Thursday, November 22, 2007

Housework as an artifact of good mothering?

Housework - its something I struggle with. I rage against it, I sulk from it, I walk around in denial of it and then finally I give in to it.

I've never been a neat person, per se. I'm a horizontal filer and there has always been organisation in that chaos for me. At high school I had about 4 metres (possibly more) of desk and cradenza space in my bedroom. There was also a bed, a dressing table and a piano squashed in there. Any flat surface was covered in at least a three deep pile of something. In those days it was text books, papers - its amazing how much clutter one single teenage girl can accumulate.

My father would always joke that there was an entire football team hiding - possibly lost, in my room. That was very much a Sagittarian exaggeration, as a few years later we discovered that trying to hide two * male friends from the pub* in that untidied cluttered room was actually quite impossible. We had the wrath of my mother for days to prove the point. But I digress ...

My self worth has never been tied to my ability to keep things clean and tidy. I've always been a busy person, meaning housework has rated on the bottom of my list of priorities. There is a flash point that I reach, and there is a frenzy of tidying and cleaning. And things then slide again.

Then I became a mother. Somehow the ability for one to keep a house clean and tidy is intrinsically tied in others perceptions, of your mothering skills. If you've got a hoover immaculate house then obviously your a fantastic mother, and everyone smiles. If not, well you'd better watch out. Just think back to the terrible toilet cleaner add where the woman with a new baby, is mobbed at the door by her friends all come to visit. She has a terrible realisation about her toilet, when someone asks if she can use her loo .. but all is fine .. she's used the terrible blue goo to clean the toilet that morning.

I'm sorry, but with a tiny new baby - the last thing that should be on your mind is whether or not you've cleaned our toilet that morning - much less worried about what people will think if your toilet is not clean. In a proper version of this scenario, the new Mum would be snuggled in bed, breastfeeding her new babe, while one of her friends cleans the toilet (also puts on a load of washing, puts all the casseroles etc that the friends have bought over), while another makes a cup of tea for them all and puts away some clothes that someone washed for the new Mum the day before. You get my point.

The state of my home has always been a point of contention in my family. My sister house is always, and has always been immaculate. She puts special time aside each week to just do her housework. I gave her a yoga pass while she was pregnant the first time to enjoy, but it clashed with cleaning her house on a Saturday morning ... so she never used it.

While I said earlier that my self worth is not tied to my ability to be an uber Sadie, I have been made to feel less of a person because I can't keep my house like my sister can. I used to scream inside of myself - 'Who cares' but after a time, you get sick of the snide side comments about your never ending messy house. I realised though that at some point I'd taken up the mantle of being purposely different - having an untidy home just so I wouldnt' be anything like my sister. Realising this, it was time to grow up and do something about it.

I've been guilty of taking particular notice of others toilets, hand basins, pile of dishes on the sink, mountains of unfolded washing etc - but it hasn't been as a judgements, it because its poked my tender housekeeping spots and made me realise that this is probably what others see when they come to visit me. Then that horrible moment of wondering 'Do they judge me for it.'

Before I became a mother I NEVER apologised for the state of my home. But now every time I open the door I feel compelled to place a caveat on my friends entry 'Oh you'll have to excuse the house ..' To be honest, none of my friends give a toss what my house looks like, but something inside me feels like I have to make excuses for it - am I worried that they will think me a lesser woman, or worse, a lesser mother because I can't keep my own home tidy and clean. Where this association comes from, any of us can wonder? Did all those repressed pissed off 50's women keep their houses spotless because it was the only vent for their frustrations and somehow we incorporated that into our collective unconsciousness, instrinsically and fatally linking mothering and housework.

A lovely friend lent me a book called 'Mothers behaving badly' by Maggie Groff. In it she lists all the duties that are directly related to the care of her family, and all those other peripheral duties that are not mothering and should be shared by all. As she pointed out, it doesn't really make a difference to the health, happiness and wellbeing of her family if the floor hasn't been swept that day. However, if no one gets breakfast or dinner that day - that's an issue, or if no one has clothes to wear to work or school.

It was a good slap in the face for me to realise that keeping my floors swept, the dust off the shelf and a ridiculous standard of tidiness did not make me a good mother. The time and investment I made in my son, in being with him, playing, breastfeeding him etc were important statements to myself about my abilities and worth as a mother, than my housekeeping.

In January this year though, I caved in. My house was a run away disaster, which in all honesty, was reflecting the chaos in my own head. Every time I tripped on something, stood on a broken piece of biscuit, couldn't find a bill or a piece of clothing, looked at the piles of crap, that were growing on earlier piles of crap I could feel the aggrevation rising in me. I had a huge emotional collapse and somewhere in the midst of crawling out I found Fly Lady.

I started with shining my sink and perhaps high on the metho fumes, I started tidying and cleaning like a devil woman. Over the course of two weeks I cleared away all the clutter from my kitchen, the lounge room, the dining room, the kitchen and our bedrooms. And a strange thing happened, my home became lighter - I mean there was more light in my home. I realised that all clutter is a light vampire - its sux the light from the room and puts a pall over it. My partner came home from work each day unsure just what the house would look like and kept up his daily inspection of the back of my neck to see where the aliens had put their probe in.

My home became something special to me. FLY is an acronym - Finally Loving Yourself. Well I dont love myself just because my home is kind of tidy now, but I dont have an undercurrent of passive aggression towards it or myself. I learnt that what is important is what YOU believe is important for you and your family - not what others think. It's important to remember that it is you and your family who have to live their day in and day out, everyone else is just passing through.

In this space, I understand that it is important to my sister to have her home sparkling and that its OK for me to come part of the way towards sparkling - as long as we're all happy, that's all that matters. While a swish and swipe in the morning makes me good, everyone doesn't have to do it - our priorities are all different, our happiness thresholds are all unique. And that's the crux of it. We're not a homogenised group of people. When we judge we are simply resisting the surrender needed to accept everyone as beautiful and unique. In judging we deny ourselves the opporunity to nurture and grow as individuals. Difference is what makes us great; and creates an amazing, complex and challenging world in which to journey through.

This post is dedicated to my very dear old mate Julie xxxx


Bev Sykes said...

Hi from me and Hi from Michele. I SO relate to this entry. In fact, I'm in the process of writing an entry called "flat surface syndrome," which explains why every flat surface in my house is covered with "stuff."

Still I don't think I warped my children too much.

Thumper said...

I am a horrible housekeeper. I love a clean house, I just don't want to be the one who gets it that way. Probably why I hate people who come over without calling...

Here via Michele's tonight!

Karen van Harskamp said...

Hi Jodi

Yes, I always took Maggie Groff's insights to heart - and that was before I was pregnant!! I still suffer from a desperate need to maintain clear, flat surfaces and when I can't it does manifest in a subliminal tension that affects everything! I am not sure which one contributes to the other - egg and chicken syndrome. Pete still looks at me askew when I get into my "I cant's stand this" mentality and attack floors and kitchen benches. Ah well...


gautami tripathy said...

AS I am single, I too tend to keep a lot of clutter. Mostly books. However, my kitchen is kind of always spick and span. I can't stand a dirty kitche, Maybe for me, hygiene rules.

See Michele did send me here before Fictio Friday!

gautami tripathy said...

As I ate up a few letters in the previous post, Michele sent me here to correct those.


India, dust tends to accumulate. Dusting once a day is never enough. I can't dust my home all the times!

gautami tripathy said...

*In India...

Jerry in Tampa said...

Sounds all too familiar!!!!! When my children left for college, we found friends from elementary school that had been lost in their rooms for 10 years!!!! LOL!!!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Michele sent me and I will be back!

jerry in Tampa

Carmi said...

I so relate to what you've written here, Jodi. I've always thrived on chaos, the sense of being surrounded by an environment that's just imperfect enough to remind us that we're human, and that we all have other priorities beyond rote neatness.

I'd rather play with my kids than ensure the toilet's full of evil blue goo. The kids won't be here forever. The toilet will still be there after they've grown up and out.

Thank you also for your incredibly kind comments on my blog. I look forward to sharing thoughts over many words and images with you in the near and far future.

panthergirl said...

I'm with Thumper. I love a clean house, I just hate doing it... and I tend to get overwhelmed just looking at it. Then my ADD kicks in and I'll start in the kitchen (I did that sink thing for awhile) but quickly get pulled into something else or another room. I'm pretty much of a lost cause, but your post did inspire me to do some cleaning today. ;)

Thanks for dropping by and adding your feminist support!

Sentient Marrow said...

I relate. It's hard for me to keep up with everything and not get distracted. Now that all of my kids are in school my house is getting cleaner slowly but surely.