From Homemaker to Social Activist

Recently I found out that Frank had been putting my career as homemaker on our tax forms for the past six years. When I found out, I did not love that title. In his defense, apparently, this is an accepted phrase that won’t get your return flagged by the IRS. I pushed back against this antiquated term – I’m so much more than a simple homemaker!

51BEYPk-dtLWhen asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my childhood answers ranged from nurse to missionary to artist to teacher. I wasn’t limited by the realities involved in pursuing a vocation and I loved dreaming of all the things I could do. I always assumed I’d be a mother because that’s what most women in my life were.

And yet, when I read books, I identified with the characters who dreamed big dreams and pursued artistic careers. I wanted to go on adventures and live an exciting life. I never connected with the quieter characters, even if they more reflected who I was – and am.

When I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, I, of course, imagined myself to be most like the character of Jo. Partly because she’s the story’s protagonist and partly because she’s the sister who accomplishes it all. She travels (though not as she imagined she would), she pursues a career, and she gets married in the end. Unlike housewifely Meg, sickly Beth, and flighty Amy, Jo seemed to grapple with all the things I could imagine myself working through those same issues.

I look at my life now and see myself most in the character of Meg, staying home with the girls, struggling with my own high expectations of these years, trying to figure out what it means to live a domestic life well. In the story, Meg is the responsible oldest sister who follows the path laid out for her. Though she doesn’t marry a wealthy man, she does marry someone who befriends her parents and is approved by all. She is content living close to her parents and figuring out life as a wife and mother.

As I reflect on these characters, I suppose I have a bit of each sister in me. These days, I do identify most with Meg. When I was living abroad, Amy’s homesickness and exploration resonated with my experience. As I dabble in the world of writing and pursuing creative dreams, Jo’s experience of finding her own story hits home in so many ways. And, though I love to venture out and explore, I also love creating a safe space for our girls, just as Beth dreamed of.

Reflecting on these characters makes me want to go back and reread this story before my own girls are old enough to experience it. It’s been years since I’ve read this classic and I wonder how my perspective would shift if I read it as a mother. Would I see the world through Marmee’s eyes more clearly? How would I respond to Jo’s hopeless romanticism?

Frank just filed our taxes again and told me he changed my occupation to unpaid social activist. Maybe I have a little of Jo’s feistiness and desire to change the world after all.

Have you read Little Women? Which sister did you most identify with? Is there a character you imagined you’d grow up to be like?

A (1)This post is Day 4 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the A Literary Life. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

15 thoughts on “From Homemaker to Social Activist

  1. I never read Little women. But I did start to read it with my daughter. It did not strike a cord with her and we abandoned it. She seems to be in a fantasy stage with her reading. She is more into Percy Jackson type stuff. We did read the Anne of Green Gables series and she loved it. Timing, It is all timing I guess.

  2. The best thing about being a homemaker (and there’s not much simple about that role) is that you can be all of the things you dreamed – artist, nurse, teacher. missionary and so much more. You are that!

  3. Many in my generation (including myself) rebelled against the homemaking lifestyles of our stay-at-home mothers. Now, in my mid-60’s, I see “homemaking” as a fine art that I aspire to rather than reject.

    1. I love the idea of making a home – I do think it’s beautiful. I just don’t like that it defines my “profession.” (According to the IRS!) I suppose it’s hard to put anything onto one line though, isn’t it?

  4. Being a home maker is an improvement on being a house wife. Who in the world marries a house? Over the years I played with my identity, home maker, home educator, unpaid chauffeur, activities coordinator, medical case manager( try to avoid that one), the job changes as the children grow and you grow. Unpaid social activist is a wonderful identity and maybe one day your job will go away as the problems are solved.

  5. I identify with Jo’s temper and love of writing, eagerness to travel and see more of the world. Definitely identify with Meg’s ‘homemaking’ and love for husband and kids. I love Beth’s heart for the vulnerable and wish I were more like her in that respect (also wish I had Amy’s charm and dress sense :)).

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