DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS

DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS
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10 September 2014

Working for a living and working for a life

I was both surprised and delighted when a young woman I met at one of the libraries started talking about not going back to work after her second child was born. I was surprised because she told me that until she read my thoughts about it she'd never hear of any parent staying at home to raise  children and to make the most of every frugal, domestic opportunity instead of returning to work. Her experience was that all couples work, before children and after children. She said all the couples she knows work, both her parents work and she thought that is just how it is meant to be.

I was delighted to tell her that although it is a road less travelled, having one parent in paid work and the other looking after the children and the home, can be the pathway to a rewarding and significant life change.




When I was a young girl, it was the norm in Australia, and many other Western countries, for the mother to leave paid work when her first baby was born. She stayed at home as a homemaker rather than return to paid work. That changed in the late 1960s and 1970s when credit cards were introduced and many families started buying goods on credit instead of saving for them first, then paying cash. This increased the standard of living and during the 70s we all bought colour TVs and flash cars and instead of waiting for our clothes and shoes to wear out, we bought new ones, just because we could. Often we used credit cards or hire purchase. Soon it wasn't a choice to go back to work, many families had both parents work because it was the only way they could pay for what they wanted to buy. Over the years house prices rose and soon working to pay for our purchases became a way of life. It was then normal for both partners to work.

Many see this as a gender issue, I don't. I think it's a financial one that stems from consumerism. It is so commonplace and accepted now that younger women and men think it's always been like this.



I understand that many people find validation working at their paid job. Many love the social aspect of work. But it does not suit everyone. So I want to say this very clearly - we all need to work to pay for our own place to live - either by buying a home or renting one; we all need to furnish our homes, buy clothes, pay for transport and education. I get that, I've done it. But once that start is made, there is a lot of value in a couple splitting the work they do with one remaining in the workforce and one working at home and raising children while creating sustainable, domestic work practises. I have done many things in my life. I've raised a family, I have a degree, I've run my own business, I do understand the financial framework we all live within. But I have to tell you that domestic work is meaningful and fulfilling and until I came home and worked here to keep my home running smoothly, I'd never been this happy. I wish I'd done it sooner.




I've lost count of the number of emails I've received from people over the years who have been encouraged to make this move towards the split work model - one in paid work and one in domestic work. I often get follow up emails with wonderful news about success, contentment and satisfaction - both for the paid worker and the domestic worker. Having someone at home seems to focus them on working as a team and their purpose is clear. They're not working because everyone does, they're working to build a life together. There is satisfaction and meaning for both of them because they're both playing an active role in family life and debt reduction.

As I said before, I don't think this is a gender issue, it's a lifestyle choice. Some families go for the less traditional woman doing the paid work and the man at home; it works both ways. Gay couples often make that decision based on who wants to go out to work. But no matter who it is doing the domestic work, that person usually has a period of skill building. It's like any new job - there are routines to build, time is spent organising the home and there is an emphasis on home production and what is seen by some as the redundant skills of the homemaker to create this new way of working. It's a new kind of team - a two person team, living old values in new ways. And yes, I agree it's not for everyone but for those who try it, the rewards are usually abundant and consistent. 


32 comments:

  1. Rhonda, sometimes i forget how cool you are and then you come right back and remind me!
    And you are so right, I will I had spent more time at home when the babies were small.

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  2. I think you're right about many young people not realizing that going this direction is an option or even possible. Not having grown up with the example before them they really don't know that it can be done. Some certainly will be turned off by staying away from credit and postponing purchases but doing both those things builds responsibility and long range thinking (both of which seem to be in short supply these days).

    Victoria in Indiana

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  3. I have been home for 36 years. When I was pregnant with our first child I was very sick and work was too much for me so stayed home from that time forward. When our youngest graduated from our home school high school others were shocked to find out that I was not going to go out and look for a job. My husband co-workers are surprised that I am still at home. We have many friends our age with grown children who both work and they are always complaining about their dirty houses and how tired they are. They also eat out many times every week. Our lifestyle is very calm and peaceful. We are rested and eat our meals at home. Perhaps if I worked outside our home we could have more stuff but we know that it would not make us happy and honestly we want for nothing.

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    1. I agree! This will me youngest daughters last year of home school and I also think many in my family think I will then return to work. My husband and I talked about it and we both agree my place is to be at home and be a help mate to him. It is possible if we keep no debt or very low debt. We also don't buy much we have nearly everything we need. We are both 45 years old. It is so nice hearing someone else taking about being a wife and not co-worker : )

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  4. I think you're right, one of our friends has raised their children, while his wife (in a very well paid job) has always been the one to go out to work. He made a fantastic job of it too, they are really lovely, unmaterialistic children. I don't think it necessarily has to be a two person team, though. When I was a child (in the 60's), my Mom was a single parent (very unusual then). We lived with my grandparents, who had endless patience and time for their little grandaughter. I was surrounded by love and taught everything from woodwork and gardening to knitting, baking and darning. Mom HAD to work, she was the wage earner for our whole family, and she struggled to get a degree as a mature student and became a teacher, which she loved (and was very good at!) Perhaps what matters most is that there is someone at home, to make a home for children and if they also have lots of skills to pass on, that's wonderful.

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  5. My husband and I have made the decision that the time is right for him to work 3 days a week (he's 45). We have worked very hard to pay off our mortgage, and raise our 3 children. All I ever wanted was for him to have the same choices I have had since meeting him. What you describe is a wonderful model for good marriages/relationships. I worked full time before I met him and was raising my 2 daughters alone. I. However, for me, I needed to work as my then husband was unreliable in all ways. When I met my now husband he gave me a choice. I didn't have to work full time or at all if I didn't wish too. He would happily support any choice I made and that included financially. I do work, teaching financial literacy, part time. I am or at least was, my students, as are you Rhonda. I have friends who don't work outside of the home, who raise the children and take care of the house and grounds. Almost all of them have husbands who wish their wives were working, who wish they didn't have the sole burden (and that's how they describe it) of financially providing for the family. They wish their wives used their educations. skills and talents to earn money. They compare their wives to those in our suburb who have returned to work since having children and feel inferior. Their wives are the hardest working women I know, cooking, cleaning, mowing, growing, ironing, doing transport and school support work, taking care of the home and the people in it in all ways.
    I think there is a real expectation from middle class men that their wives will work outside the home but they (the couples) never really explore and examine this fully beforehand. So there is plenty of expectation but not much discussion or reflection beforehand. They don't realise everything is a choice, not complusory.

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    1. Hi farmgirlnz! I am not surprised by these husbands' reactions. And I blame society a lot for them. There is the expectation that men will work and the women will stay at home. There are many men out there who would love the opportunity to stay home after a period of time but either their wives don't want to go out and work or as a couple they just don't discuss it.

      As Rhonda says time and time again, it can be either a man or a woman who stays and cares for the home. But at that pivotal point where the children are grown, the partners need to have another conversation. Perhaps the opposite person should have the opportunity to take care of the home. It should never feel like a burden. The minute it does, change is needed and both partners need to be willing to make those changes for the long-term health of the relationship. ~ Pru

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  6. I would like to see more flexibility in working arrangements. It is crazy to me that the standard job is 9-5, 5 days a week, in this age of technology and the 24-hour international economy. It works for some families but I know my husband and I would both love to work part-time and be home part-time. So far it's been impossible to find a position for him that would accommodate this arrangement. Ultimately every family/couple should feel comfortable and empowered to make the choice that works best for them. Glad to hear more people are becoming aware of the options that are out there.

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    1. I agree wholeheartedly. I think there should be many more options for working people. I know a few young couples who have not gone the way I've written about here but have both worked part-time so they have time at home with their babies and young children. I think when more women get into parliament these options will be talked about more and hopefully become part of the working landscape.

      I hope you're feeling well today. Any twinges yet?

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    2. I can imagine it would have positive impacts on peak hour traffic etc too, and leave a bit more time for volunteering and other community activities. It would be nice if society could slow down and smell the roses a little bit.

      I'm feeling so much better now that I'm on leave (I think I kept working too long). Quite a few tightenings but no great signs of labour yet :)

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  7. You are so right Ronda.....I worked and I have regretted that...it is time that I could have spent with my son and I cannot get it back. He was looked after by his great grandmother and I was cared for by her when I was young. She lived with my parents and had the same family values as them. What I wonder about is when a child goes to child care, they pick up the values of others who look after them and they would change with the care centers work rosters. I don't mean when a parent sends a child to a child care centre one day a week to expand their social horizons, that is a good thing. When I look around today, there seems to be a definite lack of everyday values....... I was taught by example that littering is not right, that I should push my chair back in when leaving the table, how to sit and have a conversation at the dinner table, how to chew my food with my mouth closed, how to hold a knife and fork, how to be considerate of others, have patience etc. Fundamental development. I have read that you are what you are because of your life experiences from birth to 5 years...I wonder if many children are confused because of the lack of continuity in those developmental years. You have helped me realise that I didn't need all the 'stuff' that I accumulated, that it didn't make me happy. I am happy now, with minimal stuff, living in our caravan, traveling around, meeting people and experience things. Thank you Ronda, you are marvelous :)

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  8. I think since my Mother's Day we have come full circle in that what women wanted was to be treated equally however now it seems (to me anyway) that women can get a job like a man but women cannot be a mother to her children after they reach prep or be a house wife or home duties. I agree that some women love the corporate world and want to work rather than be at home and that's ok however there is still the perception that you need to be working full time once your kids are in school or there is something wrong with you. Even the government says you need to work once your kids are of school age. I think it's so important to be around for my kids and be at the at the school attending reading, school assembly and celebration of learning days. The other thing about the working woman is and I'm generalising here is that she does everything she would at home and then works as well. The man works has his job and probably mows the lawn but she is still doing all the other things washing ironing cooking paying bills cleaning buying birthday gifts homework etc. if the woman is working and doesn't have time to do those things she is working to earn the money to pay someone else to clean the house do the ironing and getting take away. I think mothers play a very important role in the home and let's face it they are raising the next generation of adults and they need to be cared for and nurtured. I worked for 25 years full time in 2 jobs before having kids and I know that being a mother is the hardest job I've ever had but it's the most important and rewarding. Of course I have days where it's really hard and frustrating but I love being a mother and my kids have good values and a loving family life is so important to me. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

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  9. While most parts of this post I think are great and honor the choices of families, the first part was quite disturbing to me as it seems to say that the reason a woman went back to work starting in the 1970's was because of credit card debt and a need for material things. While this could be one reason, I know a lot of women, including my mother, did not solely define herself by her parental status and went back to work because she WANTED to. No one has to give up their profession in order to have a family, and while I completely agree that couples need to renegotiate what life and career will look like when kids come into the picture, going back to work after having a child is often about continuing to do what you love as an individual. Most of the friends I know who stay home actually only do it because daycare is more expensive than their take-home pay - the one by my house is $1200/mo, for example - not because they want to stay home all day. It's an individual decision like you said, just want to be clear that a ton of parents out there work because they like what they do, and want to keep doing it - and I have huge respect for those who can creatively continue to pursue their individual passions while evolving into the role as parents.

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  10. One ther thing I don't understand in 2014 and that is when both parents work full time (there is nothing wrong with that if it suits your family) however each parent only gets 4 weeks a year annual leave which together is 8 weeks a year and children are home from school on holidays for 14 weeks holiday plus you will have to add 2 more weeks to allow for kids to be home sick and not all the kids will be sick at the same time so that's 16 weeks children are home from school. With two parents working full time if they both took all their holidays separately (ie 8 weeks) therefor there is still 8 weeks these children are home from school and of course parents taking their annual leave separately that means there is no family holiday. I don't understand how this works where are the kids for the other 8 weeks and who is looking after them. Sure there is holiday school care which can be $500 per week per child so all of this doesn't make sense to me and when kids are home on holidays they need down time to stay in their pj's until morning tea Nd just hanging around home and unwinding. The whole holidays and kids at home I truely don't get how families manage this side of working full time. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

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    1. I think you just expressed a source of great stress for working parents, Kathy. Most of the time, the parents don't know/believe that they have a choice about being a 2-income family, especially when they are already drowning in debt or used to a lifestyle that requires the amount they both earn. So they try to make other plans - hiring baby-sitters, sending kids to day camp for a week or two, having family or even a good friend/neighbour help out by taking care of the kids, taking a couple of days off, clubbing together with other parents so that if they all each take a couple of days to care for the kids, they cover bigger territory. Sometimes it's a mess. But they do what they can with what resources they have based on options they recognise.

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  11. Appreciate your inspiring post. My husband & I both work out of the home part-time doing work we enjoy & split the domestic duties depending on our skills and inclination. We use ideas from your blog to develop our homemaking skills & continue to think more sustainably. The way you & Hanno live your life has made a big difference in mine. Cindy ~ WI, USA

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  12. I really enjoy reading this blog - refreshing topics, that are interesting and relevant.

    I am a stay-at-home mum (12 years) and my kids are at fulltime school. My husband has always wanted me to stay home, and loves a clean house, good food, kids in their home (compared to vacation care or after-school care), and a mum doing the million things that need doing (dentist, attending kids activities at school, volunteer work, etc). He has never asked me to find a job, really - the opposite.
    This year, I started uni full-time (mainly correspondence), and life has never been busier!
    We have paid off the mortgage, and are very careful with our money. We have always put our family first with every decision (our kids go to private schools, even though it really hurts). We also value experiences over 'things'.
    I know quite a few mothers at home (it is natural to find each other), but lots more mothers that work part-time. I have casual job, but only work occasionally - but the hours mean that my husband is home to watch the kids.
    I don't judge anyone else for their situation - and I think that people have different ideas of 'normal'.
    PS. We are not on a high income - we just make different choices.

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  13. Thank you Rhonda for an inspiring post. I work from home part time as a landscape architect, something I love and sustains me professionally and creatively. I arrange my work (as best I can) so that I can also be home and available when the kids come home from school, so I can prepare meals from scratch, tend my large veggie garden, the bees and the chickens, clean, mend, make and craft. These things also sustain me creatively and intellectually. (Preparing spreadsheets for seed planting, potting up, planting out, crop rotations green manures and how much compost to make, take time and thought)
    This would not be possible without the partnership with my husband who, after a payout from work some years ago, spent 9 months at home sharing the home maker - child raiser role and decided he liked working full time! He was stunned at the amount of work a homemaker does and developed a great respect for it. But didnt want to do it. Having worked full time for many years I also knew I didnt want to do that either.
    So for now we have a great partnership in life and I bless every day of it.
    Your blog is a constant inspiration and reminder that this is a good life.
    kate xx

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  14. I worked my entire married life, apart from about 9 months after the birth of each of my two children.At that time it was my choice, not a financial one. In 2001 I was widowed with 2 young children and chose to continue working despite an available benefit system . I had no desire for my children to see dependency on the government as an employment option, as it so often is where I live, with generations surviving off benefits. My house may not have been the cleanest, nor my garden the most beautiful. .I have , however, raised two responsible adults, one of whom is about to graduate as a doctor, and the youngest of whom is currently at university.
    I do not regret the choices I made.

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    1. I think that is the crux of this discussion Maude, being able to choose to go back to work or not, based on your family's needs and values, without being made to feel guilty.

      I work... have always worked even when raising children. For me, being a writer is not a job; it's something that I need to do and I had to find a way to do it and still care for my family to the best of my ability.

      However, I've noticed that too many times, my own society (in South Africa) the media peddles fear about domestic work. It's portrayed as a job for those who can't do anything better/are uneducated or lazy. Women are warned too many times that not personally adding to the family income creates financial dependence on a husband and that portrayed as a doorway to financial risk (what if he divorces you/died/loses his job ) and to being abused. So it is then seen as a scary gender issue.

      I suppose what I'm trying to say is, I love Rhonda's post because it presents another option without judgement. We can choose... and do what's best for our families with the information and resources we have. Without regret. And that's how it should be.

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  15. Such a great post!! I am 30 years old (married and no children of yet) and I am leaving my full-time position at the end of the year. I am excited and nervous at the same time, mainly because it is not the norm, particular amongst my age group. I do want to find some part-time work (1-2 days), but more than anything I just want to create a comfy home and have the time to create a gentler life for my husband and I. I wish society would not look down on women/men who choose such a path. I do, however, think people are waking up to the fact that all these crazy hours of work are not making the majority of us any happier. The increased consumerism that is a result of higher disposable incomes are certainly harder on our all ready suffering planet .

    Please keep these posts coming, Rhonda. I love reading the opinions and experiences from other like-minded people. I do look at the inscription you signed in my copy of your 'Down to Earth' book - "Be Strong", you wrote, i.e have the strength to be true to myself. I feel like I am being true to myself more and more. Removing myself from the 'rat race' is the biggest and most exciting step I have made so far!
    As they say, "Be the change you want to see in the world".

    xx

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  16. I agree Rhonda, I was lucky enough to have a husband with a good income, and we bought before the property boom in 1984, we married in 1985 and our first child was born in 1986. I worked part-time when he was small and our second child, born 1989 had special needs so I was home with her for quite a few years. Things were tight and we had a 2 bedroom house but we managed. I volunteered for 9 years, and worked (paid) one day per week. My husband would ask if there was any plan for me to go back to more work but nothing lit my fire more than bringing up my kids and being around for them. When our youngest was 12 I started studying again so I could become a midwife and at the ripe age of 44 I qualified as a RN and commenced full time work, continuing my study to qualify as a RM in 2007. It has been very rewarding, but not more rewarding than bringing up my children, and even now I feel the wrench of not being as available to help with our daughters continuing needs. With regard to consumerism, I would also say that the standard of housing, and expectations of 'appropriate' housing for a young couple/family has risen astronomically. I work in the community and am astounded at the flashiness and size of the new homes in the outer suburbs, or built as fill-in housing. This has to be paid for, so the wife is forced out the door often more than her or her children's hearts can bear. Having said that I also see very modest housing where there is an enormous amount of love and old-fashioned struggle. Women have choices and expectations of having it asll, yet it is sad that she feels LESS choice about choosing to stay with her children and 'having less'.

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  17. Hi Rhonda,

    Thank you for writing about this issue and explaining your view so well without judgement. This also applies for those with no children who may wish to "retire" early (retire = doing something fulfilling with your life, to your own choosing). The blog by Mr Money Moustache over in America has been fantastic in pointing this out - your readers might want to google him for some more inspiration. It's the cost of "lifestyle" that drains one's resources, rather than the cost of living. Thank you for your wonderful blog. Monica

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  18. Rhonda, that is so sad, that the reader didn't know staying at home was an option, I can't even begin o imagine that! I have been fortunate to e able to stay at home with my children and they are now older, in high school and above. I have recently returned to part time work, teaching, this means I am still there before and after school for my kinds, this is Zvery important to me. Although this means my work rate has increased I m doing it to reduce our debt and pay off our mortgage so we will both have a etter lifestyle.

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  19. Brilliantly put Rhonda. we need more people in the world like you, it would be a better place

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  20. I think you have hit the nail on the head with this post. I married in 1971, left teaching in June 1974 prior to our son's birth on 9th Sept. Had a daughter in early 1977 and went back to teaching in March 1982. I loved my time at home with the children but that was fairly normal then in the UK. I only knew of one colleague who continued working after both of her children were born. My husband's job took him away from home a lot and I can't imagine how we would have worked around that. However, our expectations were so much less than today's families. No credit cards, nothing on hire purchase ( our familia background was " if you can't afford it, save up until you can, no Hire Purchase ever!". And I think that's where we went wrong as a society.

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  21. Thank you for writing this in the way you did. I'm part of that generation that is expected to return to paid work after starting a family, and I really thought I would after my first chid was born. I had a change of heart, though, and one semester's leave of absence from the University led to another until I admitted I wanted to resign from my position and stay home. I felt brave doing it, in fact, since I decided I didn't care what others thought - some (maybe many, can't remember now!) thought I was wasting my life/talents/degree, etc. I just saw it as a changing of the seasons in my life, and it felt like the right thing to do. It still does, and now that I've had a taste of this alternate way of life, I don't ever want to go back!
    -Jaime

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    1. Jaime! I thought I'd lost you. I seem to have lost a lot of my commenters lately. I think of it as a season change too and I'm pleased you've found your place. And now you've got your little family and your farm, there is no reason to go back. :- ) It's good to "see" you again.

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    2. Oh I am still here - just busy with another baby! :)

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    3. Congratulations, I just saw his? photo. Such a beautiful time for you.

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  22. Hi Rhonda,
    Just an addition to this idea - Eli and I share the paid work and the domestic duties and this works really well for us. It means he can be as involved a parent as I am, and I can keep up my intellectual stimulation and my ability to earn money, should I ever need it. I agree with you that it is not a gender issue, but usually it is the woman who stays home with the children, and both partners working part time can be a beautiful road to take too. I hope that more places of work allow part time hours and flexible work arrangements in the future, to allow more couples to share the work and home responsibilities this way.
    Jo xx

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  23. Inspiring post - when my children were small I worked 6 hours per week sharing the child minding with another friend with small children. My husband worked long hours to afford us this luxury. He is now retired and looks after the home whilst I who is 7 years younger is now working full time. Our youngest is in her final year at university and I have 3 more years to retirement. It is a partnership that my husband and I both cherish. We have a small, comfortable home and share a car.

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