One of the most overlooked and undervalued aspect of contemporary society is home and family life. Unless you have a particular religious commitment that motivates you to invest your time and energy in your family and the intimacy of what happens in the world you create in your home space, the reality is that all the pressures of the world go towards spending more and more time and energy on what happens outside the home. More visibility, more investment, more business and social projects, more recognition.
I see this as a natural result of the long train of Western thought that legitimizes a person’s humanity via a their participation in the public sphere. In the days of the Greeks, this public sphere was limited to men of a certain class. Over time we have expanded and opened the public sphere, one by one granting the rights of various groups to inhabit, act, and be recognized within this sphere. These are important gains.
But one corresponding loss is that as the public has gained space in our lives, the private has lost space, until truly what happens in the private sphere is not only private but also unimportant, simply because it cannot be recognized by others from without. This explains why all domains of life have been made public, and the aspects of our lives that we used to often care for in private are now taken from the home and made part of public life. I especially mean the very central task of caring for the next generation of human beings and educating them for life in the world. As a corollary to women entering the public sphere both politically and economically, the world of child care and education has become a public sphere, with public spaces such as day cares, preschools, and primary and secondary schools being the spaces we as a society understand to be responsible for the raising and preparation of our children for life in the world and in society. Pressure on the schools and on businesses and institutions to raise children properly has grown exponentially as the pressure and expectations, as well as the value, placed on home life, have receded.
Of course, parents still parent. And many try to do so to their utmost ability, looking for resources and research to help them train their children in new and different ways from those their own parents used to train them. This is all well and wonderful. But I maintain that the broadest pressure, including on committed parents, is to consistently spend LESS time and energy on parenting and all the invisible labor it involves, including maintaining a welcoming and nurturing home space and investing in solid, supportive relationships with our children. These things take time, lots of time, and lots of private and unpaid time. In a world where we are when and because we are recognized and paid, homemaking and caring for your OWN children in the privacy of your OWN home have become invisible and without importance. This is one reason that blogs and podcasts and Instagram accounts about homemaking and homeschooling have become so popular in recent decades: they make visible the invisible. They create a public space for showing and sharing what it is we do all day, and allows others to witness, recognize, and value the investment of our time and energy in these tasks.
Now, I actually see the pressure to do anything and everything BUT be in the privacy of your home with your family to be a corollary of the colonial mindset that can best control and exploit people when it takes charge of the intimate tasks of family life. Many families who realize the danger this presents and the damage inflicts every day have chosen to decolonize their families by investing their adult time and energy in homemaking, parenting, and homeschooling.
The truth is that the home is an incredibly POWERFUL space. In the space of the home happens so much of what we truly need. Without the power of this intimate space, we cannot and will not effectively inhabit and use our public sphere to create effective and healing actions that benefit us and humanity as a whole. In the home, our most basic and intimate needs can be met, our needs for comfort and nourishment and what used to be called “society”, meaning intimacy between friends. No public space can really offer these things because they are deeply personal. We need private spaces to nurture our bodies and our inmost selves. We need privacy to rest, quiet and peace to take stock of our needs, time to prepare nourishing meals, attention to our particular rhythms and quirks so as to create an atmosphere that is comfortable and welcome to US.
Families and children need home as a safe place to grow, change, go out from and return to. The relationships that form the basis of inner security and peace are relationships of leisurely time, relationships that allow us to see, hear, witness, accept, support, and love one another exactly as we are. These are intimate relationships that require intimate spaces. Spaces of empowerment from within, of growing to know how valuable we are, how loved, how important. These are intimate spaces that create healthy human beings, humans who know how to have their needs met while respecting the humanity and caring for the needs of diverse others.