Thursday, May 20, 2010

What's in a Job?

I've been thinking a lot lately about how one defines a "real" job. To many people being a full time housewife is not a "real" job, but working part time from home can be. I was talking to my MIL today and she mentioned that she was surprised that vocational training for the blind considered homemaker to be a valid job. Presumably, the argument against this is that since homemakers do not earn an income and therefore do not pay income taxes the money that the state puts into training them will never be recouped. However, it reminded me of a debate that I've been having with myself lately. What part of my day is spent "working"?

To offer some background, I stay home with my 7 month old daughter while my husband earns the majority of our income. I do work 15 hours a week from home mostly using DD's naps and the time after she goes to bed and frequently sacrificing my own sleep because I feel the need to contribute financially. I also try do many of the jobs one might expect from a full-time housewife. I bake my own bread, and cook from scratch as much as possible. I maintain a (very) small vegetable garden as well as some fruit trees and berry bushes. I sew and knit and mend my husband's clothes. On rare occasions I even clean the house. All of these things take time, but I find joy in them so I don't tend to think of them as being a "job". However, at the end of the day the toys and clothes I make for my daughter, the bread that I bake and the food that I grow do save us money and "A penny saved is a penny earned." Then there is the cost of childcare, diapers and formula to consider. Since I stay home with DD we have never had to pay for a babysitter and breastfeeding is convenient so we have never had to buy formula. I also have time to wash cloth diapers and don't have to worry about a daycare that requires the use of disposables so that is another place that we save money. When I look at what I was earning before I had DD and compare it to the cost of infant daycare, formula and disposable diapers we are already ahead even without me baking or gardening or sewing. Does this mean that I am effectively "earning" more now that I stay home?

Personally, I feel that staying home and caring for your family can be a job if you make it one and treat it as a profession. However, does that mean that everyone with kids has two jobs? The job that pays them and the job of being a parent? Does that make them somehow better than those who only stay home or are they only part-time parents because they pay someone else to care for their kids while they are at work? The problem with questions like these is that no matter how you answer someone will get offended. If you say that being a homemaker is a job when it is done full time, but is a hobby when you do it evenings and weekends then those that work full time while still having kids will feel that they are being criticized for working. If you say that being a homemaker isn't a real job or that it is, but those that are working and have kids are working two jobs then you are trivializing the time, thought and effort that a good homemaker puts into her (or his, let's not be sexist) chosen profession. There is no way to win without hurting someone's feelings, but in my experience at least people often tend to stand with those who get paid.

How do you define a job? Does homemaking count?


  1. Hey, this is the Katie who gave ya the baby sling. =)

    The 1940's brought about the change in what's considered "work" for women as the men went off to fight and the women went to work in factories. Granted, up 'till then woman did more house-oriented jobs-- even in the workforce of the open market... things like textiles, for example. So it's only been over the last 60-ish years that it has become acceptable for women to "wear the pants" as it were.

    Though, statistically speaking, women still do the brunt of work around the home-- even with their extension into the more "male" dominated workforce.

    Does homemaking count as a job? I lean towards "yes"... but only if the homemaker actually WORKS at home. I wouldn't count it for the moms who spend more of their time playing WOW than paying attention to their kids or keeping the house clean. Besides, cutting financial corners is quite tricky... especially with one income, so it's actually more challenging to practice "old school" home-life. But, I think it's more rewarding in the long-run... though it is quite easy for a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) to get wrapped up into other things... I also think it's cool for a SAHM to go back to work while the kids are old enough to go to school.

    As much as I value women who are SAHM's, I also think they miss out on other things in life by focusing too much too soon on family. Women neglect their own education. I can't tell you how many SAHM's I've chatted with who regret having unfinished educations. I, personally, like the idea of being able to remain self-sufficient if something should happen to my husband and it leaves me with a family to provide for... so that's why I went to school. But that's my reasoning and it only works for me.

    As far as "occupations" go: do what you want to do; be who and what you want to be. After all, that's all that matters.

  2. Raising a child well (i.e. not neglecting them to play WOW or watch soap operas) is a full time "occupation", whether the mother (or father ;-) continues to work outside the home. Having only one income in this country is hard, and requires some sacrifices to keep the home running, which takes a lot of work in itself. My baby girl takes more attention than my 40+ hr/week career did, for sure!

    There are a lot of women (myself, and most of the wonderful mothers I have been fortunate enough to meet) who choose to be SAHMs after finishing their education and having full time careers for years. How does that make us different from those SAHMs who didn't go to college or have careers first, at least in terms of the time and energy we devote to the "job" of raising our children well? Sure, we have more options when our children get older, but what matters is that the babies grow up to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted citizens.

    p.s. I like your blog Theresa