People who invest the best years of their lives in creating a physical and emotional nest in which to nurture and build the lives of others have a more accurate claim on the term. Those in the construction industry who do the bulldozing, the carpentry, wiring, etc. of residences -- perhaps they should start calling themselves "house-builders" or "residence-builders."
It is high time that mothers who make this investment demand a little more respect. If you identify as the builder of a home -- as someone whose creativity is tied most closely to nurturing your family in a place you call home -- you should at least be permitted to answer the question, "What do you do?" with something precise.
The dated term "housewife" was always a misnomer, more indicative of a kept woman or a kept house. As my mother used to say, "It sounds like a woman married to a house." The term "homemaker" might seem better, but it too has been tainted by the times. It has fallen into disuse, thanks in part to our society's increased contempt for the women who make homes.
Ironically, the emergence of feng shui principles in home decorating and the huge industry of home-organizing are basically updated ways of lending new respect to that old human yearning for nesting and homemaking. Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey and a host of other famous figures have imparted respectability to the work involved in creating a comfortable, efficient, effective home feng shui although not necessarily to the women who choose to do this full-time without pay.
All human beings long for a haven of warmth and comfort away from the indignities of everyday life. Homemakers build such places, and in doing so, they add to the economy in ways often not captured by government statistics. They are invisible wealth creators with a large scale impact on society. They create quality of life for families and communities. They invest in solid relationships -- the lifeblood of any functioning society -- by building happy and healthy childhoods and strong marriages and by instilling principles of good citizenship.
So I say, let's bring the term "homebuilder" home, where it belongs. People who do this work full-time sacrifice a lot and receive little recognition. They deserve whatever title commands the most respect. And if that title becomes tainted with the times, let's stay a step ahead of the culture and invent a new term to replace it. By then, maybe the house-builders will have started calling themselves "homemakers."
In the meantime, I think all stay-at-home parents so-inclined should feel free to fill in the blank with "homebuilder" as occupation -- whether it's for the IRS, the census taker or anyone else who asks.
Happy Mother's Day. And by the way: only one day? Mothers deserve at least a month of recognition, don't you think?
Stella Morabito writes on issues of culture, society and education.