Switzerland’s funny like this: Without fail, every time I mention to someone that I’m getting married, they ask how soon until I have kids. I was warned before coming here that the Swiss have an “old fashioned” view towards women and, to say it more plainly, were still sexist and treated women like they didn’t belong anywhere but the kitchen. My American acquantainces would scoff incredulously as they told stories of how the Swiss still think the frail, not-too-smart little wifey should just stay at home with kids and shouldn’t be joining the ranks of the successful career world.
But I’ve come to discover that Switzerland is not an episode of Mad Men come to life; in fact, quite the opposite. The Swiss do not believe women are incapable – rather, they have an incredibly beautiful view of the importance of family and believe it is the job of the mother to run this most-sacred of businesses. The Swiss put family as the most important thing in their lives. This is why most stores aren’t open after 6pm or on Sundays – everyone needs time to spend with their families (even corporate stiffs aren’t expected to work into the evening or over the weekends!). When the Swiss ask me if I’m going to have kids and stay at home, it’s not to insult my intelligence that I can’t or shouldn’t have a job, but rather an excitement and celebration of the start of the most important part of my life. They want me to cook because kids come home from school for lunch every day instead of eating in a cafeteria. They want me to cook because the family should sit and eat dinner together and share the events of the day with each other. They want me to cook because Sunday and Holiday get-togethers are cherished traditions.
American culture pushes us to excel at everything we do and strive for an almost unattainable dream of success and perfection. We want to do everything, and do it as if we are experts. The problem is, when you devote a lot of time to a lot of different things, you end up being an expert at nothing. Then we Americans have competing priorities pulling us in too many directions – our boss wants us to stay late, but our kids want us to play with them, and our husband wants the romance that once existed, and meanwhile our aging parents need care and our friends need a shoulder to cry on. Especially for women, the severe pressure to now have a successful career in addition to juggling the vast majority of familial obligations leaves us often feeling inadequate, frazzled, depressed, and exhausted.
But women in America are tacitly told that we have to work in order to be considered “respectable” or “admirable”. Women’s revolution! We are smart! We are strong! We are capable! Women seem to be embarrassed in America to be a stay-at-home mom – they often seem to try to justify it with an explanation why they it’s a good thing or share previous accomplishments to “make up for” what they lack now. The funny thing is, “just a housewife” wouldn’t occur to a Swiss citizen the way it would to an American. You wouldn’t say someone is “just a doctor” or “just a CEO”. Many of my former Sony co-workers told me they didn’t think I could stay retired for long, that I’d be itching to get back to work and that I’m too smart and have too much amibition to be “just a housewife”. The thing is, I want to be “a housewife” and not “just a housewife.” Just like my mom.
This is a long entry but I want to make sure I dedicate my last paragraph to the best “just a housewife” I’ve ever known – my mom. She was my Girl Scout troop leader, my homework helper, my spelling bee quizzer, my Class Mom at school, my disgusting cough syrup giver, my school field trips chaperone, and my #1 cheerleader at all my soccer games and dance recitals. I always knew, as simply a fact, that my mom did not work in order to raise us. I never stopped to think about all of the awkward conversations she must have had with friends and strangers alike who shunned and judged her for being “just” a great mom. Most especially for woman coming of age during the 1970’s Feminist Revolution, this must have impacted her self-esteem, self-worth, and self-identity, and not for the better. To my mom I say this: thank you for having the strength to stand up to other peoples’ judgments and taking on the hardest job imaginable – raising the Epstein children!!!!!!