Why widows came to be treated poorly, or, single mommas have always been around.

The modern hyperfocus by some Christian-identifying conservatives on how *widows* should be treated better because they’re not at all like those wicked, awful, hypergamous single mommas is basically the result of broken tradition-passing and a complete inability to understand that the “grass widow” has been with humanity for a very long time.  Women sometimes claimed to be widows when they were not but as the story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus shows, there were plenty who didn’t even use that fig leaf.  The text does not definitively indicate she was widowed five times.

The Bible repeatedly refers to the fatherless, and also widows, but it would not have had the precision understanding it has when it’s used to justify giving nothing but rude words and a closed church door to single mothers and divorced mothers.

Christians, Jews, and Muslims are specifically told not to sexually regulate and speculate on just how the “widow” came to have “fatherless” children.

The fruits of patriarchal regulation are specifically commanded to be shared with the naughty.

I think the strain of disgust and revulsion these types have for single mothers and divorced mothers having any kind of support for their children comes from the individualism that conservatives are so prone to. Since they don’t understand or want to be part of real patriarchal social structures, they can only think about support in the narrow, literal terms of marrying such a woman or paying child support to her.  There is so much more than that in caring for others in your neighborhood and church though, and none of it involves “man up and marry those scandalous dames” at all, not even a lil’ bit.

It’s worth noting none of these guys are beating the bushes to go provide support to those saintly, superior literal widows and orphans, of which there are still plenty around and about.  No, it’s all talk and justification for not doing anything for women you can’t have sex with or don’t want to have sex with.  And as for the women lining up to concur that only the right kind of individual woman is entitled to help with her children, that was a driver of fun stuff like socialism, other women not wanting to deal with the wrong kind of woman.

Single motherhood does have a sort of status in wider society in that single (and to a lesser extent divorced) mothers are more willing to bully or beg people (nearly always other women, which makes the panic over some stray man having to do anything for them even more sadly funny) into helping them with child care so they can work.  And people will give them verbal encouragement.  This is real, I won’t downplay its existence.

But it’s hardly some carefree, easy path.  And contrary to popular belief, a lot of explicit law and social norms work to sharply limit the number of children such women do have.

And related to this, raising children has historically not been so totally expected to be the work of individual parents to individual children at all.  It was much more collective.  Jane Austen’s mother bore seven children, and every last one of them was shipped off to be raised by *gasp* another man and his wife! when they were infants and then brought back to their parents when they were around toddling age.  That particular kind of foster care is but one of the many traditions among Western societies in which raising other people’s children was just part of the social fabric.  Apprenticeships for both boys and girls at ages seven or eight were also one such tradition.  And many of those kids, particularly the boys were quite utterly raised by a man who wasn’t their dad.

Weirdly, all this is mysteriously ignored by people who freak out about a child having strongly masculine, healthy and Godly men in their lives if mom was improvident about how the kid got into the world.  Christ’s love isn’t zero-sum.  You can love the grass widow and the not-grass widow and their children.  This very issue is, incidentally why we have so many of those awful government programs and nonprofits for supporting single mothers’ children.  It was the increasing unwillingness to share with the naughty and take on the burdens.  Some frontier woman turning up at her city sister’s doorstep with five kids might well be a widow, but it was just as likely she “married the wrong man” (as Betty MacDonald put it in a sequel to The Egg and I) and just left and wanted to come home to family.  And fewer and fewer families wanted to deal.

Never-married motherhood is terrible for kids, and the harshness of taking away the children of those women to be raised in other families was an attempt to compensate for that.

Notes on Letters from a Woman Homesteader

Letters from a Woman Homesteader is yet another bit of old writing that doesn’t quite match up to the myths around frontier and pioneer folks.

It’s some letters a homesteading woman from over 100 years ago wrote to a former employer she’d maintained cordial relations with.  She’d worked for the employer as a laundress.  What is fascinating about the letters is that yet again, she didn’t do all the work alone, but routinely had other women helping her, or she traveled to help them.  It is clearly normalized in these letters for the women to go around to each other and spend days or weeks assisting with, well, homesteading for each other, along with the demands of hospitality.  When parties and social events are undertaken, it’s just assumed that everyone (including men) will pitch in to help the individual household tasked with hosting duties.  There is, despite the fact that they all live ten and twenty and thirty miles away from each other, not actually that much rugged individualism.

Also, this woman’s body broke down having lots of babies (six, more or less, according to other information about her life elsewhere on the internet) and working hard.  The letters Mrs. Stewart writes detail multiple instances of being unwell and struggling physically due to pregnancies (and infant deaths/miscarriages) and the work of homesteading. Her marriage was a mail-order marriage, but it lasted and as noted above produced quite a few surviving little bundles of joy out of it.

Mrs. Stewart promotes homesteading aggressively, feeling strongly that however hard that labor is, it still beats being a laundress in an urban metro area in the early 20th century.  She really felt that women should get out there and grab a piece of land for themselves, with or without a husband.  That sort of feminine self-determination is American to the core, being in regular currency prior to the 19th amendment.  American women waving a flag of securing financial independence through earning income rather than marriage is older and as traditionally American as apple pie.

It’s a short read, plus she’s a capable and engaging writer.  There’s a reason her employer sent the letters to be published in a magazine.

Reasonable community standards are functional community standards

Pre-60s housewives were generally NOT expected to cough up fresh bread daily, or gourmet meals three times a day.  They were also not expected to keep a very large home spotless whilst mincing about in heels and pearls.  The community standards for what a housewife was supposed to do were actually pretty minimal and attainable for even relatively brokedown women.

A simple (truly simple) dish of meat/eggs/fish, a starch and one or two spices was considered completely decent and good enough.  Needless to say, this is no longer true, particularly among conservative SAHMs, who tend to be most driven towards expectation inflation in the matters of domesticity for various reasons I’ve either already covered or will the next time I read through old posts to note allusions I haven’t written up yet.

One of the reasons Mormons are still functionally conservative in many respects is that they remember that you can’t keep up appearances if the appearances are very complex and detailed.  People sometimes make cracks about how Mom wouldn’t let them mess up the ‘parlor for company’, but this dramatically slashed the ongoing cleaning burden and made for an attainable cross-class and cross-income and cross-racial set of housewiving standards that average to slightly dim women could manage with a little elbow grease.

Conservatives, if they want normal life restored, have to remember that broad-based community standards must consider all God’s children and be minimal without being token.  It can be a fine line to navigate, but we have so much tradition from so many of the cultures that infuse American identity to draw upon in shaping those simple, reachable goals.

But it can be hard when Walter Mitty syndrome is rampant.

When you can’t afford to be frugal, or unexamined assumptions conservatives have about frugal tips

Frugality and being a good steward of the household income are not impossible goals.  However, what “frugal tips” are available to housewives these days rely on a bevy of unexamined assumptions that don’t apply to an average SAHM these days.

It is possible to make your own curtains, to store meat in small portions, to bake your own bread, to make your own household cleaning products and to keep a price book, to name some fairly typical tips one will run across on the old intertubes with a quick google.  But frugality of these types is generally not compatible with the current domestic setups of most American housewives.  They have no spare capital for a deep freezer, or to buy meat in bulk quantities to take advantage of sales or direct-purchase opportunities.  They don’t have domestic help even on an occasional basis, so whatever they do has to be compatible with kids underfoot.  And of course kids aren’t young forever, but how can good habits be established when it’s full-tilt survival mode when they are young?  Teaching little kids to be useful or even to consider other people and obey adult rules about where and when to talk/run/etc. takes focused effort and isn’t readily done with a casual phrase here and there.  That can be the way of it only after the habitual behaviors are in place.

Thus you have a pretty major obstacle to frugality early on, even if you are “saving money on daycare”.  The other obstacle is pregnancy.  A lot of frugal tips involve large amounts of ongoing physical labor that is difficult to manage during pregnancies.  If you haven’t spent your years growing up doing that kind of labor, you are unprepared for the extent of it later in life.  You’re also out of luck if pregnancy is hard on your body.  And some women never get back to pre-pregnancy fitness/endurance levels whether it’s one kid or seven.

I come back a lot to the physical stuff because there’s a parallel unexamined assumption among conservatives (not just the male ones) that modern technology means no real physical labor is necessary for a housewife to expend.  Pregnancy is always easy and quick to recover from, barely a speed bump, nursing is also no big, not even requiring extra food or effort (except of course many women switch to formula with “many” kids precisely because they can hand a bottle off and let the older kids feed baby so they can get stuff done).  And even if all that stuff is a little bit difficult, KIDS R FREE.  There’s a weird fixation on the infant and toddler years as being super-cheap by default among conservatives and this is used to extrapolate that children are extremely cheap to raise to 18-21 years because somehow breastmilk production costs nothing (not even calories, it’s like magic) and you can just rely on an infinite supply of thrift stores with appropriate clothing and insert all the rest of the stuff you hear from conservatives about how totally cheap it is to raise infants/toddlers, so therefore have eight.  I guess they’re supposed to drink breastmilk and wear cloth diapers until they marry at 18 somehow?  It’s a quirk I never really noticed until a recent clickbait article about tradeoffs appeared on some home decor site and conservatives tore into the writer of the article for being selfish and stupid, didn’t she understand kids aren’t expensive because BREASTFEEDING and CLOTH DIAPERS?

So, let’s recap some of the unexamined assumptions conservatives dump on housewives regarding frugality:

  • Assumption of “traditional” domestic economy skills that actually date from the middle of the 20th century and rely on a pretty vast industrial infrastructure (including exploited labor by women and children in foreign lands) to be feasible as “economizing” at all.
  • Minimizing the physical risks and stresses of childbearing and nursing, as well as the physical labor that is still necessary to run an “economized” household.
  • Fixation on the early years as being so cheap that there are no real expenses added by having more and more children
  • Parallel dismissal of the importance of child spacing or domestic support in being able to have children doing chores effectively at young ages.
  • Dismissal of chaotic early years as a major obstacle to domestic tranquility and structure, while assuming that such structure is there (no need for a sitter while homeschooling, for example, because infants and toddlers and young kids will just play quietly while you instruct older children…somehow, or alternatively that older children will not resent the play of younger children who aren’t ready for academics partying in front of them because no big kid ever envied a little kid getting to play instead of write an essay or do math problems).  Without structure, frugality is hard to consistently achieve.
  • Assumption that the average housewife was educated in domestic skills by her mother, and if she was not, that she can instantly acquire these skills in a few days’ time via youtube and blogs and immediately apply them effectively.

Feel free to toss more into the comments.  The core issue with having all these assumptions is that without them, it’s nearly impossible to economize systematically.  And that means rebuying things, buying more expensive versions of whatever because you don’t have the skills or time to go with cheaper approaches, and stress spending.  But to help people who need to be more frugal, the assumptions have to be dropped and conservatives have to start looking at the actual conditions people are living under, not the idealized conditions a small percentage of conservatives manage to live under.  Here’s hoping!

Real Talk for SAHMs: Solutions for Sleep Deprivation like Solid Core Doors and White Noise Generators

Title says it all, but what does the title mean?

It means major factors in sleep deprivation for mothers, particularly SAHMs are not infants and toddlers screaming for milk or comfort frequently through the night, but rather the stray babbling and what I like to call Rebel Yells (one cry lasting one or two seconds).  As well as random noises in the night from other members of the household getting up occasionally.

So the solution is devices that filter out the minor non-emergency sounds of nighttime while allowing the real cries lasting more than a moment to penetrate.  And that is where solid core doors and white noise generators come in.

What are the benefits of a solid core door?

  • Reduces sound entering the room by ~50%.  Rebel yells sound like babble and babble is muted below a level that would wake a lightly sleeping mother.
  • Due to sound reduction, once you fall asleep, it’s harder for micro-waking to be triggered, so you get more quality sleep as well.  Micro-waking happens to a lot of people who believe that “just tune it out and roll over” doesn’t come with sleep cycle interruption.
  • Helps during the daytime when all the kids are up and about and you need a block of focused time.  If the kids are happy and just rambunctious, the solid core mutes that enough that you can concentrate easily.  It’s like a hum or a mild rumble compared to the hollow core doors that are standard.
  • Cheap for the effectiveness.  Most models are only $100-200 per door, and even with installation costs of $50-100 will last even longer than the hollow cores that are standard.
  • Not sleep related, directly, but heavy and thus more child-proof.  An angry two year old with a hammer isn’t going to get very far.  Also harder for kids to take off the hinges.

So what about that white noise generator?

Well, that’s the second piece of the puzzle.  White noise generators are often used on the baby/toddler in hopes of keeping them from waking.  But sometimes the more effective approach is to give one each to the nursery room or mom’s room.

This tends to be more helpful once you’re actually asleep, with the white noise reducing the tendency to micro-wake.  Depending on the type of white noise generator, it can also help you get to sleep and relax you.  There’s mechanical ones, usually not very loud, and digital ones, sometimes very loud.  I’d get the digital one, since it’s easier to play a range of sounds.  Either mechanical or digital runs $25 to $100, so they’re also cheap.

Combined with a solid core door, nearly all the intermittent and random noise is muted enough to tune out, but any emergency yelling will still come through.

Why yes, I do know what wedding gifts I’m giving my daughters, in law and natural!

Dear Conservatives, setting things up so all housewives are drudges is anti-natalist and untraditional

Bullying women into staying home obviously doesn’t work, and yet it appears to make up the whole of the conservative argument for women staying home.  This is one of the core problems with American conservative Christian culture.  It leads to conservative Christian SAHMs putting kids into preschool as soon as the children age into it for breaks because “well, it’s not daycare now, it’s school!” It also leads to those women having fewer and fewer children.  Three is the new five and two is the new three.

Take cooking, as one example. Making stock takes time.  Sure, you don’t have to stand right over the pot, but you have to be in the general vicinity of the kitchen for 3-5 hours for relatively modest amounts of stock.  Now, this is the sort of homemade staple that we SAHMs are supposed to just have handy at all times, but it takes time to make it, and it takes even more time to make huge batches that you then freeze.  That’s a day or two or three you aren’t doing much else.  And I’ve already covered laundry.

As for childcare, we can’t all have lump babies that stay put wherever you plop them and we can’t all have children who hear an instruction to play quietly when they are older and do so for hours on end (this is actually fairly rare).  And the current status quo of spinning the childcare out to public school or preschool is not tenable, because it limits fertility and the false idol of homeschool robs a lot of communities of the stability they desperately need to have a functional school system.

There is no argument against homeschooling on a family level. Parents have the right and duty to educate our children as we see fit, and a state that interferes with this is acting unjustly. On a larger level, however, homeschooling as a movement is extremely uncharitable and antisocial.

Not everyone can homeschool.

As a society, we need schools and other collective institutions to spread the burden of childcare and primary education and to properly civilize and educate young people. But if you saddle enough individual families with the total burden of the care and education of their own children, you ensure that those families will have no surplus to support any such institutions. And this is in fact exactly what has happened. Everyone blames this on the homeschooling families themselves, because when you’re talking about homeschooling families you’re really talking about homeschooling mothers and no one ever passes up an opportunity to blame mom for everything, but individual families are just doing our best in impossible situations.

But people who can’t homeschool are left entirely at the mercy of the world all the homeschooling families have retreated from. There’s no civil society to join run by homeschooling mothers because we’re all too tired. Homeschooling mothers generally don’t even help each other out.

There are studies suggesting that being there when the kids are little is worth a lot less if the SAHM isn’t relatively rested most of the time.  And there is an argument (though not one I would advocate or consider pro-woman) for working while they are little and then, when they need the intensive parenting in teenagerhood, being available then as a SAHM.

This is why it’s insane to set things up so all women are drudges, it’s not Christian or functionally patriarchal. A lot of personality disordered people are able to hide out in “traditional womanhood” because there is an irreducible amount of domestic work and right now, that burden is going to fall on women. People can fantasize about it being different but right now, that’s how it is. Moreover, very few people can make more money than their labor is worth at home and very few couples can split the work effectively, for exactly the same reasons jobsharing doesn’t work, which is that you need a manager.

Much of femininity and marriage is socially constructed but you can socially construct it well or you can socially construct it stupidly and marriage and patriarchy are BETTER so who cares if they’re natural plus, Christian patriarchy is the only society that supports female liberation so stop sawing the branch you’re sitting on.

Lastly, women used to produce concrete results in their domestic work.  The industrial age was a rapid process of removing those concrete accomplishments from the domestic sphere and replacing them with vague repetitive tasks like driving the kids to activities (which goes all the way back in America to the 1920s!) and endless cleaning up kid messes and of course our dear friend laundry.  Those things are not terrible or wrong for mothers to do, but the conservative approach to the whole thing is to lie to women that they never had any other aspects to their domestic work and that they should delight in the abstract repetitive slog with no clear results at the end of each day.  Women then run to “crafts” in a flight to concrete accomplishment, and then are mocked for the crafts not being sufficiently useful or practical.  It’s a vicious trap.

Anyway this is all just random notes accumulated over time so if it doesn’t read like an essay, well, it’s not. I don’t know how to help women get the concrete aspects back for domestic labor when it’s simply not essential to survival anymore.  Our household has lived a pretty agrarian lifestyle and we ended up back in upscale suburbia.  And that’s pretty much the core of the problem.  The concrete accomplishments of my agrarian living helped alleviate the stresses of the worst of modern housewiving, but it couldn’t actually work long-term, which is why “be agrarian LARPers” is not a general solution to a general problem.  Even if people keep proposing it as one every 15 years or so like clockwork for the last century and a half.

Real Talk for SAHMs: SAHMs who aren’t morning people aren’t lazy, chronotypes are real

The tyranny of the morning people has got to end.  Traditionally, mostly servants got up early.  Now it’s college educated working class people (i.e. most of the relatively new married class).

SAHMs frequently act like just getting up earlier is the solution to any difficulties with prayer time, exercising, or arranging the day.  It is a recurrent theme.  I think the earliest I’ve seen or been told offline is to get up at 3am, though 4-6am is the typical range, usually 4-5am.  Which is feasible for a morning person, even through lots of kid wakeups.  Not so much for people with a different chronotype who don’t physically get tired before 10pm.

Wiki says that morning types don’t necessarily predominate, but in American culture they have taken the moral superiority reins and galloped right off with them.  There has been and continues to be a general tenor in American culture that early rising is morally better.  Someone could probably write a monograph connecting it up to the inherent consumption mentality that has ever dominated American society even before the Industrial Revolution.  They could also throw in some anti-Scandinavian polemic.  Thorstein Veblen is the spiritual grampa of overwork as a form of consumption behavior instead of bling.  He wasn’t the only one (there were some Scandinavian ladies behind it too), but his name is probably the most recognizable.  Overwork as consumption good is part of the tyranny of the morning people.

Repeatedly, morning people tend to act like it’s either getting up at 5am or sleeping until noon, and that obviously nobody should pick the latter choice.  The idea that chronotypes occur along a continuum and that even late-night types might well be able to “do mornings”, just at 9am instead of 6am, is utterly alien and threatening to a surprising number of morning people.  They place a stupendous amount of personal value on being up really really early and if other people are up later in the day and still have clean houses and functional kids and regular prayer lives, then maybe being up at 4am isn’t the one true path to holiness and merit.  It’s especially bad in the SAHM world, because the domestic sphere is so totally unvalued that it sometimes just might take a 14 hour day to actually get anything done effectively since the support is mostly in name only.

But chronotypes are real.  And valuing the domestic sphere for its own sake rather than declaring women who aren’t morning people lazy/selfish/spoiled/ungrateful would allow more private households to be functional no matter what time of day the lady of the house arose.  The Proverbs 31 wife is an ideal, not a literal woman.  Also, a lot of cultures have midday nap traditions for a reason, even if they are agrarian and the master and mistress have to pop up at 4am.

Women CANNOT mother alone

There, I said it.  Women simply can’t do it.  Either the village is coming along for the ride of raising your kid(s) by coercion or they’re coming along willingly, but it’s still going to happen.  There are news articles from time to time about women that expect kids’ toy or clothing shops in a mall to watch their children for several hours while they go buy their own stuff.  These women are single mothers and they sure aren’t dithering about how terrible it is to have a strange person keep an eye on your kid for a couple of hours.  This is the brutality of making motherhood so hard that only women who really really really want children or are really really feckless will do it.  The women who become single mothers are the ones who will just create situations where other people have to help out.  The women who marry first are more likely to wilt alone until they crack under the strain.

In a bizarre confluence of toxicity, the worst sorts of “traditional” or “conservative” narratives on mothering as something a woman does alone intersect with attachment parenting, which also presents mothering as something a woman does alone (sometimes not even bathing or meeting other private needs without the child physically on her body).  In both cases, women are told “it’s going to destroy your children to have anyone else feed, hug, kiss or show affection and other care needs to them, even (in the most extreme forms of this narrative) your own husband”.

Forcing women to take the burden of caring for their own children as if it’s normal to care solely and with complete emotional absorption for your own specific children is another one of the reasons women have fewer children than they used to.

Single mothers forcing the issue in the opposite direction, demanding lots of concessions and tolerance doesn’t always work out for them, but it reveals that when facing having to mother alone literally, women are very quick to try their darndest to avoid that.

 

Domestic au pair and homemaking program

It could be more or less formalized, but training young women in the domestic, homemaking arts and giving them practical experience in childcare would be amazingly useful.

There are a number of avenues by which this could conceivably be enabled, not least as part of a general program of supporting women in their women’s work.

A model to start with would taking the system of the current international au pair program, and figuring out how to adapt it to the needs of young women who’d like to be keepers of hearth and home for their families and future husbands and families who could use the help of energetic girls in their late teens and early 20s.

 

Some historical downsides of having household help, American edition

Infectious-licious!

  • Unvetted servants carrying infectious diseases.  The above is the most famous example, but there are plenty of other examples to draw upon.  Because a reference wasn’t necessary to secure a position due to the chronic labor shortages of a growing, wealthy society with free right of travel for all whites (and many blacks), a lot of servants would turn up to work in a household and get everyone sick.  Usually it wasn’t lethal (even Typhoid Mary had fewer than 10% of her 50+ victims die, the rest recovered), but it still was a very real risk and concern.  Anonymity was an early feature of American society, even when housewives still needed domestic help, and this was one of the nasty little side effects of that
  • Harder to present the image of a classless society.  Being the land of opportunity, America has always struggled with the fact that some people are going to be servants or employees to others for their working lives.  Instead of considering this a reason to keep working conditions for domestic servants decent, it was considered a reason to just not have servants.  Or lie about them.  A notable example can be found during the Eisenhower presidency of the 1950s.  His then Vice-President Richard Nixon’s wife spent years pretending she did not have a live-in maid (Swedish), a yard man (ethnic background unknown), and loads and loads of babysitters to watch the two children they had, even to the extent of demanding the help never be photographed or spoken to by reporters doing “A Day in the Life of the Veep’s Wife” fluff pieces.  Something to keep in mind when hearing about how housewives don’t need domestic help because appliances.  As early as the 1950s, American women had many of what we currently consider modern appliances except for the glorious microwave and front-loading washing machine.  But they also had maids and childcare help (which was exempted from wage laws, of course).  Well-off Americans have claimed for a long time that they just magically do it all themselves, especially but not strictly conservatives.

They just wanted a ten hour workday.

  • Violent responses to poor working conditions.  The above is a picture of the Papin sisters, who were French and killed their mistress and her adult daughter after years of 14 hour days.  While not American, working conditions for American domestics were frequently not better.  This is occluded somewhat by racial stuff, but Northern white women were quite as happy to leave a white female servant bleeding from a slap or the strop as Southern white women were with black female slaves.  This is, of course, memoryholed like whoa in American discourse on domestic help.  Domestic service is not necessarily servile, and given decent working conditions, many women are quite all right with serving others even if the pay is not the toppiest of top-end.  American women ran from service because the conditions and pay were both pretty crummy (the Woman Homesteader of Wyoming I wrote a bit about a white back was willing to trade the conditions of working as a laundress in an urban area in the early 1900s for the backbreaking work of homesteading in Wyoming.)  They didn’t run because they disliked serving others necessarily.  Some did, but others would have been happy to keep doing that as a job if they were treated like humans by their employers.  Things these days are not going in that direction, with the rise of “servant apps” where you just-in-time schedule your domestic help (“assistants”).  Meanwhile, the paternalism that drives our own hiring is sneered at for not being all-encompassing enough.  Vacation days, feh!  You don’t pay health insurance!  Health insurance?  Pah, you don’t put in a 401k!  Middle-class American women used to be able to afford domestic help not just because the wages were exempted, but also because it wasn’t considered a job, it was considered a relationship with pay at its best (and worst, of course).  Nobody wants to have human relationships anymore or accept the consequences of paternalism at its best (being responsible personally for those you employ) and in America part of that is being able to just up and move away from paternalism at its worst (Papin sisters, worst of chattel slavery).