Housework: since when did I care?

kitchen housework

We were all young once. Young and naive and idealistic. Yes, that was me way back in the day (<2 years ago). I was, a) a feminist (still am one) and b) someone who wanted to stay at home full time whilst her children were young (um, not so much). Unsurprisingly, then, I enjoyed getting on my feminist high horse about the ‘gendering of housework’.

“The problem is, really, that having children is largely shown to change the division of labour within a household; it gets skewed towards the woman, as if the role of mother somehow involves being cook, cleaner and laundry-woman! Whether a woman ‘works’ or not shouldn’t be the issue. I mean, child-care is a full time job, we pay other people a lot of money to do it, it should be valued as an occupation in and of itself…blah blah blah.”

Aaah, to be young and free! I now realise two things: 1) That pretty much all childcare workers – nannies, child-minders, nursery staff – do a crap load of cleaning. 2) If you spend your entire day with a child and do absolutely nothing domestic (i.e. picking up breakfast from the floor or clearing a pathway through the toys) then by 5pm your once lovely home will have disappeared under a heap of used baby-wipes, small wooden blocks and breadstick-crumbs.

Don’t get me wrong, by 5pm everyday my house looks like I’ve done absolutely no housework. What I have actually been engaged in all day is damage limitation. Oh and, you know, entertaining/feeding/soothing an actual tiny human being. So basically, lounging!

So I have come to accept that side of it; the clean-as-you-go efforts that keep your house looking messy rather than utterly rank. I can deal with that, it’s fair enough. The part that irks me is the strange thing that happens to my mind when my husband arrives home from work. I feel an irrepressible urge to explain the mess to him. “Sorry about all the pans. We were out all afternoon, and I had to leave right after lunch, and, I didn’t mean it, and, I’m gonna clean it up…”

Why do I do this? It’s not Hubs making me feel this way. He’ll usually just respond along the lines of “that’s fine love, you don’t need to explain.” Oh but I do, Hubs! I doooo! Because I am a mother now, and that involves being a cook, cleaner, laundry woman… Hold up! What has occurred in my brain? Dear Reader, I have become the very thing I once scorned!

Anyone who knows me will probably be reading this with an expression of glaring incredulity. I am not a domestic goddess. My house is never spotless and rarely thoroughly tidied (see image above). Yes, I cook the tea most nights but when I do Hubs washes up. Pretty sweet. I’d say I do 30% of the laundry, at a push, so really nowt to complain about there. I sweep the floors multiple times a day (#blamethebreadsticks) and am generally the resident toilet-cleaner but as households go, our division of labour is pretty darn healthy. In fact, I took the Woman’s Hour ‘chore wars’ survey and, although I am apparently a ‘Clean Machine’ Hubs is rated as ‘Super Human’. So, in my face.

So why do I still feel like a housewife?

chore wars

We briefly interrupt your regularly scheduled rant-a-thon to bring you this statistical information. (This is not representative of my household).

Well, for a start, the whole ‘unpaid’ thing doesn’t help. Suddenly I am not even remotely the bread-winner. I win no bread, not a crumb, (Dear Editors, I will work for crumbs). And so it’s a bit like Hubs is paying me. Which is a bit like being a employed as a Stay-at-Home-Mum by your husband. Weird. Maybe that’s why I feel the need to show employee accountability and undergo professional development reviews: Over the past twelve months I really feel I have expanded my kitchen repertoire and am placing a lot more emphasis on surface-wiping than I used to.

No one is demanding this from me. No one is even really expecting it. But somehow it has become part of my identity. For all of my post-baby feminist ranting I have completely bought into the idea that staying at home with your kids means taking on more of the housework. And maybe it should mean that, whatever gender the care-giver is. But much worse is the flip-side of this idea: that if you don’t do this then you’re a lazy failure of a mother/wife/woman. I mean, I’ve only got one kid. It’s really not that hard. Shouldn’t I be baking bread and running-up curtains or something? *bangs head on keyboard repeatedly*

Many of us have fallen into the trap of measuring our parenting ‘successes’ based on, I don’t know, how many meals we’ve cooked ‘from scratch’ this week, or how often we mop the bathroom floor. But, hold up, isn’t there another exemplar of our hours of labour? (Pun intended). Don’t we have some pretty strong proof that we are doing something with our days?

That’s right people, we have children! Actual alive, looked-after, fed, read to, talked to, cuddled, tickled and loved children. Have we just come to think of raising kids as ‘what you’re supposed to do’? Is it somehow that bare minimum of daily achievement?? You know, I t’s in your genes and, therefore, you should be good at it. Don’t expect any bloody praise for bringing up the next generation of the human race. That be women’s work! *NB: we will simultaneously bombard you with so much contradictory advice you never feel you’re really good at it all. ha.*

Of course, it’s not women’s work. It’s human’s work. It takes a village to raise a child and all that. But, still, child-rearing exists in the collective imagination as a feminine and organic process, one that just sort of ‘happens’. Of course there’s lots of ‘oh she’s such a good mother‘ and ‘go mums!‘ stuff around but that’s usually more about being a nice person than the day-to-day tasks one has to perform as a primary care-giver.

If you stay home with your kids you’re more likely to be thought as ‘lucky’ because just get to do ‘one thing’ (try a bazillion tiny unquantifiable unnoticed tasks). In a way I am lucky that we can afford for me to do this, but I wouldn’t mind also being thought of as capable or creative or efficient. Okay, that last one would be inaccurate, but I stand by the first two!

I don’t know whether I have really been duped by the patriarchy into guilt-tripping myself about my domestic short-comings. Maybe I just need to shut up and get on with. (Incidentally Shut Up and Get On With It will one day be the title of my first self-help book, catchy, huh?)

Somewhere down the line, though, I fell into the thinking that being a ‘full-time stay-at-home mum’ was not enough. That I would have to prove my utility in other ways in order ‘be okay’. As if anything could please, or indeed impress, my family/friends/the world more than that gorgeous, hilarious, wilful little boy of mine. This is the problem; not the amount of cleaning I do but the obligation I feel to do it. I should do it because I am at home. I should do it because I am a mother. And the guilt if (when, several times a week) I don’t do any of it. That is not on. It needs to stop. Guilt doesn’t clean the loos. In fact, guilt belongs down the toilet. So there.

I’m going to keep on doing the housework, because it needs doing and I live in the house and make a lot of the mess. One day I’ll be employed again and hire a cleaner, so I can feel guilty about neglecting my womanly duties in that way instead. Them’s the breaks. That’s the patriarchy. Bleurgh to it all.

How do you feel about housework? Do you feel more responsible for it than your other half? Or guilty when you have a frozen meal for dinner? Get involved by commenting below, visiting my Facebook page, or tweeting me @aafew.

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35 thoughts on “Housework: since when did I care?

  1. I’m having these thoughts a lot too, as not only do I have messy kids, but I am also currently unemployed and the (largely unpaid) work I am doing is all from home. No escape from the housework or cooking (I despise the latter particularly!) but also so hard to focus on doing and/or getting work! I now know that the only reason I worked before was to escape the chores and the making of food! Such is feminism and guilt and being a woman though, and thank you for your post.

    • Always good to know your not alone, isn’t it?? I lost my job when I was pregnant so had that choice made for me!! And yes, a good job application takes a long time so finding space to think like an adult for long enough to write a cover letter can be a bit of a challenge!!
      Thanks for the comment!x

  2. It’s only since having our daughter that I realise how much I despise housework and all that it means; my earning power has gone; I can’t just book a holiday when I fancy. I do try to work one day a week on the ‘stuff’ that accumulates’, but the vacuuming and serious dusting maneuvers only come out during pre-visit deep cleans (where my anxiety levels hit the roof) and the cold months. Once the sunshine is a little warmer I’ll make sure toddler-daughter and I are out ALL day, then there can’t be any mess at home!

    I am still searching for a Loo Fairy who will magically take this most hated of my chores away from me. Then again, maybe we watch too much Ben and Holly?

    • Yes! Sometimes I think we need over night guests or we would live in filth!!!

      It is tedious and only satisfying for about 10 seconds before it’s a tip again! Lots of trips out is defo the way forward; go and do messy play and crafts at a play group. That way someone else has to sweep up!!

  3. This also really applies to those like me, who went part time after their child was born. I’m at home with my daughter on Thursdays and Fridays, and as well as taking her to playgroups/the park/soft play centres/the library/ to feed the ducks….I also feel I have to clean the entire house from top to bottom and a million other things. I then list these to my husband the second he walks throughout door. There is no pressure on me from him to do anything on those days. He recently had a cleaner round for a trial and I said no, I can do it! It was the guilt speaking.

  4. I’ve worked from home for years and naturally fell into doing more chores around the house – yes I have long days packed with teleconferences etc but when I do have a few minutes spare, it doesn’t take much time to put on some soup or put on the washing (husband does bigger jobs like cleaning the bathrooms and vacuuming). I’m a bit of a stickler for cleanliness but I guess that’s come from years of working from home – I get too distracted otherwise and can’t focus on work! And I don’t mind cooking and meal planning (I like my food!).

    During the 6 months off work with baby, I definitely put pressure on myself to ‘perform’ – to have a clean house for my husband to come home to and a home-cooked meal several times a week. I kinda figured if I’m going to be a housewife for a while, I might as well give it my all – shopping, cleaning, cooking etc. I did achieve it some days – in any case before baby was mobile! I put myself in his shoes – it would be so annoying to go to work sleep-deprived (whereas I could nap during the day) and then come home to an utter disaster of a house with both of us starving and too knackered to do anything but call for a take-away, and then too knackered to clean up and/or play with baby properly. Day after day of living like that would just do my head in. The odd time, once baby was older and I was no longer bf’ing, I’ve had to go out to work and left baby with husband – I would HATE it if I came home to find they had eaten snacks all day, that the house was a disaster zone etc. Wouldn’t expect a pristine house from husband but would expect that assuming neither of them are sick etc, that he can find five minutes in the day to make some scrambled eggs or pick up toys (now that baby is a toddler, tidying up at the end of day is something we’re trying to teach).

    But anyway. This was all only possible because baby was/is an efficient feeder and a good sleeper, in general!

    So I reckon embrace being a housewife! It won’t be forever so give it your all and enjoy it while it lasts!

  5. My husband is a SAHD so he does the housework. And he’s always been better at it than me. I’m ashamed to say that with him in charge our house is spotless and very tidy. I do do the baking and cooking though, I manage to be better at that. 😊

  6. I totally get you. I definitely feel more responsibility than my other half with EVERYTHING in the house, not just the cleaning but all the DIY, light bulb changing, boiler breakdowns, you name it, it’s my department. WE never actually sat down and delegated, it just WAS. So Whether it was me taking it upon myself to be Chief Cook and Bottle Washer of the house or if it’s expected of me I have no idea. I think sadly, years and years of “that’s a woman’ job” is a little bit etched on all of us whether we like it or not.
    At least hubs takes the bins out – sometimes.

  7. A really great post which resonated with me too. I’m a SAHM and every day I tell myself I’m going to get my house sparkling, but as you’ve found, I’m lucky to have it looking in the same condition it was in when I woke up that morning! I often find myself apologising to my OH for a messy house or not cooking dinner because I feel I owe it to him. He, on the other hand? Doesn’t care. He knows how much hard work it is looking after our baby (although I’d argue he doesn’t, not fully.) I’m pleased I can stay at home and look after my daughter but I miss not earning my own income, I’ve worked ever since I was 16 and I often find it uncomfortable to ask for money. I never buy myself clothes anymore or treat myself to nice things because I think “this isn’t my money to spend”. I mean, I could go on about this topic all day but you get my gist. Great post and thank you for writing it.

    Jenna at Tinyfootsteps x

    • Thank you for commenting! The income thing is bloody weird. I’ve done quite a bit of ebaying recently! Or course, you deserve treats. If you guys were paying the going rate for childcare it would probably cancel out a part-time wage any way! Bleurgh. Hope you get a Valentine’s treat!!

  8. I work 20 hours a week and spend the rest of the time running around after my two kids collecting them from school, taking them to and from their after school clubs, helping with homework, cooking their dinner (and on and on) so I don’t actually find myself ‘in’ the house for very long before the hubby arrives home and yet…I still feel I should be doing significantly more than him when it comes to ‘housework’. Does he expect it? I’m not really sure but I definitely feel I should be justifying the fact that I only ‘work’ half as many hours as him. Why is that?!

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  10. I work full time, but I still do the vast majority of the housework (when it needs doing!).

    The plan when I moved in with the OH was that he’d do the toilets (we had a lodger and I refused to clean up after 2 men!), and the bins, and I’d do the washing and vacuuming etc. But now we’ve got a son, the OH’s got a lot less houseproud than he used to be, and doesn’t do anything – well, he’ll vacuum when he takes the ashes out of the fire, but that’s about it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s our house, and while I’m happy to clean up after our 4 year old, to an extent, I draw the line at people who can’t be bothered to wipe round the toilet once they’ve used it, remove the grime after their shower, or put things in the dishwasher. Unfortunately I seem to be the only one who does these basic things which winds me up when I work too…ok not 7 days a week like him, but then I work and look after our son when the OH works.

    When I was on mat leave, it was assumed I’d do the housework because I was at home. I think that’s fair enough – although there does need to be some help from others in the house.

    But I’m definitely with you on damage limitation. Our house gets cleaned when we have friends coming over.

    • Thank God for friends coming over, hey? What would our houses look like otherwise??
      Tut tut to your husband, and yes you do work 7 days a week, it’s just most of yours is unpaid!
      I think it often happens that during maternity leave women take on more housework but then the balance never fully shifts back. Boo to that I say!

  11. Look, here’s the thing. No one wants to live in a shit pit and while you can through single life doing damage limitation, if you’re at home with a small tornado (or a cluster of them) you just need to get on and do. I could have written your exact same post after my first. I read all sorts of books on maternal ambivalence and second shifts and the like, too.. Ah, those days I was working four days and it could still feel some what academic. Then somehow I ended up with three kids under six, working a Whole Day A Week because I can’t afford more and you know, the analysis paralysis wasn’t so pressing. Check out Marie Kondo, declutter until it’s an art form and find the zen in the movement and flux of endless tidying in your day. It goes extraordinarily fast and before you know it you’ll be scratching your head wondering why you ever angsted about mopping floors.

  12. Yes I totally feel responsible for it and often have the same convo as you as i feel the need to apologise for what looks like my lack of effort around the home. I have no idea where it comes from because so often we have had the convo that all he expects is for me to look after the kids 🙂 I also feel inadequate and awkward when telling people “all I do is be a SAHM”- like its not good enough, im not doing enough or whatever.

    • I know exactly what you mean. Like you’re chatting away at a party and someone says “So, what do you do?” And you feel embarrassed saying you stay at home with your child/children. I end up talking more about blogging than I do about Bubs, which shows how much I value my mothering skills!!

  13. Yes I did feel guilty for not doing it. And I felt more compelled to do it because ‘I was around’ and it’s gotta be done. But I resented and didn’t enjoy it so, often the house looked like a dump. Reading you made me rationalise it and now I know that there’s no chance in the world I will feel guilty again. Either you’re a primary care giver – and focus on that, so you can do it well, or you’re a cleaning lady and you do that well and thoroughly. You can’t do everything and demand from yourself to be doing it all well. Something’s gotta give and it ought to be the cleaning. The house chores should be shared exactly as if you were at the office 8 hours a day. Xx

  14. My friend is a SAHD. He is an obsessive neat freak (eat off the bathroom floor clean), and cooks most things from scratch, but he does buy in the bread. He’s scammed most of my recipes, and browsed the Internet for the rest. His wife feels like a combination of lucky and useless. Here’s a guy who could always cook (other than desserts) better than her, does all the DIY (he’s a part time carpenter, he builds outside furniture on the weekends), does all the laundry, and cleans better than she ever did, plus watches a 4 year old girl and twin 2 year old boys. He makes money, decent on top of it all for the time he puts in, from that side business. Oh and he’s already got the 4 year old reading ahead of her peers and doing math, blah blah blah. Guy is apparently super dad, even to me!

    You can feel useless now, I do. This guy runs circles around me too, lol. Pick your poison, but I gotta admit, you have to pick your battles. Get the high standards, but keep yourself sane.

    • Wow, is that guy on performance enhancing drugs? If parenting were an Olympic sport then he’d be getting a thorough doping test!!
      I think the key is not to compare yourself and to try, as much as possible, to do these things out of love rather than guilt or self-consciousness.
      Look at me getting all deep! Thanks for the comment!

  15. everythihg you said! i am one of the few mums i know who does not have a paid job. my house is the messiest. Feel like and utter failure sometimes/But tidying just aint in my DNA

  16. I never comment on blogs but I could’ve written this! I can make a stand & leave it but it’s me then left with a filthy house. Guilt if you do, guilt if you don’t – so I’m getting a cleaner with the money I get paid from my husband to look after our children. I’d rather feel guilty in a clean house than hate my housewife life.

    Please will you get one too – then I can be part of a movement rather than just ‘lazy’.

    Great blog. I’m off to read everything else on here.

    • Thanks so much for this comment! Glad you could relate to the post! Yes I have been considering a cleaner, friends of mine who work part time have them, so why not?
      “I’d rather feel guilty in a clean house” is a classic line, love it! X

  17. YES. On so many levels. I can’t begin to tell you just how much of this resonates with my experience over the last 5 years and 2 kids…so I won’t even try. All I can add is that when I DID have time to mop floors back in my childless past, I cared not one iota how the house looked. Funny, isn’t it? Do you think our bodies produce guilty feelings along with the breast milk?

    • Definitely! I’m pretty convinced that guilt is a natural side effect of motherhood!!
      Yeah, I wasn’t bothered at all before either! My husband and I joke that if we did as much housework now as we did when we were childless we would have lived in a show home!!!

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  19. I so needed to read this today! I don’t even HAVE children yet and I feel guilty every single time my husband does any housework. We both work full time (him shift work and I, regular office hours), so why do I feel guilty about not also doing ALL the housework?! Take today, he put on an un-ironed shirt to go to his night shift (his reasoning is that he has a jumper + jacket over the top, as it is winter here in Aus) and I felt immediately guilty, despite the fact I know that, 1. The iron was right there and 2. he is a perfectly capable adult and could do it himself. I also felt immediately guilty when he said “this cup is dirty” when he pulled it from the cupboard, all he meant was, “hey, this cup has dirt on it” and my brain immediately processed “you are a bad housekeeper”….What the? I’m NOT a housewife….I work 40 hours a week…I assume that when we have a child, that those 40 hours will be redistributed to looking after our baby and I’ll have just as much time for housework as I do now….probably even less…thank goodness Hubby is super awesome about, well, everything 😀

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