I am a 50s housewife (minus the children)

I knew that taking time off work was going to be healing, but I didn’t realize all of the things it would show us about our relationship.

Our household has never run more smoothly. If we need something at the store, I simply go and get it. When the refrigerator starts to look bare, I go to the grocery store, and if I don’t feel like doing a whole week’s worth of shopping at once, I don’t have to—I can always go back in a few days. When I was working, we had to shop on the weekends, and it would take up  a whole half-day of our two weekend days. When I was working, I got home at 6:30—or oftentimes later, if there was an emergency at the nursing center—and continuing to stand on my feet to make dinner would sometimes send me over the edge. DH did most of the cooking because he got home earlier, and because his job doesn’t require so much running around/standing as mine did, and by the time he was finished with dinner, he was truly ready to fall over. I keep the house clean and tidy now, but when I was working, I would sometimes leave the bed unmade, and by Friday, there might be bits of clothing and towels strewn about, and a massive parade of drip-drying dishes all over the kitchen counters. The bath towels used to always seem a tad bit ripe. Now I keep the towels laundered, along with all of our clothes. I don’t wait for the basket to boil over—I simply throw the clothes in when the basket is full. When DH gets home, I’m not loaded up with tensions and toxins from work to release, but am generally okay, eager to see him. Lots of kissing and hugging and soothing touch ensues. I make a healthy meal, or we make one together, and because I haven’t been at work all day, I can listen to his work stories easily—and remind him that he can let go of all that now, if he wants, and enjoy being home.

Oftentimes I’ll take care of dinner and clean-up while he studies for his licensing exam. And on the weekends, I give him lots of quiet and space to study, and generally take care of errands and cooking. He feels taken care of. For the first time in our relationship, I have the energy and time to take care of him. Because so much of our relationship—good lord, the majority of it, actually—has been taken up with the infertility struggle, he has more often than not been the one taking care of me.

And I can take care of him because I have the time to take care of myself. I know that I’m going to have to work again soon, so I am trying to soak this in and appreciate it as much as possible.

DH has commented about how much more smoothly our household is running, and in turn, how easy it is for us to love and nurture each other. I hesitate to sound like I’m exaggerating, but I feel like we have never been so close as we have been during the past couple of weeks. Oh my god. We are so tender and intimate. When I got sad on NYE at 2 a.m. (I didn’t write about it) and had a proper sob session, I didn’t push him away, as I used to often do, but pulled him closer to me. The combination of his joining me and us having this time to try life 1950s style for a while has done wonders for us.

I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mother. My fantasy was to be a writer, teaching creative writing workshops at a university, with a very flexible schedule and lots of home-time for taking care of my children. But I fell in love with an artist (my ex-husband) at age 19, a free-spirited super-independent guy who had particular difficulty finding employment, liking his employment, and staying employed. It became increasingly clear to me that I was going to have to ensure our financial stability, if we were going to have a family. It’s not that I wasn’t ambitious myself—I certainly was. And when I started getting  jobs in the NYC publishing world, it got a little heady. But my career success was happening at the same time that I was wanting to get pregnant. CONFLICT. Huge. On top of this, of course, was the general not-workingness of my relationship with my ex-husband, who kept threatening to quit his low-paying jobs that he hated, mounting serious pressure on me. Simultaneously, my parents were experiencing a financial crisis (the family business went under—a crisis still ongoing), and whatever small safety net they’d provided financially for us throughout the years was gone forever. And my ex-husband’s family was poor. I felt that if I didn’t figure out how to become more successful in my career, and make more money, we would be in serious trouble when we had kids. But I ended up realizing that I didn’t want to have kids with my ex-husband anyway, and we separated—a story for another day.

This is rather long-winded way of saying: I spent so many of my child-bearing years building up my career, but I don’t think many people in my life realize that I was doing that mostly because I wanted to have a family. I was going to have to be the breadwinner and the child-bearer. And with a man I had fallen out of love with and argued with horribly. What a difficult and scary time that was!

What strikes me about all of this, now, is that here I am, almost 40, staying home and taking care of my house, taking care of “my man,” for the first time in ages, and loving it—but an essential part of the picture is missing: children.  It’s like I took the very, very, very long way around to the lifestyle and marriage I want, but oops, forgot to pick up the kids along the way. Which is, after all, the major point of the lifestyle.

But every path is different. Now that we have a taste of how good it is for both of us for me to have more time and energy to take care of our household, and take care of him, perhaps it will help us pursue a path that allows me to work part-time, or part-time out, and part-time from home. Both of us working full-time outside of the home is really hard on us, and to be honest, I know people do it all the time, but I can’t imagine swinging that while taking care of children. What we need to do next is move to a place where the cost of living is much lower. A place where we’re not paying freaking $1500/mo for rent. Pittsburgh—we have our eye on you.

I hear it so often, not just inside this community, that the women of my generation have serious conflict going on about work, career, parenthood, running a household. Women fought hard for liberation—amen to that—but then ended up in a tricky situation of having to negotiate multiple conflicting demands. I don’t think it is just because men don’t help as much as they should, when both partners work full-time. I think it is also because of what some women, not all women, but women like me, are innately drawn toward. We were told from the time we were young: “You can be anything you want. You can be a doctor. You can be the president” etc, even while we were absorbing all of the other messages about, and feeling our own desires toward, becoming nurturing mothers.

Sometimes I feel like slapping myself on the forehead. “Holy shit, woman, you would have been happy being a stay-at-home mom all along!” But that’s oversimplifying. Who knows how I would feel right now if I hadn’t had all of the enriching experiences I’ve had using my skills—AmeriCorps, living in the Appalachian foothills, in a log cabin; teaching English to neurosurgeons in Prague; teaching writing to University of Michigan students; landing editing jobs in NYC literary and art worlds and meeting all sorts of interesting people. Something enticed me through all of that that was’t just about my pressure to be the breadwinner. It was my desire for adventure and hunger for new experiences. It was the sense of satisfaction I got from meeting whatever challenge I’d created for myself.

But the adventure I have wanted, throughout all of it, since my early twenties, is the adventure of parenthood. Which has turned out to be the greatest challenge of all—and we haven’t even left the starting gate.

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31 Comments

  1. I could so relate to this post in so many ways. I was actually just thinking about it all this morning, when I got up did the dishes, made the bed, and started a load of laundry. My husband and I were the same- I put all of my energy into my job and didn’t have any left for him. I can so relate to this- ” He feels taken care of. For the first time in our relationship, I have the energy and time to take care of him. Because so much of our relationship—good lord, the majority of it, actually—has been taken up with the infertility struggle, he has more often than not been the one taking care of me.”

    All my life, because of my childhood, I said I never wanted to depend on a man, I didn’t want kids right away because I was too busy going to college and then grad school. Well, here I am- a well educated housewife depending on my husband to take care of everything. Our house also runs more smoothly and my husband is so thankful.

    Btw- I absolutely love Pittsburgh- we visit there at least once a year. :)

    Reply
    • Ack, you put it so well! Yes, a childless housewife with two Master’s degrees over here, dependent on my husband, hello. I’m glad you’re now finding time to take care of you husband. It feels good doesn’t it?

      Reply
  2. HopefulMomtobe

     /  January 6, 2014

    Hi!! This is thea an I just changed my name on the blog. I’m new at blogging and made a mistake with my initial post..lol!! I can totally identify with what u r saying bc I just started to work from home and I agree with how u feel. I have more time to b with my husband (he’s home a lot bc he leister his job feb of last year.. Sigh) and make dinner and not b totally mentally and physically exhausted b I’m commuting and working until 9 or 10 every night. I have a new life now and could easily see how great it would b to have a baby and manage it all. Now we just need the baby!! Also do u have any more info on he beta 3 protein? My RE went to a conf a fe months ago and met Dr. Lessey and she is going to speak to him about my case and mb go for the endo biopsy. Anything u can share about successes that u have heard of would b great!

    Reply
    • I’m sorry, I don’t know about beta 3 protein! I wish I had something to share. Have I written about it before, so long ago I don’t remember? I hope you find the info you need. Let me know what the doctor says about your case. Your new life sounds nice…I hope you find your way to baby soon.

      Reply
  3. I can also relate. My whole life has been about creating a career, and family was always supposed to be a secondary factor (a given, but never the hard work). Infertility adds such a weird angle though, because once it was in question, I realized that if I did get lucky enough to eventually have kids, I couldn’t waste that experience by spending all my time at work. It made it clear just how important raising my family actually is to me, when before I always thought my career would be my priority and value. I also completely understand feeling like the stay-at-home mom without the kids. I’ve already adjusted my life to fit kids in (working part time at a low stress job), but the most important ingredient is still missing. It’s a really uncomfortable feeling for me most of the time. Like I’m a fraud.

    Reply
    • As usual you nail it. Uncomfortable, yes. It’s weird when I go somewhere, to a cafe or wherever, and all around me are two types of people: a) senior citizens and b) mothers with their children. Or when I tell people “I’m taking time off from work” and they say, “Oh, spending time at home with your kids for a while are you?” And I say: “Um, no” and feel that fraud-feeling you describe. (More often I say: “No, I need some time to take care of a medical condition,” and their faces drop.) I’m hoping that the nice open space you’ve created in your life for baby, by adjusting your work life, is going to be rewarded very soon. Thinking of you until your next scan!

      Reply
  4. Im so glad that this time away from work is doing wonders for your mental health, your relationship, and your household! I think we can all relate to our partners doing a lot of taking care of us over the years! I am glad you are cherishing this time and considering whether a similar arrangement could work in the future!

    Reply
  5. I stay home and my house still isn’t that ‘smooth’, except when DH is gone for 1/2 the month. When he’s home with me 24/7 it gets messy and drives me crazy. We don’t have a routine and I think it was easier when he worked every day and came home, rather than him being gone half the month and then home 24/7 half the month. And I’ve always sucked at laundry–barely adequate–so when DH is off work he just does his own. But even though I am a poor student when it comes to housekeeping, staying home has been quite necessary and productive in other ways.
    Like A Calm Persistence, I never thought I would allow myself to depend on a man (I still don’t like it).
    Like Recurrently Lost, I feel like a ‘fraud’ because I stay home but I don’t have children–the missing ingredient.
    Like you, I couldn’t have been happy settling down until I had satisfied my appetite for adventure (I still have an itch to scratch as far as travel goes, but I’d be happy to do it as a family).
    XOXO

    Reply
    • Oh man, if DH and I were with each other 24/7, I would be writing something quite different, I think! That’s hard. I still have the travel itch too. I hope someday we can send each other kitschy postcards from our travels—signed by the whole family.

      Reply
  6. Ashley

     /  January 7, 2014

    I work part-time at a job that pays well which was a good happy medium for us. Don’t think with little kids at home you can just drop everything and run to the store, it isn’t that easy. Plus staying home with little kids is no picnic. Your time is not your own, it’s not leisurely and when hubby gets home you are ready the throw him the bottle while you run to the nearest Starbucks for some QUIET time. Work is welcome when you want to talk to adults and feel like a human again!

    Reply
    • Yeah I can imagine that certainly and wasn’t assuming a life with kids would be anything like the quiet life I have now, or that it would be easy to go to the store with kids. I’ve had a quiet homelife for a very long time now and it is quite lonely sometimes. I crave a homelife of noise, activity, liveliness but have no misconceptions that mothering would in any way be easy. Us people without kids don’t necessarily have a distorted fantasy version of motherhood in our minds. While I haven’t had the privilege of finding out on my own, I’m aware that raising kids is extremely hard work, the hardest thing a person can do in life. I’m not just craving the delights of mothering—I’m also wanting that hardness, that extreme difficulty, because that’s all part of progressing through the natural phases of life, and what makes people (mothers and their children) grow, and learn. The harder thing is to be trapped, stuck in one phase of human development when you so desperately want to move on to the next phase. To want to grow, through joy and difficulty alike, but unable to find a path to do so. Because I’m honestly not certain we will find a way, my enjoyment of the quiet and ease of now is always underscored with a lingering emptiness. I fill the house with sound as much as I can—music, the news. We read. We constantly try to find ways to entertain ourselves, fill our time. We are constantly, constantly on our computers. While being home with kids is I’m sure harder than I can imagine (if only I could know) and annoying and exasperating, I want that over this treading-water.

      Reply
  7. Your description of your housekeeping while working…that’s totally me right now. Although I have to admit that I hate housework so much that I doubt the situation would improve much even if I were to stay home! Sounds like you’ve really found your element…I really hope that last piece of the puzzle falls into place soon.

    Reply
    • That’s funny, yeah, I’m one of those people who actually enjoys doing housework! I come from a family of women who all keep tidy homes and taught me their trade. Thank you, yes, in search of last puzzle piece, searching and hoping…

      Reply
  8. Tess

     /  January 7, 2014

    I can also completely relate! With two people on a work schedule, it’s hectic to do the daily things that need to get done.

    I also like the author/ stay-at-home idea. A very good friend of mine is a well-published romance author. Both she and her husband have law degrees. We were all on the literary magazine together, as undergrads.

    Another friend is a housewife, and a published same-sex erotica author. I have been filing away these ideas as future possibilities. :)

    I hope you enjoy this time with your husband — It sounds very healing.

    Reply
    • Oh, I once took a romance writing course from Gotham! It was an online course. I had this big idea that I was going to make millions writing romance paperbacks under a sultry pseudonym. Only one wee little problem: I was horrible at it. (: But I love that idea. And same-sex erotica sounds great, too.

      Reply
  9. Sweetheart, you are a seeker. And you have wisely sought out and found your “home” – with your current partner, out of toxic work environment, nesting and getting ready to welcome in those longed-for children you will have. It is coming together for you. You are doing it.

    It is an honour to be watching and cheering you on from the sideline.

    Reply
    • Wow, I needed that this morning! It was a little bit of weepy night last night—not too bad, just had to cry it out—and this morning it was hard to get out of bed. It’s good to be reminded am doing the best I can and that I’m making it come together. Thank you.

      Reply
  10. Kali

     /  January 7, 2014

    Hi, I’m glad you’ve found such a nice rhythm. I was a “housewife” during a period of unemployment and have to say, if money wasn’t an issue, I’d have LOVED it! I learned to garden, paint furniture. . . there was a darker side, like wine alone in the evening, and too much trash TV, but I think if I had financial support I could swing it for a while (I’m a single mom-to-be). The countries that have one year mandatory maternity leave have the right idea!

    Having the “whole picture” except the main element, the child/children, is rough. The roughest part of infertility. For me, it’s the echo of the voice that isn’t there, the “pain without honor” as I’m mourning someone who’s never existed, yet is so loved and wanted. I can’t even comfort myself with memories, as I have none. No smiles, no child looking up at me, his mother, from his crib. . . you already know all of this.

    Thank you, again, and again for your blog.

    Reply
    • Ah, honey, that pain has honor—as I’m sure you know, but just had to say it. “Mourning someone who’s never existed”—I hear you, but also, I feel strongly that they did exist, even if just in your thoughts. I want to write a post about women who get BFN after BFN and never experience pregnancy, and how I have never thought that they were in less pain than I’ve been in, far from it—each menstrual period for them is a death. But our culture just doesn’t recognize it that way. Last night I was reading the blog of a woman who lost her twins at birth (no wonder I went to bed crying) and when she described the funeral I thought: maybe we should have marked the lost pregnancies with more ceremony. Anyway, I’m rambling. Just know that I’m hugging you. “Can’t even comfort myself with memories, as I have none”—I’m so sorry you have to feel that pain!

      Reply
  11. First off, you are most certainly out if the gate. It’s just a different path than what many people are aware of (though one that is far more commonly traveled than most want to believe).

    Your post hit home with me, as I’m also struggling to juggle my career (started back at work this week) with parenthood/family building. Grey and I have had multiple discussions about how undervalued SAHM are in our society and how capitalism only sees value in money-generating endeavors. The flip is, though, I also enjoy my work. The experiences I’ve had as a working adult have not only helped me grow, but also helped shape me as a wife/mother/daughter/niece/friend. Hence I’m hard-pressed to view that period as a waste as I don’t think I would have the mindset I have today without it. The big thing now is figuring out how I will use all this past knowledge as I move forward. How will I find the balance I need?

    So glad you are finding this new chapter a fulfilling one. And thank you for the reminder that staying at home is valuable too.

    Reply
    • You’re reminding me that I once read this great article about the positive effect on children when their mothers work—I have to find that…

      Yes, working has done wonders for me just as a human being, too. My own mom did not work for most of her life, but she also didn’t have friends outside family, and was pretty sheltered and isolated. Then the family business crashed, and she found herself having to be a cleaning-person at a gym at age 63. She’s been doing it for two years now and it is wearing her down. BUT when she first started, she loved it: “I realized I could have been doing this all along and really liking it,” she said. She liked making friends, feeling needed, the pride of a job well done. I’ve never felt so close to her as I did during that period (except for now, during this period), and the pride and admiration I felt for her was just intense. I sent her cheerleading texts and told her she was my hero—and she was. She totally saved them by getting them both health insurance at a crucial time. The whole experience has dramatically changed her, and in her mid-sixties.

      But yes, the balance will be the tricky thing. I hope you find it, or rather continue to find it and develop it as the years progress.

      Reply
  12. I found this really insightful and eye-opening. It made me realize not just how lucky I am to be able to stay home, too – but also how important all those little things I do for my husband really are, especially in light of dealing with IF for such a long time and him constantly trying to keep me from jumping off the edge I’ve been teetering on. He always puts his own heartache on the back burner so he can make me feel better. I had a very similar fantasy about being a SAHM with a career in creative writing that would allow me to watch our children grow up while still having a grown-up outlet and source of income doing something I loved doing. It’s so hard when you have an idea that just doesn’t seem to fit with the reality of your life…

    Reply
    • I notice that, too, that my husband always puts his emotions on the back burner. Lately I’ve been encouraging him not to do that, no matter where I’m at. I don’t always want to take precedence.

      So we had the same vision! It’s a nice one. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it. But one thing I tell myself: the world doesn’t necessarily need me to be that. I had to find a place where the world’s needs and my skills overlapped. I still sometimes feel a little lost but know that things will continue to come together in interesting ways…

      Reply
      • I love your insight – and it’s helping me to put things into perspective, too, so thank you for that!! :) I think our husbands have the innate need and desire to protect us, so that they put their own feelings aside – much like we would do for our children if we had them. But, like you said, I too don’t always want my feelings – raw and painful as they may be – to take center stage. I’m trying to learn that one’s ideal version of life doesn’t necessarily have to come true in order to have a fulfilling, happy one :) :)

        Reply
  13. Kali

     /  January 7, 2014

    I read back on the comments–and I have been adjusting my job search to only jobs that are “mom-friendly” and I also feel like a fraud. Because there is no baby, and may never be. I am expanding now–I can deal with a mom-unfriendly job when the time comes, if it ever does–but feel like I’ve been planning and waiting and “holding back” (like waiting to exhale but not like waiting to exhale) for something that just isn’t happening.

    Reply
    • Well I can understand leaving a space open…it’s like leaving that room in the house open to become a nursery. But it sounds like you’ve reached a point at which that doesn’t feel good anymore and want to live and job-search without these restrictions (restrictions that maybe remind you what you don’t have yet…)

      Reply
  14. Clare

     /  January 7, 2014

    A few years ago I was working in an extremely toxic, stressful environment. I wasn’t married yet but I knew kids were on the horizon and that I didn’t want to be in that kind of place when pregnant and having little ones. So I left and found another job which turned out to be even worse. I decided to go a more freelance route and work for myself at home, thinking that would be a great way to work while having a family. Waited till I had steady work and then started TTC. Well all that careful planning of my life around the idea that I would obviously have kids started to seem a bit funny. I can really relate to the fraud comment. But what can you do? It’s not wrong to set your life up to receive the things you wish to have.

    Reply
    • That is so true. I know a woman who set up the nursery in her home, had it there for years, refused to turn it into an office. And she eventually filled it with a baby. What’s killer is that planning your life around the idea of having kids is a perfectly sane, logical, practical thing to do, and if you end up having a successful pregnancy, then the world says: Good for you. But if you don’t, the world goes: Huh? Not okay.

      Reply
      • Kali

         /  January 8, 2014

        It IS sane and logical and practical. Thank you for reminding me it’s ok to go on and keep trying. How can I give up on what I know I need to be happy? Since I started my cleanse (to clean the drugs out of my system from the last cycle) 10 days ago, I’ve been working on tuning out all the other voices who don’t understand. It’s a LOT of them. Some of it hurts :( but I have to stay away from everything that triggers self-doubt.

        Thank you so much for giving me a voice, a place to express it, anyway. And understanding exactly what I mean.

        Reply

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