travel with me from SAHM to working mum….
Many people work from home now; it’s no longer a new modern phenomenon. But I’m not writing about those who have an internet link to their office, make cakes in their kitchen to sell or have an office in the garden. My workers are an invisible army who are often ‘working’ at home, unpaid and underappreciated. They are not unionised, have no employment rights and some will soon be losing their pension fund.
I am one of these ‘workers’. We tend to listen to the radio, a lot. Along with blogs and facebook it is our link to the outside world. Yesterday I heard an amazing interview which put succinctly into words a feeling that has meandered around my brain for a long time. A man (his gender is important) was being interviewed about the change in his relationship with his wife which had resulted from becoming her full-time carer. Amongst the imaginable and obvious issues concerning intimate care and the re-balancing of their relaionship was a comment about how he now viewed his home. In a way only a man accustomed to a traditional family, organised along stereotypical gender lines could assert, he said:
You think of your home as a place to which you return to relax after your working day is over. When you are a full-time carer your caring is your work, your home becomes your workplace, therefore you feel differently about it. You don’t return home to relax because you never leave. You have to learn to organise your life and home differently.
This is something that many mothers learn, sometimes quickly, sometimes gradually over months or years. We adapt differently. Some women discover it instantly and flee back to the workplace at the earliest opportunity. My mother, a women of her generation, became so ‘house proud’ that it bordered on OCD. She had to clean the entire house everyday. Because she lived by the motto: if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, this meant pulling out furniture, removing ornaments, vacuuming every nook and cranny. Fortunately our home was a small bungalow, but perhaps this aded to her obsessive compulsion – no upstairs to hide the clutter. Her home reflected her abilities as a homemaker.
For many modern middle-class women the cleanliness of the home has become less important then the achievements of their children. When you have given up your career for your family, success is suddenly measured in sporting medals, music scholarships and acclaimed dramatic performances. The happiness of the child can be overlooked in the race to succeed.
But what struck me about the radio comment was more than this. A man (I will recognise that this could also apply to women) confined to his home after a lifetime of working outside it will suddenly see the home as many wives and mothers see it. His comments crystallised my feelings about my home and provided an explanation for many of the arguments I have with my husband and children.
Unintentionally (at least by me) we have organised our family life along traditional domestic gender lines. My husband is the ‘breadwinner’, I have always been at home looking after the children and house (in that order). It is exactly why and how the ‘domestic bubble’ has formed. I am absorbed in the minutiae of domestic life; it is my work, and my home is my work place. If my husband makes what he may consider to be a bland, general comment about the clutter in the hallway, it translates to me as a savage attack on my skills as organiser of the hallway. A throwaway line about the lack of food in the fridge is perceived as a crushing criticism on my ability as a shopper and administrator of the supplies. When your life is spent entirely at home every comment is taken personally.
There are also implications for how you physically use your home. During the week, when I am ‘on duty’ ‘at work’, I use rooms differently than when I am ‘off duty’ at the weekend. I rarely go into my sitting room between ‘working hours’. I perceive this to be a room for relaxation. When my husband was off work last year he often used the sitting room during the week. It was an actual, physical shock to me. It felt wrong. For him, the home had always been a ‘home’, somewhere you return to relax. He had no idea of the complex separation of areas that I have developed through many years as a ‘housewife’.
It is the same at the weekend. When you are always at home you need to make your weekend different from your week. When I wake up on a Monday morning I have a much different attitude to the day and the activities I will do than on a Sunday. I will put some washing on or do a little sweeping, but I would have quickly become insane had I maintained the same level of tidying, routine cooking and other chores as when I am ‘on duty’ on a week day. I think this division has developed over a number of years and is probably helped by having other members of the household for whom the weekend is different from the week.
The rest of the family also have different priorities for their weekend. For me, it is a time when I like to travel further afield. Having been at home for most of the week, I relish the opportunity to go elsewhere. My husband hates going up to London as this is associated with going to work. The children would prefer to stay at home with their toys and games. As with most families, there is a lot of compromise and negotiation. What has helped a great deal is the role reversal experiment that we conducted during my husband’s redundancy. You can only really understand another person’s view point when you’ve experienced it yourself. Which also applies to my appreciation of the fallibility of trains.