A salute to homemakers
Literally, the word means married to a house. The word once defined generations of women who stayed home raising the kids.
Two wives from Jim Thorpe and another from Lehighton never liked the word “housewife” when they stayed home with their children. All three had preferred to be called “stay-at-home moms.”
“I was never called a housewife and I never wore what was called a housedress,” said Pat Stasyk from Jim Thorpe. “That was my mother’s generation.”
Stasyk was married in 1960, and two years later, she and her husband, Alex, brought their first child into the world. Living then in North Philadelphia, she was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years.
“I did work when my youngest went to school. I was in retail at Strawbridge’s, but I could make my own hours. I believed it was very important for me to be in my house when any one of my children came home from school.”
Mary Knorr, 76 of Jim Thorpe, was a working mother in the mid-70s, but she stayed home for the first five years of her first child’s life. She worked out a way to be home whenever her children were.
“They needed me,” she said. “I wasn’t going to leave them in somebody else’s house.”
Donna Steigerwalt of Lehighton stayed home with her two children for eight years.
“I never liked the word ‘housewife.’ It doesn’t say anything about being a mother,” she said.
She loved being at home with her children because she could always know where they were and what they were doing.
The percentage of mothers in the U.S. joining the work force in 1970 was 52% with 48% staying at home with their children. The number of stay-at-home moms declined to a low of 23% in 2012.
In the past six years, however, this number has risen to 32% in 2018. The number of stay-at-home dads has increased from 4 to 7%, but a good number of those haven’t been able to find work.
Stasyk, who will celebrate 60 years of marriage with her husband in October, had worked for a cardiologist, but she said she was home with her kids when they were in their formative years. She spoke of the difficulty that comes with placing children in day care.
“I have a niece who put two her kids in day care. It’s expensive. Her paycheck paid that and there wasn’t much left,” she said.
Is there a difference in the behavior of children who stay at home compared to those who are in day care? Stasyk believes so.
“I think kids that come from day care are more aggressive than those who stay home. If they want that toy, there will be others who want it too.”
A mother’s job income began to serve a different purpose in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Knorr worked several jobs in medical services.
“More women began to get jobs outside the home for extra cash. At first what I made was gravy money, but it soon became necessary money to help pay the bills.”
The family dinner
With many parents both working nowadays, sit-down family dinners are reserved for weekends or they don’t happen much at all. A recent survey found that 40% of families today eat dinner together, but only three days a week. Ten percent never have dinner with all of the family present.
“We are a close family,” said Donna. “My husband worked nights, but I made sure I had dinner every night with my two kids. Today with many parents not home, the kids come from school to an empty house and have to feed themselves. That also creates a problem because they might be doing things they shouldn’t be doing when their parents aren’t home.”
“When my husband came home from work, dinner was on the table 10 minutes after he walked in,” said Stasyk. “What’s more important than family life and dinner is the best time to get everyone together.”
The term “latchkey” kid originated in the 1940s when men went off to war and mothers worked outside the home, but the phrase became more popular in the late ’70s and early ’80s when thousands of American children came home to empty houses and often had to prepare microwave dinners for themselves while both their parents were still at work.
Highs and lows
There are intrinsic rewards that come from being a mother at home with young children.
“I loved being home with my kids when they were growing up,” said Steigerwalt, who along with her husband owns Cypress Lanes and Pro Shop in Lehighton.
“I never had a desire to go to college and it might be old school, but I still think that men should be the bread winners and their wives take care of the children.”
Knorr spoke about social life and boredom that can even affect many young mothers today.
“With my husband working three different shifts, we begin to lose friends because there’s not much opportunity to socialize.
“And as far as far as boredom goes,” she added, “how many trips to the playground do you make before it starts to get old?”
The common question that is asked to stay-at-home moms is, “Were you ever disappointed that you didn’t have more freedom to have a life for yourself?
“I have no regrets staying home with my kids,” Steigerwalt replied. “Once we got this business, it was challenging to work around our their schedules. I did miss some of their events.”
Knorr holds no regrets about staying home with her young children, but she recalled a regretful time when her first-grade son was in a school play.
“I rushed to the school during my lunch hour and saw him in the play, but I had to rush back to work. He got upset because he thought I wasn’t there.”
“No regrets,” said Stasyk. “That includes the times I took care of my husband’s mother and my brother.”
Housewife, homemaker, stay-at-home mom and throw in domestic engineer. Whatever words apply, the definition is pretty much the same, a mother who stays home to raise her children and take care of the house while her husband works.
Stasyk said that there is a difference between a stay-at-home mom and a mom who stays at home. She offered her explanation in the form of a question.
“Are you with your children or are you just another body in the house?”
For all three women and many more mothers who stayed home, the memories they hold are far more precious than anything that money can buy.