What is the role of the homemaker in later years?

19 December 2012
An email came from a US reader, Abby, who asked about being a homemaker in later years. This is part of what she wrote:

"I am a stay-at-home mum to 4 children, ages 9-16. I do have a variety of "odd jobs" that I enjoy - I run a small "before-school" morning drop-off daycare from my home, I am a writing tutor, and I work a few hours a week at a local children's bookstore. But mostly, I cherish my blissful days at home - cooking, cleaning (with homemade cleaners), taking care of our children and chickens and goats, baking, meal-planning, etc. This "career" at home is not at all what I imagined during my ambitious years at university, but it is far more enriching. I notice, though, that my day is often planned around the needs of my family members. Of course, with 4 active kids and a husband, this is natural. I do the shopping, plan my meals, cook dinner - generally in anticipation of my family reconnecting in the evening. 

I can't help but wonder, though, whether this feeling of purposefulness and satisfaction might ebb after the children leave the nest. When I don't have hungry teenagers bursting through the door in the afternoon, or when I don't have to feed 6 people on a modest grocery budget - will I still feel the same sense of gratification? My own mum is 67, and she continues to work 3 days a week as an educational consultant. ...  My father is quite a bit older than she is, and he is starting to slow down a bit now ... 

I sometimes put myself in her place, and wonder about what life will be like for me when I reach that stage of life. Will I regret not having built more of a world for myself outside of the home? Will it seem too solitary, once the hustle and bustle of child-rearing is over? Though it is not pleasant to think of, what would it be like to live this life as a widow? You are such an inspiration to me, because you have clearly made this transition and it has been a very satisfying one for you. I would be so curious to see this topic discussed further, though. What is the role of the homemaker in the later years?"

Dear Abby,

We would not be human if we didn't have those "what if ..." days. Doubts make us think, and that is a good thing. Those feelings of purposefulness and satisfaction aren't felt only because you're looking after your children and pouring your heart and soul into it, they're there because of the life you're living and knowing what you're doing is worthwhile. You and your husband have formed a team so that you can all live a life full of purpose. That doesn't stop because the children grow up and leave home.

Homemakers have more than one stage of life. You've already gone through the baby and toddler stage as well as the small child stage, now you're moving into the stage where they are more independent and start to make their own decisions. Life goes on after they leave home and the satisfaction then comes developing your own interests, in seeing your children succeed in their work and maybe going on to form meaningful relationships and having their own children. You will not lose your purpose when the children leave. Your role changes, you move into the next stage.

While I was sad to see my boys go, it also gave me an enormous sense of satisfaction to see them out there functioning well on their own.  They remembered most of what we taught them, they tranitioned from young men to adults and when they met their "girls", we were there to welcome them into our hearts and family. All the things you're teaching your children now is preparing them to leave you. And while that can be bitter-sweet it can also be liberating and enriching.

It will be at least ten years into the future when your last child might leave home. No one can tell what their life will be like next week, let alone in ten years. But I want you to know that your life isn't just about your children, your husband or your home. It also involves your community, your interests, your extended family and your friends. You are more than a parent, you're more than a wife, you're more than a daughter, you're more than all the single things you think you are. You're a complex mix of all of those parts and who knows what you're capable of. If someone had told me ten years ago that I'd be doing what I'm doing now, I would have thought them crazy. Life has a way of winding and twisting and no one can tell where it will go.

So what is the role of the homemaker in the later years? I think it is the time when you relax a bit. You sit back and see that what you've been doing in those first 20 or 25 years has been worthwhile and produced people who have moved into the wider community to be good citizens, to work hard and to play their part in the world, whatever that may be. You work on developing a new relationship with your husband that is more about the two of you. Maybe you travel a bit. Maybe you become a gardener or a mentor or a grandma. Who knows.

Just keep doing your best and enjoying what you do. Explore your interests, develop yourself, evolve, thrive, enjoy your friends and don't start dreading what might come later. I can only encourage you to become the best, most authentic you, you can be and hopefully, with that, you'll enjoy and appreciate whatever happens later in life.


  1. Wow! this spoke directly to my heart! I have asked the same questions in my mind that your reader did. Your response was so comforting and validating. Your comment, "You are more than a parent, you're more than a wife, you're more than a daughter, you're more than all the single things you think you are. You're a complex mix of all of those parts and who knows what you're capable of" is just so beautful and empowering. Thank you for this post!


  2. I couldn't have said it better :) This is a WONDERFUL time of life. The worst thing one could do, I think, is to live in the past and/or try to control one's adult children. Let them have their lives and be thankful every time your lives intersect. Don't put a guilt trip on them; give them freedom to concentrate on their marriages and families the way YOU concentrated and developed YOURS.....

  3. I am a SAHW. The children are long gone but live close and grandkids come for visits. My days are full.

    Every family needs a woodjacouldja - that is what our family calls the person who steps in when - grandchildren are sick, tradesmen need entry to grown children's houses,friends pets need feeding while they are on holidays,cars need to go in for a service, grandchildren need picking up from school because mum or dad are delayed at work - all that sort of stuff that happens in most families on a weekly basis at least.
    Then there is the luxury of being able to have your own time - a day with a craft group, a day with your good friend, a day doing volunteer work, a day in the garden.
    I no longer look to others to be what I want to be - as Rhonda says- I am what I am and that is busy.

    1. Oh exactly!
      I am there to babysit, be a bookkeeper, appt maker, and support system. Just because the babies have their own babies doesn't mean they will not need you! I now babysit 12 hrs a day for one daughter that finally got out of an abusive relationship but can't afford daycare. My grandsons still have a stable life and values to learn that will influence them all their lives.
      The day will come were they won't be at NaNa's all the time. Then I will go back to my life as wife, support system, gardener, photographer, and all that I am.
      I build my life around who I am at that time. I love my life. I love me.

  4. Great response Rhonda! I often wonder what I will do to fill my time when I am no longer working but I am looking forward to finding out :)
    Judy xx

  5. Good advice, life is always moving to new things.

  6. I don't comment much but I'm pretty much a daily reader I also thought how wonderful when Rhonda spoke about the things she wanted to do in the next two years in a recent post earn a little money etc to do things around the house etc you don't need other people around you 24/7 to live the simple life . My mother was lost when my father passed away cause she had put everything into being at home and nothing else .

  7. This is also something I have pondered as I settle into this lifestyle. My daughter is only one and I wonder where I will be in ten years time. I continue to work sporadically out of the home, make and exhibit art, and blog- all of this keeps me sane and contribute to a more comprehensive sense of self.

  8. I looked forward to the day when my children were all independent after spending all my time raising them and being a wife to my country police officer husband. I was going to have the most beautiful garden, be totally self-sufficient in vegetables and get right into mt craft hobbies (lace knitting, heirloom sewing, doll making, embroidery). My husband took early retirement (at 55) and we had 2 blissful years. Then the grandchildren began arriving (8 in 5 years) and we began constant babysitting as the parents all worked. Now there are twice a day school runs as well and, as our daughter`s marriage sadly broke up, my husband has gone back to work as a school bus driver to make extra money to help our daughter stay in her house with her 3 little boys. We are now busier than ever before in our lives and 5 years ago, we never in our wildest dreams envisaged all this. The future has a way of taking care of itself. Enjoy and make the most of today.

  9. No doubt Abby's life has been full to the brim with busyness - raising a large family!!Abby also said that she has her own interests and work etc, and said that best of all she enjoys her time at home. When the kids do leave home, this will no doubt be a transition that she will need to adjust to. But statistics say these days that kids don't necessarily leave home until their mid twenties, as they can't afford to set up on their own, or are still at Uni. I have a friend who only had one child. He is now setting up his own home, however mum still washes and irons for him. Also at some stage the grandies will come along, and Abby will have involvement there I dare say! Also Abby also has to think that as her own mum ages, there will no doubt be involvement in her mum's life as she is no longer able to do what she used to. Most of all, I think that Abby can look forward to some 'me' time. Doing things she has always wanted to. Abby also said that she has tertiary qualifications, so she may have an opportunity to embark on further employment options if she desires to.
    Kids may leave home, but with a household there is always endless responsibilities to be met. I am confident that Abby with adjust to her changing home and family life when the time comes.

  10. Hi there. I am new in reading this blog but really like the look of it. As I am now in a retirement stage of life maybe I can add a few comments. On looking back I see my life in several stages since I married and had kids. When the kids were young I was really into the homemaking stuff....made my own bread, sewed the kids clothes etc. When they were all off to school, I went into an academic/open up the world stage....going to college part time and eventually getting a degree. When the kids were teens I worked full time. Now I have stopped working full time although my husband is still working. I have become a housewife again and enjoying my garden on a much bigger scale than I had time for when working. I also have got into doing a few side jobs to get my travel money, like taking in foreign students for a few weeks who are here on ESL courses, or working as a shop assistant over the busy Christmas period. Jobs that do not tie me down like a full time job would but are fun to do. With that money I go traveling for two or more months a year.....to at least one new country every year. Not to fancy resorts but on independent exploring trips staying at hostels and cheap guest houses. $3000 will cover two months of travel and plane to Egypt or Thailand. In other places like Australia or Italy it will give you a month. Travel is what feeds my soul and it is my time to do it now. Yes, family and grand kids are important but I am only the emergency baby sitter and only the wouldjacouldja when I am at home. Each season brings its changes and new interests. aloha

  11. I spent quite a few years as a stay at home mom. As my kids got more involved in school, I took some part-time jobs. And then I went back and got a graduate degree in public policy. It was an experience I loved. Actually I loved it all, the stay at home-ness, the part-time work, graduate school. I still maintain my home now as a single mom but frankly all of this simple living stuff has become so routine now that I find myself bored. Next week I start a full-time job and I started thinking about a second degree. I guess if my home included chickens (and it probably will sooner or later) and other farm animals, I might find my days fuller. But even with maintaining a reasonable exercise schedule, studying and reading large amounts, writing, learning to play the violin and other things, I still just couldn't find enough useful things to do to fill my days. And just for the record, I am not a person who likes to rush around. But I think if anyone told me that I would be doing any of this 13 years ago, I would never have believed I would have the energy or the drive. So there you go: take life and its opportunities as they come and don't worry about it!

  12. The warm fireplaceDecember 19, 2012 11:25 am

    This is something i have been coming to terms with thank you so much for your very wise advice.

  13. I also have been reading daily. I am forty-two, married for twenty-three years and we have one seventeen year old daughter. I have had these exact thoughts. Though I have cultivated my own interests along the way, sometimes I hear that old guilty voice that says I SHOULD be doing more outside the home in the way of making money! Then I just go off and just get back to my long walks, knitting, spinning, cooking,serving others or whatever else I want to do! Thank you for your writing! I love it!

    1. In one way or another, we are all kindred spirits reading Rhonda's Blog. I have never commented before, and have been a reader for quite a while. Thanks Rhonda for offering us a "place" where we are among sisters who have found value in themselves by living productively at home, no matter what our age :-)

  14. Rhonda, love your writing about the twists and turns in life, that you never know where you'll end up. So very true and so exciting. My younger years were spend raising children, and now I enjoy my grandchildren. My life doesn't center around my "kids" so much anymore, it's more about my work, my personal interests and relationship with my husband. It's a wonderful time of life. There's adjustment at every change, but each stage is better than the one before.

  15. I read this post and the comments with interest. I am 60 years old and my husband just retired. We have moved to our new home which is a day and a half car travel away from most of our grandchildren. When our kids were little and I used to get frustrated with my "busyness" and trying to get it all done, my husband would say to me "Just wait til they're grown - that will be the best time of our lives." Well, he was right for himself - he is thoroughly enjoying his retirement and our new life. But he was ever so wrong for me - I am not enjoying this part of my life at all - I would give anything to have just one day back of my old life. I think if we wouldn't have moved, I would find my life much more meaningful - spending time with my grandchildren and helping my kids with babysitting etc. But as it is, it seems I am just putting in time, growing older by the day. I struggle every day to find joy and contentment with my life, but it eludes me. I'm sorry to throw a wet blanket on this discussion, but I did want others to know there is another side to this story - it isn't always the best part of your life, you may very well be living the best part of your life now, while your kids are still home, so try and appreciate it. For some of us, it doesn't get any better than that.

  16. Oh!! I love your new banner! Thank you so much for everything your share with us Rhonda.

  17. I am a stay at home mom with two little boys age 6 and 2. The other day I was asked "don't you feel like you are wasting your life and talents?"
    It really got me thinking and also wondering where I would be in 10-15 years time. Lovely post that has helped me see that what I am doing is okay and that the future could hold anything. Also love the line about being complex, I am more than a mother and wife!

  18. Dear anonymous at 1:07 Dec 19. My parents moved far from us later in life. The new area was better for them health wise. They wanted to be with us too. With todays communication you can see your grandchildren and family over the internet daily if you want. Face to face using "Face time" Also my parents found other children who did not have close grandparents and gave time to being a substitute grandparents to these little ones who lived close to them now. Yes it is not the same as your own family but when you need to give love there are many paces you can have that fulfilled by giving to others. You are where you are now and so try to boom where you are today. Try not to waste any of your precious days pinning for what cannot be. Perhaps you can several times a year meet your own family half way the distance you have between each of you to share a day or weekend too. That way you can see each other personally more often perhaps. Your husband might be missing family more than he lets on. He may be trying to hide his feeling in order to not make you sadder. Sarah

  19. Our children have been gone for about 14 years and I am as busy as ever. I still cook from scratch, make and give food gifts to others, have more time for needlework projects. The only difference for myself is that I don't have to run at break-neck speed all day. Thank goodness.

    Life is full and very happy at our home.

  20. Thanks Rhonda for sharings Abby's letter. And Abby, I recognise so much in your story. It's very similar to mine. I have 4 children, age 14 to 19. But here the nest is half emty, the 2 oldest have left for college. And it would not be fair to say that that was easy. Just as you suggested, when a great part of your life is about taking care of your family.. than when part of the family leaves.. it's hard. But just as Rhonda wrote, it is such a grace to see how well the 2 oldest are doing, how balanced and strong they are in their new life, part of which is due to the steady base they got here at home.

    After feeling sorry for myself for a while.. ;) I realised that there is a world still open to explore, also when you are in your late 40's. With 2 children still at home, I don't want a full time job (yet), but I have started a course to learn everything about organic farming and self-suffinciency. It's a 2-years programm, with lots of practice. Last week i milked cows, first time in my life, and rode a tractor.. GREAT fun!!

    What I mean is.. you can always start up new things, whatever fase you're in. Just make sure you keep up your energy and health, and to have an open mind, there will be so may things you can be meaningful in.

    For me, having spend my time so intensely with my children when they were living here, gives me a feeling of freedom when they leave. I've done everything I could, I've done enough, now I can let them go and leave them, they're fine. (doesn't say I don't miss them a lot!!)

    If you like to hear more, contact me (through Rhonda?) - but I'm sure you'll do fine!
    Greetings from Holland, Clarien

  21. I was a sahm before our daughter started school. She's grown and moved away now. But, I felt guilty that I was home enjoying life while my dh was at work. Even though he reassured me that it makes his life easier with me being home because I took care of everything and he could just relax after a hard day on the job. It's just the two of us now and we both have outside jobs. Everything is a mess at home because there's little time to get things done after a long day away. We've decided after the house is paid for (hopefully in 3 years) I would stay home again so life will be more relaxing for the both of us. But I still have that guilty feeling that I won't be contributing financially.

  22. Thank you much Abby, for putting down those words. Words we all do know, I think. And thank you Rhonda, for giving such a wonderful and calm answer. I do hope we might get to the point where you are right now. Satisfied, looking back to all the things you have done, and with a great, warm heart towards our grown up children.

    Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.

    Love from Holland

  23. I want to comment to Lori at 4:37am...you are contributing to the house in terms of money. Rhonda has mentioned it too. Being home we are responsible to use the $ to the best advantage. Looking to feed our families wisely and as inexpensively as possible. We have time to look for and cook the best foods. Garden or do home crafts. As you are now noticing you don't have time or strength at the end of your work days to do what you feel you would like to accomplish at home. The things you used to do when home every day. Are you still able to cook all your meals at home or do you now depend more on some take aways or convince packages? I cannot write or remember al the points but believe you when you think back you did save $ and thus help financially a Lot while you were home. I too had to work for few years due to financial strain and my husband was sooo very glad when I could quit and resume being home full time again Our life was much more relaxed again. I earned some money working but our lives were not enriched. Also Some of the money I earned had to be used in the cost of working such as clothes and some take aways and car expenses to name but a few. In the end I earned way less than I thought I would. Sarah

  24. Lori I am in the same boat as you. Too tired to love or clean my house after work. I make dinner, clean up and plonk myself on the couch in a stupor.

    I am 47 and want to stay home, I have been very frugal with little support from my husband and on August 22 my mortgage is paid! I still need to save for uni fees for one child of $16,000 and $22,000 for a UK trip for dh and I with my sister and friend next year. (my reward for lots of hard work scrimping).

    Strangely even though my husband could not rein in his spending for the mortgage payoff goal (even though he does praise me for making it happen) he is fully supportive of me staying home to support him as he works very long hours and finds it hard to face work around the house in his time off as well.

    I would love to leave work at the end of this year but end of next year is probably more realistic and I can't wait to be a homemaker and edible gardener extraodinare lol who gets to travel a bit and have a clean house!

    Rhonda I am claiming my house as a home!

    1. Good for you and congratulations on your Aug 22 achievement.

  25. Wow such interesting reading from so many different perspectives. What are my thoughts on all of this? I believe that no matter what stage of life were at we need to make a conscious choice to enjoy it, be positive and love life. I am 47 years old and I have been married for 27 years. I work full time and I love it and hate it all in the same breath. Life has had so many challenges in it and I have to constantly remind myself not to stress, that things have a way of working out and strangely enough at times I have to remind myself to laugh and smile. I look forward to my future and slowing down I look forward to having more time and energy to help others more often. Life is good!

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  28. I'm a long way off that stage but I know a number of retired people and they are loving life now that things have eased a bit for them.

    My parents-in-law love the sun but as you can appreciate, we don't get much of it here in Ireland. They came into an inheritance a few years back and (after careful consideration) decided to purchase a small apartment in Spain. They alternate between Ireland and Spain, spending a month or two in each country. They live a simple life in Spain - they shop in the local supermarkets, cook their own meals, bring picnics to the beach, enjoy walks along the promenade or to the local park in the evenings.

    When they return to Ireland they catch up with family. They both have lots of brothers and sisters so they love to meet up with their siblings and hear all the news. They also love to spend time with their grandkids. Some of the grandkids are into athletics so they cheer them on when they take part in competitions. One of their granddaughters is into singing and dancing so they came along to her concert recently to watch her perform. They babysit occasionally. They also love quiet days pottering about the house and garden.

    Another older lady (I couldn't possibly call her old as she's a very sprightly individual) is passionate about the arts and gardening. When she retired from paid employment, she took up a voluntary position manning the reception desk at an art gallery. More recently, she volunteered to do gardening work at a stately home. She attends a lot of lectures and art exhibitions and I gather most of them are free. She's also a member of a book club. And she somehow manages to find the time to maintain her beautiful garden.

    When asked, "Well, how are you enjoying your retirement?", they all speak passionately about the joy they get from the lives they are leading now and have no desire to return to paid employment.



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