Is "Housewife" In This Job Description?

The other day, while conducting my morning routine of drinking copious amounts of coffee and spelunking the internets before the children stir (this is a routine that I have yet to shake since my days doing a daily radio show), I happened upon this article written by Jessica Anya Blau. The Cliff's Notes: In her novel "Drinking Closer to Home," Blau introduced a fictionalized character inspired by her own mom.  Her own mom, when Blau and her siblings were 11, 8, and 3, announced that she "quit." She went on to teach her children to do the daily chores of the house, including (but not limited to) learning how to use their own alarm clocks to wake themselves in the morning, and doing their own laundry. She continued to be their mother, but ceased in being their maid. When the author read reviews of her book, she saw this character touted as "abusive" and the children were referred to as "survivors." Blau goes on to describe in this article that her mother could not have been less abusive. She defends her mother by saying that her mother was an excellent parent (giving love and support) even though she did not pack lunches for her kids or hem their pants. (To truly get the gist - you'll want to read the article, my retelling it loses so much of the essence.) My impression as a reader, was that the author's mother was not quitting being a mom, she was quitting being a "housewife." She was fed up with carrying the brunt of the "work" of the family, and she wanted to delegate some of that work so she could enjoy the mommy ride a little more and give her children the gift of responsibility.  

As I read through this article, I thought, "what an awesome mom! I want to be just like her!" (Maybe minus the dramatic, "I quit" moment, but definitely PLUS the part about making the kids responsible for housework and getting themselves together, and making time to be a family.) Then, I made the mistake of reading the comments. People who had just read the exact same article that I had (you know, the one that was describing the type of mother I want to be) had such a poisoned reaction. Calling the mother of the author "lazy" and "irresponsible." For only a moment, I second guessed myself. Is refusing to be the housekeeper for your kids and expecting that they care for the space that they live in "lazy" or "irresponsible" on the part of the mother?

Just over a week ago, I had tweeted something like, "How do moms clean? Every time I DO something, I have three little "un-do-ers" undoing." A friend tweeted back, "I always said I'd be a terrible stay at home mom, my house would be a disaster, but my kids would be happy."  I was immediately sick to my stomach. I frequently make apologies to people about the mess in my house, but I do have extremely happy kids, am I a bad mom? Is this what our culture expects of mothers? That our job description is to keep an impeccable house and raise happy, well-behaved, intelligent kids?  Is it the 1950's? I'm all for the happy and well-behaved kids, but the impeccable house thing falling solely on the shoulders of the mother... that could drive (and probably has driven) a mommy (or two) to madness. I know it would me. Listen, I'm not saying that it's not possible to have both. I am not saying that if you are a person who can make it all work, and your kids aren't suffering for it, and you're enjoying your relationship with your children and your role as their mother that it's not perfectly fine or that you are not a good mother. I am not saying that a clean house is an indicator of a good OR a bad mom, I am saying that our priorities are screwy if we allow a judgement on cleanliness or tidiness or willingness to delegate in terms of the aforementioned to be a blanket judgement on someone's mothering.

My house, while not entirely a disaster, is never all the way clean unless we're hosting a holiday, and when it IS all the way clean, you better damn betcha that everyone who lives here has chipped in to do their part (some people's "parts" around here are smaller than others due to age and size). There is usually some form of mess in each room. While I may complain about it, I am not willing to change it at the expense of the quality time I spend with my kids. The mess bothers me, but not enough to drive me to change my personal routine within my family and the time I devote to being engaged with my kids.  For me, it is important for my children to remember the love between us, and not how tidy the family room is. We do not live in layers of filth, but a mess, heck yes. My kitchen floor is not always clean, and I would rarely pass the white glove test, but if we do a 10 minute once over and tidy up, our house is passable for guests. But, I signed up to be a mother, not a housewife. Beyond that, if teaching your appropriately aged children to be partners in the keeping of the house is considered abusive or lazy, then so be it.  If requesting that the people with whom you share space to take care of that space and themselves within it makes me a bad mom, then I'll have to be comfortable with that.  In my opinion, if I make it my business to do it all, I will both become burned out, and I'll end up raising children with no sense of responsibility. Neither of which entices me in the least.

So, while my house can feel like a land of chaos, my children are brought to and from their activities promptly, they make all their doctors appointments, their boo-boos are kissed, and if hugs and snuggles could create world peace, we'd have it ten times over. They are read to, bathed regularly, they are kept warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. They have a roof over their heads, they are fed 3 square meals per day and snacks, and they wear clean clothing (unless they get it dirty mid-wear, in which case, they are fortunate enough to have a choice of clothing into which they may change). We spend time as a family, our children socialize with other children, and we value our faith together. We laugh a lot, we cry sometimes, we are boisterous sometimes, and quiet others. Through positive reinforcement and discipline we show right from wrong, and sometimes my children really have to exercise their patience while I take care of some business, do a little (yes, I do enough to maintain) housework, or take care of one of their sibling's needs. Even in challenging times, we have a lot. We have a whole lot. We may not have the cleanest house, but I'm willing to let that go - and also let go of the expectation that that is solely MY job as the mother to keep the house.  We have a LOT. If I'm failing somewhere in my role as mother, it is NOT in the area of lovingly nurturing my children, and at the end of the day, if you ask me, that is the most important role of the mother.

My mother-in-law shared this part of a poem with me once, and I love it so much. I think of it often when I am having a moment of mom-guilt with the chaotic mess. It provides me the perspective and personal forgiveness I need: 

The cleaning and scrubbing
will wait till tomorrow,
for Children grow up,
as I've learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs.
Dust go to sleep.
I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.

~Author Unknown

Where are you on the idea that a mother who expects her children to participate in the housework and meeting their personal needs is "lazy" or "abusive"? I welcome respectful and thoughtful comments, if you have one, please leave it. 


  1. Someone should have called social services on my Mom! We all had our own alarm clocks, we all got ourselves up and made our breakfast and got ourselves off to school after my parents went to work. I think we each started doing our own laundry when we were teenagers- I LOVED doing laundry. Saturday was "cleaning" day- nothing fun could happen until the cleaning was done, so we were usually up early tending to "the list". Of courset there were also dishes each night....

    But, my parents both worked. And I think it was fair (although I didn't think it was fair back then...). A lot has to happen to keep a household running and it shouldn't fall to just one person. My Dad did his fair share as well.

    My MIL was/ is a SAHM/ housewife and her boys never had to do *anything*. It's a nice thought, until you get married to someone who has never had to clean, who has blinders on to what might need to be done, because someone always did it for them, without them knowing.

    My kids are going to know how to clean. When are they supposed to learn these life skills? College?

    FTR- if someone were to stop by today, my house looks great. Becasue we've had two showings in a week...normally it's a disaster area. Toddlers and babies and cuddling and whatnot.

  2. My comment is short: "Amen, sister."

  3. Ditto that. I've been told by my spouse and our child psychologist that I expect too much from our 8-year-old: making bed, taking dishes into kitchen after each meal, putting away clean laundry once a week, and getting his backpack and lunch ready for school. I've slacked off on the bed and lunch, but not for long. I expect him to keep up part of the house just for living there, and so I'll be adding more chores as he gets older. And we don't tie his allowance to these jobs. He can do extra jobs if he wants to earn money, but he's never going to get paid for keeping his house/dorm room/whatever cleaned, so why should he now? Just my two cents.

  4. Our kids 'help out', if what you call 'chores' being done by a 4 & 5 year old 'helping' - We call it 'teamwork' at our house...And on Saturdays, if you were a team player all week without complaining - you get $1.00! The kids LOVE it (usually!) They don't have a ton to do - but, putting shoes on the shoe tray, dirty laundry in the laundry room (in a pile on the floor of course!), bringing dishes to the sink, etc - Kids today expect WAY too much - if we don't teach them some sense of responsibility...who will?

  5. I have mixed feelings.

    I *get* the un-doing of household chores. My kids do not get that I'm pregnant and barely able to do the chore once, let alone the several times that is sometimes necessary with six kids in the house.

    I don't know that I want to "quit" or make my children quite that independent at such a young age. But I do think it's fair to teach them to be self-sufficient. After all, we want them to one day be capable of being on their own. A friend of mine got married and he kept calling his mother to make Dr.'s appointments for him. Seriously, guy? Can't do that on your own?

    For us, I have the Motivated Moms (http://www.motivatedmoms.com/products.html) chore chart, and I literally give each of the old-enough kids a couple of the chores each day. According to their ability. They also have other things they're expected to do, too.

    At the same time, I like doing those things with them. Whether it's making lunches, or getting dinner on the table, or cleaning up the kitchen afterward. Those times allow me to teach, be hands on, and offer us a time of simple connection. A time where that bond isn't being forced, but forged the same way it is through hugs, kisses, and bedtime stories.

    I guess I think there can be a happy medium where you're a hands-on mom who is still preparing her children to be independent. What a great thing to think about! Thanks, Colleen!

  6. Must admit that you are the coolest blogger i have seen till now !

    job descriptions


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