Sometimes, I feel like I’ve gone back in time.
Not to the Dark Ages or anything. Just a few years, probably around 1954(ish). The world was a very different place back then, especially in agriculture but even more especially for women. One of my favourite films is Mona Lisa Smile. Julia Roberts stars as a very liberal-minded art history teacher in California moving East to teach at the most conservative women’s college in the US of A. There are a myriad of reasons why I love this film but I’m truly fascinated by it because of the portrayal of what it was like to be a woman in the 50s. The expectation for women back then was that they were to marry a man, have children and become a housewife. There’s a scene in the film where Julia Roberts’ character asks one of her students what she’ll do after she’s married (the student is engaged but thinking of applying to law school). The student replies, “Well, then I’ll… be married.”
Like that’s a job, right?
Do me a favour and take note of your reaction to that job description: housewife. Being married, having and raising children, keeping house. Housewife.
What do you think about when you read that word? Can you relate to being a housewife or does it make you cringe to think of yourself as one (or potentially ever being one)? Do you find that the word housewife has a negative connotation, that you might think of it as something boring or silly or less valuable? Do you think of Teri Hatcher and Eva Longoria in the early 2000s hit TV series?
I find that the terms ‘housewife’ and ‘farmwife’ are oftentimes thought of as being the same thing. To be fair, with the exception of where each woman lives (not on a farm and on a farm, respectively), they’re pretty close. When I tell people I’m a farmwife, their reactions range from slightly interested to completely indifferent. From what I gather, the assumption – about both housewives and farmwives – is that being either one of those things isn’t actually a job. That because housewives and farmwives work from home, we don’t actually work. That we are, as the aforementioned TV show suggests, desperate for something. A drink? A scandal? A life? Your guess is as good as mine. But I will tell you that, despite what seems to be popular belief, I’m certainly not a desperate farmwife.
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Let’s get technical for a sec. Merriam Webster Online gives the following definition for the term housewife:
A married woman who stays
at home, does cleaning, cooking, etc.
and does not have another job
outside the home.
Subsequently, the definition listed for the term farmwife is:
A farmer’s wife.
Yup, that’s me. (laughing on the outside, scowling on the inside)
Now that we understand what we’re talking about here, let me ask you this: when did being a housewife/farmwife become synonymous with being a failure as a woman? I understand that’s a very bold statement to make, but if we look at the world around us, it’s true. Women who work from home or do not otherwise have a job in the traditional sense of the word are looked down upon by those who do work outside the home. This includes farmwives.
This includes me.
There is so much pressure on women these days to be, well, everything. An adoring (sexy) partner, nurturing mother, caring sister, loving daughter, corporate goddess, fitness expert, culinary marvel, community leader and best friend to all. It was exhausting just to type that let alone live up to it. So when someone like me decides to buck all of that and stay at home to A) raise her young children, B) start her own business, and C) become more involved with the businesses her family already has going (Huz’s biz and the farm), it doesn’t usually go over well with others.
This is just so very interesting to me, the idea that I’m less valuable as a woman because I consciously chose to leave my corporate job to stay home. People ask me, regularly, what I do with all of my time now that I don’t have to go to work. You know what I do? I sit around, infuriated by the people who ask me that question!
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I consider myself a relatively “new” farm wife. My husband and I have been married for four and a half years and, as you probably already know, I was not born and raised a farm kid. So the learning curve has been steep and got even steeper when I made the decision not to return to work after my second maternity leave.
For starters, what WAS I supposed to do with all of my time I had previously spent driving to, being at and driving home from my corporate job? It’s not like I had to sit and churn my own butter like farmwives in the 50s probably did (although I’d love to give it a try, just to see if I could do it!).
To answer that question, I have two children. One is almost three and the other is 14.5 months (and just started walking! Yay!). So, childcare. That’s what my day consists of. And for those who think caring for children all day is not a job, please borrow your neighbour’s kid(s) for a day and figure out what I mean. Your neighbour will love you forever for the break (just make sure to tell them; the alternative is called kidnapping), and you’ll be given a glimpse into what it’s like to live every day in a dictatorship. One that’s run by small, emotional, troublesome, I-can-cry-my-way-out-of-anything-because-I’m-that-cute dictators. Hashtag kidding, not kidding.
Okay, so what else? What else does a farmwife do when she’s not caring for children? Well, for me, that’s between the hours of approximately 6 and 7:15 AM, before the kids are up, and again after 8 PM when the kids are in bed (I said in bed. That is not synonymous with sleeping. Other parents will understand this).
I clean a lot. People coming into my house that do not live on a farm might not think I clean a lot, but I clean a lot. I cook a lot. I garden and do other yard work. I volunteer. I make time to run. I talk to my husband if he’s not out in the barn, on the tractor, working on his own business or otherwise preoccupied with things having to do with our businesses. And even when he is, I will call him to chat. This is very true during planting and/or haying and/or harvest seasons. Which, all-encompassing, is from about May to November of every year.
Did I mention I’m a writer? Well, I’m a writer. I write for a (modest) living. Since January, I have been working toward building my portfolio and slowly obtaining freelance clients. It is a 24/7 gig as anyone with their own business will understand. For the sake of time management (and my sanity), my designated days to write are Wednesday through Friday when the children are at day care and with their grandparents. Yes, I am a farmwife, I work from home and my kids go to day care twice a week (there’s the scandal you were looking for). But I often find myself getting up early to write, or staying up (well!) past my usual bed time to write. The house is quiet and peaceful during these times of the day and is quite conducive to getting creative (which is kind of the point when you’re a writer).
Now, since I’m new to the farmwife game, I don’t handle things like farm books or finances. My MIL (another farm wife, obvi) handles those, along with our accountant and my husband. But many farmwives do balance the books for their farms and families, and I give those women major props. Maybe it’s because I am not good at math but I don’t find myself losing sleep over not taking care of the books. Because if I did, we’d likely be bankrupt within a week.
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But I do a lot of those things, you say. I do a lot of those things and I work outside the home. So I just really don’t get how you, a farmwife who stays at home, can be exhausted or not showered or have a house that isn’t really that clean and/or totally put together when you don’t have a job to go to every day.
(Someone said that to me once. True story.)
And to you, I say – you’re awesome.
I mean it, because you’re right – we still have the same responsibilities as mothers and wives and home owners regardless of where we work. If you have a job outside your home and still get your To Do list finished – or a good chunk of it knocked off, at least – then I raise my once-a-week Sommersby to you because you’re awesome. It means you are doing a great job at life and, as long as you’re happy in it, then that is honestly all that matters, and I am happy for you.
It does not, however, mean that I’m any less awesome than you.
I have made a choice; a choice that many, many women will not ever have the opportunity or means to make. I chose to leave my corporate job – the one with the steady pay and benefits, that I trained for and went to university for and worked my way up to – in order to stay at home with my children, to be more involved in the farm and to chase my dream of becoming a writer.
But I am not less of a woman because I work from home. I am not squandering my talents. I am not wasting my education. I am not sitting around all day, doing nothing. Life is as much of a challenge for women who work from home as it is for women who work outside the home. The common denominator there is WORK. We all do it.
So please don’t think of me, or any stay at home woman, as “just” a farmwife.
We are all valuable in what we choose to do. That’s true even when others don’t understand why you’ve made the choices you’ve made and why you do what you do. All you can do – if you want to – is explain your reasons and move forward on your own path, hoping they get it but understanding if they don’t. As a farm wife/mother/writer, I am valuable to my family, to my businesses and, most importantly, to myself. I sincerely hope most people are able to say the same when looking at their own lives. If yes, that’s wonderful! But if not, there might be an opportunity to think about making a change because no matter what we spend our time doing, all women deserve to be and feel valued, both from each other and from ourselves.
Feature photo credit: Last Forty Percent Photography