I like making stock. It makes me feel resourceful. Industrious. Virtuous. Rather than throwing away a chicken carcass, I wring a little more value out of it by boiling it with a few vegetables. Some cookbook authors declare homemade stock to be incomparably better than canned stock, but I honestly can’t taste the difference. I like making stock for the virtue of it, not the aesthetics. It’s one of the few things I do in my homemaking that feels conservative and productive.
A recent post at The Exponent asserted that consumption has replaced production in modern homemaking. The economic value of women’s work was very tangible for past households because women produced so many things the family used every day. But the homemakers of today don’t churn butter or make soap – they spend money. And buying and consuming aren’t satisfying the way production is. Creatively producing things is good for our sense of self worth. Just like Thomas the Tank Engine, who prides himself on being “a very useful engine,” people like to feel useful and needed.
You probably saw the article on Salon.com a couple of weeks ago about the feminist who can’t stop reading Mormon housewife blogs. The author marvels at the creativity displayed on these blogs – beautiful homes, beautiful baked goods, beautiful photography. A lot of Mormon homemakers are extremely creative and productive. But rather than take the Salon article as a complement, some stay at home moms I know were less than thrilled with it. They were offended when the author quoted her friend as saying she wanted to be like Mormon moms and arrange flowers all day. The author acknowledged that being a SAHM is about more than just crafts and cupcakes, but for some SAHMs the flower arranging comment was the take-away message of the article, and they didn’t like it. I understand their annoyance – there’s nothing worse than being asked “So, what is it you do all day?” when you’re working your tail off taking care of kids. But still, I marveled at their ability to be offended by what I saw as a largely complementary piece. The author said their lives look joyful and give her hope that marriage and motherhood can be something other than a “miserable, soul-destroying trap.” And she seemed to quite genuinely mean that.
Perhaps what created such a tender spot for SAHMs is the productivity question. Child rearing is productive, but only in a fairly invisible, abstract way. By contrast, paid employment is productive in the concrete sense that one is bringing home money. SAHMs do not want to be thought of as unproductive, and art, crafts, baking, photography, and blogs are all visible evidence of productivity. And they want these kinds of productivity to be recognized – not dismissed as flower arranging.
Or perhaps they are tender about the implied question of why Mormon homemakers are so creative, an implied answer to which is that motherhood is not enough for women, and that the women who’ve chosen it are doomed to boredom and frustration for which blogs and crafts are an antidote. The implied other side of that coin being that paid employment is so wonderfully fulfilling that people engaged in it have no need for other forms of creativity.
But I think earning money is a poor proxy for creativity. I have paid employment, but I still really like making stock. Earning money is a necessity for me, but it doesn’t completely fill my need to be useful and needed. It’s not enough to make me feel like “a very useful person.” I’d venture to guess the same is true for working men, many of whom have creative outlets apart from their paid employment. So I think the answer to the question of why Mormon homemakers are so creative is that they are creative because they are human. Everyone want to be useful, needed, and creative. As Dieter Uchtdorf said, “The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before”
Blogging, baking, photography, and handicrafts are all things that can be done from home and can be self-taught, so perhaps that is why Mormon SAHMs specialize in them. But regardless of the form their creativity takes, they doing as President Uchtdorf said, and “[taking] the normal opportunities of … daily life and [creating] something of beauty and helpfulness.” That’s a wonderful thing.