating and lonely. One the one hand you need some time alone to get certain things done, but on the other hand, too much time alone can be suffocating. There aren’t many people to “work with” when mostly everyone is away all day at their paying job. So socializing becomes a frivolous activity which one could theoretically ‘deserve’ when our work is done. Which it never is.
4) No pay or benefits.
You don’t make any money being a home-maker. So, if your spouse is providing for your family, you don’t want to ask for more than you think you deserve for yourself; and what you think you deserve is linked to what you think you have provided; which when you get paid nothing, isn’t very much. So you might feel guilty buying new clothes, or getting a haircut, or even paying for a gym membership.
5) No free time.
You might have a gift or calling you really want to give the world and homemaking can really become all-consuming because there is such a lot to be done. It is hard to take seriously and set aside time for the thing you really want to contribute, especially if it also has no guaranteed pay-check – like writing. And taking time off is one of those benefits we may be afraid to ask for, because we don’t think we ‘deserve’ it. But then; if you take a paying job; somebody will still have to do all the homemaker stuff, and then you really won’t have time for anything else, EVER.
6) No job security.
If a homemaker is dependent on their spouse’s income, what happens if the partnership is ended? How will the homemaker survive financially then? This also puts tremendous pressure on the dependent spouse to maintain peace in the relationship and not ask for what they need in favor of what the provider needs in order to thrive and keep contributing.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
This is a really complex problem and there is not one easy solution. Socially, part of the remedy must include a reasonable Universal Basic Income, Pension, Health Care, and Education. Another part of the remedy would be a serious commitment by society and governments to decrease income inequality so that our economic systems reflect human values instead of causing humans to contort their minds to reflect our current economic systems.
Personally, we can really open our eyes to what is happening here and creatively problem solve how we want to deal with it in our families, especially where it is not currently economically feasible for anyone to stay home full-time. We can attempt to appreciate and reward the homemakers in our families. Full-time homemakers can try to remember the value of their contributions and ask for what they need in order to thrive at the same time as they help others do the same. We can encourage others who are, against all social pressure, still doing the work of the homemaker; and we can acknowledge that the everyone needs a home; and that homes require homemakers.
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