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Harmony for Housewives

 
gardener
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Although I wholeheartedly agree with G.K. Chesterton's take that in the homemaker’s position I am a “domestic empress,” with a broad scope of responsibility and vast sphere of action,  I also know that, personally, I would indeed be very happy in a career outside my home, if I didn't truly believe that my best place is at home with Miss G while she is growing up.

And I never wanted to “be a housewife" either. I did always want a husband and family to take care of, but did not want “housewife” on my business card. For this reason, I resisted the weekly routines of menu planning and regular housekeeping tasks for many many years when I was first married... which of course made things more difficult and chaotic than they had to be. But, just like I unfortunately often wish that I had a lifestyle allowing me to buy fancy new things in glitzy packages, I all too often wish that I were a professor at a university on the tenure track with a load of research projects and teaching assignments.

I really wish I could be that person that loves the tasks of housekeeping--but if I can't love them, I will try to find harmony in being faithful to them and thereby loving my family.

 
steward & bricolagier
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You could do research on the best ways to do the tasks you do, and write them up :D
There's got to be a way to combine this... you have excellent skills in writing and thinking, but they pale beside the importance of raising your child well!  
How can you combine them? They don't have to be mutually exclusive.

 
Rachel Lindsay
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As long as I have all of you here at Permies, I will have a necessary outlet for my thoughts and writings--thank you!

Since I read the book Atomic Habits (by James Clear), I've been completely sold on the essential business of repeating productive behaviors over the long-term in order to eventually build something (or someone) great. I totally get that, and have even practiced that successfully a couple times. It makes sense easily. But routines that merely maintain a lifestyle, but don't build anything visible seem useless, and like an exercise in futility. That makes going through the same routine rather disheartening.

Teachers’ routines, timetables, and calendars do both: they maintain the system (of education in the institution) by means of continuous classes and activities and study periods, to maintain the structure of the student experience, and also (optimally, anyway!) they build up the students’ knowledge, skills, character, and other abilities unto the final day of graduation. There will certainly be something to show for each routine day of class at Commencement!

It's different in the home. When I am faced with the mess in the kitchen again, or the new pile of dirty laundry, or the task of binning up a thousand things for recycling on Thursday night, I often think, “What’s it all for?” knowing I will have to do it again and again and never have anything to show for it. I suppose I could think of it as a protracted exercise in building my character, and, if I do it cheerfully and well enough, being a good role model to my daughter of meeting challenges patiently.
 
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Routines build Habits, and Habits build Character, and Character builds Integrity.

There is no way to inherit, buy your way into, nor steal integrity, which is following through with what you say.

You have to do the work upfront in order to reap the rewards later, right? If you work for a paycheck, you must work 40 or 80 hours first, then you get paid for it. You don't get paid, and then get to do the work. It is the same with your situation, it does not seem like it matters now, but it does, and the reward will be with a little girl who sees integrity within her mother and emulates it.
 
master pollinator
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Hugs, Rachel.

Those household tasks do seem Sisyphean and meaningless, very frustrating! But you are producing a visible product with real results. Creating a clean, healthy, home base rather than the chaos things can descend into if those things are not done has a huge value.

If you can treat it as character building, that's a great way to approach it. Or you can treat it as the day job you need to do to enable the things you do value more, raising a happy healthy child, doing your more creative work.
 
gardener
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I had thought that I would enjoy being a stay at home dad. I'm not and never was full time (so far) but I realized, much to my surprise I burn through my dad energy in about 90 minutes with toddlers.

I only say this to commiserate with expectations of self differing from reality.

I do on the other hand find a certain zen meditativeness to repetitive house tasks like washing dishes, folding laundry, wiping floors and surfaces, etc. If I'm not lost in the repetition then I  find myself wondering if I can't improve the way I do each task. For example,There are multiple ways to fold any given garment. Each is optimized for a different storage situation, so then my mind wanders to ways of improving our storage, and our systems for doing laundry in general.

I have also found that when there is something I really dislike, be it a task, an item, a person, or a place that thing is offering me a lesson about myself. Oftentimes I can learn to lessen my dislike by looking at it from a half dozen different perspectives and polling other people for their opinions on the same thing. Usually in the process I find myself pointing out the positives of the very thing I disliked.

Sorry if this reads as a ramble.
 
gardener
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If my budget allowed, I would hire a personal chef and a maid service. I put off making habits and routines related to cooking and cleaning for a lot of years. When I got pregnant, I realized I wanted to be a better example to my daughter, and now I'm a stay-at-home mom, too. I need to reread Atomic Habits.

I heard a story last year: A preschool teacher had to clean up the classroom every afternoon after the kids left. It was always a big mess, and she started to resent how the kids played. Her job was to keep the room clean, and they messed it up.

She flipped her thinking. Her job was to prepare the room for the kids to play and explore, to learn and connect with others. A messy room was proof that the kids did that, so her job was accomplished.

I try to keep that perspective in mind when I'm cleaning for the umpteenth time.

I've been meaning to do this exercise from the book The Happiness Advantage, with "work" being what I do at home for my family and community:

"Write down a task you’re forced to perform at work that feels devoid of meaning. Then ask yourself: What is the purpose of this task? What will it accomplish? Draw an arrow to the right and write this answer down. If what you wrote still seems unimportant, ask yourself again: What does this result lead to? Draw another arrow and write this down. Keep going until you get to a result that is meaningful to you. In this way, you can connect every small thing you do to the larger picture, to a goal that keeps you motivated and energized."
 
pollinator
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Hi Rachel,
Despite what some people say these days, I don't ever think I will have experience being a housewife :)

I don't really know how to answer the age old question of laundry/dishes and things that just keep coming back, but I'm going to try.

I have been on the other side. I was a kid under a very hard working "housewife". I really appreciated all the hard work my mom did to keep the house clean, to cook meals and do laundry. As I got older and was helping, I appreciated it more when I got to see how hard it was. When I got a lot older and moved out, I really appreciated what she did. Then I got married and I got to experience the chaotic side of living. Most of the time, there was no schedule. I was doing many tasks when I came home from work, which made me more tired and less able to get the honey-do list done and less time to spend time with the kids. The kids were stressed, my wife was stressed, and I was stressed.

There were occasionally stretches when she was on top of things, and the kids were happier and healthier, and I was happier and healthier, and my wife was happier and healthier. There was a give and take. As I helped and appreciated what she was doing, it made it easier for her to have things ready at home.  As she had things ready at home, I was more relaxed and better able to get some projects done that she wanted done. I was less stressed when I left for work, because I knew my kids were well taken care of. Which in turn, helped me to do better at work and make more money for the family, and also put me in a better mood when I got home, so that she could have a break and go do some non-laundry/dishes stuff that she wanted to do, while I had the kids. Because she got those breaks, she was more refreshed and felt better able to deal with the mundane tasks at home. I really do think there is a cycle, or a give and take. If I can serve and love my wife, it makes it easier for her to serve and love me. A focus on the other person's desires, rather than our own. And while I am old fashioned, and believe that a man is better designed to go get a job outside the home, and that a woman is better designed to deal with running a household... I still think this holds true, even if it is reversed or both people working.

I guess, what I am trying to say is, that there are a lot of people who appreciate what people like you do. And for any spouses who have not appreciated what the stay-at-home spouse does (or goes through)... go tell them you appreciate it and find something they hate doing and do it for them.

 
Rachel Lindsay
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Matt McSpadden wrote:I guess, what I am trying to say is, that there are a lot of people who appreciate what people like you do. And for any spouses who have not appreciated what the stay-at-home spouse does (or goes through)... go tell them you appreciate it and find something they hate doing and do it for them.


Your post was absolutely beautiful. Thanks for that lovely tribute to your mom and your wife--that really cheered me up today! There are no coincidences, right? I read your writing just now after I found this quote from the novel "Middlemarch" and had come to the P.C. to post it--how perfectly it dovetails with what you have just said:

Many who knew her, thought it a pity that so substantive and rare a creature should have been absorbed into the life of another, and be only known in a certain circle as a wife....But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. --George Eliot, Middlemarch



Thanks again for your generous thoughts!
 
master steward
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I have never thought of myself as a housewife.  I was a mother and a wife. Or a wife and a mother, if I was talking to dear hubby.

I hope no one else ever thought of me as being a housewife.

Nowadays to me, that is a TV show like the Desperate Housewives of (someplace).

By the way, from watching TV, I thought that today's modern couples all shared the cleaning and tending of children.


source

Rachel said, "I really wish I could be that person that loves the tasks of housekeeping--but if I can't love them, I will try to find harmony in being faithful to them and thereby loving my family.



Lucretia said, "Reminds of the "Fly Lady" site that is all about easy ways to deal with house cleaning.



https://permies.com/t/99190/permaculture-writing/art/Bullet-Journal-Analog-Method-Digital#817892

https://permies.com/t/205860/Housework-motivation-sharing-ideas
 
pollinator
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Maybe it doesn't have to be all-or-nothing forever.

I am actually a scientist and researcher with a fulfilling career. I was also a stay-at-home mom for two years when my kids were born. My husband has had several periods of being a stay-at-home dad too (he's so much better at it than I do!) Our kids have also been to a good daycare, and that worked well for us as well. We homeschooled, and then didn't.

For now, we've settled on both working part-time (and partly from.home), with my husband also devoting significant time to volunteer activities.  Maybe it will change again in the future. Soon, our kids will want nothing to do with us anyway

Did these choices affect our careers and finances? Sure. I'll never win the Nobel prize. But we found the balance that was right for us and we adjust and make it up as we go.

If you can live on one salary, you're already ahead of the game in terms of freedom. It's up to you and your spouse to figure out what you want to do with that freedom. Life is long! Have fun and explore!
 
gardener
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Kena Landry wrote: But we found the balance that was right for us and we adjust and make it up as we go.


This! I could never imagine to stay at home when I had my career. Then the first child (of three) arrived and it totally reset my priorities.

While I also suffered a lot from the Sisyphos work that always repeated and never lasted long enough to give me gratification, there are now all those memories I lived with my children when they were small. Otherwise jealousy and resentment would have overpowered me, to be honest.

The kids are teenagers now and I have reduced my workload. My goal was to get them to help more, but it is difficult. Now I just reduce the cleaning - if anybody has an issue with that, they are welcome to get the rag.
I do most of the cooking as I enjoy good food and want to eat healthy and in a sustainable, economic way. My kids know that the food in our home is quite restaurant standard. I guess they will have good memories around our meals; I don't want to be remembered as the person who always had an impeccable home.

And for a balance I try to follow my interests and I know I am privileged as I can follow them on a rather free schedule. Be it drawing, taking piano lessons, making a bike trip with my camera, doing my volunteer work in our environmental group or similar. I also do some odd translation jobs when they come in.
Being able to live on one solid income takes a lot pressure out of our days and this benefits all of us.

And whenever I feel really frustrated I think back to the time of me in my working days. I always had the feeling that I was living on hold and some days my "real life" would start. Now I feel I am living the real life.
 
pollinator
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I got to be a stay-at-home dad for nearly two years and that was a truly golden time. Flexibility is great if you can achieve it.
 
Steve Zoma
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Phil Stevens wrote:I got to be a stay-at-home dad for nearly two years and that was a truly golden time. Flexibility is great if you can achieve it.



For four years I battled three different types of cancer, and while there were days I could barely pick my head off the pillow, I too was a stay-at-home dad through those years. It was richly rewarding, really bonding with my daughters as I never could, had I been working. And never sure if death would be at my door, I gave them sound advice for life not knowing if I would ever be able to tell them later.

It was tough, but good too in its own way.

For my wife it was tough too, giving up the role of stay-at-home mom as she worked outside the home.
 
pollinator
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Rachel, I think you touched one of the ideas I am struggling with right now.

The building-maintenance cycle.

Building is sexy. It has a design phase, an excitement for the new, a hands-on phase, learning new things along the way. Then you have a reward when the new stuff is working and providing as expected.
Maintaining is boring. You have to do the same thing over and over and over, if you want to keep your stuff in working state.

At the beginning you start your life like an empty canvas, with lots of free time and projects, you begin making more and more stuff to fill your life, and with every new toy comes a new maintenance responsibility. And by stuff I mean both material and inmaterial. If you add to your life the friendship of another neighbour, you have to maintain her friendship by regular meetings, appropriate gifts now and then, and giving her some quality time. If you start watching a long show, then it's a regular thing to do on evenings. This is the growing phase of the cycle.
Then you find yourself occupied with so many maintenance tasks that you no longer have time for new building projects, but what you have built is working for you. It may be boring to do all the chores, but at least you are enjoying your stuff. That's the mature phase.
But you change, or your circumstances change, and suddenly what worked for you a few months ago, are working no longer, you are no longer happy with it. You'd like to build something new to face that change, but you don't have time for it because you are so occupied maintaining the old stuff. That starts a crisis.
The crisis shake your world, burn and destroy some of your old stuff and your old habits, which you really didn't want to say good bye. These are things that took you big effort to build and that were and are still useful, but you have a new challenge ahead and you have to make room for it. That's a collapse.
Finally you have free time again, the growing phase comes back and there you are again.

So really the problem with the maintenance stuff is that eventually it doesn't leave space for building stuff. It's like needing more room in your shelves for a shinny new book that you hate to have to leave in the ground. If you had had an empty shelve, then you could have put it in a proper place. But leaving some empty shelves requires that you do another kind of maintenance, which is 'making room' for new stuff before you need it. 'Making room' is the same as prunning a tree branch before it collapses.

I think we should always have some spare time, in case we have to face the unexpected. And for our sanity, we need to spend some of our working time doing 'building' stuff. So, whenever we find ourselves without spare time, we need to think about doing some 'prunning' in our activities, starting with the activities that demand more maintenance effort. It means that we have to sacrifice some stuff in order to prevent crisis. We can't be the best friend in the neighbourhood and the best parent and the best lover and the best worker all at the same time.

I know I need to cut back some of my activities, since I'm overwhelmed with maintenance stuff right now and I understand that if left that way, I will collapse eventually. But it's so hard to decide which part of me I should sacrifice! Certainly, not the kids.
 
gardener
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Anita Martin wrote: I don't want to be remembered as the person who always had an impeccable home.

(zip)
I always had the feeling that I was living on hold and some days my "real life" would start. Now I feel I am living the real life.



Thank you Anita! No danger of the first for me and I'm pretty close to the second.


Abraham Palma wrote:

So really the problem with the maintenance stuff is that eventually it doesn't leave space for building stuff. It's like needing more room in your shelves for a shinny new book that you hate to have to leave in the ground. If you had had an empty shelve, then you could have put it in a proper place. But leaving some empty shelves requires that you do another kind of maintenance, which is 'making room' for new stuff before you need it.



This! Both in time (and stuff!): we need to recognise that we can't do everything and it's OK to let some stuff go. In my house it usually is the housekeeping that slips.....I sort of think it's not worth cleaning something we're intending to rebuild.
 
Kena Landry
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I also believe in the importance of listening to one's fantasies. Not to follow them blindly, but to use them as guides to see what is missing in one's life.

What is it about the university professor life that screams to you? Adult companionship? Learning about complex topics? Being recognized for your accomplishments? Mentoring young people? These things can all be part of your life without dropping everything to enroll in a PhD program.

You can set aside a few hours to read about a topic that interests you. Create a mommy-and-baby non-fiction bookclub. Watch TED talks or listen to podcasts as you fold laundry...

One of the things that kept me sane in the early years was becoming a breastfeeding mentor.
 
Matt McSpadden
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I think people need to be real about the amount of work that goes into a household. It is a lot, and will probably never be done.

Having said that, I think people also need to be honest about priorities. I recall a talk that Joel Salatin gave, and he shared a story about going to a college and doing a demonstration of making breakfast. The students were complaining that they did not have time and money to make breakfast. He took like 5 minutes and just a little over a dollar to make an omelette with farm fresh eggs and artisan cheese. He then asked them, how many had gotten coffee or used a vending machine in the last week. All the hands go up. How many had been to the movies in the last week. All the hands went up. How many have a brand new phone. The students had the time and money, they simply did not make good food a priority. I don't remember the exact numbers, but we used to spend lots of food and very little on healthcare... these days we spend very little on food, but a great deal on healthcare.

I'm going to make this about me... so no one can accuse me of saying anything about anyone else :)
I often say that I don't have time to do things, but somehow I manage to fit in 40 minute showers and 3 hours of TV almost every day. I have prioritized those things above the other things that could be done instead. I have far more time to do things, but often don't have the drive or energy to do them. I think some of it is habit and I think some of it, is this western lifestyle and diet. I think it is ok to prioritize things above other things, but I think it is important to be honest that we are doing it... and not just comment that we don't have the time... when often we could have the time if it was important enough to us.
 
Rachel Lindsay
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Yes, the always-in-process, indeed Sisyphean cycle of never-feeling-completed maintenance tasks is exactly what is difficult and sours my attitude. I see you all know exactly how this feels! I do spend too much time wallowing in a bad attitude about it though. It is a choice I need to stop making. I saw above that "Flylady" mentioned, and she writes in her books that she looks at housekeeping tasks as "home blessing." That is much more cheerful than my take on it (eternal punishment in Tartarus.)  

Kena Landry wrote:I also believe in the importance of listening to one's fantasies. Not to follow them blindly, but to use them as guides to see what is missing in one's life.



This is so important. And I have realized for a few years that I have the opportunity, as a mother staying home, to have a flexible volunteer schedule to take care of my community that I would not have as a wage-earner. Not only do I teach online part time, but I am going to try and be a volunteer librarian at the parish library starting this month. (And since I homeschool, daughter can help!) I can only do this because I'm not responsible for an ironclad 9-5. I am able to follow many of those dreams because of my freedom as a housewife. That's truly a blessing I wish for everyone!
 
Anne Miller
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A book that my mother gave me when I was a young wife and mother that might be helpful to some:

Fascinating Womanhood by Helen B Andelin
 
Anita Martin
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Rachel Lindsay wrote:I do spend too much time wallowing in a bad attitude about it though. It is a choice I need to stop making. I saw above that "Flylady" mentioned, and she writes in her books that she looks at housekeeping tasks as "home blessing." That is much more cheerful than my take on it (eternal punishment in Tartarus.)  


Acknowledging where your bad attitude comes from is the first step to avoiding it.

For some years now I have been dabbling at genealogy and this gives me another point of view. When I visualize all the hardships that my ancestors had to deal with, be it bad crops, children dying at all ages, poverty, displacement, unheated buildings etc. I am so very grateful that I can put food on my family's plates, that I have a home that I can clean, that I have a washing machine etc.
Puts things in perspective for me.
 
Steve Zoma
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Matt McSpadden wrote:I think it is ok to prioritize things above other things, but I think it is important to be honest that we are doing it... and not just comment that we don't have the time... when often we could have the time if it was important enough to us.



I am an odd duck I know, but for me I could care less about money, but time... oh time... that is the great equalizer. It does not matter if you are rich or poor, in good health or bad, live in Maine or Tanzania; We ALL have 24 hours in the day.

No one is 100% efficient in time management, but for some of us doer's, we realize while we could spend time doing something like gaming, it is not something I want to do because it does not net me anything tangible long-term. I try to really make the best use of my time and avoid things that waste it.

My most precious time is shower time because it seems that is where I generate ideas. Yep, only 10 minutes per day, but as I jot down random shower thoughts, I then have a laundry list of research I can do when I am unfortunately at work and between tasks. Then afterhours or on weekends, I can act upon those ideas. Its a weird lay-out, but that is how I found I am the most productive.

I invest a lot of time in writing (something any stay at home mom or dad could do) because to me it has value. Yes, it takes 3 months to develop an idea and get it into a printed novel, but while it takes 3 months of my life, that novel is also a forever-thing. It could last long after I am dead. That is a great time ratio. On a homestead, spending three days to put up fencing that will last 30 years is a good time ratio. That is how I try and look at life. Am I spending my time well? But I also know, long after I am dead I will be held accountable for my actions, and that not only includes how I spent the money granted to me, but the time I was granted as well.

As for you Matt, rest assured; you have been a good and faithful servant. I have a lot of respect for you.
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