Most women today don’t really have much notion of what being a full-time housewife may entail. Mostly, it seems like they imagine that it is cooking and cleaning. While that is necessary (it is necessary also for those women who work full-time), things certainly do not stop there.
Rather, I would suggest something rather more all-encompassing: that the Home should be the center of all life; and that the stay-at-home Mom is what makes this possible.
This was always the normal state of affairs. The Home was often not only the place of residence, but also of production: husbands were farmers, in the fields outside the home, and often returned for the midday meal (then called “dinner.”) Or, they might be craftsmen or merchants, in shops and offices on the first floor, with the home on the second or in the rear. Women engaged in a lot of primary production. Food preparation not only included what we call “cooking” today, but a number of steps that were integrated with the husband’s work in the fields, pasture and barn. Women would milk cows, collect eggs, churn butter, mill wheat, preserve hams or vegetables, make sausages, and organize cellars and pantries for the long winter before next year’s harvest. Women would spin thread and yarn, weave cloth, sew clothes and knit sweaters. Alongside all this, children were raised in the household, and elderly parents were cared for. Orphaned children or sometimes widows or unmarried sisters of relatives were taken into the home.
Leisure and fun activities took place at home. When they had free time, people read books, at home; they played the piano, at home; they visited their friends at their homes, or invited their friends to their home. Even the wealthy who had nannies and governesses for their children, nevertheless included these servants in their homes.
Today, we have two tendencies: to export activities outside the home; or to integrate them within the home.
The husband’s activities were exported outside the home especially in the latter nineteenth century, as work on the family-owned farm or small business was replaced by employment labor in large corporations. This is changing a little today, as working from home becomes more common.
Over time, and especially as wives and mothers began working outside the home, more and more activities that took place at the home became items of external commerce. Cooking is replaced by processed and prepared foods from supermarkets (nearly all of it unhealthy), and food from restaurants. Children were increasingly raised by the Government, in the form of public schools. Wealthy parents who didn’t like public schools much would send their children to private schools, at great expense. Daycare replaced early childcare. Elderly were shunted off to Social Security (again the Government), nursing homes and other solutions, all of which cost money. All kinds of leisure activities, which took place in the home, are now exterior: this includes all kinds of child-related activities such as sports or a wide variety of after-school activities. Weekends and vacations are spent somewhere else, which usually costs a ton of money. Commerce is the basis of all life; it seems that you can hardly stand up or sit down without constantly spending money.
I suggest that the stay-at-home Wife should actively and purposefully aim to re-integrate many of these activities back into the Home. We have already mentioned proper cooking (from single ingredients; no processed and prepared foods), combined with proper meals, where the family sits down together. There is really no need today to be involved in the productive activities that nineteenth-century women engaged in. We don’t have to milk cows ourselves, or sew our own clothing, or make soap from tallow and lye, or can vegetables for the winter.
To this let us now add some new things. A stay-at-home Wife today can be, and I think should be, the center of the child’s upbringing and education. Small children should spend all day with their mothers, rather than being shunted off to daycare. As they get older, they can be homeschooled. Leisure activities can again be centered in the home, including again reading or music, or, to be more social, visiting others in their homes. Young marriageable women live at the homes of their fathers until marriage. Men leave the home of their parents to, eventually, create a new home, for their new wives and families. Wedding parties, birthdays and funerals take place in the home. Commerce with the outside world tends to focus on basic supplies: home maintenance, grocery shopping, utilities.
I think that we should again adopt the practice of integrating elderly parents into the homes of their children. Probably many people don’t necessarily like their parents very much. But, do you think they liked living with you, when you were a tiresome little brat? Maintaining a separate household, for the elderly, can become quite difficult, not only in terms of expenditure, but also in terms of time and effort. After a certain point (it is commonly around age 70), the basic household duties become difficult to sustain. Vacuuming or yard care is neglected; home maintenance goes unattended; the standard of cooking declines. Most people over about 75 or so should not be driving automobiles. Elderly parents can help with a variety of tasks, including childcare. At some point, if the difficulty of maintaining elderly parents becomes too much, a live-in domestic helper can be integrated into the home. This was a common solution in the past, and may become common again. Considering that room and board is included, probably a live-in domestic helper could be found for less than the cost of maintaining a separate household; and thus, the net cost is less than zero.
Beyond these practical considerations, I think we can imagine the home as the center of all civilization — what is now taking place outside the home. “Civilization” has a number of aspects such as food, clothing, the decorative arts, the fine arts, literature, society, and so forth. The ambitious woman (and her husband) understands that when she decorates her own home, she is engaged in the construction of civilization.
This is a little different than as sometimes happens today, where a woman may make an effort to have a beautiful home, but not much living takes place there. The children again spend their days at daycare or government schools. She has a beautiful dining room, but nobody uses it; she meets her friends at restaurants. She has a beautiful kitchen, but doesn’t cook much. For the Woman who Lives Life at Home, these are not static displays, but essential tools for everyday life, and are in constant use as the tableau in which daily activity takes place.