The appeal of being a housewife

I’ve always pictured myself working in later life. Not that I have ambitions of being some sort of high-power career woman with a live-in nanny and a 100-hour working week, I just figured that if I got married and had kids I’d probably work part-time once they were in school.

I think it partly comes with the territory in medicine. The unspoken assumption is that medicine deserves you devoting your whole life to it, that by choosing to do a medical degree you have set your main road  – other things are more peripheral. It’s not that most medics don’t want to have kids – far from it – it’s just that we wouldn’t give up our careers for them. Or we wouldn’t give up our whole careers for them. Maybe it’s to do with the length of doctor’s training, but the idea that a woman would have kids and then just stop work and never go back is almost blasphemous – take a career break, sure; work flexi-time… but don’t give up.

I think we find it so difficult to consider giving up work partly because we define ourselves by what we do – and doing it successfully – and partly because we see success in very career-oriented terms. I find it very easy to devalue the intangible joys of a family (not a perfect family – one that isn’t perfect but is growing in genuine love for each other) precisely because they’re intangible. I can’t put them on my CV, they won’t get me letters after my name or invitations to important conferences. It’s easy to feel that if I give up work then I’ll lose all my significance.

For myself, I haven’t really questioned the medical culture before. But I’m starting to suspect that maybe ‘having it all’ is less of an option than medicine likes us to believe, because it seems to me that people are wrong when they say that you don’t have to choose between career and family. By choosing ‘not to choose’, in many cases it seems like we choose by default, because choosing to continue with career is choosing not to spend that time at home. I’m becoming more and more aware that up til now I hadn’t ever truly counted the cost of attempting to ‘do it all’.

[At this point a couple of caveats may be necessary: Obviously, for many women, giving up work is not a financial possibility, so this is not some sort of condemnatory rant, more a self-directed, exploratory musing. Equally, some people have real issues with idolising their family and finding all their significance in their children – that’s just as unhealthy as idolising career! We need to find our security and identity in Jesus. Still, I’m writing this this way because idolising children is not my current problem…]

Strangely, one of the main things that got me thinking about all this was having my sister come to stay for a week. Now, I live in a flat of single people in their early twenties, and she’s also single and in her early twenties, so it’s not like she’s some housewife extraordinaire. But the effect of having someone in the house who was relatively flexible during the day and was there when we arrived home in the evening was more than just that the washing up got done and there was always milk in the fridge. Somehow there was a much deeper sense of community and human flourishing while she stayed, because the flat wasn’t just populated by stressed, busy people at the limits of their capacity to deal with life. There was more peace, more slack in the system, more fun and more laughter. It wasn’t that our lives were less busy – in fact, they were probably more busy – but she was infectious. There was a reason to prioritise community, because she was there, and when we prioritised community we found we were  living closer to true life.

We joked while she was here that she was our flat’s housewife, and now she’s gone it’s got me thinking. I wouldn’t have guessed the benefits of having her stay and the benefits themselves were difficult to define. But I do know that they were no less precious for that, and I wonder whether the same applies to choosing to prioritise family life to the detriment of career. We won’t know what we’re missing, or what we’ll gain, until we take the leap.

Family Man

I am a family man
I traded in my mustang for a minivan
This is not what I was headed for when I began
This was not my plan
I am a family man

But everything I had to lose
Came back a thousand times in you
And you fill me up with love
Fill me up with love
And you help me stand
’cause I am a family man

And life is good
That’s something I always knew
But I just never understood
If you’d asked me then you know I’d say I never would
Settle down in a neighborhood
I never thought I could

But I don’t remember anymore
Who I even was before
You filled me up with love
Filled me up with love
And you help me stand

So come on with the thunder clouds
Let the cold wind rail against us, let the rain come down
We can build a roof above us with the love we’ve found
We can stand our ground
So let the rain come down

Because love binds up what breaks in two
So keep my heart so close to you
And I’ll fill you up with love
Fill you up with love
And I’ll help you stand
‘Cause I am a family man

I’m saving my vacation time
For Disneyland
This is not what I was headed for when I began
This was not my plan
It’s so much better than

– Andrew Peterson

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