“According to economist Juliet Schor, the hours put in by full-time homemakers remained roughly the same from the 1910s to the 1970s: ‘with all these labor-saving innovations, no labor has been saved. Instead, housework expanded to fill the available time. Norms of cleanliness rose. Standards of mothering grew more rigorous.'”
from Claire Wolfteich, Navigating New Terrain: Work and Women’s Spiritual Lives, Paulist Press, 2002
I am neither a consummate homemaker nor a domestic goddess. I try to keep a decently clean home, but it’s a struggle. As I juggle work and child care and homemaking, the ball that always gets dropped first is the homemaking.
Dishes pile in the sink; carpets go unvacuumed; toilets sit unscrubbed; laundry looms and dinner disintegrates into “what can we throw together in 10 minutes once S. is down for the night.” Hardly the stuff of Martha Stewart.
In my dark moments, I sometimes picture women who have it all together, who have pristine homes, successful careers, perfect families, wholesome dinners on the table. I know they don’t exist. (Or, at least, I couldn’t be friends with them.) But the images of them in my mind, the ideal I’ve conjured up, can be demons to wrestle with.
So when I came across this line in a book I was reading for work, it stopped me in my tracks. “Standards of mothering grew more rigorous.” With all the time-saving inventions we’ve created in the past century – from washing machines to dishwashers, which I rely on every day – we haven’t saved any time or made our lives simpler. We simply raised the bar.
Do we mothers only have ourselves to blame for the cultural ideal that says we should be able to keep our homes, raise our children, and succeed in our careers all at once? Do our anxieties or fears about not being able to measure up only serve to whip us into a greater frenzy that if we only tried a little harder, or stayed up a little later, we could Get It All Done?
What if we could take a collective deep breath and asked what these “more rigorous” standards of mothering are doing to ourselves, our families and our society?
We can’t do it all. And yet I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t try, if she’s honest to herself. (Yours truly included.) It’s a pervasive myth. And I don’t think it’s the kind of mothering that God’s mothering Spirit intends for us.
We are created human, with limitations, with faults and flaws, with the need for sleep and Sabbath to recenter ourselves and rediscover God. We need to learn to forgive ourselves and others, to ask for help when we need it, to live humbly and strive simply to love faithfully. In short, that’s the recipe for Christian community.
I’d be willing to trade in my dishwasher for more of that.