When I was reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I was particularly satisfied with the explanation given by Joel Salatin regarding what constituted humane treatment of farm animals. Joel raises chickens, pigs, and cattle for meat. The slaughter part is dealt with nicely in this chapter of the book, but what I loved was Joel’s “recipe” for happy, healthy farm animals: keep them as close to their natural state as possible. Let them do what they were designed to do. For cattle, this means grazing. For chickens, this means digging in the soil for worms and grubs, for pigs this means rooting around for corn and other goodies. I thought it was a very succinct way of explaining what makes an animal happy: An animal is happy when it is allowed to do what its instincts tell it to do.
Lately I have been thinking about what makes me happy these days. I’m finding, much to my surprise, that I’ve been truly enjoying my “domestic duties” around the home. I discovered baking a while back and have recently increased my production. It’s a great way to get rid of overripe bananas, to get some green veggies into my kids (zucchini) and, as I’ve just discovered today, a great way to get rid of a bunch of carrots that are just starting to wilt (carrot muffins are in the oven as I write this).
I’m finding that I’m happy puttering about my house, doing laundry and tidying up. This has come as a huge surprise to me, as it would anybody who knew me before I had kids. I was most definitely NOT the picture of a homemaker. Not only were my domestic skills sorely lacking, but I was on a professional career path and considered homemaking to be the ultimate expression of feminine inequality and submissiveness.
My attitudes towards motherhood and homemaking have changed considerably since I had children and became a SAHM. I’m finding these roles fulfilling in all sorts of ways. And it occurred to me the other day that perhaps my deep sense of happiness and fulfillment stems from the fact that I am in my natural element, being allowed to do what my instincts tell me to do. For tens of thousands (and probably hundreds of thousands) of years, women had a role as mothers, nurturers, gatherers, cooks, and keepers of the household (whatever form that took).
This is not to say that all women would be happy in this role, nor that women should not persue “non-traditional” roles. In fact, I’m a true believer in sequencing (having it all, but not all at once) and wish the concept was taught to girls in their teens so that they might consider it when planning for their future. I am also aware that such things as maternal instinct are not present in all women, all the time. Instead, maternal instinct waxes and wanes during times of plenty and times of scarcity – which includes not just “famine or feast”, but emotional and socioeconomic stability as well (for a fascinating study of this read Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s book Mother Nature: maternal instincts and how they shape the human species),
In my journey as a mother I have found both motherhood and the role of stay-home-mom to be feminist issues, in contrast to how they have been portrayed through the latter half of the twentieth century – as a setback for all womenkind. I think what was missing all along was the recognition that women have power in these roles. We have instincts that make us uniquely suited to these roles. Both modern medicine and modern “parenting experts” have frequently failed to recognize the value of feminine and maternal instinct (consider the practice of “crying it out” to sleep train an infant – a practice that considers the maternal instinct to respond to and comfort a crying infant as a hysterical, irrational reaction that will permanently damage the child’s emotional well being). Or the instinctual habits of the cosleeping mother and infant (everything from positioning to sleep cycle regulation), which are completely ignored by those suggesting that a mother’s body is little more than a potential instrument of death waiting to smother her sleeping babe.
All of this is to say that I believe my fulfillment as a mother and “keeper of my home” stems from the fact that I’m being allowed to express myself in my natural element. I guess that makes me as happy as Joel’s chickens!