Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Housewifery

I don't like being a housewife.

There, I said it.

Don't get me wrong. I love being a stay-at-home mom. I love being with my son all day, the close relationship this helps us have, and the way I'm the expert on his needs. All that is what I stay home for.

I didn't stay home to do housework. Sure, I do it. I don't do a great job. I keep us all fed, clothed, and more or less clean. But I don't enjoy it.

Oh, the chores themselves aren't so bad. They're no harder than many other jobs I have had. It's the endlessness of it. The way I can spend an hour washing a mountain of dishes, and by the time I'm done, we're hungry again and I have to make more dishes. The way I can never really relax because there's always something I should be doing.

And it's so easy to get resentful. It's tough, especially if you're the more outgoing spouse, to wait all day for your husband to come home so you can talk to him, only to find he's been dealing with people all day and just wants to be quiet. Or to have him come home and put his feet up after a hard day's work just at the moment that your job is getting its most stressful, what with dinner to make and bedtime to handle. Or to see everyone you know relax on a weekend, while for you it's just one more day where people need to be fed and clothed.

There are different ways to look at it. You can see it as a vocation. But then every time you need to ask for help with the dishes, you feel like a failure at your vocation.

You can see it as a job. But it's a kind of awful job with no pay except the privilege to continue doing it, plus the occasional word of gratitude. And then, every time you aren't thanked on schedule, you feel like your pay is getting docked.

You can see it as just trying to keep a tidy house because you like to live in one, and doing the lion's share because you happen to be home more. That's my main approach. But then you get angry when no one else does what you consider to be their share. And you don't feel like you should ever have to ask. No one asks you to make dinner, please - you just do it. So how come other people can walk through the kitchen, comment on the dirty dishes, and then just leave them there? You feel everyone has the responsiblity to pitch in and do an amount of housework proportionate to the amount of time they spend in the house. But, of course, they haven't got the memo and don't know what you might consider proportionate. They might not even know what needs doing, not being in the thick of it like you are.

It's a pretty powerless position. There isn't always any solution to being overwhelmed, tired, lonely, and behind on the dishes. But then, the husband can be in a bind, too, in many ways. If he has higher standards than his wife's (as mine does), and he thinks things ought to be cleaner, what can he do? He could do it himself, but he's so busy outside the home he hasn' t got the time or energy to do it all. He could nag and complain, but if she thinks she's doing her best, she's not likely to make a permanent improvement.

Either spouse is in danger of feeling jealous. The husband can complain that he never gets to spend as much time with his kids as his wife does, that he has to commute, and that he can't arrange his house to suit himself because he's never in it. The wife can reposte with her loneliness, lack of measurable accomplishments or appreciation, and inability to get out of the house or wear nice clothes. There are times when the other's job seems like a walk in the park. Meanwhile, both have to make constant financial sacrifices for life on a single income to work - and that can be a strain too.

A strong relationship can weather these struggles, but they definitely can be points of contention. Men and women have been arguing about them at least since the Industrial Revolution, and maybe since the dawn of time.

I do the housework because I want it to be done, because I want my husband to have a clean house, and because I'm the one on the spot to do it. But nothing has ever made it easy for me.

12 comments:

Sarah Faith said...

Yeah, I tend to think things housework-wise are "good enough" much more easily than my husband does.
After almost 10 years of marriage and 6 kids we are in a much better place. He has lightened up on his expectations and also he pitches in when he feels I don't measure up. For instance, he insists on doing the kitchen every night b/c he likes it a certain way when he wakes up (first) to eat breakfast. In turn I try to do it to his specs when he can't. :)

I think it helps both parties to remember that the main goal of marriage, when there are children, is to get those souls to heaven. If that's how you're spending your time, I say the housework can wait. :)

CatholicMommy said...

No great words of wisdom here. :-/ I will, however, recommend a book called Smart Marthas, which I found both entertaining and useful. Maybe your library has it? (But if you go, PLEASE put some shoes on that poor child!) ;-)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Sheila, I've not yet been in charge of an entire house, but I feel I understand your frustration.

A few years ago, a friend who swore she'd never be a housewife said that it wasn't that she was against it on principle, but that she already knew she wouldn't be good at it and wanted to work at something she was more naturally suited for. And she thought it was unfair that men had more of a choice when it came to their fields, while women "had" to stay home.

(Granted, a man who takes his duties as a provider seriously may also be stuck for years in a job he also has no natural affinity for. But should the tide turn, he'd have more freedom to make a change.)

While a woman's best might not be "good enough" by professional standards, it can already be a big sacrifice--and one very lovingly rendered--and so it must be very hurtful when her efforts go unacknowledged (or worse, criticised).

Sheila said...

One good solution to that problem is to have the dad stay home and the mom work. We thought of that solution ourselves ... but, I think, we both really do prefer our side to alternative. The other one *looks* easier, but I think John would go crazy hearing the amount of screaming I deal with on a regular basis, and I don't think I could bear to be away from Marko all day.

You can just bet I hate to be criticized about anything housework-related. I *know* I'm not doing the world's best job, but I do try, and I get awfully sensitive about it. It's like getting a bad performance review -- who wants that?

A future better solution would involve a closer-to-home job for John, with perhaps fewer hours, and maybe a small part-time job for me. There's no reason it has to be all or nothing. I want my kids to be with a parent the majority of their time, but it can be either of us.

I suppose it makes me a feminist, but I honestly don't think it matters who's the outside-the-home-worker and who's the stay-at-homer. Usually the mom stays home because with all that pregnancy and breastfeeding, it's just simpler. But for career-loving moms and domestic dads, why do what is unsatisfying to both just because of what amounts to mere custom?

healthily sanguine said...

MERE custom?

some guy on the street said...

I think Sheila means to distinguish Sacred Tradition from folk habits, particularly habits that only go back to the industrial revolution. For instance, when most people simply HAD to do SOME serious farming, it was quite ordinary for the whole family to spend most of their time within a couple miles of the house.

Tawny said...

Sheila I agree. I've always seen our children, house, and finances as a joint effort and divide it up however makes sense at the time. When I was working full time we split the house work much more evenly, but since I lost my job I've done the bulk of it simply because I have the time.

I'm not a huge fan of housework either :) and if we didn't have a little kid there is no way I'd consider staying home, fortunately we're not just housewives, we're mamas too.

Sheila said...

Thank you, S.g.o.t.s., that is exactly what I meant. Having the woman stay home all day while the man works a far distance from home is only a human custom, and a fairly recent one at that. If you want to go for *really* old tradition, in hunter-gatherer societies, usually the men hunt and the women gather. Both wind up some distance from home. Women logically tend to be the ones who care for the small children, which is (not to be crass about it) because we're the ones with the breasts. But older children, especially boys, would often follow their dads into the fields/hunt/workshop. And in many cultures, even the babies and toddlers are mainly cared for by grandmothers and aunts.

Customs vary based on what is most practical. If I had a PhD and my husband was a high-school drop-out, it simply wouldn't make sense for me to stay home while he worked, not long-term. The reason most single-income families do hit on the moms-stay-home solution is that it almost always IS the practical one: she tends to prefer being home, he tends to prefer a paid career, she tends to be better at baby-care, he tends to be able to command a higher pay, and so on.

This may be heresy, but I don't think doing the dishes is an essential part of my feminine genius. I think they're just dishes.

Tawny said...

Hahaha...dishes as feminine genius, you're funny Sheila.

healthily sanguine said...

If you had a PhD, why WOULD you marry a high-school dropout? It seems like a fanciful hypothetical. As for the modern commuting "hunter," certainly customs have shifted in what is involved to provide for a family and to "bring home the bacon." The roles of motherhood and fatherhood, however, remain the same--which is why the solution of having the wife stay at home to look after the children and the house has been adapted from the necessity of having the mother be in the home to perform her role. It would be BETTER if the father were at or near the home during the day to fulfill his fatherly role, but it is not strictly necessary. The children need their mother, not just because she "has breasts" and not because her feminine genius is doing dishes and changing diapers. They need her because she is their MOTHER, and she's supposed to be there. It is painful to me to see the family deconstructed into a matter of convenience, physicality, or even a practical truce with one's spouse: its importance as a whole is simply too great! If you break things apart, you just buy directly into our culture with its insistence on autonomous, mix-and-match individuals who "contract" marriage and negotiate any and all particulars as needed. Do we really need to reinvent the wheel?

Sheila said...

Um, I would marry a high-school dropout because he was a great guy and I liked him, presumably. We can't ALL "marry up."

Personally, I think kids need BOTH parents. I could easily demand, "They need him because he is their FATHER." Dads are important too! I agree that in most cases, the mom is the everyday one, the one who's best at the 24/7 stuff. And yet, since being married and a mother myself, I've started to be a lot more open-minded about the different possibilities. My son prefers my husband, and has since birth. He goes to sleep better with him, soothes boo-boos better with him, has fun better with him. It kind of hurts to see him pick Daddy every time! But the fact is, kids need both parents. I think they should have at least one of them with them at all times when they're young. And there's no hard-and-fast rule which that should be. My son believes it should be Daddy.

I get upset when I hear people say, "Children NEED their mother. But they don't NEED their father the same way." Children nowadays are used to getting by with just one most of the time, and getting time with Daddy more as a special treat. But that doesn't make it right.

I don't think at all that the notion of a stay-at-home dad is equivalent to buying into the culture's messed-up view of marriage. However, I do think it's up to each couple to negotiate certain particulars on their own: who does the dishes, who changes the diapers, who earns a paycheck, and how their family customs work. When you get married, you kind of HAVE to reinvent the wheel -- because your situation is not identical to that of all other couples. "Tradition" is all very well, but think of those few things the Church DOES define for us: fidelity, permanence, raising and education of children. That makes a marriage. Who stays home has never been dictated to us -- it's a tradition with a small t. I'm all for keeping small-t traditions if they make sense practically -- but when they don't, there's nothing at all wrong with doing what does make sense.

Sheila said...

P.S. You do realize you said, essentially, "Mothers should stay home because they are mothers"? Do you have an actual reason why? Surely it's something other than, "Historically, that's the way it has most often been"?

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