April 30, 2011

Desperately Seeking Housewives: Why We Need to Train Our Daughters to Prioritize Their Duties in the Home

Umm 'Uthman is a Puerto Rican mother of two, currently living in Maryland, U.S.A. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Modern Languages and Linguistics and Education and is the founder of Hablamos Islam Ninos.  

I got married at the ripe age of 25. During that time, I was working full time and going to school full time, finishing up my undergrad degree that had taken me forever due to work and some frequent relocating. Work, whether full time or part time seemed to have always been a part of my life. I remember asking my parents, actually begging my parents, to let me work at the age of 14 while still a freshman in high school. I didn’t need to work, Alhamdulillah, I had no financial burdens or worries; I was being taken care of by my parents. Nevertheless, I saw work as an escape, a way out of my strict household, where I could not even go hang out with friends or go to a movie because my father didn’t agree.

I came from a Catholic family, and although my parents were not devout church-goers, they were religiously traditional, part of old school Puerto Rican culture, so a young girl my age could not be outside even with girlfriends without a family chaperone present to protect her. But if I worked, I could be outside, breathing fresh air, or at least the fumes from the burgers grilling at the local McDonald’s where I landed a job after I convinced my mother to convince my father. I had told my mother that I would even hand over my entire paycheck for her to manage as she saw fit in order to win her approval. I had to lie about my age on the application, saying I was 16 instead of 14 because I was not legally of age to work yet. Why McDonald’s never verified my age is beyond me.

And so began a journey of juggling work and school; it was a challenge, but I found it exhilarating. After all, I had no other responsibilities at home, maybe washing a few dishes, perhaps cleaning my room every other decade. My mother did the rest. She was a good housewife, always meticulously clean and thorough. She had years of practice and a great role model to follow: my grandmother who is the epitome of housekeeping and childrearing. That incredible woman mothered 9 of her own children and 2 more that my aunt bore prematurely (or should I say immaturely) at 13 years of age, helped raise some of her grandchildren, managed her own farm, and washed clothes by hand in the heat of the tropical sun, among other inhumane tasks.

Although my mother was an Registered Nurse, and the only child of my grandmother’s who finished high school and college, after moving to the US with my father, she stopped working because of the language barrier, her first and only language being Spanish back then. She missed the hustle and bustle of working in the hospital, but at my father’s request, she merely settled into her new role as Queen of the House. So as the Queen continued with her task of keeping the house tidy, I worked and studied. During work I socialized, meeting many different people and enjoying every minute of my semi-freedom. Once I became 16, I moved on to another job legally, without having to hide my real age, and finally stopped working at 17, taking a break to finish high school and restarting after graduation.

Once I was studying in the university, I didn’t know in what direction I was going. I changed my major dozens of times and dropped classes here and there, but I always enjoyed going to work. It wasn’t until I reached the age of about 22 (Muslim by this time, Alhamdulillah) that I realized I needed to get myself together, so I chose a major and stuck with it, even though I still wasn’t sure about my choice. Nevertheless, I didn’t give up working, as a matter of fact, by the end of my studies, I was working two jobs, one full time, the other part time, plus I had a full time study load. Talk about a workaholic!

Finally, as graduation got closer, Allah presented me the chance to get married. He was a brother who lived two states away, but his character and Deen seemed promising. One of the most important questions I asked my possibly-husband-to-be was, “Will you allow your wife to work?” and I added, “Because I plan to do so.” He agreed although he knew that as a Muslim man, his was the full responsibility of providing for the household. I even managed to have my future husband ask his company if they would transfer him to my city so that I could continue with my career and my studies (I planned to do a Master’s degree). Since his company was big and had offices nearby, his boss was optimistic, but she had to ask her superiors and get back to him. I felt rather satisfied that I could continue with my plans and we moved on with the nikkah.

But Allah had other plans. The day of my graduation, my husband received a phone call from his boss letting him know that he could not transfer; he had to continue to work in his home state. My heart sank, but I was already married and by this time there was no turning back. I could always find a new job, and I could finish my Master’s in another school, no big deal. A few weeks later, I found myself living in a new state, in a place where I knew no one except my husband and his family, and even they lived far. The streets were unfamiliar and the highway looked treacherous. I was afraid of driving there and so I figured I would have to find a job that was close to home. Meanwhile, I started trying to adjust to married life. I nearly panicked when I realized that I would have to cook for my husband and clean the house. I didn’t know how to do that, at least not well. One day my husband pointed out my hairs being all over the floor. “Who cares?” I thought, “Clean them up!” After all, my mother would have done that, not point it out to me like I was supposed to do something about it. But the reality was: I was. I thought I better find a job quick so I could have an excuse to only do half the work I needed to do in the house.

Alhamdulillah, I swiftly landed a nice job in a school less than 2 miles away as a Spanish teacher. It was a relief to jump back into the workforce although I did not really enjoy this new job. Teaching was way too stressful; I felt like I was expected to entertain these kids more than teach them and they were high-schoolers. About halfway through the school year, I noticed some odd changes in me, mainly I was exhausted and suffering from dizzy spells. After some time, it was confirmed, I was pregnant! Masha’Allah, it was wonderful news, but it was also a bit scary. What did this new chapter in my life have in store? Pregnancy not only comes with joy, it is fraught with worry and responsibility. Part of the worry began to affect my work and this began to affect me physically, so much so that I had to stop working… for the first time in a long time. I thought about trying to find another job, but who would hire me knowing that I would go on maternity leave a few months later? I felt out of my element. SubhanAllah. I was not trained to be a housewife, a :::gasp:::, stay-at-home-mom!

That was my life five years ago. I have not worked a day since, except in my house, raising my two children, teaching them, entertaining them, cooking, and cleaning. And I have to be honest and say that I still don’t think I do it well. This is what inspired me to write this article because what happened to me was not just incidental. It is a growing trend among young girls, growing even more so now than when I was in high school. It is a byproduct of the so-called feminist movement, which force-feeds girls into thinking that they should focus on competing with men in the workforce in order to achieve success, rather than gaining the necessary knowledge of how to raise good children and manage successful households. Allah has identified for us our duties and responsibilities in the Qur’an, where He says,

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband's absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband's property)… (Qur’an Chapter An-Nisa/The Women 4:34)

And if that is not clear enough for us, then we have the hikmah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, sullalahu alaihi wa salaam, as a guide. He also explained the leading roles of men and women in the following hadith:

It has been narrated on the authority of Ibn 'Umar that the Prophet (May peace be upon him) said: Beware. Every one of you is a shepherd and every one is answerable with regard to his flock. The Caliph is a shepherd over the people and shall be questioned about his subjects (as to how he conducted their affairs). A man is a guardian over the members of his family and shall be questioned about them (as to how he looked after their physical and moral well-being). A woman is a guardian over the household of her husband and his children and shall be questioned about them (as to how she managed the household and brought up the children). A slave is a guardian over the property of his master and shall be questioned about it (as to how he safeguarded his trust). Beware, every one of you is a guardian and every one of you shall be questioned with regard to his trust. (Sahih Muslim, Book 020, Hadith 4496)

This does not mean that a woman cannot have career goals or aspirations. It means that her priority should be her family and maintaining the household in the most excellent way. If she can do this while working full time, then may Allah grant her success in all her affairs. However, we as parents need to instill discipline in our young girls and teach them how to take care of the house and how to manage their time so that they can complete chores and study. Instead of pushing them to become doctors or engineers and to only focus on their careers and delay marriage, we must show them how to lead a balanced life. This is more practical and healthier for a woman. Allah says in the Qur’an,

And wish not for the things in which Allah has made some of you to excel others. For men there is reward for what they have earned, (and likewise) for women there is reward for what they have earned, and ask Allah of His Bounty. Surely, Allah is Ever All-Knower of everything. (Qur’an Chapter An-Nisa/The Women 4:32) This is the true equality which we should seek. Not “equality” of gender roles.

In my case, by Allah’s Mercy and after some time, I was able to assimilate into my role, but I am still in the process and many days go by where I question whether or not I should go back to work. During these times, I think about my children and how and where and to whom I would leave them. I will be the one questioned for them, not the daycare center, not the nanny, not their grandparents. And realistically speaking, will my paycheck even cover the expenses of childcare? Sometimes, work really doesn’t seem worth it. Other friends of mine are able to balance work and their home life, masha’Allah, however, they admit it is difficult and some of them do it out of necessity.

Again, I stress that it is incumbent upon us to teach our children the responsibilities of home life. Even boys should be taught how to do household work for even the Prophet, sullalahu alaihi wa salaam, mended his own socks! Should we expect less from our sons? No, we should push them to emulate the Prophet, sullalahu alaihi wa salaam, in every way. Not only does this teach them responsibility and humility, but it also prepares them in case they happen to marry one of these poor girls who have been programmed with “tunnel vision,” who don’t see beyond their computer or work desk. At least the husband will be able to help her with the housework and not expect that she will instantaneously know how to handle the chores herself, nor should she be expected to do everything herself. I would have loved that my mother push me more in doing chores and learning my role as a woman, but instead I chose the harder path. Maybe we can help our children to be successful in all avenues of life, not just in their studies or careers; after all, we are their role models.

May Allah guide us all to the Straight Path and keep us firm upon this Deen and may He make us the best parents for our children. Ameen.


  1. So happy you included the boys and the Sunnah of the Prophet. They should learn in case the wife has a difficult time during pg or after baby.
    Nothing says "I Love You" more than him doing the dishes!

  2. MashaAllah, so true! JazakiAllah Khair.

  3. I had to re-share this awesome post MashaAllah!! I couldn't have said it better!! May Allah reward you for your honesty, insight, and post Ameen.

  4. Ameen to your dua'a! JazakiAllah Khair!

  5. Salaam sister,

    Jazakallahukhayran kathiraa post this sincere post of your. I can relate since I too was raised to be a strong, independent woman. After giving birth to my 3rd child, I decided to quit my career of 12 years to devote my time and attention to my 'sheeps'. It was a super difficult decision, and I didn't get any support from my loved ones since all of us have been raised wth that 'tunnel vision' and feminist mentality. I am struggling myself, never imagine staying home can be this difficult. Please include me in your dua'a, please Allah swt grant me Your blessings in my pursuit.

  6. Wa Alaykum Salaam wa Rahmatullah,

    MashaAllah, being a full-time mom is definitely a challenge, but one that has endless opportunities for reward! May Allah reward you for your efforts, ease your difficulties, make all of your tests a means of expiation for you, and fill your heart with satisfaction, ameen.