I would love to sit here at 33, out-and-proud, divorced with four kids, a marriage and twins on the way and say I never wanted to be June Cleaver. I would love to claim I was always too cool, too independent or something to desire the times of clear gender roles, limited choices, fortifying schedules, and strict standards of normal and beautiful.
I would love to claim those things. It would absolutely be a lie.
Not only did I long for the life portrayed by the Cleavers (or even better by Samantha and Darren ala Bewitched), I lived it for a while. For a few beautiful months, I was all of those things–the Christian, stay-at-home mom with a smile on her face, fresh makeup when my husband walked through the door to freshly vacuumed floors and dinner on the table. I was all of those things, and I absolutely loved it.
Having grown up in less-than-stable conditions, the routine, the rules, the expectations were a relief for me. They were guideposts that allowed me to tell whether or not I was “doing a good job.”
In the years since I was forced to let go of that life, forced to grow, forced to accept myself, my strengths and my short-comings, I have also had to let go of the idea that I would ever get back to those days. I had to let go of the pulling hope, the yearning to return to a life as simple and sheltered as the one I had for such a short time. But just because I let go of the 50s Housewife ideal, doesn’t mean I let go of everything I’d learned.
In the last few months, I have been able to bring forward the things that I loved from the books I’d read, the articles I’d scanned, the old housewife manuals I’d devoured, and adapt and implement the things that still apply to my life where I am much less June and much more Morticia.
Here are some of the things that apply to my modern, not-at-all-50s-approved life:
- Routine doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me. It was critical for me to realize that the cleaning schedules and daily routines some housespouses find constricting actually freed me up. I stopped wasting time on the million little tasks that would wear me out, and started focusing on what I needed to do each day to make my house run smoothly. In turn, I was able to free up time for things like writing and socializing, things that had previously felt frivolous and stressful because they were taking me away from the work of my home but suddenly became cornerstones of my well-being.
More about building a routine here.
- Being myself is not only my perfect, my happy, it’s how I show my children that being themselves in this world will bring more happiness and stability than fitting into a box. This goes for everything from accepting my pathetic black thumb to realizing that I will never be an Instagram mom. I can’t take the pictures, and I would much rather be building shelves than decorating them. It doesn’t matter. Not in the long run. What matters is my house, my family, our peace. That’s my job.
- Stable doesn’t look the same from house to house. There was a time in America where the view of a stable. healthy home was very much homogenized. Working dad, stay-at-home-mom, two beautiful cars, ranch house, petticoats, and cocktail parties. Times have changed. The economy has changed; the expectations on our shoulders and on our children have changed. I have also changed, and I hope more than anything to keep right on changing, but just because our stable looks different, doesn’t mean stability isn’t important. Children thrive in environments where they know what will be waiting for them when they get off the school bus, but here’s a little secret–adults thrive too. Whether it means every day there are 12 places to go, sitters to help, and dinners in the car or supper on the table at 6, baths at 7, and storytime with the two moms before bed is largely irrelevant. What humans need is connection and a mostly predictable life. That way, the unexpected isn’t just another wave crashing down that we must endure. Instead, it’s a temporary storm that we know we can weather because at home, there is safety and peace.
The Importance of Routine in Childhood.
- Cleaning is a full-time job. This may seem petty compared to the other points, but it was an important lesson for me all those years ago in the housewife manuals that get so much ridicule now, and it’s important now. It’s important to realize that when it’s necessary for me to take on side jobs to help out financially (or when I found myself walloped with a double dose of morning sickness thanks to the twins), things won’t be as spic-and-span around here as I would like. It helped me remember that keeping up that picture-perfect home is truly a full time job. Hats off to the working moms and dads around us who manage to work 40+ hours and keep a house together. I honestly don’t understand how you do it.
Check out the OrganizerUK’s attempt at a 50s housewife schedule here.
- Having a life is important. This is not something most people think of when they picture the 50s housewife. I assure you, I am aware of the problems of the times. Please don’t think this is a defense of a time when a significant percentage of women were massively unhappy with the life forced on them by limited choices and systemic oppression. However, I believe that just as there are women now who enjoyed the work of a housewife, there were women then who found fulfillment in it as well. (Please see this post for more research on housewives and depression).
Anyway, back to having a life: even in the 50s, women were encouraged by the very nature of their duties to get out of the house every day. Lack of adequate refrigeration meant frequent trips to the market, laundry was still hung outside, and neighborhoods were nosy, interactive places where routine book clubs, cocktail hours, and hosting business dinners were common.
All of these things meant housewives of the time were social creatures. They weren’t isolated in their homes 24/7 for years on end. Unfortunately modern housespouses don’t always have this. Especially in America. We live our lives inside our homes, working ourselves to exhaustion just to keep things running. It’s admirable, but unsustainable.
Even as painfully introverted as I am, I find the few minutes I spend in the sun, hanging laundry, waving to the passing neighbors invigorating, and I’m thinking more and more about hosting a book club and cocktail hour once a month for the ladies in my neighborhood.
Humans are social creatures, and sometimes the difference between peace and barely hanging on is as simple as a regular trip to the library or a dinner with friends…even if the kids have to come.
Maybe one day I’ll actually reach my new goal life, one where I live in a cottage in the woods foraging for goodies, raising my herd of babies, and tending to a few goats. Perhaps not. That ideal doesn’t matter any more than the Modern 50s Kitchen and perfectly pinned curls. Ideals never function as anything more than goals to be chased after. What really matters is how we take those ideals and turn them into happiness for ourselves in our lives in these moments. Right now.