Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Accidental Housewife

I never wanted to be a housewife. It’s a thankless job where there are no vacations or holidays. Not to mention I find the idea of cooking and cleaning for other people without pay especially loathsome. In an age where women can be anything from a NASCAR driver to Secretary of State, why would anyone willingly choose to stay at home all day dusting and folding laundry?

I should say that my narrow-minded views are based on images of TV housewives – women like Carol Brady who lived in the mythical land of Suburbia and wielded super-human powers. They could solve a family crisis, help their kids with homework and prepare a delicious meal in less than thirty minutes, while looking absolutely gorgeous. They were also always white. To a black girl from Chicago, the concept couldn’t be any more foreign. I grew up with a single, working mother and aspired to be more like Claire Huxtable than June Cleaver. In my dreams, I always thought I would be a successful wife/mother/businesswoman, married to a handsome/rich/powerful man with two adorable/smart/well-behaved children.

I thought I was on my way to making my dream a reality, achieving things that most of my single girlfriends thought were unattainable. I had just been promoted at work, I was engaged to a wonderful man and we were expecting our first child. But I barely had time to enjoy my good fortune when I was struck with a devastating blow. After almost ten years in a job I loved to hate, I was being laid off. I complained about the early meetings and weekend business trips the entire time, but the salary and frequent flier miles were undeniable perks. For so many years, my job defined me. I was accustomed to getting paid a lot of money to talk to people about television and I was terrified that I wasn’t qualified to do anything else. In the blink of an eye, my identity had been stripped and all the hard work I had invested into building my career meant nothing.

After the birth of my daughter, I was naïve in thinking that I could pick up my career where I left off. I was now competing with recent college grads and industry veterans for a handful of open positions in my field. While my husband and I saw our daughter as a blessing, hiring managers saw her as a reason to keep me out of their companies. I actually saw a potential employer write down “new mom” in her notes during an interview for a position for which I was more than qualified. Needless to say, I never heard from her again.

After months of a fruitless job search, my husband suggested the unthinkable – why not save money on childcare and stay home with our daughter until things got better? I was admittedly terrified to hand my daughter over to a complete stranger, but how would I be able to stay home every day without losing my mind, or drinking heavily? I decided to swallow my pride and tackle my new position with the same fervor I had invested in all of my years in sales. If I was going to be a housewife, I was going to be the best. I started reading anything I could get my hands on that had to do with parenting and homemaking. I told myself that not having a 9-to-5 would make it a breeze to manage our household. With all the free time I would have on my hands I could do things that would put Martha Stewart to shame.

However, I didn’t take into account the fact that my infant daughter had not read any of the articles I used to develop my plan and had no regard for my new schedule whatsoever. She could care less if I had dinner ready by 6:00 or if my husband had clean socks to wear to work. In just a few months, she learned that she could get anything she wanted by simply screaming at the top of her lungs. How could someone who weighed less than ten pounds be so sinister?

At that point, I was convinced that being the perfect housewife was like touching your nose with your tongue: something that only a few freakishly weird people could do. Those women on TV were not real and there was no sense trying to be like them. I was able to salvage what was left of my self-esteem until I began to notice that there were women all around me who were actually doing the perfect housewife thing, perfectly. I took my daughter to play dates with kids who lived in spotless apartments and had moms who made delicious homemade treats. We stood next to thin, gorgeous women in Mommy & Me yoga class who smiled as if they weren’t stressed out about the laundry that waited for them at home. I felt inferior. My hard work has always paid off in the form of good grades, college acceptance letters and promotions at work. Now the job that should come most natural seemed impossible and I began to take it out on the people around me.

In order to save my sanity and my marriage, I knew I had to turn the stereotype of the good housewife on its perfectly polished head. With the help of my supportive husband, I am learning to celebrate my accomplishments and not compare myself to others. I’m realizing that no one will kill me for a little dust on the floor if it gives me more time to play with my daughter or chat with a friend. It’s ok to order take-out once in a while so my husband and I can catch up. I’m learning that being the perfect housewife can mean whatever you want and I’m thankful that to my family it doesn’t mean vacuuming in heels.

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