Hubby was raised in a very traditional family – Christian, two parents, married to each other (never divorced); Mom stayed home with the boys while Dad went to work, and the whole crew went to church every Sunday. It seems to be understood that women do domestic things, and men support the family. While Hubby’s Mom taught him how to cook and do laundry, I don’t think he routinely did his own until he was a teenager. Even fairly recently, at family functions, Hubby’s father and brothers (and, for the first while, Hubby, too) disappeared to watch sports when it was time for the cooking, or cleaning, or childcare, which, of course, is not what my family ever did, and really drove me nuts for the first while. It is funny, as none of them are particularly chauvinist; it’s just what has always been done.
In my own family, tradition went out the window pretty early. My parents divorced when I was quite young, and my family took on quite a non-traditional structure after that. I was raised in an overtly feminist home, where established gender roles, in particular, were constantly challenged. I was encouraged to take shop courses in school, and was not only told, but also shown, that women could do anything they pleased. I grew up knowing woman mechanics, doctors, woodworkers, engineers, construction workers, and cops. Not so amazing now, I know, but unusual in the early ’80’s.
Based on our vastly different childhoods, you can imagine the conflicts Hubby and I had when we were working out who did what in the home. With both of us working full time, I was adamant that it was not my job to do all the cooking and all the laundry and the tidying and the vacuuming and, and, and…
Hubby claimed the snow shoveling and lawn mowing plus half the cooking, but when I sat down with him and wrote out all the things that needed to be done for us to be clean and fed, he recognized that there was a certain amount of inequality there. Furthermore, because we had rather different standards of what qualified as ‘clean’, I felt the need to schedule chores, and scheduling the chores became one more job I had to do. Bleh.
Well, over the years, we worked it out, and Hubby pulled his share or more of the cooking and cleaning for a long time. He’s not actually all that committed to the status quo; he had just never been challenged on his expectations regarding gender roles. He has never felt threatened by my well-paid job or my ability to do basic mechanics, which really is a relief, and he always supports me in learning or doing whatever I enjoy, whether it fits the stereotypes or not. As you may guess, Hubby has some non-traditional leanings of his own.
When we moved to the acreage, the plan really did not include Hubby getting a job. Of the two of us, I have the more stable and higher-paying work, and I enjoy my job a lot more. Hubby has as many years in University as I do, but switched majors, and never did get that degree. He does not particularly enjoy labor jobs, though hard work does not put him off at all. He wants to be intellectually challenged, which you just don’t get framing houses or delivering packages. For the wages he would earn, we would have to buy another vehicle, insure it, pay for gas, get him work clothes and probably tools, pay more for food (he sure would not be growing it), and I would have a lot more stress, dealing with a higher percentage of the housework. We discussed it, and really, unless we were talking a very high wage, his time is more valuable to us here, renovating, fixing the barn, building fences, growing our food, and keeping house. I know I am certainly less stressed when I come home from work to a hot meal on the table, rather than having to figure out what the heck to cook when I am tired and hungry. I also have not touched the vacuum or picked up a broom since we’ve been here, but the house is still nice and clean, which is pretty sweet – all I really have to do is go to work, do my job, come home and relax, which is such a luxury after years and years of being single and doing everything myself.
A cousin offered Hubby an excellent job, making awesome money, and that one was tempting. The only issue being that he would be on the road three weeks out of every month, and, for health reasons, I am not supposed to lift more than 20 pounds right now, and somebody has to haul water for the animals twice a day. Oh, well. It’s not like we’re broke and starving as it is, and really, we’re both pretty content with the current arrangement. While being rich might be fun, it’s not really something we aspire to.
I was chatting on the phone with a family member the other day, and was asked when Hubby was going to get a job. I get this question quite a bit, from family and colleagues. Said family member seemed pretty taken aback when I said it really was not in the master plan right now. There was something of a debate over why we would make such an obviously silly choice, when Hubby could be out earning something, and I found myself feeling pretty defensive about our choices. Then it hit me.
I politely asked if he would feel the same way if Hubby was working in a well paid professional job that covered all the bills, and I was staying home and doing the cooking, cleaning, livestock maintenance, home upkeep, foster child care, and such. The long silence was pretty informative.
To my family member’s credit, he immediately switched gears and started brainstorming ways Hubby could continue doing what he is doing, but also make money, like running a daycare, which, while not really in the plan, at least fits more appropriately with what we’re trying to do here.
It is easy to forget that our little family does not follow the predominant social rules, and while we aren’t exactly on a crusade to change people’s perceptions, I still get a little annoyed at the surprised looks we get when I tell people Hubby is a homemaker. Maybe someday, the world will just allow people to take the roles that suit them best, without fussing so much over what is ‘manly enough’, or ‘properly feminine’…