When I was in 7th grade, my school started a new extracurricular activity for girls only. We would meet during our lunch period, and have special woman visitors come and speak about their lives, their jobs, and what it meant to be a woman. The sole purpose of the group was to encourage young girls to think of themselves as special- special in their own ways, with their own talents, and their own gifts, free to pursue those gifts in any way they decided. I joined. I didn't want to sit by myself in a cafeteria full of boys.
This idea of being "special" has really got us duped. I don't mean to say we don't have different gifts and talent, most assuredly, we do. But we've taken this notion of specialty a bit too far. So far, in fact, that we now think that it takes it special kind of woman to stay at home, caring for it and her family. And that taking care of the children, house, and husband require special tools to make up for the gifts we lack.
Think of all the products we bring into the home to make up for our lack of talents-- magazines divulging the secrets the child-rearing and husband-pleasing, special mops and brooms promising to clean the floors better than the old varieties, packaged meals pledging to bring a tasteful, healthy entree to your dinner table--all because we believe that only a special woman could figure out how to do everything a house and home require, and we are not that woman.
It's no wonder that women are running from their homes and families so quickly. When we're frustrated that our children pester us all day, mess our floors moments after mopping, and interrupt us when the dinner's almost finished causing it to burn, it's easy to look longingly at the neighborhood's We-Have-All-The-Answers! Child Daycare Center and dream of picking up take-out on the commute home from a job where children won't interrupt us. But if an ordinary woman decides she'll stay home, she most certainly must invest in expensive equipment and purchase the specialized knowledge of child psychologists, or she will be a failure.
What we've forgotten is that ordinary women have been doing these ordinary tasks for centuries without Parents magazine, Swiffer Wet Jets, and Voila! dinner entrees. I'm not saying these products are bad, in and of themselves. They can most certainly be helpful in a pinch, and stave off frustration from time to time. But what they've caused us to believe is that women, on their own, aren't sufficient to be running a household- that failure isn't acceptable. But to look back through history, we must acknowledge that ordinary women have been gardening, sewing, washing, quilting, cooking, nursing, pie-making, and canning. They did it, not because they had been granted some unique insight on the workings of needle and thread, garden fertilizer, stain-fighting, or food preservation, but because their families needed blankets and shirts, food in their stomachs, and a place to eat that wasn't crawling with larvae. And their husbands were busy making sure they could give their wives the tools they needed to carry out their tasks.
Now certainly every woman wasn't accomplishing every feat with the same amount of success. Some were better stitchers, others made prize-winning pies. Some were regarded as exceptional mothers, others grew beautiful produce. But these woman continued to do the things their families needed them to do, even if they didn't do it very well, and they passed on their skills to their daughters, so that when their time came, they too could run their households.
Today's homes do not require more of a woman than they did before. In many ways, they require less. They do not require any more exclusive skills or knowledge than they used to, though my great-great-grandmother may have stared questioningly at my dishwasher and marveled at the frozen chicken breasts in my freezer. Homes ask one thing of women, as they have in the past: that they be there, doing they best they can to care for their families. For it is in the home that a woman becomes special-special to her children and her spouse, not because of the work she does, but because she does it.