- Stay-at-home spouses are seen as family caregivers, which can affect psychological health.
- There are physical and mental challenges in fulfilling the "role" of a stay-at-home spouse.
- Happiness is a state of well-being that is contagious, bringing joy to the entire family.
- Maintaining mental and physical health allow family caregivers to maintain home as a safe space.
The Home as Our Castle
All of us know someone (perhaps ourselves) who does not work outside the home. Stay-at-home spouses raise children, run errands, clean house, and often joke that their working outside-the-home partner has the sweet end of the deal. But not everyone working at home feels disadvantaged. Some stay-at-home partners enjoy the experience as a staycation, while others consider it to be house arrest. What makes the difference?
It can’t be as simple as workload. True, post-pandemic, many stay-at-home partners have even more balls in the air as they juggle housework with telework. However, there can be distinct advantages to a homebound schedule, both physically and mentally. Research explains.
Home Is Where the Mind Is
The enjoyment of working at home depends in part on the emotional state of the homemaker. Veysel Kaplan explored the interaction of mental state and mutual dependency in a piece entitled “Mental Health States of Housewives” (2023).[i] He begins with a description of housewives as family caregivers in almost every society, who often experience serious psychological challenges in this role, often due to pathological relationships with family members.
Studying 371 housewives[ii] with a mean age of approximately 36 years old and a range of educational experiences, Kaplan found a strong correlation between housewife mental status, mutual dependency, and self-perception. He noted that higher levels of mutual dependency and negative self-perception exacerbated adverse psychological symptoms.
Living Up to Great Expectations
Kaplan defines “housewifery” as an imposed heavy gender role assigned to all women, especially in patriarchal societies, without regard to occupational status. He explains that there is a societal expectation that this role will involve “passive, emotional, obedient, and self-sacrificing behaviors,” often exposed from childhood and internalized over time, that may negatively impact social self-perception.
Kaplan explains that self-perception impacts mental health, and is potentially influenced by experiences within interpersonal interaction, including the assessments or expectations of others. Accordingly, he notes that housewives may be mentally impacted by a compulsion to behave according to the expectations of others within their social structure, which affects feelings and thoughts within the boundaries of what he calls a blurred ego which can lead to negative self-perception. He notes that a woman who is socially accepted only as a mother and wife would increase their social invisibility, leading to negative self-evaluation as individuals who are dependent upon family members and overburdened with responsibilities.
But the opposite should then be true also. Many homemakers enjoy a lifestyle that fuels a very different self-perception than traditional societal expectations. They are expanding their mind by learning a new language or pursuing new educational opportunities virtually. They are in the best shape of their lives through an easy-to-schedule walking routine, or working out at the gym. Without the pressure of a 9 to 5, they are able to spend more time with their children, family, friends, and faith community. And because we are also impacted by what we surround ourselves with physically, having the time to maintain a sparkling clean uncluttered physical space improves the state of body and mind for ourselves as well as our family.
Home Sweet Home
If home is where the heart and mind are, whether engaged in telework or housework, a happy home is not just aspirational, but attainable. And because positive affect is contagious, happy at-home partners create an environment that causes their spouses and children to view coming home themselves as the best part of the day.
[i] Kaplan, Veysel. 2023. “Mental Health States of Housewives: An Evaluation in Terms of Self-Perception and Codependency.” International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction 21 (1): 666–83. doi:10.1007/s11469-022-00910-1.
[ii] The term “housewife” is used here to be consistent with the research being discussed.