In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), the Hispanic rapper Becky G (aka Rebecca Marie Gomez) wrote a moving piece about her homemaker great-grandmother, grandmother and mother, extolling the unsung virtues of daily homemaking. The grinding endless tasks of meal preparation, clearing up and doing it all over again everyday until they can’t anymore. Becky G herself admitted that:
Even though I have chosen to pursue a different road in life, I still feel very connected to my culture and these family values. I am very thankful to have been positively influenced by my mom, grandmothers and great-grandmother. I always aim to reflect their qualities in everything that I do as a young Latina.
Her own mother became a homemaker only aged 18, she took on the job of homemaking with earnest. Making sure everyone was taken care of, from her father to all her siblings. Until Miss Gomez becomes a mother herself, she cannot appreciate the depth of the words she’s writing. Eighteen years old is a prohibitively young age to take on such a life changing task.
I’ve been a full time homemaker for just over two years. It was a choice I made. I wasn’t always a homemaker. I was a working professional from the age of 20 to 34. What influenced my choice as to become a homemaker during my children’s formative years was based on my own childhood experience as having a mother who always worked. My parents owned a business together so they basically worked twenty-four/seven if they needed to. It never occurred to them that they had a child that needed looking after by them, if only just occasionally . I was looked after by nannies, grandparents and other extended family all of whom I adored. It was not until I was older when I begun to feel the distance between me and my parents (especially my mother) because they weren’t really present in my formative years. I needed my parents during those difficult teenage years, especially my mother, but because we weren’t as close I would have liked, our relationship until about 10 years ago was at times testy, difficult and we didn’t understand each other.
I realized that as much as I adored my grandparents and how they were my absolute favorite people on earth, no one can replace your parents. Your parents are your parents and a child’s bond with their parents is essential for a healthy upbringing. For a bond to develop, the parents have to be present enough. It doesn’t mean they have to be there every minute of everyday, but they need to establish a routine presence in the home, which mine neglected to do, due to work pressures. My grandparents also made it really easy for them to just leave me with them when an emergency at work happened, so it never occurred to my parents to balance their professional obligations with parental obligations. I realized in my teens as much as I loved my grandparents, I’ve outgrown them emotionally. They could not relate to me as a teenager. The generation gap was felt keenly but I wasn’t close enough to my mother to turn to her in a significant way. So I spent much of my adolescence and young adulthood in a very lonely existence, wishing I could just ‘talk’ to somebody.
From this experience, I realized that if I were to ever become a parent, I will have to be present in their formative years to form that close bond. It doesn’t just magically happen. I would have to put my career ambitions aside for a few years to tend to their needs. It can’t all be left to nannies and relatives. And at the end of the day, no matter who they adore, they want their mommy and daddy. They need their mommy and daddy.
So that’s what I did, when my son was born and my daughter was almost 2 years old, I became a full time stay at home mom (SAHM). Full disclosure: nannies and help weren’t exactly an option even if I wanted it, even for part time. With a few exceptions from some generous friends and relatives helping out with occasional child care, it was just me and my husband handling it all.
When I became a SAHM, I had a newborn and a toddler just entering the Terrible Twos. I was already in my mid-thirties, I had seen and heard enough of the real world to shatter any SAHM illusions of everyday being in a bubble babies, cuddles and mom groups. I tried my best to prepare myself for the exhaustion, sleep deprivation and the seemingly endless boring chores, which I already hated (I always had a fantasy of having someone to do all the boring stuff like washing up, cleaning and laundry and I could just be mommy to my kids, read to them, give them baths, feed them, sleep with them, but alas).
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but it was something I had to do as a mother and it was a job only I could do, no one can take my place in the eyes of my children. Also, I consoled myself with the fact that it was just ‘temporary’, until the kids went to school full time, I could then return to my career.
In spite of all my mental preparation, my new SAHM status still hit me like a freight train. It’s not just the exhaustion, tiredness and endless labors of love but the loss of my personal income for the first time in my working life was a big blow. To have to fully depend on a man for the first time in my life in my mid-thirties was harder than I expected.
To be clear, it’s not as though I gave up a six-figure salary to stay home with my children, far from it. I earned an average salary that didn’t stretch nearly far enough, especially after having my daughter. But, it was still my salary, being direct deposited into a bank account with my name on it. Most of it went to bills and necessities, but I controlled how it was spent. Of all the things I mentally prepared for, the loss of my income was not one of them. I had not realized the extent of my pride until my severance pay ran out and refused to ask my husband for any money for only myself.
As Miss Gomez extoll the virtues of her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother of their fine housekeeping skills:
Being a homemaker is not something you could go to school for or get a degree in. It is something that you learn at home and witness everyday. It is a gift that comes naturally from the heart of these women. A passion. It is instilled in you purely from growing up around a great one.
I remember on rainy days walking home from school, drenched from head to toe, my mom would have that very same Posole waiting for us. Just like Great-Grandma did. I can almost taste it.
Miss Gomez’s mother got married at 18 and became a homemaker then. A cruelly young age in my opinion. Her mother, like my grandmother, prepared hot soup for me when I got home from school during a rainy day when I left my umbrella at home. It is the best feeling in the world, to have someone at home, anticipating your return and thinking of you with a hot soup ready, especially when you are soaked from head to toe.
Homemaking is not for the faint of heart. It’s one of the hardest jobs on earth and it’s a job that has very little immediate tangible reward. Some say you are rewarded with love, yes you are, but it’s also accompanied by untold frustration only a homemaker can understand. But just because the reward isn’t immediately tangible, it doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful or not worth doing. Many women are just not prepared for how run over you feel after a long day of ‘making beds’, cooking and making sure everyone is looked after in the manner they are accustomed, which if you let it go unchecked, the list of requirements can grow out of hand. And when you lay your head down at night, you realize you have to do it all over again the next day.
Even in my mind’s eye, my ever loving and patient grandmother, in her older years, her frustration at the business of ‘homemaking’ begun to show in a big way. Perhaps due to her old age and suffering from the effects from the cancerous tumor that would eventually claim her life, she found less and less joy in each of the meals she cooked. Also, it didn’t help that most of her adult children (my uncles) for one reason or another had to move back under her roof. She was essentially taking care of grown men that should be looking after themselves, it made her feel like she wasted her best years looking after them and this is the result. It was mixture of fatigue (from a lifetime’s caregiving), anger, frustration and disappointment. Any potential fantasies I had about being a housewife evaporated right there. If I were to ever become a housewife, it would only be temporary. I will not repeat my grandmother’s life of looking after everyone except herself. Sacrificing all her wishes and desires because her adult children couldn’t get their act together.
I look back at my childhood with my grandparents with rose tinted lenses, especially the role my grandmother played in my upbringing. She was loving and nurturing, but at what cost to herself? For all of us who have fond memories of our childhood, which involved a loving ‘homemaker’ taking care of us, be it a mother or grandmother, we need to stop and think about all the sacrifices they made so that our home is taken care of is in the way we are accustomed.
It’s a lot of work to maintain a home. The work is boring, monotonous and un-stimulating, especially for mothers who worked at high pressure, high intensity jobs before taking a break from her career. It really is the hardest job any woman can do, and the difficulty is not from the physicality of it, it’s the daily grind. Mopping up the same messes day after day because three year olds do not know how to walk from point A to point B without knocking or spilling something over. It’s also why good childcare is so prohibitively expensive: high risk, high liability and low reward.
Being a full time SAHM while my children are young will be the most important work I do, but it won’t be the only work I do. When the time is right and appropriate, I will resume my career. I will pick up my interests where I left it off, in the dusty corners of my mind and filing cabinets. I will find the time to devour my books again without out a little person interrupting me asking where the sun went when every night falls. I will listen to my old heavy metal records, hard rock records and all of my other child-inappropriate music again. Life is about priorities about the choices we make. Every choice has a consequence but that consequence doesn’t have to define the rest of our lives. When my children overwhelm me, my husband always says to enjoy it and savor it as the day will come where they don’t even want to talk to us.
Here’s to all the selfless homemakers who sacrificed everything so that their families can live in comfort.