A while ago, one Mr. Challies wrote an article extolling the glories of homemaking alone, and then cheerfully noted that all the comments he received were positive ones. Well, here is a not-positive one. I tend to disagree with glowing portrayals of the choice to stay home with kids presented as a choice where mom will never need or want a break or help and further of presentations of staying home as some sort of radical choice. Challies talks of “nannies and babysitters” only being in the homes of two working parents. Gosh, what the man would think of me, staying home with my children and also *gasp* having babysitters and even people to clean the house! It’s also not a rare choice, as even in Canada (where Mr. Challies hails from) nearly 1 in 5 married couples with children under 16 have a stay at home parent (nearly always the mother). In America the numbers are about twice as high when the kids are little. Depending on if you want to include women who work outside the home for one hour a year or more, it’s a plurality of married women with children under 15, something like 40%. One in five or six isn’t rare and every second or third is pretty definitely not rare.
It’s also telling that he and Mrs. Challies made the decision to have no more than three children and that those children are all in public school. Mr. Challies’ audience is mostly the kind of evangelicals who identify their faith as “Calvinistic” or “Reformed”. These people are not being presented those other pieces of the SAHM puzzle as acceptable Christian choices. In America they’re being told to homeschool, to live agrarian or “prepper”, and to work at home earning money, sometimes concurrently with the default-assumption SAHM life of cooking, cleaning and childcare. Private school is tolerated due to the fascinating resurgence in Christian private schools.
His wife gets some degree of respite from being able to public school the kids. She gets some degree of respite from a small family size. The people reading his site, not so much. They’re significantly more likely to be under vast amounts of performance pressure to avoid both of those things. And to his credit, he does relate the anecdote so that we have this information at all, which is also not something you typically see among American Christian upbeat portrayals of the SAHM life.
Staying home is not that uncommon if you’re married and the kids aren’t all teenagers. It’s just not. There are millions of us. What’s uncommon in America is the socially-present SAHM who has lots of casual and random social interactions with adults throughout her day of staying home with small children. What’s uncommon is the SAHM of school-aged children who isn’t strongly encouraged to do a raft of “self-sufficiency” stuff if she does have the kids in public school. Even pastor’s wives like Mrs. Challies. By presenting something that a vast number of married women do for at least a few years in their married lives as “counter-cultural”, the ones currently making the choice are led to believe they are uncommon and that nobody else is out there. So you have the spectacle of multiple SAHMs living relatively close to each other (because married-couple families with children tend to live near same) and not knowing the others are there for months or even years at a time. And as the hippies came to learn (sort of), when you tell someone basic life stuff is counter-cultural, you cut them off from all the social capital they could have used to make the basic life stuff easier and force them to reinvent the wheel over and over. And there’s no female solidarity when we’re all on different treadmills because nobody realizes there are other women around to carpool with or send the kids over to play in the yard with.
I hope the homemaking of Mrs. Challies is likely to be providing a positive example for her children and it obviously gives her husband social status, which is why he brags about it at great length and writes multiple posts about it. But I also think this kind of thing, portraying it as one lone woman against a cruel world of hard charging career dames just makes it harder. There is suffering to an end and there is suffering that is not needful. It’s not always the case that the suffering we endure is necessary. Sometimes it’s just pointless and thoughtless and therefore a little cruel. I know it makes my own life harder because in both articles I’ve linked to Challies doesn’t present his wife’s life as particularly challenging despite talking up the hugeness of the sacrifice, which means the actual challenges she and other SAHMs might face and the fact that improvements are often incremental rather than logarithmic are considered selfishness and petty carping about an easy ride from people who aren’t part of his sympathetic audience.
And they’re not uncommon or rare either.