The Forty-First Chart

June 1, 2012

By Ekta R. Garg

One morning during our Memorial Day vacation in San Diego, I went to the dining area of the hotel to play caterer for everyone in Room 256 (i.e. the kids and my husband.)  After eating my own quick breakfast, I gathered everyone’s “orders” and proceeded toward the exit.  On my way out the door, I happened to catch a headline on the morning news: “Stay-at-home moms: More depressed than working moms.”

My gut reaction was, “No kidding,” and I couldn’t keep myself from chortling.  My second reaction was, “Of course we’re depressed, and that’s as far as these news features go.  Call us something as demeaning as ‘stay-at-home mom’ and don’t analyze why we’re depressed; just make the declaration and move on.”

Well, right then and there I decided we should begin a movement.  Those of you women tired of the term “stay-at-home mom”—because you know it really doesn’t do justice to what we are—join me.  I’d like to change the term officially to “domestic engineer.”

I first heard this phrase in connection to my mother.  As a domestic engineer herself, she decided to take some local floral arranging classes to expand her creative talents.  On the first day the instructor asked everyone to introduce herself and say what she did outside of class.  My mother stated her name and said, “Oh, I’m just a housewife.”

“Don’t say that,” her instructor replied immediately.  “You’re not a just a housewife.  You should say you’re a domestic engineer.”

Mom laughed then and later when she told us the story, and yet the term stuck with me through all these years.  And all these years later, I want women everywhere to fully embrace this concept because I think it’s the most apt for what we do today.  We’re not just wives who stay in the house; we’re not just moms who stay at home waiting for the children and the husband to come home.  We do it all.  And it’s time we take ownership of that idea—and the term for it—and stride forward with heads held high and the ingrained idea that everything we do is just as valuable and (yes, I’m going to say it) much harder than a working mother.

Don’t believe that fully immersing yourself in the idea will change your perspective on it?  Let me offer some personal experience on that one.

Almost four years ago I delivered our second daughter and fought to regain my balance about myself as a person, a wife, and a mother.  After enduring about five months of post-partum blues bordering on depression, I eventually managed to work out some workable definitions for the second two labels but not really the first.  I knew I needed to, and I knew if I began writing again it would help—really help.

I started thinking about what I could write and how I should go about it, but I felt like if I didn’t find a tangible motivation I would start writing and then quit.  So I started The Write Edge, originally with the intent to finish my first novel the way it needed to be finished.  My theory went that if readers showed up week after week to read each installment, I would be forced to write those installments.  And that’s exactly what happened.

But that’s not all that happened.  Slowly as I got to know WordPress better and started adding more pages to the blog and expanding, I started taking myself seriously—really seriously.  Not only as a person, but also as a writer.  And now also as an editor and a book reviewer.

The Bollywood news?  Well, that’s more for fun than anything else.

In any case, my experience with The Write Edge taught me a powerful idea: many times what we attempt in life has almost everything to do with our personal perspectives and attitudes.  I take myself seriously as a writer and an editor, and I present myself to new acquaintances as such.  I have fully immersed myself in the idea and I work hard on a daily basis to transform that idea into a reality.  I’m writing and/or editing almost every single day, and on the days I can’t sit down and write on the computer I’m writing in my head.  I am a writer.

I am also a domestic engineer.  I schedule doctor and dentist appointments.  I troubleshoot computers and DVRs.  I run the accounts for our house.  I play chef and chauffeur as the situation demands.  I maintain a physical social network (you know, the kind that requires you to meet with people face to face.)  I singularly oversee and execute the laundry and home cleaning services of our home (i.e. I scrub toilets and fold mountains of underwear and socks.)  I’ve even fixed toilets, and once I installed a screen door.

In this entire list of tasks—and this task most certainly is NOT exhaustive—in this whole list, I don’t see, feel, or do anything that states I simply sit in a chair and wait for the rest of the family to come home so I can serve them.  Was this the state of women at one time in history?  Maybe, although I doubt even their jobs were so simple.  But it certainly isn’t the state of women now.

Do women who work outside the home make valuable contributions to their households?  Absolutely.  Without a doubt.  Some of those women are driven by need—their families require the extra (or, in some cases, primary) income—and some are driven by desire—they’ve put in the time and effort to educate themselves and want to receive the daily gratification of working in a career they love.

But the catch comes right there.  Working mothers have friends and colleagues outside the home who offer them moral support and financial incentives every day to keep going.  At the very least they offer working mothers adult conversation for a majority of the day.

Domestic engineers don’t have the luxury of constant moral support from their peers while they’re wiping noses and scrubbing at the crayon marks on the wall.  We may call and talk to one another from time to time, and we may listen to each other sigh and complain.  But we don’t spend eight hours a day with one another, and every domestic engineer with young children knows the reality: often days or sometimes even weeks can go by without talking to another domestic engineer.

We also don’t have the promise of a promotion at the end of the quarter or the year.  At quarter’s end or year’s end or even decade’s end, we’ll still be domestic engineers, on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year with no sick days and no backup.  We are the chief operating officers of small firms that specialize in personal growth and conflict resolution—and, yes, we have the hardest jobs on the face of the planet.

But we are domestic engineers.  Let’s start a movement to change the way people refer to us and, more importantly, the way we refer to ourselves.  Let’s begin a revolution that makes every domestic engineer hold her head up with pride and say she doesn’t work outside the four walls of her house.

Who’s with me?

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