Housewives Were Lazy And I Know All You Stay At Home Moms Would Agree

152405785All Joy And No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. It’s a book that’s been all over parenting sites of late and I have put it on my list. In in, Jennifer Senior writes about the impact children have on their parent’s lives.

I listened to her NPR interview about the book today and she makes a point that I find really interesting, about what it means to stay home with kids today – and what it used to mean:


In the 1960s if you stayed home with your kids, what were you? You were a “housewife.” You focused on your house. You didn’t focus on your kids. You focused on your house. Your house had to be clean. You had to master the differences between oven cleaners and floor waxes and stuff that made your wood nice and shiny, but you put your kids in a playpen, that’s what you did.

And now if you stay home with your kids, you are a “stay-at-home mom,” you focus on your kids. You are a professional mom and you focus on the right toys for your kids, the right educational things for your kids.

How true is this? I often think about the parenting my parents did, and the parenting that we are expected to do today – they’re not the same thing at all. Yes, my mom was amazing and she cooked and kept the house clean and was there for us, but the life of a child was so different.

I was walking myself home from kindergarten. By the time I was in second grade I was a latchkey kid taking care of myself after school for hours until anyone got home. Our childhoods were spent either with other kids or entertaining ourselves. The idea of our parents needing to play any part in the day-to-day besides keeping a roof over our heads and feeding us was foreign. No one thought about that. You were doing an okay job if your kids were fed, clothed and got to school on time. I can count on my fingers the number of times my parents even looked at my homework.

Today? Forget about it. It’s not just SAHM’s and dads who are parenting to exhaustion, it’s working parents, too. Somewhere in the past few decades we’ve collectively decided that kids need our constant supervision and direction. When and how did this happen? When did parenting become an extreme sport?

My mother wasn’t lazy – at all. Our house was clean, she always looked immaculate, there was always dinner ready – and she worked full time. I’m just saying that I know for a fact she did not fret about parenting all day or analyze it the way we do today. We were clean, fed and healthy and if we weren’t at school we were out of the house until night fell.

Can we bring back that parenting style, please?

(photo: Getty Images)

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  • Paul White

    stay at home lazy? WTF? I’m at home today with a sick kid. Not lazy
    lot sof exhausting and breathing treatments and antiobotics and vomit

    • Maria Guido

      Paul! You didn’t read the article. I’m at home with a sick kid too – by the way. It sucks.

    • Paul White

      oh, I knew it wasn’t ya’ll writing an article arguing that. I Just saw a bit of red :X I mean jeez. Kids ain’t easy.

      Particularly mine…he got my damn power drill from under the mattress and was chasing around the ohouse with it, while coughing his lungs out…how does a sick kid have this much energy?

    • Lee

      You keep a power drill under the mattress? Do a lot of drilling in bed?

    • Paul White

      not a ton of storage space in a 1000 square foot house :)

    • Lee

      That is a much better answer than what I was imagining. I was thinking either it’s something kinky or personal protection.

    • Paul White

      Kinky? I’m not kinky at all. My sexual life is 100% normal.

      (right? handcuffs ar enormal right?)

    • Lee

      Handcuffs are incredibly normal compared to a power drill. Do you keep your handcuffs under the kitchen sink? :)

    • Maria Guido


    • pixie

      I nearly choked on my drink, laughing at all the places my dirty mind was taking me, if that makes you feel better. :P

  • Robotic Arms Dealer

    I think every previous generation can say that about the next generation.

    I mean, I don’t see you churning your own butter Maria! HUH? Where’s my homemade butter???

  • TwentiSomething Mom

    I think there is so much pressure to be the perfect parent now that we can see how other parents parent. Between seeing the fancy preschools other people can afford to send their kids, structured activities, crafts and homemade organic everything we see what other people do and may feel inadequate if we can’t do the same for our kids (at least in my case).

    Now it seems to be the norm not to fix yourself up (me), have clutter (me) and eat leftover lasagna for 3 days in a row (me again)

    • Paul White

      leftovers? We don’t have leftovers.
      But that’s because I seem to be mentally incapable of not eating it ALL regardless of how much it is

    • TwentiSomething Mom

      If we do that at my house we just won’t eat the other days.

    • val97

      With teen and tween boys, we no longer have leftovers at my house. It’s terrible.

    • Heather

      I think you hit the nail on the head. The more parents see about how other parents do it, the more they think they shoud/could do it better. But it isn’t just mother against mother, it’s on a much grander scale. We expect more out of our kids as a nation because we compare our kids to kids of other countries. So we are changing what we expect out of teachers and parents. If your kid can’t read BEFORE kindergarten now you’re behind. And while kids are capable of the skills and thus they pick it up, why is it “better” that we are pushing kids and parents to these extremes? Some of the greatest minds in history had “educational deficiencies” of some kind, either lack of schooling or learning obstacles. So, obviously this push to make our kids better and more isn’t absolutely necessary. It is absolutely necessary to keep our kids healthy and safe. It is absolutely necessary to ensure they have the opportunities to teach themselves (get off their backs and let them explore their world some) and it is absolutely necessary to let them know that WHEN they fail, we will be there to help them pick up the pieces and try again.

  • ted3553

    I’m confused with this article. The quote off the interview is based on a SAHM who’s home with her kids but your examples are all once you’ve headed off to school and therefore not at home with a parent all day. I think my grandmother who stayed home with all of her children would argue that she worked hard with a gaggle of kids at home and it wasn’t only on housework. I do however agree that parents today seem to be trying to one up each other with how involved they are with their kids. I used to see it working as a lifeguard when we had kids who were 6 & 7 coming in by themselves and one lady used to bring her 10 and 11 year olds in and help them get changed. Really? at 10 and 11?

  • pixie

    Back when my parents were growing up (a little bit before your time, but probably similar, my parents are 58) there also tended to be tighter knit communities. At least in my dad’s neighbourhood everyone knew everyone. So even if the neighbourhood kids were being hooligans and playing in the streets, there was always someone’s mom watching through the window. So if the Jones’ window got broken by a baseball, at least three mothers would know who the culprit was and were sure to tell the kid’s own mother.

  • Bethany Ramos

    My only question is… Do you think the fact that parents are trying harder today will make for a more in tune parenting generation? I know everyone has a different childhood, but friends and I talk a lot about how our parents’ generation seems to be more checked out. So maybe there is a positive side to all of this where parents today could possibly be closer to their kids? I know it’s not the same for everyone, but I hope that for myself.

    • Gangle

      I don’t know.. My mother was a SAHM when I was small, but when my little brother and I both entered school she rejoined the workforce. I do remember spending time with my mum, but I don’t remember lots of daily organised activities together. I would play on the floor while she did the ironing, or the kids would play outside while she cleaned. We would sit up at the kitchen table and chat her head off while she prepared dinner. My mother was a nurse so often we were latch-key kids in the afternoons, and occasionally in the mornings we would have to get ourselves off to school. I wouldn’t say my parents were ever checked out. They just didn’t base their day around organising special activities for us to do.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Totally individual, but I guess I see more parents that weren’t that involved (my mom admits) and also grandparents that feel like their kid days are long over (my in-laws). It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. :( I just want to be close/balanced with my kids in the future!

    • Gangle

      And that is a fair and valid point! I think any parent worth their salt agonises over doing a good job and finding the right balance. We are expecting our first, and we are already freaking out and agonising over what kind of parents we will be, and if that will be good enough.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Good luck! Wish I had some secrets for you. ;)

    • Gangle

      Thank you! So far all the parents I have talked to let me in on the one big secret: They didn’t/don’t know what they are doing either!

    • Andrea

      SSHhhhhhhhhh! LOL

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      I think the time moms USED to spend cleaning is now spent internetting…I for one am now on Mommyish, not active parenting. I mean, they’re around, but I’m not playing. So time is still spent in the room and not actively together, just how the time is spent has changed.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Better trade!

  • Lee

    I keep wondering if it is not so much the rise of technology but parents insisting their children be supervised constantly that children are so into screen time. People used to let their kids out to play while they got stuff done around the house. With the way things are now if mom is busy inside then the kids are stuck inside too. The kids I used to nanny for never wanted to go out and it seemed like they had very little imagination. I always had to coax them out. My parents pushed me out the door to play. The boy is still little but I wonder what decisions I will make regarding him being on our street playing alone when he is older.

  • Andrea

    It happened when women started having children later in life, AFTER they had a fulfilling career and then quit to raise the kids. Cleaning house is not all that challenging, but ah, raising a kid? That’s a competitive sport! All that energy and talent and smarts were channeled into the kids instead of a career.
    And please don’t slam me about this. I have been guilty of it myself. And I am not saying this applies to everyone now. But that’s where it came from.

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      Excellent point.

    • SarahJesness

      Could be it. I think another contribution favor, is advancement in housework technologies and tools. Cleaning in the 50′s, 60′s, was more work than it is now, I’m told. (ya’ll can correct me if I’m wrong)

    • Alfreda Wells Morrissey

      True but my mom would take the windows out and clean the corners of the tracks out with q-tips regularly. I think I have cleaned my windows in place once since living in this house (over 7 years). I am not sure I even got every window. She also cleaned her floor on her hands and knees. I use a mop, mops were invented when she cleaned her floors she just thought it wasn’t clean enough. Her standards are way, way higher than mine and that is not just because I work outside the home while she was home all day. I look at life differently than she did. If I clean the floor, it will take me 20 min, but will only be clean for 5. If I ignore the food on the floor I can play uno with my daughter for 20 min and that is more fun and time better spent. My mother would have cleaned the floor, then yelled at us when it got dirty 5 min later, then cleaned it again, then yell at us some more until we were terrified to dirty it again. It would stay clean but we hated her and were terrified of her.

    • rrlo

      It is also more acceptable to have a sloppy house. I know I certainly feel no guilt over it… I guess it was different a few generations ago (at least according to television).

  • anonymous

    “Can we bring that parenting style, please?” Jesus, why are you asking (other than your bloggerhood depends on it)? This focus on the pressures of being the perfect parent are only as important as the credence you lend to it. Okay, going off to do my own thing…I suggest you do the same.

    • Frances Locke

      I think it was a hypothetical question. Welcome to the Internet.

    • anonymous

      While admittedly, I was not as delicate in my comment as I maybe could (or should) have been, it’s exactly the prevalence of these hypothetical questions on which the so-called “mommy wars” are based. I have friends who drive themselves up the wall every day over some perceived slight or judgment from the parenting community at large that I question even exists. When you cut out Pinterest, self-selected mommy blogs, and don’t invite judgment in your home via unsupportive friends you probably should have cut out years ago, it makes it much easier to do you own thing. Obviously, I’m not angry at a blogger or the interwebz, I’m just frustrated at the people who internalize it as if the real people in your real life have the time to care whether or not your baby is wearing organic poo pads.

  • K.

    Am I the only person who is fine relying on daycare to do the art projects and the storytelling and the “wash your hands before mealtimes” sort of stuff,–and who also secretly thinks that if a lot of her friends did the same thing too, they AND their kids would BOTH be a lot happier?

    Maria, I grew up kind of like you–us kids pretty much ran around outside and only came in to eat or like, when we got sick. I watch some of my friends playing with their preschoolers and stuff and realize that I can NEVER remember a time that either of my parents supervised us playing, let alone played WITH us. I never felt bothered by it–in fact, I think I liked it because I could be completely uninhibited–it was my time to be a kid!

    • Brainspace

      I am an only child and the ONLY times I remember my parents playing with me was when my mom would drag out the dreaded flashcards and do math/reading practice. Other than that I was climbing through the woods for hours on end.

      And the flashcard drills were at an age-appropriate level. I wasn’t on Baby Einstein shit at 2 months old.

      Senior made some really important points about parents demanding that kids entertain themselves. I think that’s a big reason why I’m independent now; I didn’t grow up expecting that people roll over and make me laugh.

    • jendra_berri

      Yeah, the daycare did that for me. Really took a lot off my mother’s plate. She had concerns as a single mom, but she was not a stress case.

  • Lala

    Also nowadays there are more places to compare parenting styles etc I.e. This website, mom blogs, Pinterest. Back in the day before the internetz people definitely still judged each other but it wasn’t probably discussed as much. Were there mommy wars back then?

  • K Jones

    My mother was a SAHM until I was in middle school. As a child, it wasn’t uncommon for her to open the door and say “go play with your friends” and not expect to see us until dinner time. I have no idea what she did all day. Our house wasn’t even that clean and we were taught to do our own laundry from an early age.

  • jendra_berri

    If you want my personal theory, Perfect All-consuming motherhood ideals are society’s way of trying to get women back at home and out of the workplace. Old beliefs die hard.
    Breastfeed for three, six months? Pfft, you should do it a year! Two years!
    Those play pens you mentioned? Nope, that’ll free up your time, which can be used for things like enjoying some freedom of movement during the day, so you should not use one. Daycares? Aren’t they harmful? Isn’t that someone else raising your child?
    The house used to be enough to keep a woman home. Make that house sparkle. We’re judging you! Now appliances can zip through tasks, products can degrease your home quickly, and the child is the only thing left to make perfect with all that free time you now have. But how to convince women this must be so? Tell them it’s their job to stimulate their children’s minds and make them feel loved at all times. No short cuts. Full.Time.Job.
    I think it’s the Feminine Mystique 2.0. It never really died, it just went somewhat dormant and re-emerged with a new coat of paint, that gradient kind you’ve seen on Pintrest.
    There will always be willing homemakers with the skill and love for the work, and now there’s less work involved with the cleaning aspect of it so that energy has to go somewhere. And why not the children? But let’s be serious, it sorta sets the bar higher for the rest of us, plus other homemakers who struggle with feeling like they have to justify staying at home with all the stuff they’re doing for the kids. And then we all feel like we have to explain ourselves because, really, our culture seems to require that of us. That and fucking Dr. Sears. Hate that guy.

    • Kat

      I agree 100%. This reminds me of Strasser’s “Never Done,” the thesis of which is essentially that advances in technology never made women’s work easier, because it made the standards by which they were judged that much higher. And I think in this automated, roomba-filled, automatic oven-cleaning world, it’s not enough to have a sparkling clean house, but you must also fill it with pinterest-worthy crafts and adorable photos of your children that you photoshopped yourself. Because of course, if you didn’t put it on facebook for your other mom “friends” to see, did it ever really happen at all?

  • AP

    I also suspect that some of the difference between “housewives” and “moms” is that technology has made a lot of the housewifery extinct. Stoves are self-cleaning, refrigerators are self-defrosting, vacuums are light and portable, washer/dryers require almost no work on the part of the person doing the laundry, non-stick pots don’t require scrubbing, clothes don’t need to be constantly ironed, dishwashers exist. No one has to shovel coal into the furnace to keep the house warm, lawns can be mowed with gas mowers instead of push mowers, etc.

    That’s a lot of extra time on a housewife’s hands.

    • Abbe

      I wish housewifery was extinct. All the moms I know, working or not, still spend a great deal of time cleaning. I remember helping my mom clean, and with the exception of the dishwasher it’s essentially the same. Bathtubs don’t scrub themselves.

    • Sarah

      This! Women used to spend so.much.time just in ironing, according to my mom and mil and grandmas. And their irons weren’t what ours are, either. My husband’s grandma had eight kids, and according to all of them, she spent every effing afternoon ironing all their school clothes. At least by the end of her parenting career she had tv to keep her company, but good lord. So much busywork. I haven’t turned on my iron in six months.

  • koolchicken

    I’d love to bring back that style of parenting, or at least some version of it. But according to the witches on BabyCenter if you have a clean home you’re not enough of a martyr- oops, I mean mother. Apparently the 12 hours a day I have as a stay at home mum/ housewife isn’t enough to cook, clean, and play with my kid so he must sit neglected.

    So until we can stop the rampant competition for “Martyr of the Year” this style of parenting will never see a resurgence. Well, apart from us neglectful rebels who believe in letting our kids have two to three unsupervised minutes at a time…

  • Alfreda Wells Morrissey

    My mom was the perfect housewife, and until reading your article I resented it. She had no idea how to parent. The only time she paid any attention to us was to yell at me for making a mess or fighting with my sister. You are right though, that is what the expectation was.

    Then I wonder, how did she do it? I can’t even pee without my kids calling me. They cannot play on their own. If I leave them for 5 minutes they start to fight. We would be terrified to disturb my mother. My kids are just not at all scared of me. They feel entitled to take all my time, take the food off my plate, basically take anything they want. How do we balance.

    I definitely think I have a better relationship with my kids, and they did play all day by themselves at daycare. Maybe they just missed me all day and now they are trying to cram the days worth of love into me in a couple of hours.

  • Kelly

    Doesn’t it have something to do with safety, now, though? I’d be MORE than happy letting my kids play outside 24/7 – and we are outside, a lot, and they are independent on the playground or park, a lot. But the thought of some weirdo grabbing my kid and flying off into the night is always in the back of my head, so I have trouble letting him out of my sight. Not that I’m helicoptering, but I do have to be more vigilant in my kid’s whereabouts than my parents ever did.

    • Sarah

      No kidding. My husband is always yammering on about how I’m too overprotective because I don’t let our kids run wild in our quiet suburban neighborhood (the older two are eight and six) and how when he was little he got to enjoy his childhood and freedom and whatever. But let’s be clear: that was thirty years ago, and he lived way out in the country and had ten acres to roam on without ever encountering another human being. We live a different life! I try to get my kids outside and playing on their own whenever I can, but no, I’m not going to shove them out the door every summer morning and expect not to see them again until lunch, sorry. Too many weirdos, too many cars on the road. Also: kids are dumb. Maybe they’d wise up sooner if left to their own devices more often, but I’d rather not be the parent in the ER with a kid who got hit by a car in my own neighborhood because I wasn’t paying any attention to them!

  • val97

    My mother was a sahm, but she sent us all to the neighborhood nursery
    school for crafts and songs and story time. I don’t remember her doing
    any kind of organized play. We ran wild. Of course, I almost died at age
    11 when I fell out of a tree, but other than that… oh yea, and one of
    my sisters accidentally on purpose hit my other sister with a ax… and
    my neighbor broke both her legs when she and her brother were in an
    epic battle on top of a jungle gym.

    Maybe I idealize my old school childhood too much :)

  • Tardis

    Pretty sure if you let a kindergartner walk home by himself today or let a 7 year old play outside all day unsupervised someone would call the cops and you’d be arrested. It’s different from when we were kids.

  • Alex Lee


    That’s the automated, self-directed vacuuming robot by iRobot. When they first came out, they cost $1,000 and many people scoffed. “Why should I pay that much when I can vacuum myself?”. However, as the product gained acceptance and the price came down, people started changing their opinions – the voices of their wallets were heard.

    We’re not that far from even further degrees of automated home care. What will happen in a few generations when androids start doing a BETTER job of cooking, cleaning, shopping, and, yes, caring for and educating our children? If we’re considering an additional $15,000 to the cost of our automobile to make it self-driving, what cost might we put on a Rosie-the-Robot?

    Time will tell whether a child raised with android-assistance will lead to perfect SAT scores.

    Can parents compete with a device that has the entire collective of parenting knowledge at its disposal? Will this future-bot turn parenting into a videogame where good decisions are rewarded with status points? Will the artificial intelligence recognize what issues mom and dad compromise on? Would we accept being told we’re mediocre parents by something that has more in common with the toaster than with the guy two doors down?

    The day may return where kids can roam the neighborhood freely until dinnertime. Mom and Dad might not be watching, but someone or something will be – just for peace of mind…maybe.

  • radicalhw

    Your guesses for what the next generation of moms (or dads! oh please let there be more dads) at home with children will be called? Residential Dwelling CEOs?

  • Rachel Sea

    My mom was unhealthily obsessed with my well-being when I was a kid, but she very rarely played with me, it didn’t matter whether my toys were educational, and she was certainly never bothered about whether I was sufficiently entertained. If I get to have kids, I’m sure I’m going to be largely in that camp. I love a good game of catch, or tag, or Monopoly, but I don’t have imaginative play in me anymore, and frankly I’d rather any kid of mine had friends their own age.

  • One Funny Motha

    I only wish. In fact that is one of my biggest challenges & frustrations as a parent & why I started my blog & founded the Detached Parent Movement (currently I am the only member). B/c even if you don’t give in to this parenting culture, everyone else has & you find yourself on the outside w/ your kids who have no one to play w/ b/c everyone is at gymnastics or dance class or football practice. Great piece.

  • Smishsmash

    I feel like the stakes are so much higher today. In the 50s-80s, people has the general expectation that their kids were going to do better than them. You could be a half ass parent and your kids would still get a good education and a good job. Even if your kid was a deadbeat, you could count on the community and social safety net to take care of them. The last decade blew that out of the water. Now kids grow up to an uncertain employment future, crippling debt, the fear that one wrong Internet photo could expose you to bullying from millions, half the country who would rather someone die in the streets than pay one red cent in taxes for a “moocher,” god knows what. Over parenting is your insurance policy. Your way of trying to buy your kids a way to the increasingly uncertain goal of a decent life one session of homework help at a time.

  • Jessica Johnson

    I’ve often wondered what to write on all those school forms where it asks for my “occupation”. Do I write Housewife or Stay At Home Mom? This article solved that dilemma for me.
    I am definitely a Housewife.
    I thought that might be the case, as I’ve always been wife first in my head, mother second. The kids will grow up and leave me one day. Ideally, my husband won’t, so it’s made more sense to me to focus my talents there. Well, there and on me. I’ll be with me as long or longer than my husband will.

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