Reflections on the changing meaning of ‘home’

Over the years, I have watched my friends move between the working world and the mothering world and sometimes back again. … I have watched my husband negotiate the worlds of home and work. … I am still observing my own changes accompanying the processes of engaging and disengaging in journalism, academia, mothering, and website building…. In our market-oriented ambitious world of careers and ipads and houses and emailing, I have to admit that despite all the captivation of success and authority, the good medical care and feeling of accomplishment, it does often look as though we in the information society are losing our balance. ‘Home’ as a place of respite and quiet and groundedness is disappearing. A certain hardness comes into play as parents conform to their job expectations, and as whatever is not ‘home’ becomes a priority. It is a hardness that is almost imperceptible in its stealth but whacks me over the head when I encounter it in a social situation. I know parents who are hectic and stressed and ask a thousand questions and worry about having enough milk or shouldn’t their child be potty trained yet at 1 1/2.  I also know parents who exude a peace and whimsy, whose small child adheres to them like a quiet koala bear on a tree, and who don’t seem to need to ‘go’ anywhere 10 minutes later. And I know which one I would rather have as my parent, at least when the child is young.

When once we assumed parents would share the precious time of the bedtime story, it becomes slowly Mommy every night until it is no longer even part of the expectation that Daddy is home at bedtime.  Or, as my friends divorced, the once assumed definition of leisurely weekends as a family, playing silly games and riding bicycles or cleaning house together just evaporated into every-other-weekend shuttling between father and mother, planned activities sometimes more common, television more used to fill time…. ‘Home’ changes.  It becomes a site of negotiation, often stress.  If time opens up, we fill it with yet another project. Sometimes these are fun, like writing a new pamphlet and discovering a new app to combine text with images. It seems to be creative. But, it is one more evening up until midnight.  More hours looking at a screen.

Shall we become the radical homemakers described recently in the media? see more  What a wonderful idea, if it is financially possible.  Those women are nesting with their young children, growing tomatoes and raising chickens and reducing their carbon footprint — the wave of the future, isn’t it?  When we moved to the country here in Germany, that was our intention too. But then, our oldest turned out to be a gifted athlete, and well, naturally we chose as modern, caring parents to support him in his dreams and ambition. And that meant more driving, ever more complicated team logistics, eventually another school farther away and even more complicated logistics and finances.  And my husband’s profession expanded into academic maturity, requiring ever more administrative meetings and responsibilities. And, how often can I hear the words ‘and what are you doing now?’ before I start thinking I’d better get my website up and going. And, as my friend who has been establishing an alternative medicine practice as the single mother of two elementary-school aged girls, enlightens: The day becomes a scheduling assignment, who comes home when… violin doesn’t get rehearsed properly, homework is looked at at 8:30 at night, and then only when there are no meetings in the evening when the girls put themselves to bed…. Time for a new love interest is rare. Time for ‘just’ friendships is even rarer.

When I reflect on the slowness of life I encountered on my travels in the Middle East and India, what I have read in South American and non-Western literature, I do wonder whether we are fiddling while Rome burns. …