Friday, December 6, 2013

What is Real Work and Success?

For the last couple months my wife and I have made a lifestyle change that has been effective for both of us but has been the subject of a bit of judgement.  I am now a full time stay at home wife.  It's actually the best job I've ever had and I really like the hours!  Taking care of my spouse, our pet-kids, and the house has been fulfilling but very hard work.  I always feel like I'm behind.  A retired friend of mine recently said "just because you don't work outside the home doesn't mean your not working."  Boy is she right.

Initially we made the decision for this career change as a temporary one.  That I'd take a year off from working outside the home full time so I can build my health after enduring a 2 year assault on my body from chronic illnesses.  When sick I was either in college (online) full time or part time and even worked full time at home for an online retailer for a while.  The truth is being sick is a full time job.  The pain, exhaustion, and weakness takes up all your time and energy.  So while I was still quite acute I was in essence working 2 jobs.  One was taking care of myself, the other was trying to keep money flowing into the house.

Now that one illness has had a mostly successful surgical solution, and the other is in remission, I am doing comparatively well when we consider my physical state even a year ago.  Yet my two latest chronic illnesses effect me weekly if not daily and if I'm not careful, they can lead me straight into an autoimmune flare that keeps me down for weeks.  So when the wife & I took a hard look at our situation; financially, spiritually, and emotionally, we decided that my taking a year "off" would be for the best.  But now we seek to make this change permanent.

What I've been surprised to learn is that there is no such thing as off time now that I'm mostly home and less sick.  There is a common misconception that Toni Bernhard discusses in her article Six Common Misconceptions about the Chronically Ill.  The idea that being home all day is luxurious and relaxing is hogwash, especially for those who care for the home and family and/or those who are chronically ill.  Working at home is a real job and as far as I can now see, one of the most important and valuable jobs there is.  The work is creative, tiring, and unrelenting.  There is never a time when a housewife (or husband) gets to say "yep, every task is complete!"  There is always something else to do.  Always!  There is always something to learn, to attempt of perfect, or to think about.  It's the one job where you don't really get the night off because you are the one taking care of those who have the night off.

It has been an interesting experiment in my own willingness to not judge those who may judge me & my wife when others ask what I do.  Perhaps I misinterpret some of the reactions but thus far I have seen a hint of what I could only describe as sexism disguised as feminism.  We as a culture undervalue what has often been considered "women's work" and celebrate women who emulate the patriarchal, elitist, and capitalistic idea of income as a measure of success.  When my wife & I tell people in essence, we are willing to maintain a working class income so that we may be happier, we are sometimes met, mostly by other women, with an air of disapproval.

There is a common misnomer that has been used to undervalue the importance of women working in the home: the idea that women were not able to work outside the home when they really wanted to.  This is a historical inaccuracy perpetuated mostly by the elite and middle class white feminists.   Ultimately women working outside the home was not a problem of all women but certain women.  And while I agree that restriction of freedom for anyone regardless of circumstance is wrong, we must look at the history not written by the those with capitalistic agendas.  For example, Black women who were former slaves who wished to work in the home, like their white counter parts, were forced after abolition to work in the fields because their husbands were purposely paid wages so low, they were forced to work.  In fact white men at the time were infuriated when a Black woman dared to stay at home like their white wives.  It was seen as uppity.  So folks, for my ancestors sake, I dare to be uppity.

Success in terms of my work is no longer about how much I follow corporate agendas, kowtow to ethics that don't match my own, or pretend to care because I'm paid to do so.  I fully admit I'm very lucky to have a spouse who is supportive of this career choice and honors my work enough to find ways to maintain our lifestyle of nurturance.  I married someone who I can count on to always have a job and who greatly enjoys my work and sees it as equal to hers.  For us success means that we do work that is meaningful and serves others.  We don't have to literally buy into the idea that more money, more stuff, more hours away from home equals a real life.  We've learned that tending a garden is real work, making dinner from scratch is real work, that resting is real work, and that a loving & calm home for our family is the greatest success we could ever achieve.    

 Image courtesy of unprofound

1 comment:

wastedblues said...

I think it takes a lot of courage to even contemplate such a change - for both you and your wife. I've been seriously considering something similar, but by reducing my hours to part time and working for myself and my family the other part of the time. I could live without a lot of the stuff that a full time paycheck provides.

The reality is that when both adults in a marriage work full-time, there is never enough time to get things done and still have time to enjoy living. The fact is that taking care of a home - with or without children - is a full time job. I've slowly grown to accept this, although it is in stark opposition to my old ways of thinking. In the past, I thought by working hard and striving for success I'd have this amazing career which would give me great fulfillment and purpose. The truth is, I find more of that at home than I ever could at work.

I'm glad to hear your health has improved. I hope you continue to see even more improvement in the new year.