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Happy Housewives

A few months ago I saw author Darla Shine on TV talking about her new book Happy Housewives. Her basic argument was that stay-at-home mothers shouldn’t feel ashamed about being at home but rather demand some respect.

I was intrigued, but I never got around to buying her book. I didn’t have a baby, so it just didn’t seem that relevant to me. I completely forgot about it until a friend gave me a copy a week or so ago. She knew I’d been spending a lot of time pondering the whole work/life balance question. Since we’d recently discussed The Feminine Mistake, which argues that giving up your job after baby is a huge financial mistake, she thought it would be helpful for me to read another perspective.

Darla Shine was a television producer who left work to stay home with her children. Work had been her identity, and she worried that she “couldn’t pull off the whole at-home mother thing without becoming a woman with no identity, a woman whom no one found interesting, or worst yet…the frumpy housewife.”

I can relate. I love working. I truly enjoy it and thrive on the excitement. The money’s not bad either. I have spent countless hours pondering how I might be able to blend having a career and a family. And the conclusion I draw isn’t a pretty one. Whichever way I look at it, something will have to give. It’s up to me to evaluate the different options and decide what works for me. I’ll let you know when/if I finally make up my mind.

Being a stay-at-home mom depressed Darla Shine. She missed work. She resented her husband for having the opportunity to advance his career while she was stuck at home. She felt that she failed herself because she didn’t “have it all.” When she took her son to the park, she wanted to scream across the playground, “I’m a television producer, I’m smart, I’m not just a housewife.” Basically, she was ashamed of her decision.

Shine thinks she understands why she felt that way. She writes,

“I know the answer now. It’s because our society has looked down on motherhood as an option for a career. As if it isn’t good enough for you to be a mom, to be a housewife. My entire generation of women were raised to be more than housewives. It was engraved into our brains at an early age that we could finally be something. Our sisters before us…opened so many doors for us, and now we were expected to step up. We had to take our places in the workforce. We were expected to be something….I think our mothers were far more fortunate than us. They weren’t plagued with this unrealistic burden to be superwoman juggling career, marriage, and family.”

I think she’s right about the societal messages about housewives. The rational side of me is incredibly supportive of a woman’s choice to stay at home. But if I’m being truly honest, I’d have to admit that the emotional/irrational part of me would be ashamed to be a stay-at-home mom too. The truth is that I’ve subconsciously absorbed society’s negativity towards housewives. After all, it came hand-in-hand with all the messages about how girls like me could achieve anything, could do anything boys could do. The flip-side of all that empowerment is the silent question: If girls can do anything boys can, isn’t opting-out a form of failure?

Shine felt it was. She writes, “One day I was smart and funny, and the next I was stupid and boring…I finally felt the stigma so many housewives were feeling. I was insensitive to it when I was working….Now that I was on the other side of the fence, I understood how much it hurt. I felt sorry for myself at first. But then I got angry.” Shine reacted by becoming what she calls a “mamanist”– someone who demands some respect for herself and her fellow housewives for their hard work. She even goes one step further by saying that she thinks staying at home is the best choice. While she acknowledges that some women cannot afford to stay-at-home, she’s still adamant that it’s the best decision if your budget allows.

Shine outlines a ten-step program in her book to help women transform from a desperate, miserable housewife to a happy housewife. She covers everything- working out, beauty and fashion tips, cleaning advice, recipes and cooking, relationship advice.

I’m certainly not trying to start a movement to encourage women to be stay-at-home moms. I haven’t even made up my own mind about my own work/life situation, so I’m not one to preach. Only the woman involved knows what works best for her unique situation- whether that be working full time outside the home, staying-at-home or some blend. With that fairly large caveat out of the way, I have to say that I applaud Shine’s spirit. She’s fighting to get housewives some respect, and I think they deserve it.

Intrigued? Read Happy Housewives and let us know your thoughts on the book in the comments section.

Filed under: Books (Advice)

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