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The Happy Homemaker

The Netherlands, November 10, 2015

On paper, Rosalie is an ordinary housewife. She is married and a parent. And like the majority of homemakers worldwide, she is dependent upon her husband for financial support. But that’s on paper.

To sit with her in her living room as she regales you with her life story - her joyous blue eyes, rosy complexion and model-perfect figure at 66 years of age make it clear that she is anything but ordinary.

She's not one to assertively call attention to herself through unique hobbies or habits, unusual opinions, or strong political beliefs. Her originality comes from something much more intrinsic: her deep contentment with life.

Rosalie considers herself to be a happy homemaker, a role that began forty-eight years ago after she married Raymond, an Indonesian accountant who had moved to the Netherlands as a young man.

Caring for elderly parents

She welcomed the chance to be a full time mom in 1979 to Randy, her son and only child, and to run a large house, which she and her husband built seven years later. And when the time came, she mirrored other homemakers globally by becoming the primary care giver to her elderly parents.

As a result, like most (65 percent) of the homemakers polled in Aegon's 2015 Retirement Readiness Survey, she now feels that her husband will be a very/extremely important source of income for her in retirement.

Women's lib

Rosalie came of age during the 1960's, a time when the women's liberation movement was railing against the kind of traditional role she opted for. Although the voices of feminists like Germaine Greer, Erica Jong, and Gloria Steinem screamed louder than hers, she chose a quieter but no less fulfilling path.

Her satisfaction is clearly fueled by something larger than herself, kept aloft by her Dutch value system which prizes family, community, and, perhaps most importantly, modesty.

You don't need a lot of money to be happy...

 

"Too much money is not a good thing. If there is a little money, okay, but you don't need a lot of money to be happy," she says. "My parents didn't have a lot of money. What they did have, they worked for. There were five kids at home, so the money was always spent on something one of us needed. There was no extra. They taught us to be careful, to learn to be happy and content with what we had. These are values for life."

Homemaker black and white wedding photo

Rejecting excess

Rosalie's aversion to excess may seem revolutionary by today's standards, but she is merely echoing the sentiments of many of her Dutch peers who have a visceral distaste for the non-essential. Excess in all forms, from food to clothing to architecture, is considered wasteful by many Dutch people and is even met with suspicion. These ideas still permeate Dutch culture, born from the Calvinist notion that a person's salvation is tied to hard work and frugality.

Which may explain why she doesn't complain about climbing up her daughter-in-law's scarily-steep staircase in Rotterdam twice a week to care for her grandsons, Phaerynn and Maddox, after driving for two and half hours from her home near Maastricht. Or visiting her mother, who has Alzheimer's disease, every day at the nursing home even though she no longer recognizes Rosalie. Or why she decided to become the contractor on the house she and her husband build in 1986, rather than hiring a professional. "We figured we would learn on the job," she said. "Besides, it saved us a lot of money."

Investment for retirement

After the birth of her son, the one-bedroom apartment she and her husband shared was no longer large enough for their growing family. They decided to build a new house that would serve two functions. Firstly, it would give them the room they needed, but additionally it would serve as their main investment for their eventual retirement. Only 11 percent of homemakers have a written plan for retirement and Rosalie was no exception.

But she did have a plan in her head, similar to 30 percent of homemakers worldwide. In addition to the pension her husband expected to get through his work, they counted on the equity the house would eventually yield. They found land in a picture-perfect village called Eijsden, replete with bucolic pastures, a castle, and an ancient windmill, and they jumped, head first, into the unknown world of home building.

Despite being the picture of health, Rosalie surprisingly doesn't believe she'll live as long as her mother who's currently suffering from dementia

Naturally, as first-time builders, mistakes were made. Windows were too small and there weren't enough electric sockets to make the house future proof. But years later, Rosalie channeled her newfound expertise into a volunteer job with her local community housing board as part of a women's advisory committee, helping architects and builders to become more aware of requirements they might otherwise have overlooked in their new projects.

Life expectancy

Despite being the picture of health, Rosalie surprisingly doesn't believe she'll live as long as her mother who's currently suffering from dementia. Like many of us, she's not alone in this misconception that our stressful, busy lives may result in a shorter life expectancy than previous generations. When I explain that in reality, better diet and medical care means quite the opposite, she's not phased.

House values have gone up considerably in her region since they were built, a fact that Rosalie finds reassuring. She knows she can always sell the house and downsize, if absolutely necessary. That, coupled with her husband's pension and the savings she accrued from a lifetime of part-time work as a hairdresser, runway model, and florist, enables Rosalie to focus on matters that mean more to her than money, her family.

Depending on someone, and having them depend on you, that's where life gets its meaning

 

"True, my husband initiated most of the financial decisions in our marriage. That's okay. Depending on someone, and having them depend on you, that's where life gets its meaning," concludes Rosalie, closely echoing the recommendations in Aegon's homemaker's report, which suggests that working together and becoming personally involved in family activities, including financial matters, helps build confidence and create awareness about family finances in the event that a homemaker has to make decisions on her/his own.

 


 

Further information

The Aegon Center for Retirement and Longevity carries out the largest annual global retirement readiness survey of its kind. The facts quoted in this article are taken from its recent report - Homemakers Are Not Off the Hook: How Should They Be Planning for Retirement?

 

Written by: Lisa Lipkin is a professional storyteller and CEO of storystrategies.net.