I was a “retro housewife” failure

Sunday Life magazine announced yesterday that being a “retro housewife” is the hot new trend for Aussie mums.

It seems educated, intelligent women are ditching the boardroom in droves to stay-at-home and raise children in between craft activities and baking.

Author Alexandra Carlton has come under fire for asserting that: “around the country, tertiary-educated women who grew up steeped in girl power and feminism have turned their backs on a career.”

While the bickering has begun on the idea of the “retro housewife”, I wish we could get to a point where we see the value in both staying-at-home and taking part in the workforce. Each delivers benefits to a person and it is important to remember that (if you are lucky) your life will be long enough to enjoy a variety of experiences. There will be times where “leaning in” is important there will also be times when “opting out” will be rewarding and renewing for your personal growth.

Rather than trying to recapture a bygone era, I think the millenium housewife should market herself as a whole new breed. These women are juggling the school run with creating new business models in their work-at-home self employment, they are volunteering their former corporate skills within their local community and experimenting with new ways of melding motherhood and life.

Who knows perhaps one day their contribution will be seen as an important development in the feminism debate?

Staying-at-home is financially challenging (trust me we made huge sacrifices, my husband is a tradie, we weren’t doing this on a white-collar income), therefore it’s not an option for many. The majority of women aren’t working for personal gratification but to put food on the table and roof over their children’s heads. So for those who do get the chance to be at home I hope they don’t waste time arguing about who is the better parent but instead take the time to create new ways of building financial security from the kitchen table or leaving their community better for having had them engaged for a little while. If they do return to the workforce I hope they remember their stay-at-home experiences and go on to challenge the inflexible working practices and structural barriers to women (and men) combining parenthood and career.

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To those who believe the retro housewife is a bad, bad thing. Please take a breath and consider why is it happening? Perhaps we need to look at why “having it all” has gone a bit pear-shaped. The conflicting demands of children and career is not yet sorted out. Deciding it’s too bloody hard and taking a break is not necessarily the end of the world.  After all wasn’t “choice” part of the feminist battle? Let’s not knock anyone for electing to take up a “choice” even if it is different to the one you would make.

I stayed at home for 10 years. It looked nothing like the pretty images of instagram and homemaking blogs.

In my retro housewife years this is what we discovered:

1. An untidy person left at home all day does not suddenly develop the ability to create a pristine home with everything in its place. Instead they just make a bigger mess because the ARE HOME ALL DAY. I’m allergic to housework, no really I had tests done, I risk my LIFE every time I try to tackle dust, mould and cleaning products. One particular bathroom cleaning frenzy induced such a violent fit of asthma coughing I could have DIED! My health DEMANDS I leave the dust and dirt undisturbed.

2. The only time cupcakes were made in this house was when the six year-old and three year-old took it upon themselves to make them unassisted. I was busy on the computer. They did such a good job husband thought we have bought them.

3. Home decoration was the responsibility of the three year-old who painted the kitchen pink. I was busy on the computer. It was an ugly kitchen the pink was an improvement.

4. I did learn to cook during these years in the wilderness. Unfortunately I excel at the “big” events, a lunch for 20, I’m your girl. It is the tedium of DAILY cooking for PICKY eaters where I fall down. I don’t know who decreed baked beans on wholemeal toast as a healthy meal, but I’m sure I read that somewhere and my god did I embrace it. It became a staple on the menu plan.

5. I never learnt to sew or knit. The husband knows how to do a hem and sew on a button from his Navy days. That’s all we need.

6. Aside from scrapbooking, which has a purpose of telling the family stories, I was unable to develop a love of craft. Anything involving a glue gun or a shopping trip to Spotlight confuses me. Why?? What is the purpose of all this effort??? It seems such a low return on investment.

So in terms of the Retro Housewife thing I was a complete failure. Yet my stay-at-home years were my time for reinvention, rediscovering and resilience building.

As it turned out it was just a single chapter in an ongoing life. At the time I thought it was the end of my life. Yet I would go on to find that I would get employed again. I would return to the workforce with a whole host of new skills, a clear sense of who I am, my strengths and weaknesses and most importantly what I valued the most in the world.

It was a time of learning that paid work does not an identity make. Contributing to the world can come in many forms. Raising children, working on the P&C, spending time working with a slow reader in the classroom, helping your elderly neighbour with their weekly shop are just as valuable an input into society as turning up at the office each day.

When you break out of the daily grind of commute, work, commute, when you experience life from the isolation of the suburbs you are forced to rethink your beliefs. Looking at the world from a different perspective is healthy. I think that applies whether you have children or not. I believe EVERYONE can benefit for taking some time out.

What's your view on the retro housewife debate? Do you think it's anti-feminist to be a stay-at-home mum?

Janine Fitzpatrick blogs at  Shambolic Living where readers get to feel far happier about their lives when they experience the chaos of hers. She is coming to terms with being the mother of two teenagers, has given up on the dream of a tidy house and still plans to write a book one day.

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