April 9th, 2008

It’s about your house; It’s about your husband; It’s about your family

We women can get pretty worked up about housework, can’t we?

I am always surprised to find that it’s an emotional topic for women. But I shouldn’t be. We have all kinds of emotional baggage wrapped up in this one. Some of the people I’ve heard from over the past few days tell me that they were raised in cold, controlling, immaculate homes and so avoiding housework now is a way of rebelling against a lack of love. Others struggle with what I like to call “feminist residue.” They were raised in a generation of women that believed housework was “beneath them” and there were “more important things” for women to do. So now, even as they intend to embrace at-home motherhood, they still bristle at the idea of anyone expecting them to clean. Others are depressed or living in dysfunctional, neglected marriages and for them, a chaotic living space is an outward expression of an unhappy interior life.

But for a lot of people, it’s nothing so complicated as that. A lot of us simply lack motivation and discipline or our lives are filled with too much distraction. I think a big part of the reason that Elizabeth Foss’s post on housekeeping struck a chord is because it challenged us to look at our priorities. We do not like to be challenged.

Housekeeping standards and priorities are going to be different for every family, but the fact remains that for a mother at home, maintaining a reasonably orderly and functional household (notice I did not say perfect) is part of her job. Doing this part of your job does not require giving up all time for yourself, refusing to play with your kids, failing to greet your husband with a smile at the end of the day, or spending every spare moment on your knees scrubbing the grout with a toothbrush. But doing this part of your job does require figuring out your family’s basic housekeeping needs and taking an honest look at how your daily activities stack up against those.

If you truly do not know where to start, make a simple plan: Forget everyone else’s house. Forget everyone else’s husband. Forget everyone else’s family. Focus on your own. Remember, the work we do inside our homes — everything from scrubbing the bathtub, to making dental appointments, to reading picture books, to cooking dinner — we do at the service of our families; it’s our #1 apostolic work.

1. Ask yourself. What kinds of basic things are important to you in the running of your household? Do you hate to run out of toilet paper? Does the whole world seem to come crashing in on you at 5:00 when you have no real plan for dinner? Do you die a thousand deaths if your neighbor stops by and there’s no uncluttered surface available to invite her to sit down?

2. Ask your husband. What kinds of basic things are important to him in the running of your household? Does he feel unsupported if he’s packing for a trip and can’t find a clean pair of socks? Does he dislike having to spend money on last minute grocery store runs or takeout dinners because you’ve failed to plan ahead? Would he love to have a neat, clean, private spot he can retreat to for at least a few minutes at the end of his workday?

Everyone’s answers will be different here. Once you’ve asked and gotten specific answers, though, you’ll know what’s most important to you and your family and you’ll know where to focus. It really is that simple. While it might be true that we’ll never get everything done, we can find out our own family’s needs and we can make an honest effort toward meeting those. If we do that, we will make progress toward a happier, more pleasant, and efficient household. For our husbands, for our kids, and for ourselves. And isn’t that all any of us really wants?

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