A Love Letter to Housewives (Myself Included)
By Cynthia Kazandjian
Housewife oblivion is evocative of a sad dystopia where motherhood and marriage conspire to erase a woman’s visibility. In many ways I sailed into this dystopia and chose shelter within its inverted ivory tower.
My biggest challenge as a wife and stay-at-home mother has been dealing with a sense of invisibility with regards to my artist within. This has spawned raging frustrations that I hope to appease through the opening of a new chapter in my life. In this chapter I won’t be hiding.
Brene Brown discusses vulnerability at great length in her book Daring Greatly. To her, vulnerability is “life’s great dare.” When I got to the part in the book where she asks, “Can you value your own vulnerability as much as you value it in others?” Notwithstanding rare exceptions, I had to face the fact that I did not.
I “dared greatly” by curating family life in a way that worked best for my family, without kowtowing to societal expectations. I “dared greatly’ NOT to pursue certain dreams until my priorities were attended to in a way that satisfied me. My artistic fulfillment took a back seat to my familial duties. Many women do this but you don’t hear from them often enough.
I was fortunate in that I had the resources to make my choice possible. But I felt vulnerable. I knew I would be judged and ridiculed for being “just” a housewife.
In the book Backwards in High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, Tania Kindersley and Sarah Vine write, “The twenty-first century is one of choice and freedom, except in one strange regard: should you choose not to work, you will be regarded as so peculiar and subversive that people may regard you as ill or insane.” More often than not, I have found this to be true.
But what about daring to be vulnerable in a different way, in a way that did not involve my children?
Early into my marriage I recognized that my reality as a homemaker did not match my imagined or ideal scenario. My artist soul was lost on my husband and it felt tragic. But worse, it felt lonely. And I certainly couldn’t share all my adult thoughts with my kids. My closest friends knew me backwards and forwards but I longed to share my thoughts, even my contradictory ones, in a bigger arena.
I yearned to find my tribe through the written word but was scared to share my writing. I didn’t value my own vulnerability enough. Fortunately, the universe pushed me to seek connection outside of my family unit, network of close friends, and comfort zone.
Pamela Haag writes in her incredible book Marriage Confidential, “The closer you are to your spouse, the less social you “need” to be, as if the point of seeking society is to compensate for family and spousal deficiences.” I do not swallow this whole, but she is definitely on to something.
What’s more, we live in a celebrity culture. If it isn’t done in the public eye, it’s not meaningful or worthwhile. Brene Brown says, “I can see exactly how and why more people are wrestling with how to believe they are enough. I see the cultural messaging everywhere that says that an ordinary life is a meaningless life.” I have learned that many people dare greatly but choose to be private about it.
However, people still gage the worth of what others do by the amount of exposure or attention it garners. If you are not life casting or self-branding 24/7, you don’t exist.
Several years ago I came close to starting a blog called Housewife Oblivion. Mothers in contemporary North American society can approach motherhood in a variety of ways and I wanted to add my experience to the discussion. I felt compelled to give housewife obscurity a voice.
I wanted mothers who were also career women to understand me as well as I understood them.
I decided not to create the Housewife Oblivion blog partly because I didn’t want to brand myself into a corner. I was also concerned that I would be adding another vanity project to the assembly line. Most of all, however, I had a severe case of sharing anxiety.
I knew I had much to say about my years of obscurity. I also knew I had a lot to say about so much else. The good news is, I am saying it all now! I am daring greatly to value my own vulnerability as much as I value it in others.
Seeking connection need not be confused with seeking attention. And who says vanity projects can’t be wonderful?
I saved all the art created for my Housewife Oblivion blog and have included it in this piece. The idea behind the images was to expose my inner artist.
Housewife obscurity doesn’t have to be a cul-de-sac. My new journey has begun. I am sharing my long love letter to houswives. Hopefully working mothers will appreciate it too!
Working mothers are well represented across mass media. They receive much respect, and they should. We all understand the challenges they face, and we’re all rooting for them. But I haven’t seen as many career mothers, or so-called regular housewives, receive the attention and respect they also deserve.
This is probably why I was so excited when I walked past a newsstand in 2013 and saw a hip housewife featured on the cover of New York magazine. The cover’s accompanying article was alluringly titled “The Feminist Housewife: Lost in the argument about “leaning in” is a new breed of modern women who are purposefully leaning out,” by Lisa Miller.
I immediately bought two copies: one to underline and write my habitual rants along the margins; the other to keep pristine. Many of the ideas presented in the article were solid and refreshingly original. A stay-at-home mother put it well, “Professional status is not the only sign of importance and financial independence is not the only measure of success.” How true.
In the same vein, Miller asked, “What if a woman doesn’t have Sandberg-Slaughter-Mayer-level ambition but a more modest amount that neither drives or defines her?” I say, welcome to my world!
But I am not sure if everyone understands that BOTH full-time housewives AND working mothers face challenges. They BOTH do. And one person’s challenges are not superior to another’s. I have many friends that fit into either category and I can tell you, no one is spared their share of unique difficulties.
Many moons ago I told a room full of women, “Let me not sail into housewife oblivion.” It was on the occasion of a baby shower for my as yet unborn daughter and my statement was intentionally misleading. At the time, sailing into housewife oblivion was my greatest personal ambition.
Although I was submissive to an unrealistic vision, many beautiful things came of this.
I learnt that restraint builds character. I discovered that the suppression of ego brings magic. I also experienced the otherworldly powers of sacrifice.
Despite not being seen and understood in all the ways I craved, I was never invisible to those who loved me the most, my family and close friends.
My loved ones didn’t need to see more to love me wholeheartedly. And I was able to establish strong bonds with people who loved me for my character and not my outward achievements or social status. Regardless of my choices, they knew I wasn’t an easy peg and never reduced me to the stale connotations of a label. Any label. Not even that of “housewife”.