Why I’m not a guilt-stricken mother and why I have it all and why the patriarchy sucks

I typed out an incredibly thoughtful and lengthy response to microdro’s repost of this post from Dr. Isis… but it got eaten by blogger, and when I hit the back button it was gone.  I hate when that happens.

Anyhow.  The post is one of those standard posts about how working moms’ lives suck because they’re doing all the housework on top of bringing home the bacon and feeling guilty because they’re not perfect housewives on top of everything else.  Yet another book has been written on the subject.  I think it’s some kind of Jungian internet archetype.  In her review post, Dr. Isis quotes the claim that we’re the first generation to experience this problem (though she notes that her husband does half the housework).

The NYTimes and mother’s forums etc. repeat this pattern as one of their incredibly popular and frequent pet rich people problems, and it strikes a chord with so very many married women with children, who share their own stories of woe (more so even than the sad stories about having to sell the French Villa).  Usually in these sad tales their husbands are more additional children than help-meets.

I just roll my eyes.

Yes.  I roll my eyes.  I roll my eyes at the pain that apparently millions of professional women are facing today.  I don’t even sympathize.  And I damn well don’t think this is the first generation where women both work and take care of things at home.  And if I didn’t read these stories from time to time and if I could just wean myself off the mother’s forums, it wouldn’t even cross my mind that these are actual issues that I was supposed to be worrying about.  (#2 continues to wonder why #1 keeps reading these fora.)  (#1 is working on it!  Addictions are hard!)

See, I come from a long long line of lower middle-class working women.  My mother was a (humanities) professor.  My grandmother was a nurse.  My great-grandmother was a widow and school principal (widowhood got around marriage bars).  Before that it was farm wives and pioneer wives and women who definitely put in a full day’s market work.

With each increasing generation we’ve married husbands more and more capable of helping out with the housework, even traditional woman’s chores.  My mom got oohs and aahs because my father cooks.  That wasn’t enough for me.  I married a husband who truly is an equal, who also had a working mom (who herself had a working mom) and a father who did his fair share of housework, even the stereotypically female stuff.

We’re not afraid to “hire good help” as my grandmother liked to say.  We don’t put up with doing everything ourselves.  Everybody has to pitch in.  Husbands.  Kids (including all 7 of my grandma’s).  Everyone.  Or else it doesn’t get done.

One of the most precious gifts my mother gave me was the gradual transition she made from one of these stereotypical Dr. Isis’s book’s guilt-mothers, first spending each Saturday cleaning (while I watched the original Star Trek) to a much happier more laid back mother who made sure that everyone pitched in when chores were to be done and only insisted on spotlessness if company were coming (because Cleaning for Company is Polite in the Midwest).  Not only can I live with clutter, but I don’t feel guilty about it (#2 doesn’t either!).  There’s many more important things to do than clean.  Like spend time with your kids, or work as an activist, or read mystery novels, or, sadly, grade papers.

When I bring homemade food to a function, it’s because my DH or I like to cook and we want people to have the pleasure of good food (because food is love in our Midwestern ways).  It would never ever cross our minds to bring homemade food so that people don’t look down on us or whatever.  I can’t imagine anybody but the smallest-minded person judging for bringing store-bought brownies, and who cares what small-minded people think?  Now that we’re out of middle school we don’t have to associate with them!  (Though now I feel guilty that maybe we’re making neurotic people feel bad about themselves.  Maybe they should just enjoy the cookie without taking it as a statement of their worthiness.)

Of course, lots of people are still hung up on working full time and being perceived as Martha Stewart on top of that.  They get decidedly uncomfortable when I say one of the most freeing things for me is the ability to live in squalor, so long as nothing is growing mold (I do insist on clean kitchens and bathrooms).  But that’s their problem, not mine.  The world would be a better place if nobody freaked out over a little clutter (and there would be less clutter if people didn’t spend so much time buying junk).  Married couples would get along better.  Families would spend more quality time together.

So yes, I have balance.  My husband does his fair share or more.  We all do chores together, because Carol Channing told me that’s the right thing to do.  Our work is important.  Our family time is important.  Good food is important.  Appearances are not.

So my advice:  If you’re middle class, partnered, and not balanced: hire a cleaning person, stop being a martyr, and loosen up.  Change what you don’t like or change your attitude.  Nobody (with means and health) has to be miserable.

I blame the patriarchy, but I don’t have to let it keep me down.  Fight!

Also, read Your Money or Your Life.  It will change your life for the better.