OUTSOURCING PARENTHOOD?: Aarty Punjabi with her two children during a typical day. Aarty has decided to be the one to establish culture and family values to her kids.
In Defense of the Full-Time Homemaker
Though indispensable to strong, healthy families and a stable society,
homemakers are under-appreciated, disdained and misunderstood
THURSDAY MORNING. ALANKRITA GUJADHUR, a homemaker in Floreal, Mauritius, has a hectic day ahead as she makes plans for an elaborate dinner party this evening for a few important clients of her husband. She needs to grocery shop, then head off to the farmers’ market, and make sure she takes the dog for its vet appointment. She does all the errands herself so that her husband can relax when he gets home, allowing him to focus on being the breadwinner. Both spouses find that her being at home allows him to thrive in the workplace, secure in the thought that the family is safe and taken care of. He can take on more responsibility, work late and travel whenever needed, without having to worry about finding time for that school meeting. He finds that weekends are actually relaxing, instead of racing around to get chores done.
Panna Gill, a 41-year-old stay-at-home mum in Guragaon, Delhi, has just finished serving breakfast to her family and is getting lunch boxes ready for school. When her husband arrives home in the evening, the bills will be paid, the house clean and a home-cooked meal ready on the stove. She’s looking forward to a calm day at last, after a hectic few days of helping her 10-year-old study for a national exam.
At the risk of sounding too laid back, Panna values finding time for herself on those rare quiet, reflective afternoons when chores are done and just before the children are back from school—a time not filled with lists of accomplishments, but with peace and quiet: a long drive to an exhibition she’s been yearning to see, enjoying a new book or a phone conversation with someone with whom she’s lost touch. Those are her moments, a time to rediscover herself and do the things she never had time for as a working woman. Staying at home is a newfound luxury she feels humbled and grateful for on a daily basis.
Aarty Punjabi, a 35-year-old mother in California, has been busy with her young child since early morning. Her to-do list is longer than usual today; besides organizing her home and preparing the meals, she needs to book the next family holiday and get the car serviced in time to pick up her eldest. On other days, she tries to catch an occasional coffee with a friend, coupled with a good dose of volunteering at the Art of Living center, which she finds extremely fulfilling. Being a homemaker has given her more time for reflection, introspection and, of course, spiritual pursuits. Beyond the obvious joys of spending her days with her children, there have been benefits to staying at home she could not have imagined. Yes, being a traditional housewife is a joy in itself.
Such women exist in millions and are incredibly important to families and to our society, yet they are under-appreciated, hardly respected, and live under the controversial name of “homemaker.” These women work for the people they love the most. Recognition isn’t through an appraisal but happens when the family praises their food. Job satisfaction doesn’t come in the form of a promotion or salary hike but through the tacit gratitude for their willingness to compromise on a career for the good of the family. These are women who know in their hearts that staying home to raise their children is a good choice for the whole family. Whether they do it from the outset of their marriage or make the challenging shift from career woman to stay-at-home mother, it is a choice that is incredibly rich and rewarding, albeit challenging. In her book In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a highly experienced licensed marriage/family therapist, affirms: “Realize that your current sacrifices will make for lasting bonds and a stronger family, in addition to a more cohesive community.’’
Hindu teachings speak of how men and women generally dwell in different natures and have different but complementary roles, advising that a wife and mother find and give strength to the family and community through her sacred role as a homemaker. Memorably, they explain that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” The homemaker is also a higher conduit for our ancestral traditions. She is key to ultimately ensuring the strength and continuity of our Hindu culture and beliefs.
Perusing these teachings can be stinging to those of us raised among liberal forces in mass media, academia or even those surrounding us. Most people are entrenched in opposition to this traditional role. The idea often sounds primitive to the modern woman herself, in a society where she is encouraged to act, think and behave like a man. The crucial role of a homemaker—the child’s first guru and the preserver and enhancer of the shakti of the home, the family and the community at large—has been so effectively disparaged in the last several decades that any reference to this lifestyle is perceived as an attempt at subjugation. This dharma has nothing to do with subjugation.
I was myself raised by an educated, ambitious mum who affirmed to me daily that I could do everything and more than my brothers could do. After my university scholarship, I went on to a full-time career in banking, climbing the corporate ladder till I reached senior management. I read the teachings of Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami with much interest early in my marriage but was quick to dismiss the traditional role as inapplicable to the not-so-Stepford-oriented me. I loved the rest of the teachings enough, so I persevered. Then I had my first child. One day when I got home from work, my mum greeted me excitedly at the door saying my son had taken his first steps! I congratulated them both while trying to hide the immense sense of regret about all the moments I was missing out on. When I became pregnant with my second, the principles of stay-at-home parenting really started to make logical sense. I resigned and started my own business delivering training to the banking sector one week a month and writing the courses from home the rest of the time. After my third child, I innately felt that my role as a homemaker was my personal expression of unselfish love and took steps to gradually cease all my commercial activities. Many people around me, Hindus and others, struggled to find acceptance with this.
Roshan and Vandana Nathoo enjoy time as a family.
I was in the fortunate position to be able to make my own decision to stay home. To me, being home is incredibly empowering. Aspiring to become a better person, a better mother, a better cook or a better spouse is also being ambitious. In my home, the competition is with myself, not with anyone else. Mothers at home must not let their sense of self-worth be measured in terms of how much they don’t earn; they should be free to stay home without feeling pressured to justify their education, or fearing being labeled. Sadly, a mother at home is often portrayed as lazy, a waste of education, undervalued, weak or antiquated. But women, mostly mothers who do this, know what a responsible job raising children is and how much work is involved in making a house a home. The flow of the family dynamic becomes easier when one partner stays home full time to care for the household. Staying home reduces stress for the entire family, ultimately creating a home filled with strength, success and love.
Certainly, it isn’t always rosy—after being an independent woman, I am hit hard by the stigma that is associated with being “just” a housewife when I’m asked what I do. Yes, I may now be dependent on my husband for money, but then he is dependent on me for so many things as well; a well-maintained house, healthy and tasty home-made food, lovingly raising our children and so much more. A homemaker is a powerful, influential position that should be held in awe, not disgraced. Let us hold the hand of every woman who finds contentment in making home and family a priority, and tell her that she is not less. She is more. She is a dying breed, and she is valuable beyond words. Every day I unlearn a little of what I was taught about career and relearn the lost arts of maintaining home, cultivating relationships, hands-on childrearing, family traditions and all the aspects of nurturing.
As a society we need to adjust the narrative if we are serious about rebuilding the family unit. A man in a loving home will be happy to go to work recharged and fulfilled. Relationships will also certainly have a lot more longevity if both partners are fulfilling their part of the contract. Of course, second to providing and protecting, husbanding is also part of men’s responsibility to the marriage equation—making and keeping the marriage gratifying and fulfilling for his wife as well. The husband is the strong second part of a successful homemaker equation. Only if he values his wife’s presence at home can this arrangement work equitably.
Surely, providing girls with all the education they need and desire remains vital, and they should be encouraged to work and climb the corporate ladder until they get married, or at least until they have children. This opportunity will allow them to prove their mettle—and learn firsthand that the corporate world isn’t as glamorous as it’s made out to be. But real empowerment is having the right to choose between home-making and a career—certainly, neither path should be shamed. The choice to become a home-maker is a personal decision, as it is one of the most selfless acts a person can make. The choice must be made first by the mother, second, by the spouse, and then by the family as a whole. Once financial arrangements are discussed, she will then find that the experience of staying home full time is an endearing one. The responsibility of caring for a family comes with great rewards.
No one is saying being a homemaker is going to be easy. Some days will be harder at home, with a 24-hour job and a never-ending to-do list; you would rather fix your hair, put on your makeup and high heels and dash out the door for a full work day and forget about everything for the next ten hours. Making the transition from a businesswoman is an overwhelming life change. The decision to stay home for the well-being of other people and raise a wholesome household, sacrificing one’s personal security, takes a serious amount of dedication and courage.
SUPERMOM: Vandana Nathoo spends part of each day teaching her children values and religious tenets they might not receive from school or a housesitter. The kids—Tarun, 12; Kapil, 9, and Kavish, 7—all participate in the day’s lessons with critical feedback
When I started out on this topic, I had the misconception that this was a cultural issue mostly specific to Hindus or at best, to Eastern thinking. The more I read, the more I realized that this concept is very much present in most other cultures.
In Catholicism, for example, many proclaim that the traditional marriage model is very similar to what is espoused in the Bible. Many calling themselves agnostic or atheist also subscribe to it. There are numerous YouTube videos, established since its inception or more recently, about homemaking by Stay-at-Home-Mums (SAHM), with a respectable number of followers. These bloggers also animate websites, with followers on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media. The topic is subject to much debate online, but surprisingly, not at all written off by the audience. Like vegetarianism, staying home to care for one’s family seems to be a growing trend in the West and a declining trend in the East!
Infographic shows the various skills required by a homemaker. The hypothetical salary shows the monetary value of her work at home.
ON CAREER AND EMPOWERMENT
All too often, a career is associated with empowerment. Too many women equate their identity with their work, not seeing it as just one part of their life. Young women who have been pushed their entire lives to “achieve” and “reach their potential” are afraid that if they step off the corporate ladder in order to care for children, they will never climb back to the same level. Unfortunately, that’s often true. You might not be CEO if you choose to make family your first priority, and that’s a loss. But sacrificing the chance to create a close relationship with your children and raise them in the best possible manner is a loss, too. It is a brave call to shift our priorities from the feverish pursuit of professional success to the more satisfying nurturing of our children.
We need to validate the role of the mother and the work that goes into it, instead of perpetuating the myth that the work that takes place in the home is somehow less meaningful, less valuable, less important. Today, so many career women are constantly trying to juggle everything from house to kids. People can do many things at once, but they cannot do them all well at the same time. Many career women are emotionally and physically exhausted with guilt and stress and are torn when they have to leave a sick child at home or constantly have to miss school events. Suzanne Venker, author of five books on marriage, feminism and gender politics, argues that women cannot be successful in the workplace and at home simultaneously. They can achieve the balance they so desperately seek only by planning their careers around motherhood, rather than planning motherhood around their careers. Drawing on extensive research and her own experience as a mother and a teacher, she makes a powerful case for the link between the problems of today’s children and the absence of mothers from the home. “If motherhood were viewed as the full-time job it is,” Ms. Venker contends, “it would not be considered something we could do on the side, and women would be less inclined to try to balance career and motherhood, only to discover, many stress-filled years later, that it cannot be done.” Let’s face it—working mothers have heroically accepted the deal they have been handed, the debilitating task of being a man and a woman at once.
PEW RESEARCH CENTER
RESEARCH RESULTS: A 2013 Pew Research Center survey finds that the public is of two minds about the gains mothers have made in the workplace–most recognize the clear economic benefits to families, but many voice concerns about the toll that having a working mother may take on children or even marriage. About half (51%) of survey respondents said children are better off if a mother is home and doesn’t hold a job. Only 8% say the same about a father.
Why can’t we have it all, many women say? “The Balance Myth,” as the judicious mingling of career and home is known, says blogger “The Thinking Housewife,” is often a casual neglect of children, marriage or home—certainly of a home in which the kids do grow up, the home is taken care of, food is served daily and chores do get done. Many a working woman, except those in mentally easy jobs or with grown-up children, has had to compromise on one or more aspects of taking care of children, husband or home. Sometimes all she lays aside is her own peace and composure. Many surveys demonstrate a precipitous decline in female happiness. Economists Stevenson and Wolfers, in the “Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” analyzed the happiness trends of US citizens between 1970 and 2005 and discovered that American women rated their overall life satisfaction higher than men in the 1970s. By the 1990s, women were less happy than men. This relative unhappiness softened after the turn of the century, but men continue to enjoy a higher sense of subjective well-being that is at least as high, if not higher, than women’s.
Sometimes the most important thing she neglects is the love of her husband, or perhaps moral guidance for her children, mostly in their teenage years. Of course, some full-time homemakers neglect home, too. They are certainly not better than working women. They simply have more time and energy to accomplish the same things.
The natural family structure—where young children are cared for in their own home by those closest to them—is no longer the norm around the world. Not so long ago, most families could afford the mother in the home. Stacked against them now are various government policies and a strong feminist movement, while a political and social elite has devalued the role and the importance of care in the home.
We often mistake money, ambition and status as the standard for productivity. But don’t we admire the inherent nobility of our grandmothers, who chose to selflessly nurture a human being from infancy to adulthood out of sheer duty and love? Caring for children is not an item to be checked off on our bucket list but a responsibility to uphold and a privilege to enjoy. Children are whole individuals who need to be nurtured with constant reassurance and warmth. We need to think of mothers at home as a long-term investment in families. By investing in them, we invest in the future of our family as well as that of society, as we raise boys and girls to be strong and good and turn them into peaceful and loving men and women. Certainly, whilst this nurturing comes at a cost, it also comes with great and lasting benefits to children. When you make this choice, you get those very things you thought you would lose being home—confidence, self-respect and peace. Of course, there’s the oft-stated saying that on our deathbeds it won’t be accolades we will reach for or bank balances but the hands of our children. The memories that will touch us most are not the corporate successes but the meaningful moments with our family.
A pertinent New York Times article last year by Erica Komisar states, “As a psychoanalyst and parent-guidance expert, I have seen society increasingly devalue mothering while idealizing work. At the same time, I have seen an epidemic of troubled children who are being diagnosed and medicated earlier and earlier with ADHD, early aggression and other behavioral and social disorders. Many people say these two phenomena are utterly unrelated. I believe they are connected. These disorders, I believe, are at least in part children’s responses to stress in the environment and an inability to regulate emotional responses to it. In my clinical practice over the past 20 years, I have seen again and again ways that these disorders connect to the absence of mothers on a daily basis in children’s lives.’’ I personally found that serenity comes as you find more time to take things calmly and easily; I became a much more patient mother when I stayed home, more present for my hyperactive middle child who found it difficult to sit still for even five minutes. I refused to go the psychologist way and found that the more TLC and communication I provided him with, the better things got.
Importantly, research shows that children from traditional nuclear families, in which the mother takes care of the kids and the father brings home the bread, fare better statistically than in any other type of familial arrangement.
FACTS: Harvard Law School bankruptcy expert and now U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and financial consultant Amelia Tyagi, show that today’s middle-class parents are increasingly trapped by financial meltdowns
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the years 1988–1994 analyzed 219 households with single-parents and 780 dual-parent households as predictors for primary outcome variables of children’s Body Mass Index (BMI), dietary nutrient intakes and blood cholesterol. Children of single-parent households were significantly more overweight than children of dual-parent households.
The documentary Demographic Winter demonstrates how pulling women out of the home and putting them into the workforce has not only made them less happy, but “has created a dying population in America along with a rising rate of child delinquency. Beyond the better citizens and contributors to society that housewives groom and the happier lives they enjoy, marrying a career woman is fraught with difficulties.” Even Penelope Trunk, who helps women manage their careers, admits: “The conclusion, that marriages and families work better with a full-time housewife, is hard to swallow but hard to deny.’’
The home serves as our refuge, the place for our basic needs and so much more. It’s where we find solace, rest and comfort. It is a place of protection from the world and all that it demands. With all the diverse roles that the home plays in our life, it makes sense that someone’s duty is to stay true to keeping it a home. I emphasize making my home an oasis of warmth, a world that my family looks forward to coming back to and winding down in. All guests in my home consistently comment on that vibe.
Homemakers need to cultivate the skills, not only of housekeeping, but the more profound objective of creating a home. Homemaking is the deliberate cultivation of love, connection and productivity in family relationships. Homemaking is about comforting, communicating and caring for each other, close friends and extended families, as well as the occasional guest. Anyone can keep house; not everyone knows how to make a home.
Domesticity is tiring, often frustrating and mundane, but it is also in this routine that we create love through the simplest acts such as mending those buttons on that favorite shirt, baking a cake to celebrate, making that special dish that will bring the family together at dinner or simply chatting with the kids about their day. Without these domestic acts, without the homemaker, there would be no home. This, of course, is easier for me to say, as I have gone the corporate route and I am content in the feeling of “been there, done that.” However, I have met quite a few conflicted women attempting to do it all—frantically trying to juggle commuting, workloads and deadlines, plus the stress of keeping house and raising children. I have also witnessed lots of mindless technology, social media and TV being used to keep the children busy, thereby taking the place of quality time with family. My mother was a school principal, and I saw how stressed and perpetually busy she was, juggling her responsibilities between a career and home. I envied my cousins who were fetched from school by their mums and those greeted back home with fresh, hot pakoras and a patient, listening ear about their day.
THE TWO-INCOME TRAP
Many women work solely for economic reasons, and that is certainly an excellent reason. However, bestselling author Suzanne Venker claims that the two-income family is a trap for many. Her argument is that it encourages people to think about family solely in terms of economics, when, in fact, breadwinning is only part of the equation. The burnout that results from not having someone home to do everything mothers have historically done is huge, she contends. Another interesting expose on this subject, from Elizabeth Warren and her daughter Amelia Tyagi, shows that, astonishingly, sending mothers to work has made families more vulnerable to financial disaster than ever before. Today’s two-income family earns 75% more money than its single-income counterpart of a generation ago but has 25% less discretionary income to cover living costs. In The Four Laws of Debt-Free Prosperity, author Blaine Harris states: “Your level of expenses will always rise to your level of income unless you protest to the contrary.” Indeed, because we spend what we make, we grow accustomed to a certain lifestyle that is predicated on two incomes, at which point it seems impossible for one parent to stay home. But as it turns out very rarely would the decision to move to one income result in having to cut into providing for the basic needs of our families.
CULINARY CULTURE: Vandana is there, at home, to transfer basic culture to her kids. This includes mita hara, controlling one’s appetite and keeping within a reasonable level of fitness.
Of course, the economics of a single income will require a more frugal lifestyle, at least in the beginning, in order to avoid the debt spiral. Many women go halfway by choosing remote jobs, telecommutes, flexible schedules, part-time job shares, freelance jobs or, even better, turning a passion into a home business. More companies offer options to collaborate in one of these ways, thereby embracing working from home as a way to attract top talent, boost productivity and provide work-life balance to employees who are increasingly stretched thin in their jobs and in life. Additionally, there are women who choose “jobs” instead of careers. While they may indeed work, their minds and time are not taken up with the strategizing, workloads and harsh deadlines required by a full-fledged, long-hours career. Many such talented women decide to become secretaries or schoolteachers because these jobs leave them freer to look after their homes; I know of a few qualified chartered accountants who work as accounting teachers and make a point of reaching home at the same time as their kids get back from school.
Another trend is bloggers and vloggers who have made this their sole source of income. Livingonadime.com, which has both husband and wife living on one income of solely blogging about ways to be frugal, advises: “With one less income, we are actually able to put more in savings than we did before.” One thing most people don’t realize is just how much money can be saved by staying home and not working. Meals eaten out alone can cost thousands. Just doing stuff around the house like painting, garage sales and bargain grocery shopping can make staying home worth it. Not only that, but all the day-care costs—gas, second car maintenance and repair, insurance and payments—really add up. Heidi Aas, a Colorado mom with two children away from the nest, makes this statement: “The truth is, after taxes and other work-related expenses, most second incomes add little, if any, real money to the family’s bottom line. Expenses are higher because no one has the time to work on bringing them down. When we were short of our retirement fund, I was adamant against trading my kids and home for outside employment. Down the line, we have much more, in both material terms and contentment, than I would have ever made if I’d left the helm of the ‘home ship.’”
HER DECISION: Aarty Punjabi gardening with her two young children, a typical day
TRADITIONAL GENDER ROLES
Men are traditionally protectors and providers, in nearly all cultures since the start of time. It’s biological. However, plenty of men are not like that anymore; decades of suppression by women and feminists have got in the way of their basic instinct to be strong, to protect and provide. When they are being brave and strong, they are called domineering; and when they provide, they are called patronizing.
Gender roles in the past brought harmony to most couples, since women and men could take care of each other in their own different ways. Equality does not mean sameness—female nature is inherently different from male nature. Trying to act against our nature means us playing at being men and, of course, we make poor men; harmonious gender relations are dependent on men being men with all their masculine glory, and women being women with all their feminine power and the vulnerabilities that come with it. If relationships are cultivated in love and we each play to our strengths and work in tandem, both parties can live together in harmony, in loving homes, loving marriages and loving families. When we work against each other, we experience a breakdown in marriages, as statistics now show.
Every relationship has its polarities that maintain the balance for ongoing attraction and connection. Where masculine energy is single-focused, action-oriented and practical, feminine energy is fluid, intuitive and creative. Working with our natural tendencies, my husband’s role is in providing and mine is in nurturing. Both are equally important and necessary. I learned early on in my marriage that there was harmony when I was a soft place to land. Since then, I strive to be supportive of my man’s dreams and appreciative of his efforts instead of belittling or competing with him. Our grandmothers and other seasoned women attest to their successes at home, which occurred only after paying attention to their own nature, instincts and intuitions. They were consistent in fulfilling their full responsibility without expecting immediate returns. This is also a popular idea shared by best-selling author Laura Doyle in her book The Surrendered Wife: “When women know exactly what their role in the marriage is, and what they provide in terms of value to the relationship, they fulfil their roles to the other spouse and support them, so that they can in turn fulfil their role and support you.”
“In the home, the mother is likened to the Shakti Deity. She is the power, the very soul of the home. None other. So she has to be there. She has to be treated sensitively and kindly, and with respect.”
In Hinduism, this is called the ida and pingala natures. A more modern version of this has surged in many communities, both online and off. This new-age movement also speaks of how masculinity and femininity are meant to balance each other to create a harmonized marriage, family, community and world at large. In their own words, a traditional woman is “someone who embraces the fact that a man will not stay with you for your career but will enjoy you because you’re nice to him, you are feminine in nature, you make him feel good,… psychological femininity being the most important, but that can be enhanced by a sense of femininity—grace, elegance, manners and poise. This doesn’t just mean the surface stuff, like ‘lose two points of BMI’ or ‘be better at baking;’ this means honestly reflecting on your life (including work, relationships and other endeavors), identifying your flaws, and then working to resolve them. Being open to change and growth is important over the life of a relationship.’’
In Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, author Anne-Marie Slaughter suggests, “Men don’t have to make the kind of sacrifices and compromises women make.” She says the hypothesis that women can have high-powered careers if men are willing to share the parenting load equally “assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them.” Too many women are searching for meaning outside the home rather than in it.
For decades, feminists have belabored the idea that work should be central to women’s lives. We need to remember that we are always replaceable at work, but we are never replaceable at home.
1. The evidence that staying at home during a child’s first years of life can have long-term benefits (e.g. Carneiro, Løken and Salvanes 2009, Blau and Grossberg 1992, Waldfogel, Han and Brooks-Gunn 2002, Berger, Hill and Waldfogel 2005, Ruhm 2004) is already strong. That’s why many industrial nations guarantee at least some paid parental leave for working mothers and fathers. What’s been less clear is that stay-at-home parenting also benefits older children. This is highlighted in this Stanford U research: bit.ly/moms-at-home
2. New findings from the UK’s national “well-being” index show that those classed as economically inactive because they are caring for a family or home are also among the happiest people. bit.ly/rewarding-lives
3. A Gallup Poll (bit.ly/womens-desire-to-work) shows that more than half of women in the U.S. with children under the age of 18, 56%, would prefer to stay home over going to work, and 39% of women without children under the age of 18 said they wanted the role of home-maker.
4. From Pew’s survey of nearly 2,000 parents with children under 18, more than half of working parents say they find it hard to balance their careers and family lives. See it here: bit.ly/career-and-family
Vandana Nathoo, married to Roshan Nathoo and mother to three boys, is a happy homemaker based in Mauritius. She teaches Sunday school classes on Hinduism, which she hosts in her home.
The Spiritual Homemaker’s Vital Role
IN TODAY’S WORLD, RELIGIOUS COUPLES WHO CHOOSE TO HAVE THE wife follow the path of homemaker commonly make their decision based on perspectives of faith. The Hindu perspective is built around family cohesiveness and the belief that life is an opportunity for spiritual unfoldment, and that, after many incarnations on Earth each soul attains God-realization and liberation from the cycles of rebirth. In each life, we play a different role, with unique duties and challenges.
During his fifty years of ministry, my guru, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, visited many hundreds of Hindu homes. Often these families had achieved material abundance, with both husband and wife leading successful, full-time professional careers. However, most importantly, he also noticed that in such homes there was little spiritual vibration or religious activity. From his perspective, the priorities of a traditional Hindu life were not being upheld. Instead, professional and material success had become the priority, and spiritual progress was given little or no attention. He concluded that the modern trend for Hindu wives to have full time careers was taking a serious toll on spiritual progress, not just for the couple, but also for their offspring. He decided that there was no point in even giving initiation, diksha, to his married devotees unless the family was following the ancient dharmas for men and women, called purusha dharma and stri dharma. In Himalayan Academy’s Hindu Lexicon these are defined as follows:
PURUSHA DHARMA: “Man’s duty.” Man’s proper pattern of conduct; traditional observances, vocation, behavior and attitudes dictated by spiritual wisdom. Characterized by leadership, integrity, accomplishment, sustenance of the family. Notably, the married man works in the world and sustains his family as abundantly as he can.
STRI DHARMA: “Woman’s duty.” Traditional conduct, observances, vocational and spiritual patterns which bring spiritual fulfillment and societal stability. Characterized by modesty, quiet strength, religiousness, dignity and nurturing of family. Notably, she is most needed and irreplaceable as the maker of the home and the educator of their children as noble citizens of tomorrow.
From the point of view of a Hindu guru, the benefit derived from a couple’s following purusha and stri dharma is that the home is more likely to be cohesive, stable and strongly religious. Of course, for this to happen the wife needs to value the spiritual strength of the home more than a professional career. Experience tells us two things. First, running a home and a career is nearly impossible without overly stressing the wife and mother. Second, her decision to stay at home is a form of renunciation. Just as a monk gives up the possibility of career in order to empower his spiritual life and the monastery, so the woman surrenders her career opportunities to empower her family. Like a monk, she contentedly stays within the precincts of her home. Like a monk, she renounces the call for social validation and interaction, success, name and fame. Like a monk, she focuses on her innermost spiritual and familial duties.
My Gurudeva taught: “The struggle for women’s liberation has affected women the world over—in India, Iran, Europe, Japan and elsewhere. In North America, I began a campaign informally called the Hindu Women’s Liberation Movement. It is not what you might expect. Its purpose is to liberate our Hindu women from the liberators, to save them from worldliness and to allow them to fulfill their natural dharma as mother and wife. For a religious woman, being liberated starts with resigning from her job and coming home. Once she is home, she is liberated and liberated and liberated. Working in the world keeps her in the outer dimensions of consciousness, while being at home allows her to live in the depth of her being. I have seen this work many times. There are so many distractions and influences in the world today that divert women away from being a wife and mother. ”
A religious family life is strongly dependent on having a dynamic shrine room in which daily puja is performed with all family members attending. This power is amplified when personal daily vigils are held by husband and wife for the purpose of japa, scriptural study and meditation. Ideally, the family attends weekly worship at a nearby temple and goes on yearly distant pilgrimage.
Gurudeva stressed that one of the possibilities for pure couples is that they could give birth to a son who would become a monastic, a leader of the faith far into the future. He wrote: “Each fellowship family prays to birth a son for the monastery. Prior to conception, parents mix with the swamis and beseech the Gods to bring through a divine soul destined to perpetuate our lineage.”
Undeniably, for modern Hindu women, the cultural pressures to have a full-time career are strong. However, we hope that some women will take time to reflect on following the traditional Hindu stri dharma to further the most important goal of life, which is spiritual unfoldment. This can be her gift to her husband and children, to the religion and, ultimately, to the world.
Voices from Dad
Ravi Baichoo, Mauritius
HOW CAN I USE MERE WORDS TO DESCRIBE what mothers do for their children? The first that comes to me is the oft-quoted Sanskrit adage: “Matha Pitha Guru Deivam”—the mother is above all.
I was the youngest of my siblings, and my elders always tell me the stories of how I used to want my mother to myself and be the one most important to her! In the beginning, things were most difficult financially, and she tried working as a teacher in a “Patshaala.” Later she took up a part-time job nearby in the village, but finally resorted to dedicate her time to the family. I often wonder how she managed to cope with eight children, being married at a very early age, and a job.
It all made sense to me when we had our own kids. That’s when I realized just how much a mother does. When my wife decided to leave her professional career and dedicate her time to motherhood, I fully supported the decision. People often call this a sacrifice, but we see it as a blessing and simply, part of the universal gift of being a Mother.
Ravi Visswanathan, USA
It wasn’t until my wife and I, both with full-time careers, faced the challenges of parenting our children, that I started to analyze my own childhood growing up in Asia, Australia, Africa and South America.
My mom was at home, which allowed her to be always present for my siblings and me, especially when we returned home from school. Although she enjoyed her work as a librarian while in Australia, she made the decision to stay home and raise a family full time.
A beautiful smile, a reassuring touch, and soothing words truly complemented my mother’s genuinely caring attitude, which always placed her children’s and husband’s needs, well-being and comfort before her own. In addition, my mom’s tasty and nourishing meals ensured our health was well taken care of. The stability my mom provided by being at home enabled the family to progress spiritually.
Ashvin Beezadhur, UK
After the birth of our son, my wife and I decided that she would stay at home to bring up our firstborn. At that time we had several reasons for doing so. The thought of leaving our baby in child care did not appeal to us, as we felt the right setting for a baby of such a tender age should be at home. In our opinion, mothering can simply not be replicated by any other caregiver. Our son was breastfed until he turned two; if my wife had been working, this would not have been possible. This decision did put us at a financial loss, as we had to let go of one income, but in the end we chose our children over greater material gains. We had planned for my wife to return to work once our son was older, but we did not anticipate the life we now live.
Our daughter was born four years later, and both our children were great at teaching us a few lessons. They taught us that they needed their mother at home even though they grew up to be more independent. They needed their mother not only to take care of their immediate needs like personal care and feeding but also to have time and energy to listen to them and guide them in both their spiritual and material life.
When we first searched for answers on whether my wife should become a homemaker or not, we were guided by Gurudeva’s teachings, and for that we are grateful. This decision has also enabled me to focus on my work, as I know my wife is there for my children and also for me.