Thoughts on being a homemaker

Homemaker: One who manages a household, especially as a wife and mother;  a wife, who does work (such as sewing, cleaning, or cooking) at home and usually does not have another job outside the home. (Merriam-Webster definition)

I’ve spent most of my morning doing household chores. As a stay-at-home mom, perhaps you think this is how I should spend most of my morning. I used to think that too. I used to think that since I was at home, my job was to have a clean house and to keep it that way for my family.  The second part of that definition that identifies the work as sewing, cleaning, and cooking especially stuck in my head.  However,  when I would see the term homemaker in description of what I did every day, this definition did not serve me well as I do not do these things very well all the time. Interestingly, this narrative of what it meant to be a homemaker/stay-at-home mom was in my head long before I had children of my own.

Retrospectively, I’m not even totally sure where this narrative came from. My mom was kinda a stay-at-home mom, but also kinda not. My dad worked outside of the home, but also kinda didn’t, because he’s a pastor and we lived literally next door to the church. So he was around a lot.  I remember both parents being heavily involved in household and yard chores. I do think my mom did the lion’s share of the day to day upkeep inside the house, but I also know that we kids were expected to chip in from quite a young age, and both parents were equally involved with putting us to work.

Given all that – I find it puzzling that I still struggled with the idea that it was all up to me to get done. Where did the idea totally come from? My husband’s side of the family was somewhat traditional in the breakdown of household roles, but it also wasn’t rigid in nature. It appeared to me to be a team effort – with my mother-in-law the expert on some issues and my father-in-law the lead on others when it came to house and home management.

I don’t really have answers to where my ideas came from, and perhaps those last two paragraphs are mainly a disclaimer: parentals – I don’t totally blame you for my dysfunctions… 😉

I’ve been thinking about my role as a wife and mother for a while now and have had lots of conversations with friends and with my husband about what it should be.  I feel pretty lucky to have a husband who sees me as having more value to him and to our family than simply the housecleaner and cook. This is really good, because, although I do enjoy cooking, I struggle so much with the cleaning side of things! If my value and identity in being a stay-at-home mom were wrapped up in how well I’ve managed the household cleanliness, I would be depressed all the dang time.

The interesting thing is, that I keep meeting moms who deal with feeling that they’re not good moms and wives because they’re not awesome at one or more parts of that thing from the top called ‘homemaking’. Some hate cooking, or just feel like they’re really bad at it. Some are like me and find the daily/weekly/monthly/yearly tasks of keeping a house clean and maintained totally overwhelming and draining. And the thing is – all of these moms love their kids and feel like it’s a blessing to stay home with them and nurture them. Or at least they would feel blessed if they weren’t so stressed about getting the house picked up and having a healthy, nutritious lunch and dinner planned, shopped for, and prepared for everyone in the house.

When did we equate being a stay-at-home mom to being the cook and housekeeper? When did we as a society (and really, the church) decide that being a good mom and wife boiled down to things that can easily be outsourced to anyone? I mean, if I had enough money, I would be paying someone to clean my house you better believe it. (Even childcare can be outsourced. Plenty of people use daycare and are STILL amazing moms. I’m sure some of you don’t feel that way, but you are.)

And then what? If we take out all the tasks that could be outsourced, what is left?  What does it really mean to be a wife and a mom?

I think that digging down to those fundamental definitions has been very helpful for me. It’s a work in progress and is probably a whole other blog post waiting to be written. For now, yes, I do absolutely have to do some household things to keep things moving here. For me, for right now, doing these things is part of my life. But I see a day coming when it won’t be. I even see a day when I might be {gasp} putting my little one in daycare and heading off to work somewhere else. When that day comes, will I be able to take off the primary housekeeper/cook hat and keep everything on that makes me a wife and mother? I really hope so.

The one thing I do love about cleaning,  especially when the kids are gone and the baby is napping, is that it gives my brain lots of space for thinking. And the places it went today? It went to the many conversations I’ve had with friends of mine who are really struggling in this area. The thing is someone really does have to scrub the toilets, grocery shop, do laundry, sweep, vacuum, clean dishes, drive people places, clean windows, get the oil changed, etc., etc., etc.  And most of my friends are doing these things. But when we fasten these necessary tasks of life to a particular gender or parent role based on arbitrary guidelines or tradition, we risk some very real soul wounds.

I know several women, all of whom are sincere and devoted followers of Jesus, who love their children, love their husbands, and desire to excel at life, who are just drowning under the expectations being put on them. It’s heartbreaking to see women who don’t see themselves as good moms because they can’t pull together a home-cooked meal. It’s devastating to watch a woman’s countenance transform from joy after chatting about a particularly interesting piece of news to absolute defeat when she recalls how the dishes have piled up in the kitchen and she won’t have time to clean up before the husband gets home. I’ve seen these things. I’ve seen women I know carry on rich, meaningful discussion and debate, get animated about a topic, provide advice and wisdom to others in their area of expertise and then get totally knocked down by the fact that their husband is disappointed that she doesn’t have a dinner plan.

Please, husbands, wake up and realize the burden you’re putting (maybe even unknowingly) on your beloved wife. If you’re unhappy about the way things are in your home, do something about it. We know and can see all that didn’t get done while you were at work.  To give you perspective on how we feel about it – think of the part of your job that you just don’t like. There’s something I’m sure – a regular meeting, a task, a person – something you have to deal with regularly, but just don’t enjoy.  You do it because you have to and because it’s part of the job, but you don’t love it. It’s not the reason you took the job. If that was the only thing ever expected of you, spoken about, praised, criticized, you would most likely quit. Right? That may just be how some of us (many of us?) feel about some of the parts of managing a household and being home with the kids.

I’m just going to guess that when you asked your wife to marry you, you didn’t ask her because you needed a dishwasher and a laundress. I can speak for myself that when I decided to get married and have children, my brain didn’t automatically go to all the laundry and vacuuming! I knew it was a part of doing life, but it wasn’t the reason for getting married and having kids. Maybe you don’t even care about all this stuff and your wife has these expectations somehow built in to her; I know I did! I can almost guarantee a positive result if you communicate somehow to her the things about her that you value that have nothing to do with how she keeps things up at home. Summer is coming – those little people that you made together are going to be home ALL. DAY. LONG. in a few short weeks. If she’s already feeling discouraged about her role, it’s becoming a huge dark cloud over her whole life right now. I believe you can have an incredible influence over how your wife approaches her summer with the kids.

To my own husband, this is really all preaching to the choir.  You’re usually more attuned to the state of the house than I am. I love you for this. Case in point – yesterday I said that the kitchen floor was so dirty, heaved a big sigh, and continued making my lunch. You stuck something in the microwave, walked away, came back with a broom, and swept the floor. Thank you. Thank you for believing in me, for telling me over and over again that I’m valuable to you even if I don’t get things cleaned up. That the relational work I do with the kids is meaningful. That taking time to do this writing thing I do (sometimes) is worth it. That all my other pursuits in church, at the kids’ school, with the neighbors is worth my time and energy. You make me feel like I could dip my toe back in the working outside the home pool and I love you for it.

I know this post got a bit preachy and long, so I’ll just end with this awesome parody video by the Holderness Family. I’m so out of it that I have no idea what song they’re doing a parody of, but still. It’s perfect for today’s musings.

Holderness Family – Clean It Up Yourself

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