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so… what do you do?

10 March 2014

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bracing myself for the cold & beauty of Iceland (photo by my husband)

Eugh. That loaded question. I get that it’s a way to start conversation and find a commonality from which to converse, but still… eugh. Apart from the fact that what we do for work isn’t all that defines us, how does one answer when it’s not a simple “I’m an insert profession title”. And how does one answer when they care a little too much about what others think? Well, here’s my start on conquering this concern publicly. I feel we are non-judgemental friends here, aren’t we?

I have had a remarkably different life, achieved on a world scale and held some interesting jobs and titles that stemmed from that. I’m proud of my achievements but it’s a journey that can’t be shared in a quick sentence. It’s a story. Perhaps when my self-esteem is a little low, I launch into that story because I want them to know I too am successful, interesting and smart. Occasionally that type A in me rears her head when provoked. Sometimes I don’t actually feel the egotistical need to share my life story and I’m also aware that I don’t want to monopolise a casual conversation of pleasantries with it. Other times I prefer to keep my story for friends with whom I have a deeper relationship with. And. Sometimes I struggle to say the most relevant answer today. Not because my husband and I don’t treasure it, but because in society it is sometimes less valued, something to be justified, something to be thrown into a cycle with a whole lot of busy-ness, not pursued alone. Because sometimes when I’ve answered this way, the other person shuts down and assumes I have no interesting facets to me and then turns away. Because you can see that people don’t understand how you can be a housewife in your 30s if you don’t have (and don’t plan to have) kids. The best way to describe my role is…

I am a housewife.

There, I said it. My first role is to look after the health of our home and us. It wasn’t planned, it all happened quite organically, but it works for us. When we met, I told my husband that I wasn’t much of a cleaning, cooking, domestic type of girl. Ha, we laugh at that now! We are happier and healthier because of my shift to a traditional role. At the start of 2007 I resigned from a stressful management position. I have never sobbed with my whole body like I did during the year on that job. I had never hated my phone until that year. I had never had panic attacks on the way to work until that year. While it was an achievement that looked good on paper, it was killing me, and the extra money stopped being any kind of compensation. Worse still, some nights I had to close my eyes while talking to my husband because of the pain and fatigue. Uh huh, I want to spend that precious resource of my fading vision on looking at the faces I love, not draining them in a lonely, stressful job.

Since then I have done the very occasional freelance and voluntary work but my priority has been the health and happiness of our household. If something starts to affect that, it goes. I don’t think we truly knew the greatness and simplicity we were allowing to come into our lives when we took that step. The immediate benefits were clear in less pain in my eyes and much less stress. I can now see the other gifts we gave ourselves – my time and energy to devote to our health, our life, our relationship, our families. And his time too. A colleague once asked my husband how he is able to produce such quality work. My husband replied that a big part was the support of a wife at home. Wow, how is that for a validation of the value of my traditional role? I am also incredibly lucky that he reinforces the importance of rest and never makes me feel bad for those times where I can’t live up to my own expectations due to my health needs.

So, what do I do? I cook, clean, declutter, wash and iron, digitise, run errands. I go to the farmers markets. I create words and photographs. I make sure birthdays are not forgotten. I support my husband in his work. I give love. I give time. I prioritise. I walk and cuddle with my dog. I research for our adventures both locally and abroad. I listen, assist and discuss family matters such as my aging grandparents. I help others with their projects and dreams. I share my photos of gatherings with loved ones and make them smile at the memories and the people. I digitise my family’s keepsakes for sharing and safekeeping. I figure stuff out about life. I am a teammate to my husband. I face this whole going blind thing with a smile, sometimes through tears and sometimes with setbacks. I manage my conditions as best I can in order to be healthy. In looking after myself, I have more to give others. In short, I guess you could say, I attempt to create joy for myself and others around me.

The child who dreamt she would wear a power suit and make lots of money, to the girl who succeeded on a world scale in a very untraditional role, to sampling the management life, has now grown into a woman who creates value with domestic duties. We live in a time where you can take any path in life, traditional or not, and that is cause for celebration and freedom. But sometimes I think there’s too much focus on being on all paths simultaneously – to be everything to everyone – to the detriment of many things and people. In our efforts to be a progressive society it seems that being traditional is now frowned upon – how sad. I’ve been on both paths and am rich in experiences and personal growth for it. I have a lot of respect for the high-flying successful women, but let us always remind each other of the deep-seated beauty and value of caring, loving, feeding, creating, listening and nurturing in this increasingly fast paced, short-attention-spanned, machinated, status-driven world.

p.s. Juanita wrote about her thoughts last year too.

11 Responses
  1. March 10, 2014

    A high-five and an “amen, sister”. A housewife with no plans to have children? You and me both. (Thank you for the mention!)

    The world needs to recognise that we all have our own niches to fill. And because optimism is contagious, one day, we will all not have to squirm, feel ashamed, or be shot that look of surprise about being the childless housewives.

  2. March 10, 2014

    Well Lucent, is anyone really a ‘housewife’ – ie married to a house? It’s a nonsense word.

    How about ‘ex-(whatever), currently homemaker, photgrapher, traveller and blogger among other things’ as an answer to ‘what do you do?’ That gives the other person several openings for conversation….I do think it is marvellous that more of us have choices and that we can often take on different roles at different times in our lives – and we can be proud of all of them.

    Fascinating post.

  3. March 10, 2014

    I love the way you have summarized your roles and responsibilities Lucent. It is interesting to see a list of all of the important things that you do in your life. I agree: some of these things are not valued by society in the same way a specific profession might be. How wonderful that you provide such solid support for your husband.

    I am a farmer’s wife, full time housewife and teacher of home school/distance education to my children. There are so many important roles within all of this but when asked to summarize it, I struggle. Your final paragraph summarizes my thoughts perfectly!

    Love your photo from Iceland…how spectacular.

  4. March 10, 2014

    My beautiful friend – wow. I know that this post must have been hard for you to write and publish, but I’m so glad you did. I love the way that you’ve described your role and what you do every day. What could be a more important than a cultivator of joy? Your health and happiness – and that of your husband – are the most important things in the world. There is certainly nothing there to be shy or ashamed about. x

  5. March 10, 2014

    You are right – we all have to do what is right for us even if it does buck the trend – I ‘retired’ from my job twenty five years ago and have never looked back.

  6. March 10, 2014

    Hear hear; I love the way you expressed this!

    I didn’t have the “outside” career you had before becoming what my husband calls “clan manager” because I had my children young. Other people’s expectations of me were different because I was considered “clever” and I think they are disappointed and don’t understand that I have loved being a homemaker, mother and supportive wife – that last one remains vital as my children are grown up, now (pretty much!). My husband has always appreciated my home contribution while around me, there are murmurs concerning the fact that I haven’t gone back to work – but as I never had a career, I had none to go back to ;) I did a BA for myself in my late 30s/early 40s and have had my own translating business so am in a position to help out my husband with his business, which gives him even more support. And other than that, I am “just” a very happy housewife with lots of interests!
    Sometimes it can be hard to hold your head up high after this question as your conversation partner is at a loss for words, their eyes flicker with boredom and they don’t know what to say, but these days, I say it with enthusiasm and often, there is a little bit of envy in their faces…

  7. Renee permalink
    March 10, 2014

    Thank you for sharing. I struggle with finding a balance I feel happy and comfortable in, and this helped point out a few things for me to think more on. I hope one day I can be as comfortable and confident as you. Xx

  8. March 11, 2014

    I think it is wonderful to be a housewife or homemaker. It is sad that this role doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. It was the role that my mothers and her mother and my great grandmother had. I would love to be able to have the time to do things at home well and gain the pleasure of doing so. Money and stress don’t equal happiness. Down-to-earth blogspot has some excellent articles on homemaking and the value of it.
    Sarah x

  9. March 12, 2014

    This post is an absolute breath of fresh air! I want to scream most of your points out to the world! I feel exactly the same when someone asks me what I do because I’ve never felt that my 9-5 job defined me as a person. I am so many things I couldn’t even begin to tell you!

    “I help others with their projects and dreams.” You said it right there. How spectacular is that? You live a life that many people dream of yet are too scared to live.

    I remember that sickening feeling of a life sucking job all too well – for me it was 2008-2009. I feel certain I had some kind of break down during that time & I smile at how different my life is today. How different a person I am. I was simply a shell of myself back then. It was just awful.

    Now I have a baby on the way and my hubby & I have a business we can work from home with that will overtake my current income by far and I can stay at home to raise my child. It makes me so happy to know that. In the meantime we are also helping others have this amazing financial freedom and health as well. I’ve realised that helping others was all I ever really wanted to do. Why waste my time slaving away for someone else where no matter how hard I work I’m never going to get paid more or really get anything out of it? It took me a long time to feel like this was ok because others close to us sometimes make us feel like we have to have a 9-5 job or be just like them but now I simply don’t care what anyone else thinks of me and I’m so much happier for it! :-)

    Thank you for a fab post.

    Clare x

  10. March 17, 2014

    Kudos to you Lucent for writing about this, as your own experience demonstrates, that what each of us does cannot be confined to a two-or-three word answer. We are more than that, whether at home, at the office, married, single. This is great conversation you have started here that we all need to continue until there is a shift in thinking from what we do, to who we are.

  11. March 17, 2014

    ps I love this photo of you…..strong and beautiful.

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