Diary of a Mad Housewife (or Life in the age of Extreme Housewifery, Part I)

When I was 10, I wanted to be a truck driver.  At various other points of my childhood and adolescence the answer to the age-old question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” was met with a bizarre range of careers, from hairdresser to investigative journalist to the first female Red Sox player.  But never, not once, was the answer ‘housewife’.

I grew up in the 70s and the 80s.  I am a Title IX girl, beneficiary of the feminist movement of the 70s and the glass ceiling shattering 80s.  Sally Ride, Gloria Steinem, Martina Navratilova, Sandra Day O’Connor.  They were paraded before us as pioneers, proof positive that girls could do anything that boys could do.  A lot of money was poured into the education system, making sure that girls were not left behind in the maths and sciences, that young girls were given the same opportunities as boys.  And it worked.  It never once occurred to me that I couldn’t be whatever I wanted to be, from astronaut to President of the United States.  I never doubted the fact that I could and would go to college.  And it never once occurred to me that I wouldn’t be SOMETHING.  And yet here I sit.

For all intents and purposes, a housewife.

I have a theory.  It goes something like this:  I think the Betty Drapers of the 50s and early 60s knew what they were signing up for.  I think that today’s younger stay-at-home moms are smart enough to realize that you really can’t have it all, or if you do, it’s like juggling with flaming knives on top of a precipice with a gun to your head.  I think women of my generation, however, women of a certain (ahem) age, women who were encouraged to go out and grab the bull by the horns, we are caught in an endless loop of, for lack of a better word, mind-fuckery.   Because a lot of us did just that.  We took that bull and rode it screaming into boardrooms and demanded equal pay.  We wore suits with shoulder pads and sneakers.  Cut our hair, embraced the word bitch.  We put off having kids to forge ahead.  And for some of us, when we did decide to have children, it wasn’t as easy as everyone made it sound.  And whether it was the cost of day-care or moving to another country or just the desire to stay at home with those children, we came to a sudden and violent halt.  We stopped bringing in a paycheck, became dependent upon a partner’s salary, became the blank box next to “Occupation”.  We girls, who were raised to storm the ramparts, shatter the ceiling, make room in the history books.  We girls, who were given every opportunity, found ourselves a generation of over-educated housewives.  Not wishing to squander the work that got us to this place, wondering what you do when your identity is tied up in what you do, we struggled.  What do you do with all that pent up ambition?

You become an extreme housewife.

The extreme housewife sews, she knits, she crochets and maybe even macrames as a little retro throw-back.  She bakes from scratch, she cooks using organic ingredients delivered fresh to her door.  She makes dinner every night, cleans her own house and donates responsibly.  She joins organizations, network groups and volunteers for school events.  She flatters her husband.  She never screams at her kids.  She may even have meticulously kept baby books.  Her whites are whiter, her colors don’t bleed and there are no rings around her collar. And it’s all folded up, put away neat as you please, Bob’s your Uncle, thank you very much.  Her mother-in-law’s birthday card is always on time.  She is always showered and respectably dressed.  But most of all, more than anything, the extreme housewife competes.  Sometimes with others, but mostly with herself.

Because you see, we were not raised for this.   And yes, I said ‘we’.  I include myself.  We were raised to achieve, to strive, to push ourselves.  So we drive ourselves batty trying to be the perfect house frau because it’s what we know how to do.  We raise some ridiculous bar far beyond our own reach and then spend our time chasing our tails trying to best ourselves.  Putting all that energy into the home, into our children, into the effort of trying to be the perfect housewife, to match some ideal that never really existed because housewives of the 50s were allowed to drink and smoke and were hopped up on valium while they were making the casserole.

I will forever be grateful to the feminists that paved the way, that made it possible and acceptable to achieve our goals.  Sometimes though it is hard to dust a ceiling when you were expecting to be shattering one.

31 thoughts on “Diary of a Mad Housewife (or Life in the age of Extreme Housewifery, Part I)

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  1. What a great post! I started my own business 2 years ago and am still trying to do all of the things I did as a SAHM while working……the knives are flying fast and furious because I am trying to do it all. Maybe it is time to trade in the knives!


  2. I didn’t realize we had so much in common.
    It’s a great post. I think you should your response next to occupation should be Writer.


    1. You flatter me, Dina. But I’ll take it. So many of us, no? If only we could find a way to pool all that energy into something productive, we’d rule the world!


  3. Beautiful post! The glass ceiling will still be there for you to shatter if you want to when you are ready. I know you are doing an amazing job with your boys. And that really is the best job ever. Keep posting. Love your stuff!


  4. I was the tough one growing up. Wanted to be in the military, own a Hummer, play for the World Cup, etc! Then I met my now-husband and just a short time later became a HAPPY housewife and SAHM. 🙂 I’m so glad that what I “planned” for my future isn’t what happened at all. 😀


    1. Valerie,

      It’s so great when things work out better than we planned. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Sometimes our lives take that turn that we weren’t expecting and there happiness is, right around the corner.


  5. Not even sure how i found your blog but I represent the other side. I climbed a corporate ladder…still climbing but passes mid way and moving up a little more slowly now. While ascending the ivory tower relationships were a casualty. Children? There is always time, right? Uh not so sure but now the ‘story’ I tell is ‘there are other options’ if/when my clock winds down.
    I do not regret my choices (no room in life for regrets) but I do find myself referring back to my favorite poem and at times wonder about the road less travelled.
    Awesome posts!!


  6. Jo, thank you so much for reading and for finding common ground—‘on the other side’. We as women are extraordinarily lucky to live when we do with the choices we have. Those choices though often require sacrifice–something no one tells you about until you’re on the other side. Thanks for reading!


  7. After years in a male-dominated work environment (geology) I really resented that glass ceiling I finally crashed into when my son was born, but it did cause me to develop dormant and unexpected talents, so I’m not complaining for myself, but it’s still an awfully shortsighted way to manage human resources!


    1. A shortsighted way to manage human resources indeed! With any luck we will all develop dormant talent–but we shouldn’t have to do it in lieu of doing something we love, have spent time learning, or wish to do. But alas, I want my cake and want to eat it too.


      1. Now that my son is older, I’m baking a new cake! Well, starting to design knitting patterns, and, funnily enough, it’s using a lot of my old skills!


  8. Great post! You really are a woman after my own heart. That notion of driving ourselves to be perfect is oh so true for so many women of ‘a certain age.’ Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, as they say!


    1. So many of us. I honestly think today’s generation of women know you can’t have it all and know there’s no point in killing yourself trying. So kudos to them for that. I’m often exhausted just thinking about what I have to get done, let alone doing it.


  9. I wish I could “like” this twice. 🙂 I worked on “having it all”, including having kids while I was still in college, and working my way up the corporate ladder in a male dominated field. Phew, exhausting, but how fortunate that I had a choice.Looking back now, with children grown and 50 around the corner, I’m not sure that’s the choice I would make. I wonder if there’s any woman who doesn’t second guess themselves?


    1. I doubt it. I think we all second guess ourselves. When you are forced to make such black and white choices–family OR job, job OR family, it’s hard not to. I recently spent some time with a young woman just venturing out and I told her, “don’t believe people when they tell you you can have it all because you can’t. Just go into it with your eyes open and it’ll all work out”. No one told us that. I don’t regret for a minute staying home with my kids, but there will always be other second guessing and other regrets. Thanks for digging back to read this one, it’s one of my favorite posts from early on.


  10. Reblogged this on Wine and Cheese (doodles) and commented:

    As promised, here is one I consider an oldie but goodie. Old being relative of course. I know some of you who are new to WCD have worked backward and found it, but it’s one of the earlier posts I think deserves a second chance. I hope you agree. D


    1. Thank you. This was one of my earlier favorites too, and I know it resonated heavily with a lot of women I know of a certain….err…age. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Now, if only we could all stop competing with one another over baked goods and whiter whites, we’d be a lot better off ;-).


  11. Last year when I left my job (at a pretty high place, paying for a live in nanny, and pregnant to boot) I came to live in Asia and be an extreme, traveling and expat house (hotel) wife…I doubted, fretted, I panicked….and I still do some! jajaja But even if Im freaking out about no “self time” or how all my fellow coworkers back home have already passed my rung in the ladder and gone higher, I keep folding those warm clothes and figure out what to feed the kiddos for lunch. Knowing that even this housewifery business is hard work! I sometimes imagine myself “dropping my basket” like a 50´s housewife and being escorted to a mental hospital for some nervous treatment! Ever since I discovered your blog I have enjoyed all the posts you write, and repost. Keep it up….please!


    1. Thank you. You know, writing is sometimes what keeps me from being escorted to the mental hospital for some (not so) imagined nervous ticks! So I will keep going, for your sake and mine. They had valium and martinis. I choose wine and shoes.


  12. Yes, Yes, and Yes! I hear you. I once saw a poster that depicted a girl growing up, honing talents, becoming highly educated, and in the last vignette she has a baby on her hip and is surrounded by mountains of laundry. I love having a family and I chose it. But I have definitely mourned that other part of myself.


    1. I think it’s important to be honest about that….and also to be honest with the generations below us that it’s a really rare thing to truly ‘have it all’ in the sense that we were taught. But also that it’s okay to mourn those imagined parts of ourselves that we’ve shelved for a little while to raise families. So much of our identities are tied up in what we do and how much money we make that the fact of raising respectful, productive human beings has taken a back seat as a ‘side’ job. One without benefits, accolades or respect. And that is a true shame.


  13. I was reading going, “Yeah! That’s me! I’m an extreme housewife! Oh. Hold on. Showering? Nope. Nevermind.” And then it all went downhill from there. MIL’s birthday card? Yikes.

    That’s tough. Some days, I want to do it all and be better than everyone. Some days, I want my kids to shut it and to eat delicious cake. That I did not make myself. I think women will always be like this, though. I think it’s in most of us to compete and to one up. But, it’s also in most of us to get frustrated and eat lots of cake.


    1. I agree–though I like to make my own cakes (a side effect of living abroad where a basic cake mix cost more than a decent dinner out). But yes, we’re often competing with ourselves more than anything. Folding laundry is boring. So is food shopping. Sometimes I think we take it to ridiculous levels in order to keep ourselves from going insane from the monotonous tasks that face us every day. I do highly recommend showering on a daily basis though….;-). It’s good for the soul. And shoes. Shoes are good for the soul too.


  14. Wow – great post and so very true and relevant for our generation. I believe that feminism means women having choice, and that choice includes being a housewife and/or stay at home mom… love the idea of extreme housewifing – your family is lucky!!


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