By Suzan Sammons
Suzan Sammons is a writer, editor, nutrition student, and blundering gardener in southwest Ohio. She is currently in year 17 of what she projects to be a 29-year project called homeschooling.
Early March saw a flurry of tweets from blue-checkmark women bemoaning the looming return of life to its pre-pandemic whirlwind: blazers and heels, carpooling and rushed meals, less time at home and much more on the run. Why does the thought of going back to their old lives frighten these professional women who have staked so much to their careers outside the home?
Importantly, it’s not just high-powered women who are feeling this way. The blue-checkmark tweets were seconded by a multitude of everyday working women. The phenomenon says a lot about where and how women find their joy. It’s just ironic that it took near-imprisonment to lead them to an understanding of what personal freedom really is.
Yes, freedom—that’s the essence of what they’ve found and what they are, naturally, desperate not to lose. They’re free because they’re home.
What professional women found in 2020 was that allocating their own time budget to a greater extent than they probably ever had was truly liberating. The home-based woman simply has more flexibility—more freedom. Maybe, before the blue-checkmark ladies experienced it, they figured a home-based woman like me used that freedom to sit on the couch posting cat videos. Perhaps 2020 gave them a fuller glimpse of reality.
Much too often in recent (and not-so-recent) decades, women have been shunted into predetermined paths by societal “givens” to which they willingly consented. It’s a given that a college-educated woman should retain her paying job outside the home even while her kids are young. It’s a given that life as a stay-at-home mom is comprised of stifling drudgery. It’s a given that children need to attend a brick-and-mortar school, compete in organized sports, and take private music lessons.
Haven’t most of us—even the blue-checkmark types—now admitted that none of that is true? If a virus that rarely even impacted children was important enough to force us to find ways of becoming home-based, doesn’t that show that the “givens” can be abandoned at will?
The response to COVID-19 forced working women home into difficult changes, but as they made these forced adjustments, something unexpected happened. They found the slower pace of life helped them connect with their families more deeply, and more frequently. And the real surprise was how happy this made them, in spite of the upheaval in the outside world.
Women, the heart of the home, are made to foster the deeper connections that happen there; this gift in them is irreplaceable.
So as these women see things getting, perhaps, closer to the way they used to be, it makes sense that they resist losing the ability to provide this gift to their families. Among these women who hesitate to return to their old life, we must encourage their bravery to see the alternatives. If women want to keep the peace and joy they found at home in 2020, they need to start asking the right questions—ones that challenge their own assumptions and those of society.
“I can’t quit my job outside the home.” Why? “We need the money and it’s where I feel valued.” Why? One way to gain money is to need less. Can you get by with less? Have you thought about passive income? Have you considered working part-time? Have you considered working from home permanently? And why did you feel more peace when you were home-based in 2020? Could it be because running your home well and connecting with your family holds more value for you than you thought?
“My kids have to be in school, so I’m bound by the school’s schedule, demands, (and in some cases) tuition.” Why? Did your kids learn at home in 2020? Why can’t they keep doing that?
The best way to move toward a distant goal is to ask yourself how it could be done, rather than convincing yourself that the goal is unreachable. Women who loved being home-based in 2020 should be asking themselves such questions. Can I remain home-based? How could it be done?
We can’t begin with the salaries we think we need, but with our most basic (and egalitarian) resource: time. There are 24 hours in a day. The way we spend them should be governed by our priorities—not those imposed on us by cultural expectations.
In fact, a married couple should begin their life-decision-making processes at that most basic level: together, they have 336 hours in a week. How should those hours be allocated? Is it really necessary to devote 100 or more of them to a W-2 job? Can we put less there and still meet our basic needs? What do our most basic needs cost and how do we pay for them?
Handing on the Faith to our children can not be purchased with cash. It can only be purchased with time. The privilege of helping an aging parent in his final years can not be purchased with cash but only with time. Guiding our children’s growth with the diligence the task deserves may require some cash, but it mostly needs our loving attention.
Of course we must provide for food, shelter, and other necessities, but so often we have convinced ourselves we need more than we actually do. And we’ve become blind to ways even the most basic needs can be met through creative means. Oftentimes, the creative means need less cash, but more time.
It’s the home-based woman who has the most time, harried though she may look to the outsider. She has the most time because all of her time is her own. Yes, she pours it into others—husband, children, extended family, community, and perhaps she works from home. But she is the sole determiner of the when and the how, and that is a key link for her inner and her exterior freedom.
Today’s home-based woman is no 1950s stereotype. You want to work? Be your own boss—be a contractor. You don’t want to be bound to a school’s restrictions? Let your children learn at home, at least in part. Cooperative learning, home-based charter schools, distance learning, and streamlined homeschool curricula cost your family much less time (and, often, money) than traditional education.
Let us not squander the riches we’ve found in the last year for what we now know does not truly satisfy. Instead of turning away from your unique, God-designed gifts as a woman, lean into them. Be in the home.
Hasn’t the age finally arrived (again) for women to be masters of their own time?