I started my Mother’s Day with a mother’s luxury: a shower by myself, complete with time to shave and use a homemade body scrub. I even blow dried my hair and straightened it afterward, and put on some lotion, and lemon juice to help lighten all the extra freckles I’ve been collecting driving Bug to and from school since we moved to a different city two weeks ago. Because, you know, premature aging is a price worth paying for letting my kid finish the year at her old school, but that doesn’t mean I have to take it lying down.
So. Now that I’m not smelly any more, I want to start my day by saying some stuff before breakfast.
1) If you truly want to honor a person, build them up without tearing down yourself or other people in order to make them look better. It’s not a real thank you for a person to stand up and say, “Thanks, moms, for doing mom stuff, because men are just bad at it.” My husband has a beautiful talent for soothing our children that I will never possess in a thousand years of mothering. He is not too stupid to cook and clean, and he is not too insensitive to understand and nurture our children. No man is, except that he has been taught he has to be that way. Let’s honor our mothers by talking about what is good in them rather than by creating faults in others.
2) If you truly want to honor a person, don’t praise them for overworking themselves. Don’t praise them for putting their health on the line so they can do things that don’t actually need to be done or things you could, with some effort, do yourself. Don’t praise them for putting off their basic needs in order to fulfill the wants of someone else. Don’t encourage them to live a life where the only validation they can get is through sacrifice. Instead, ease the burden. Lend a hand. Give them space. Help everyone, including her, reevaluate their expectations. Make goals together; goals that give you something to look to other than work and home, and let you remember that you are defined by more than your responsibilities.
3) Remember that not every woman is a mother. Not every woman can be, not every woman wants to be. Not every mother feels the same way about being a mother. Can you imagine if we talked to adolescent boys and childless men as if their lives, their sense of purpose, and their strongest desires were all wrapped up in fathering? As if they were not individual in their goals and deep wishes and the things that make them THEM at their very soul, but united in one monolithic craving to bear children and joy in providing an income for them to live off of? Just as a woman with a child should not be swallowed, personality and all, in attending that child’s needs, a woman without a child should not be treated as an egg waiting to hatch.
4) Being a mom is hard. You don’t need to feel guilty about it, but you need to acknowledge it, and you need to let moms acknowledge it without judging them or expecting them to make a joke of it or say that it’s all worth it. Encourage them to be open, to teach their children that parenting entails sacrifice, and to create the network and support they need so that they can know they are not alone in their struggles, their doubts, and their moments where they don’t want to keep going.
5) I could make some joke about moms and chocolate, but women have survived without chocolate for most of human history, so it certainly can’t be the basic need so many insist it is: an animal salve for our animal femininity. A walk in the sunshine or a few minutes breathing deep in the grass while staring up at the stars, a few minutes a day to read that book you’ve had your heart set on, a Saturday away at a convention, with your friends, or just wandering the downtown streets by yourself–these satisfy cravings better than a chemical shot from a bite of sugar mixed with cocoa.
I could probably go on. But shorter is sweeter, my toddler is in the kitchen doing something suspicious (How? a baby gate up at both entrances and she still manages to get in there!), and I’m hungry for breakfast. I was going to end with a picture of something mother-y, but since each mother is different, I thought better of it. I certainly don’t like being associated with flowers all the time. So here is a video of Lindsay Stirling’s Elements. A different element for every kind of mother, and a changing rhythm for each emotion we feel about ourselves and the work we do.
Next time you see a red carpet shot and wonder why you can’t get your butt to look that round and perky,
1) Remember that those women have been cut, suctioned, squeezed, wrapped in special blankets that make them temporarily sweat off pounds in a sitting, airbrushed, and also spend hours a day working out with a professional trainer.
2) Think of this: http://imgur.com/gallery/bW2aR
Saturday morning, I had a very shiny kitchen.
My kitchen is not usually shiny. Partly because I have to make everything I eat from scratch due to multiple food sensitivities. Partly because all of us have better things to do than clean kitchens. Unless you get paid to clean kitchens. That’s different.
I do not currently get paid to clean kitchens.
Let’s cut to the chase.
I left Pixie by herself for maybe 60 seconds. Some of the groceries were still out, including a little bag of arrowroot powder held shut with a twist tie.
“I’m making dee-ner! I’m making dee-ner! I make it cuh-cakes!”
I was in the kitchen before you could say “gluten free cooking.” But I was too late.
“I making! I making!”
And that’s just one side of the kitchen.
If Bug hadn’t offered to help, I might have just shut myself in my room. We had to redo nearly everything we’d done the day before: floor, dinner table, and each individual chair. And how did I respond to Pixie, standing on a chair at the kitchen table, stirring a bowl of arrowroot powder with a potato masher?
“Oh, what nice dinner! And cupcakes too? Yummy yummy.”
And she mixed away, and I grabbed the mop.
Time for the final installment in my Lazy Housewives series!
It’s been over a week, so if you need a recap, here are links to Lazy Housewives, More Lazy Housewives, More Lazy Housewives–Screaming Toddler Edition, and Even More Lazy Housewives: With Prozac! Yay! Lazy Housewives all over the place!
Or, to summarize: there are lost of different reasons for a house to be messy, dinner to be late, mom to be locking herself in the basement instead of doing cute crafts with the kids. ‘Lazy’ is just not a word we should be throwing around here.
Everyone is lazy sometimes, right? It’s a human tendency. We’re built to constantly calculate how to get by using the least energy possible. That’s how we survive when we have to spend most of our time chasing down every meal or digging it out of the ground. A stay at home parent is going to have their lazy days same as anyone else. The only thing that makes them is human. But if the house is always messier than average and the kids run around on their own all day, “lazy” is the last explanation we should be looking at. First try:
1) It takes a tremendous amount of energy just to keep up with small children all day long, and that’s not even considering cleaning and other household tasks. Sometimes keeping up with the kids is all you can manage.
2) If a woman doesn’t like being a SAHM or is having a particularly hard day with it, it takes even more energy and focus to get anything accomplished.
3) Aside from obvious physical disabilities, depression and other mental troubles make it much harder to stay on top of kids and home and stay happy while doing it. Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other less visible physical conditions can make it nearly impossible, and require as much understanding and sympathy as other, more obvious conditions.
4) The repetition involved in taking care of small children and cleaning up their messes can produce it’s own special kind of insanity. A mom can reach the point where she can’t handle any more. That’s not a sign of weakness or laziness. It’s a sign that she needs a break.
So. What to do now?
How do you share this lovely information with others who need it? With your spouse? I’ve got some suggestions, and I’d love to hear yours.
First up: be honest. People seem to think that if you say, “wow, this mom thing really makes me feel like I’m going to explode out of my skin some days,” that you and anyone who hears you say it are suddenly going to leave the kids to fend for themselves. families will fall apart. Juvenile detention centers will burst at the seams. The very fabric of the nation will rip in two because MOM ADMITTED THAT BEING A PARENT SUCKS SOMETIMES. It doesn’t help that when you speak out, the illusion of our perfect, willing sacrifice is shattered, and some people find that incredibly unnerving. Some will want to shut you up. They’ll want to laugh and say, “yeah, don’t you love kids?” or make a joke about poopy diapers, or tell you very seriously that now is just your season in life to give all of yourself to your family. You need to ignore them and keep talking, because otherwise people will never understand, and because people like you might be listening in. Those people like you need to hear they’re not alone. Here is what one lady told me:
“I’m pretty open about how much of a struggle motherhood is for me. I love my kids, but I’m not a motherly person. I’ve had several ladies [at church] come and tell me that they appreciate my candor about it. I tend to focus on the growth that I’ve experienced…It needs to be acknowledged that motherhood is hard for many women. Something can be good and still be hard. The two are not mutually exclusive.”
What about sorting things out with your spouse? In a household where one parent does most of the wage work and the other does most of the house work, it can be easy for spouses to misunderstand what the other does during the day. Easy to feel like the other has it easy, has it better, needs to shoulder more of the load. In some cases, they may be right. Either way, it can be worked out in a way that brings more understanding to both sides and spares hurt feelings.
Here is a great suggestion I picked up from a lady I know online:
“ If a couple feel like the job distribution around the house isn’t fair/getting done well enough, they should sit down and work out a job description. It helped me and my Mister a lot. I know what is important to him, and he knows what is important to me, and we can focus on those things and everyone’s happy, even if things aren’t perfectly clean all the time.” –Alice Fisher Roberts
I can see how this would be especially good in cases where one spouse doesn’t know how much the other actually does in a day. Which is in a lot of cases, I think, and which can lead to one believing the other is lazy when it is not actually true.
One way that the stay at home parent can give the opportunity for the other parent to learn what they do day-to-day is to take some time out on their own, allowing their spouse to run the house. At least a full day would be best; longer if possible. While the stay at home spouse visits a friend or family member, or takes some time to relax while staying in a hotel a few cities over, the other spouse discovers what it’s like to have small children and the care of their home occupy most of their time. If, like me, your return is met be an almost immediate plea from your 5 year old to clean things up when you get home because the whole house is a mess, you will know the trip was successful at least in part, though clearly the 5 year old still has more to learn about shared responsibility when it comes to cleaning.
I’ve also heard of moms going on strike, but I don’t know if I can recommend that as an effective teaching tool. It seems like other, less divisive measures might be better to try first.
And, of course, a therapist or mediator can also help couples sort out troubles over who does what. Seeking therapy is a sign of strength, not weakness, and will offer a neutral perspective on how best to proceed. I’ve gone to therapy with DH, and it made our marriage better.
As for stay at home parents who need a psychological boost to get them started on house work, I suggest trying the FlyLady‘s* idea of setting a timer for 15 minutes. If you need to do it for 10, or 5, or even less, that’s still great. You clean until the timer goes off, and that’s it. Be satisfied with what you’ve done. 15 minutes is good enough, for now. Scatter a few of these sessions throughout your day, and you’ll be surprised at how much is accomplished. When I feel overwhelmed and can’t bear to start a task I know I can never complete, knowing that for now, the task will be finished in 15 minutes is usually enough to get me moving. I’ve used the same strategy to get me playing with my children when that seems overwhelming. Often the 15 mintes turns into a half hour, and we’re all in a much better mood by the end!
These ar my best suggestions. Of course, I’m not an expert and I’m still learning. What do you to get yourself moving when you’re feeling overwhelmed, or break things up so that you can handle them better? Do you have any experience with you and your spouse working together to better understand each other’s expectations, limitations, and the things you do to help run the family every day? Please comment!
*I recommend the FlyLady with some reservation. Her attitudes towards division of home labor by gender are really unhealthy, and rather than extending her program to address men as well as women, she’s decided to tell the women to quit whining and do their job. I suggest you try her advice on how to break up the work, and overcome perfectionism and procrastination. But don’t go beyond that. That’s not the sort of thing I’m into promoting.
I remember reaching a point in my Junior year of high school where so many of my assignments were either missing or late that I just gave up.
You know that kid where everyone’s always like, “Wow, you’re so smart, you could really go places if you would just focus and have some discipline?” That wasn’t me. No one thought I was smart. Just really, really absentminded. Like, I left my housekeys at home on a regular basis, and would have to sit outside our apartment for hours until my mom got home from work. And I once answered a teacher’s science question in Shakespearean English because I’d been reading MacBeth instead of listening to the lesson.
Now I’m a mommy. Now I have Real Responsibilities.
Did all these absentminded tendencies just disappear upon the birth of my first child?
Wouldn’t that be nice.
I don’t know if it’s a result of my anxiety issues, or something else, but getting through a day without a mishap caused by my lack of focus (or too much focus on the wrong thing) is a cause for self-congratulation.
Today was a pretty good day.
:pats self on back:
On bad days, I get overwhelmed and nothing gets done. The kids manage to get into the most insane messes. Sometimes I know something is up, and I can’t tear myself away from what I’m doing in order to address the problem, even though I know that those clinking noises coming from the kitchen-which I thought was gated shut-can’t possibly be a good sign. I get wound tighter and tighter, which winds the kids up tighter and tighter, until we’re in a vicious spinning circle of tight-windingness with yelling and kicking and doors slamming all around.
If the house is spectacularly wrecked and Pixie is still covered in her last meal, it’s not because I’m lazy. It’s because I don’t know how to snap out of it, whatever it is. It’s because I can’t manage to just start by doing a little thing, so I get flattened by the prospect of doing it all. Days like this have become fewer and fewer as I’ve worked on controlling my anxiety and maintaining realistic expectations for myself, but they still happen.
But you know, my problems aren’t actually that severe. I mostly have my anxiety under control. What about a SAHP who doesn’t? What about a mom or dad with depression? Bipolar disorder? What about a parent with a condition like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia that can just make them tired and in pain for days or weeks on end, with no apparent explanation or cure? I remember a lady in our neighborhood back in Utah. Nice, kind of distant, and with a house coated on the inside with layer after layer of dirty dishes, trash, papers, books, you name it. Sometimes I’d hear people guess what weakness in her character could let her stand to live in such a place. I knew from experience that chaos outside a person frequently reflects chaos inside. Her house was a clue to what was going on inside her head, and what goes on inside our heads is in many ways beyond our control.
This is not to say that there are not ways for those suffering to get better. Not at all. Take this story from a mom I spoke with online:
“I was starting to really beat myself up for my ‘laziness’ in housewifery and motherhood . . . then I discovered I had dangerously low iron, shockingly low vitamin D and ridiculously low B-12 — I wasn’t so much lazy as barely functioning. This is why I try to give people the benefit of the doubt — I thought I had the ‘whole story’ about, at least, myself — and it turns out I still didn’t see the whole picture and was being harder on myself than was fair.”1
There are a host of medical problems that can make life difficult for a stay at home parent. Vitamin deficiency was not one I’d heard of before, but I can see how it would make chasing the kids around more draining than average. Depression is possibly the most frequent. “Depression has been called the most significant mental health risk for women, especially younger women of childbearing and childrearing age.”2 Gee, I wonder if there might be a connection there. It’s hard enough to listen to the same episode of Spongebob Squarepants for the fourth day in a row when you don’t already feel like crap. Add in a chemical imbalance in your brain, and you just might feel like shutting yourself in your bedroom, crawling in bed, and staying there-screw the laundry and the sticky floors.
I found plenty of people in chat rooms complaining about moms with dirty houses-I mean really dirty houses-calling them lazy. Perhaps if mental sicknesses were seen as we see physical ones, rather than as something people needed to just “get over”, this wouldn’t be an issue. If you had a liver disorder, would you tell yourself you just needed to snap out of it? If your neighbor had the flu, would you think, “That lazy woman just needs to get her face out of the toilet and make dinner?” Parents with mental illness, or physical problems that are less obvious to outsiders (like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), need to be afforded the same understanding we would give to that mom with her face in the toilet. “Lazy” is just not the first reaction we should be having to a parent who is having a hard time keeping their house or taking care of their children, even if that parent is you.
1 Personal correspondance, Jan 17, 2013. Anonymous.
2 American Psychological Association, retrieved Feb 5 2013. http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/women/depression.aspx
“I think it’s important to distinguish between a housewife/husband and a parent. It’s possible to be a lazy, neglectful parent, no doubt. But, for most SAHPs, if the cooking, housework, bill paying, maintenance, or whatever, is lagging it’s probably due to childcare.”1
Unless you’ve stayed at home with children, it’s easy not to understand how much time it takes just to take care of them. Keeping a house clean when children under 8 are present requires constant vigilance, and some days you just really gotta take a bathroom break. And when you come out, the two year old has climbed up onto the kitchen counter, unscrewed the lid to the peanut butter jar, and helped themselves. And while you’re trying to clean up that mess, they’ll surely get into something else because playing in the actual toy room is tantamount to playing in a 6 by 6 cell, and when you finally get frustrated enough to use the child gate, oh, the screaming.
As Anne, an enthusiastic mom of three put it, “Sometimes you just have to let the dishes rot and go make someone’s childhood memories.”2
1Personal correspondance, Jan 15, 2013. Prefers to be kept anonymous.
2Personal correspondance, Sept 2011.
(The original Lazy Housewives post can be found here.)
I just Googled “lazy housewife.” Yes, I knew that typing in a search term like that was hardly going to bring up balanced commentary. I am all too familiar with the wisdom of Le Internet Culture when it comes to the ladies. As I expected, there are plenty of people who don’t think it’s ironic to spend time sitting on their butts complaining online about lazy women.
“Is the lazy housewife who mooches off her husband any better than the welfare mom with six kids? Just something I thought of today. Both of them are leeches, but most of society looks down at the welfare mom but not the spoiled suburban housewife. Why is that?”1
“I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but [censored]! Why do some lazy [censored] women get to not work and just stay at home and be a “stay-at-home-mom” and “housewife”? They’re so [censored] spoiled, and they DONT EVEN deserve it! Men or women either one, can give me their opinion, i just wanna know the reason WHY? Is it because of the way they look? Is it just because their husband wants to baby them and wants them to not have to work? What is it????”2
Thanks, Internet. Fun stuff.
I also learned there’s a breed of bean called Lazy Housewife.
Represent, ladies. We’ve got a bean named after us!
It was the first kind that didn’t have a string that needed to be pulled out before eating. That’s why it’s named after us. Because not wanting to pull the strings out of fifty beans every time you cook with them? Lazy. Leave it to a housewife to complain about something so silly when her husband spends eight hours a day toiling at who knows what.
I also found some people drawing a distinction between a lazy housewife, and one who contributes properly by keeping the house clean, cooking good meals, playing with the kids, and being ready with a smile and a pretty face when hubs gets home. Those aren’t lazy housewives. They earn their keep like they should, dang it.
The Internet clearly needs wider life experience before it makes judgements on who is earning what.
Beans and forums full of sexist internet jerks aside, I also found a lot of women calling themselves lazy housewives. Some seemed to have reclaimed the term, and used it as a badge of honor, like the song Yankee Doodle. “I’m a lazy housewife and proud of it! Come see how I cook meals/clean house/stay organized-the lazy way!” Still others felt truly guilty about their performance at home. I think they’ve been looking at Pinterest too much. In fact, one blog title read, “Pinterest Moms You’re Making Me Feel Guilty!” so there you go.
Here are a few of the sensible things blogging moms and moms I talked to online had to say about the subject:
“It truly is a never ending cycle this housewife business, and I do not wish it on any of you.”3
“I am sick of hearing of the joys of motherhood. Joy isn’t getting hotdogs thrown up on you. Joy isn’t having referee yet another fight between siblings. Yes, joy can happen, but it isn’t all the time every time. Damnit once in a while we are allowed to say being a mom sucks.”4
“Frequently no one understands it’s hard to live your life surrounded by people you can’t relate to. Young children do not have jobs, do not pay bills, do not have serious man issues, and do not know enough about [religion] to have a self-developed belief in it.”5
“There is no work that is more soul-suckingly thankless, endless drudgery, than housework. None.”6
Not that I’m judging anyone who likes cleaning up the wood chips their toddler just brought in from the back yard on her tea set, again. Seriously, I’m looking at a pile by the back door right now. “I’m making dinner!” she says. Thanks Pixie.
The fact that very few stay at home parents enjoy doing it all the time, that the endless cycle of chores with the kids almost immediately wrecking your work is frustrating and “soul-sucking” in its own special way, and that the job of SAHP means being cut off from other adults most of the time, needs to be taken into account before passing judgement on SAHP’s who don’t appear to outsiders (or to themselves) to be “working hard enough.”
Tomorrow: More Lazy Housewives: the Screaming Toddler Edition. Because taking care of children often leaves little time for cleaning up after them.
1Godlike Productions, July 12, 2011; retrieved January 31, 2013. http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message1559785/pg1
2Topix, July 17, 2012; retrieved February 3, 2013: http://www.topix.com/forum/city/richlands-va/TPNF045LI8TAFDQ7B
3Adventures of a Fab Brunette, February 1, 2010; retrieved January 30, 2013: http://www.fabbrunette.com/?p=955
4Personal correspondance, anonymous. January 17, 2013
5Personal correspondance, anonymous. December 2011
6Personal correspondance, anonymous. January 17, 2013