Housewife is hardly a term I’d use to describe stay-at-home moms these days. The 50s era term evokes images of June Cleaver and women holding feather dusters with perfectly coiffed hair. Hardly a reality today. Yet, if you refer to it’s official definition, a housewife is a married female who is not employed outside the home. In that case, I suppose the term still applies. That’s not to say these women are kicking back playing a few rounds of Words With Friends while popping bonbons. Oh no, housewives are perhaps the hardest working women on the planet.
I have a lot of respect for women who choose to stay home to raise their children. My mom, who today is a successful executive, stayed home with my brother and I until we were both in school full-time. Most working women today wouldn’t dream of taking 5 years off. Personally speaking, this would translate to career suicide as the job market has become fiercely competitive. There’s always someone younger, willing to work harder for less money waiting in the wings, so for me, it’s important to maintain my spot at the boardroom table.
In Canada, we are indeed lucky to have the option of taking a year off for maternity leave. That is, if you can afford it. The nominal amount we’re offered is only a fraction of what many professional women earn today, so taking a year off is not only a huge financial blow, it could potentially take you out of the race altogether. I’ll never forget having former female executives I had admired and looked up to reach out to me following a year of maternity leave, seemingly lost with all the changes in technology that had occurred. It doesn’t take long to land in the category of dinosaur, if you’re not careful.
Aside from a loss in earnings and falling behind in your career – which for many women, is a sacrifice they’re willing to make for their families – there are other risks to consider. What if your husband falls ill, is injured or can’t work? What if the industry your husband works in is facing a downturn and he ends up unemployed? How would a family make ends meet then?
This is what begs the question – when does being a housewife become too high risk? Shouldn’t we as women be able to head out into the work force if all of a sudden we’re the sole financial provider? As someone who lives in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I can’t get my head around how women can walk away from their careers without a worry in the world. Isn’t it irresponsible?
Fast forward a few years, when your kids grow up and eventually leave the nest. What if the relationship you have with your husband grows sour and you’re forced to start again? My parents split when I was in my twenties, and luckily my mom had a solid career so she didn’t face a lot of the risks lifelong homemakers might. In fact, at the time of my parents divorce, my mom mentioned a few of her friends who wanted out of their marriages as well but wouldn’t leave as they simply couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t imagine.
I’m not suggesting women should give up child rearing for their career. But for any young women out there reading this, be strategic when it comes time to having a family. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. In 2013, I think it’s safe to say the term housewife has been retired. The bigger challenge these days is figuring out a way to jungle all the roles we want to conquer. Kudos to all you working moms making it happen.
Also published in the Huffington Post.