Sunday, January 21, 2018

Happy Housewives

A book review.

Happy Housewives is a 2005 book by Darla Shine, who is married to a TV producer Bill Shine and used to be a producer herself but quit her job to take care of her children. As of now, she runs a website called Happy Housewives Club (I linked to it several times), and as far as I know, she hosts a radio program for housewives and mothers, too (or, at least, she used to several years ago).

Darla wrote her book as a reaction to the Desperate Housewives show, which in her opinion, promoted a very distorted image of women who chose to stay home, alongside with immorality such as adultery. She even calls the characters of the show "whining, spoilt rotten bitches" (H.H., Regan 2006, p.11). In fact, Darla is rather blunt in her language, the fact which caused some women to give her negative reviews on Amazon.

The book claims to transform you from a miserable to happy housewife in 10 easy steps, and Darla uses her own story as an example. When she first stayed home, she used to be miserable all the time, spending her day going to salons and beauty shops while the housekeeper cleaned and the babysitter babysat, but after being told off by her mother, she got rid of hired help, and found happiness in mastering the art of homemaking and child-rearing.

I think you've guessed by now that Darla's book won't teach you how to live on 50$ a week or save money on electricity. In fact, it could be properly subtitled How to be a good upper middle class wife. Some women, again, criticised this aspect. Personally I don't think there is anything wrong with it, but her own social position has probably influenced her thinking to a certain degree, as she had a specific group of women in mind while writing it.

Happy Housewives is not a comprehensive guide on housekeeping but gives some good, solid advice for beginners, yet, I'm rather ambivalent about some of it. I'll start with things I liked. Darla is not afraid to speak her mind. She plainly states on p. 19 that any mother who could afford it should be home with her babies: "You brought these little people into the world, so go home and raise them. It's not your mother's responsibility." (emphasis mine). She criticises feminist movement: "Most of the feminists out there promoting working, career, having it all, being a superwoman they're full of it. You cannot have it all. They know it but won't admit it." (p.25).

She encourages women who chose to stay home to start taking good care of themselves, exercising and eating right and not believe everything the conventional medical care practitioners say. She tells the wives to invest in their marriages, to look good for their husbands, not to nag and not to deprive them of sex. She promotes homemaking, gives an example of a practical schedule with chores divided into daily, weekly, etc, and even says that you shouldn't expect your husband to clean since "it's your job anyway" (p.86).

There is a whole chapter devoted to cooking with tips, ideas and recipes. There is a section on entertaining and another one on gardening. Darla's style is spunky and engaging, and the book is incredibly easy to read. It's like talking to a good girlfriend, plus her enthusiasm about being a good housewife and mother is really catching. Yet, there are some things which I found dubious.

Some of these things are rather minor, like her advice on always wearing makeup or her insinuations that health care system is somehow unfair to women in particular. Others sound manipulative, like the story of Darla's friend who made her husband "open his wallet" by paying attention to him or the idea that "husbands are for sex, girlfriends are for communication." Many a traditional homeschooling mother will probably disagree with the suggestion that mommy needs a break from her kids and should go out with her girlfriends for a drink or two.

What I personally dislike is the way she treats the relationship between the husband and wife, especially things she says in Ch.7. I get the point of having a circle of friends, and an identity besides just wife and mother. Friends and relatives are important though nowadays we often tend to forget it. However, Darla appears to go beyond this when she states that you should rely more on your girlfriends than on your husband because it's them who will be there for you in the end.

I get this whole divorce thing and that your husband could die and you should have some support system in place, yet I disagree strongly with the idea that I should rely more on other women (and not even those related by blood) than my own husband. That is the book's biggest flaw in my opinion. I think husband and wife are a team and should always present a united front to the outside world. May be I'm wrong, I don't know, and I'd love to hear the opinions of others.

In the end, I think the positive advice in the book outweighs its real or perceived drawbacks but if you are offended by all things mentioned above, than this book is probably not for you.


  1. It is that feminist mindset, that "men come and ho but girlfriends are forever". I have never understood that idea. The idea of a marriage is still be life-long, or do people not listen when they say their vows? Friends on the other hand very easily come and go, depending on your situation in life.

    Have you seen any books for childfree housewives? There must be many housewives who have no children, for some reason or another.

    BTW, I have always wondered why people think that being housewife must be boring and depressing, like in "Desperate Housewives". I understand if somebody wants to work for money, but if there is plenty of it, how boring, how un-imaginative one must be if she needs a job to entertain herself?

  2. Housewife, Darla is a Catholic and I have a feeling that she is rather opposed to divorce, though she never states it openly. She sounds ambiguous enough sometimes which made me doubt whether I understood correctly what she was trying to say. Most men with high power career are workaholics who are never home anyway, so may be, her own experience and her social position influenced her thinking to a degree. She wrote that Terry Sciavo case (spelling?) made her wonder if she could trust her own husband. Still, her attitude towards marital relationship doesn't strike me as a traditional one, but may be, it's normal among her class?

    As for your second question, no, I'm not aware about books written specially for childless housewives, certainly not modern ones. I linked to a video by Quaint Housewife who married later in life and is childless but her blog isn't very active, unfortunately.

  3. You are propably right about workaholics. And people work so much more in America. I didn't remember that. It's easy to think your husband is your best friend when he works 38 hours a week and has five weeks of holiday per year.

  4. I'm not sure whether all Americans work that much, as she mentions that her husband leaves early in the morning and comes back somewhere at 10 p.m. I think some have normal, 9 to 5 jobs. But high earners usually do. My husband sometimes works 50 hour work weeks and it does tend to get lonely. He takes at most 3 weeks vacation in a year with may be, a free day now and then. I can't imagine having small kids and never seeing your husband:) But I tend to think that the marriages at this society level have in general, a somewhat different meaning for the people. And I bet the wives are afraid to lose their husbands and feel they need a safety net of girlfriends etc. Still, I take issue with an idea that you should let your husband go his own way and do your own stuff "as long as he brings home money", but from what I know, it's quite normal among the wealthy. Sometimes, they even live separately though they won't divorce.

  5. The American working men I know workout least 40 hours each week. From warehouse workers to office workers. Some work more. Some companies when they are trying to save $ keep their workers at 38 or less hours but that is not usual. Most people try for 40 hours to keep the pay. Two weeks vacation is usual and sometimes that is only after you work for a company for a certain amount of time..or years. My daughter gets 0 vacation time. Different work have different amounts of time you can get off for sickness etc. It is not unusual for a working person to spend an hour a day each way driving to work too. My husband spent 3 hours for years each day driving. That takes away from at home time too. By the time you reach home you are tense from the drive and plus tired from work.

    I read this book but it has been a few years. I too thought her idea of being so close to girl friends not balanced. I married my husband not my girlfriends. Also when I overhear many women talking together they get way too intimate about things that happened. Things that happened in our marriage are no business to anyone else. Ever.

    I am not aware of any books written for childless homemakers either. I know Lady Lydia on has addressed it many times and agrees that homemaking with or without children is a good thing. No difference. And naturally when your children grow up you too do not have children in your home even if you once did.

    I was glad I was able to stay at home when our children were home and now without them. I had time to rearrange my time to let my husband relax when he got home from work and not have a full schedule myself to try to fit in with his little time off work. He had a refuge and we enjoyed our time together. Sarah

  6. Sarah, it's always nice to hear from you! Thank you for the info. It's interesting that you noticed the same thing about girlfriends in Darla's book. It's good in general to have friends as modern people tend to isolate themselves, but yes, I found her ideas unbalanced, too. Agree about women having a tendency to get too intimate and start saying things they shouldn't. I think in general, our popular culture doesn't respect marriage one bit, and it shows in mainstream sources.

  7. I agree that is is SO easy to get too intimate with your friends. Everybody's doing it and then something just slips out of your mouth... I must admit that I always "confess" to my husband when I have that kind of lapsus, just to train myself to think before I speak.

    Here in Finland everybody gets 4 weeks of summer holiday and one week of winter holiday after they have worked fot the same employer for a year. It is the law, and you actually MUST take it. Also there is so much overwork you can do legally. You can have two jobs if you like, but employers are allowed to pay only certain amount of overwork hours. People here used to be very serious about workforce getting enough rest. Things are chancing, though.

  8. Here it depends on where you work. Business world and those self-employed always work longer. I've heard of men working 80 hours. They were young, of course. Women mostly work part-time tho.

    The problem with *itching about your husband to your girlfriends is that you just stop respecting him after a while, and once respect is gone, affection and desire leave next. After all, he isn't your knight in shining armour any more but just some loser who can't take out the trash on time.

  9. I wish my husband could take 4 weeks in summer! He is actually isn't allowed to take more than two at a time.