Defining A "Housewife"

A woman journalist interviewed me about working women who quit their jobs to take care of their children. She asked on the phone, “So what do housewives like you do all day long?”

Taken aback, I explained that a ‘housewife’ works all day long to clean, cook and take care of family. She is very busy and she works hard. There is also a growing number of women who work to generate cash from home while they take care of the family. So they get to balance their work life with home life.

I thought she understood what I meant. She insisted on seeing me in my house to see what I do. As soon as she sat down, she asked me earnestly, “So don’t you feel bored doing nothing all day long?”

This time, I burst out laughing.

It was very FUNNY!

Perhaps I’ve become cynical.

I’ve been asked these questions for the last eleven years, since I started to work from home after the birth of my daughter. It was a conscious choice that a modern mother made. It hasn’t made me a lesser woman. Instead, it has enabled me to gain valuable perspectives and knowledge about life, and myself.

My daughter and I have a very good bonding. I’m her role model for work and discipline. Family values are imparted onto her, not through formal classes, but through me - the mother who is her friend, her clown and her big teddy bear.

The flexible work hours enable me to be there for her at critical moments -when she feels hurt as the entire class is punished for a few boys’ naughtiness; when she wants hugs after falling down; when she needs affirmation of what she has accomplished.

Mothers from the eHomemakers network have complained about the slights and deep-seated prejudice against us. The perception that we’re either ladies of leisure, or women who failed in our careers and so become homemakers, is strong. We’ve been labeled “failures” and “backward.”

For those with a university education, these incredulous questions are posed, “Why do you waste your education to be a housewife?” “You could earn more money with an education! Isn’t earning money more important than taking care of your family?”

We’re stunned. Why would anyone want to ask us questions like these? Can’t a woman choose how she wants to work and live?

For one thing, not all women who make ‘home’ a priority are wives. There are single mothers, widows and single women who willingly quit fulltime jobs to take care of elderly parents or siblings who are ill. The term ‘housewife’, said in a derogatory manner, can indeed hurt. Very much.

For some who are married, their husbands and mothers-in-law are the ones giving them the hardest time for ‘doing nothing at home’, even though they take care of the family and generate some income with whatever they can do.

A homemaker recently told me tearfully why she had to go back to fulltime work. Her mother-in-law and husband had been ridiculing her about ‘wasting her time’ although she brought in about half the total household income through her consultancy work. Moreover, she cooked, cleaned and took care of three kids herself.

At a talk in the university, a student asked me, "You have been writing about women's issues and empowering women with positive thoughts, yet you choose to be a housewife? Why do you give up your women’s right to be a career woman and stay in the house?"

I laughed, “Do you mean that advocating women’s rights means I should dump my kid to someone else?”

Empowering a woman is to give her self-confidence and options to choose from. If she chooses to love her family first, it's her prerogative. No one should condemn her, let alone tell her that she has fewer rights than those who work full-time outside.

In social functions, I notice that if I tell people, “I'm a homemaker”, it is the professional women who politely turn away and never talk to me again until the host or hostess mentions the United Nations career that I used to have!

Homemaking is indeed not a noble profession here.

Perhaps, one day, the economic contribution of homemakers will be counted in the Gross National Product statistics and we will be cheered for our contribution.

But for now, homemakers must not give up taking care of children and family members, no matter what others think.

And even if we’re single and no one cares to celebrate occasions like Mother’s Day with us, we must still celebrate by telling ourselves, “I am the best!”

By Chong Sheau Ching


  1. Love your article!!!
    I am a HOME MAKER and I am proud of it. I have a degree in Architecture & currently have a small baking business from home.
    Yes, I got ridiculed a lot for having a degree & did not work but I just ignored those comments. They don't live my life. I love watching my kids grow up right in front of my eyes...experience each and every step they took. They are independent & intelligent kids who helps out with houseworks.


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