The Oxford English Dictionary defines a homemaker as a person who manages a home and takes care of the house and family. The key responsibility of this role is building the family. The famous British writer and theologian, C.S.Lewis called Homemaking the most important job in the world and argued in an interesting way in its favour. He once wrote a letter to a friend encouraging her to take up homemaking. He wrote stating that to find happiness, to be happy in one’s own home is the ultimate human endeavour. He said ‘We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job (homemaking) is the one for which all others exist.’ All other professions like government, transportation, army, manufacturing, banking and so on only exist so that they can feed the people and keep them warm and safe in their homes. So in this way, it all ends with the homemaker.
Sadly homemaking is seen as drudgery and menial in our society today and is not even considered a career choice by either men or women. A homemaker imagines himself as Sisyphus who has been cursed to roll a huge rock up the hill only to see it roll down and to start all over again. It is seen as a thankless job and unpaid labour at best.
To this, my favourite actor Audrey Hepburn once said:
It’s sad if people think that’s (homemaking) a dull existence, [but] you can’t just buy an apartment and furnish it and walk away. It’s the flowers you choose, the music you play, the smile you have waiting. I want it to be gay and cheerful, a haven in this troubled world. I don’t want my husband and children to come home and find a rattled woman. Our era is already rattled enough, isn’t it?Audrey Hepburn
Our modern society devalues and demeans homemakers to such an extent that homemakers find it embarrassing to introduce themselves as homemakers. It is almost unthinkable today that one says’ I just want to be a homemaker.’ The truth remains that it is the homemaker that converts a house into a home, a place where you feel you belong, where you feel safe and comfortable; where you feel at home. Not just charity but every virtue begins at home and the seeds of virtue are planted and nourished by the homemaker. It is a challenging career and demands that one develops several skills like meal planning, home decoration, housekeeping, gardening, resilience, value parenting, accounting, budgeting, family health and well-being and so on.
So what has gone wrong? Why is this role not desirable today? Here is what I believe is missing today in the homemaker’s job: empowerment. What was once an empowering job has been turned into an exploited one. To flourish in any career in the world, one needs to be empowered: one needs a certain level of autonomy, access to resources that one can put to work as one sees fit, opportunities and space to grow, develop and care for oneself and the acknowledgement of one’s contribution to family and society building.
How can we reinstate the homemaker to the glory that it deserves? Here are three things that we can do to progress in this direction:
- Credit the homemaker’s account each month with a mutually agreed fixed amount or even better have a shared bank account with the homemaker. Let the homemaker have complete freedom to prioritize and choose to spend or save the money for home and personal needs. Never question or doubt the homemaker’s judgement and rather support when they seek your counsel.
- Ensure that the homemaker has enough leisure to spend his or her time on grooming, health, friends, hobbies and self-development. Let them have the freedom to take up part-time professional engagements if they choose to. With options like ‘work from home’ or ‘work from anywhere’ this is surely possible today.
- Partner with your homemaker to build the family. Support him/her in raising value conscious children, make your home the preferred place of relaxation, celebration and laughter for your family rather than seeking these things outside.
This is not my deduction. This is how I have seen my mother as a homemaker, at the heart of our home and our hearts, who raised us to be the people we are. Though it has been traditionally the job taken up by a woman, today, it can be takeup up by any family member: spouse or parent, man or woman, young or old. During months of lockdown last year, I played this role for several months and learnt so much from it. The breadwinner’s role and the homemaker’s role are interdependent and complement each other. We need them both and maybe some people are able to play both roles. However, I believe the homemaker is the true happiness-maker of the family- the ground on which love, belongingness, security, spirituality and values grow. If you are a homemaker or planning to be one- be proud of it. I hope as a civilization we understand the importance of this role and move towards this ideal once again and with more openness and clarity. Let us make homemaker the greatest career in the world again.