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.

50 Responses to “Why I’m not a guilt-stricken mother and why I have it all and why the patriarchy sucks”

  1. Jacq @ SMRM Says:

    Hey I found a mommy blog that you guys might be able to relate to – but got there through This Single Mom Survives – who is freaking hilarious. Here’s her guest post for them:
    http://www.rantsfrommommyland.com/2011/03/domestic-enemies-of-single-mom.html
    But they are seriously hilarious themselves. I’d read it even if I didn’t have kids. Or wasn’t a mom. Or a woman. Just read it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hmm, under “is this blog for you” it specifically says that this is not the blog for me and suggests that my husband is gay. (He’s not… he’s just so big and burly that he’s secure enough in his masculinity to be the perfect husband.)

      Single parenthood is definitely challenging.

      • Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom Says:

        Big and burly and secure is good.
        What can I say? I’m a sucker for those 50’s retro captioned posters. Even better than LOLcats.

        Is single parenthood that challenging? I don’t know, depends on your perspective. It seems less challenging to me. I suppose, like cleaning, it depends on your expectations and standards. I don’t really relate to the “oh no, I’m a single parent and it’s so hard” crowd. It’s just my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        How about single parenthood is definitely challenging for the lady in that blog post?

        It’s also challenging for people who don’t have money to buy good help or who don’t have support structures (think minimum wage single moms). Just having a person who can alternate with me when DC is sick is important. I recently went to a conference where someone presented a paper showing that married women with children who lived in the same town as their mothers and mothers-in-law were more likely to work, even though their mothers and mothers-in-law weren’t doing an appreciable amount of childcare. Just the insurance that someone else could pick up the kids if they got sick at daycare, the authors argue, helps women enter or stay in the labor market.

  2. oilandgarlic Says:

    I’m new to motherhood and working on the work/life balance thing but I think if I could learn to truly embrace the mess, my problems with work/life balance would pretty much disappear! I’m actually pretty good at ignoring dust and vacuuming; however, I can’t stand dirty dishes, floors and bathrooms. Anyway, good post..I think the next feminist revolution should be about guilt-free motherhood!

  3. Spanish Prof Says:

    As I mentioned somewhere before, one of the things that have surprised me from the United States is some sort of puritanical guilt regarding hiring somebody to clean your house. They seem to think it’s like hiring somebody to do something that is part of your private life, not your professional life. I understand the potential for abuse. However, I’ve told a few people that I don’t see the difference (provided that you pay a decent salary) between hiring a secretary and a cleaning lady, and they’ve looked at me as if I were an alien. When I was reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickled and Dimed”, there was one section were she condemns people who hire cleaning help on moral grounds (and not because the company she was working for was exploiting the employees). I just couldn’t get it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t get it either. Cleaning is a job like any other. There aren’t many jobs in this small town that pay $20/hr like housecleaning does.

      I also get a lot of silent condemnation from folks when I don’t feel apologetic for my house not being clean. You’re *supposed* to complain about how your house isn’t clean and you just don’t have time and you feel like such a terrible person. Not feeling like a terrible person isn’t part of the formula. (Disclaimer: I do clean when we have company over because it is polite to do so.) My house isn’t clean either and SO WHAT?

      • bogart Says:

        LOL. I just always debate whether I should tell guests I did clean (which I did! Because it is polite!), thereby admitting what a really horrible mess the place was before I did so, or not mention it, thereby allowing them to imagine I don’t care that I’m a rude slob of a host (because good heavens — the place is (still) a mess!).

        I usually tell them I cleaned. Because I did! Even if all I did was pick up (most of) the dust bunnies.

        I do believe that there are serious downsides to much of the “mainstream” US approach to cleaning — that the chemicals (many of us) use are far worse for us (and others, and the environment) than the dirt. But I’m not so woefully clueless as not to know that were I truly domestic and frugal, I’d be cleaning everything with diluted white vinegar, or baking soda, or each in turn.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I was taught a beautiful poem on this subject. Er hem.

        God made the dirt,
        and the dirt don’t hurt.

        Thank you.

    • Clarissa Says:

      I agree completely with Spanish prof. Cleaning is not shameful. It’s a job like any other. If I’m completely useless at it (which I am), I can hire a more capable and knowledgeable person. If it isn’t exploitative to hire somebody to teach you a language, how is it any worse to hire a person to perform another kind of service, such as cleaning, for you?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Or like a personal trainer. You could probably work out without one, but you hire an expert to help you out with something you know you’re not that good at getting done.

  4. Linda Says:

    Do you think people just like to complain and play the martyr? Or maybe this type of “conversation” is considered “socially acceptable” just like weather and sports, so people frequently engage in it? I don’t get it either. It’s OK to vent and rant but this type of moaning and whining does seem to never end.

  5. Clarissa Says:

    What an absolutely brilliant post! I have seen scores of women infantilize perfectly reasonable and capable men into being helpless and useless around the house. They seem to believe that making themselves indispensable through household chores will make their male partners value them more. Deciding that you don’t want to be valued as a cooking and cleaning device is a huge liberation.

  6. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I can’t wait to be able to afford a cleaning lady again. There’s no way my house is going to be gorgeously clean but I just want it to be not chaos. I don’t like stepping on things (effin LEGOS) or not being able to find empty space or not being able to find things quickly or yucky smells. Those are my Clean Enough Standards. My mom was the first generation to have to work and manage a household. Her mom never has to my knowledge. My mom had a much harder time finding a happy place with those two things than I have I think. My Dad helps around the house more today than when we were kids.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Put those kids to work picking up legos. (I can hear my mom, “If I step on another one of these I am going to throw all of them out.”)

      • MutantSupermodel Says:

        Oh trust me I’ve a) had them do it and b) said those exact words. The obstacle is the 2 almost 3 year old who has the attention span of a gnat. So he starts helping “clean up clean up everybody everywhere” and then “ooooooh LEGO!” and runs away eating it. Then Eldest gets all mad Baby stole one of his PRECIOUS Legos and the battle commences. So. Much. Fun.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Hm…. you’re making the prospect of a #2 not very appealing!

  7. Squirrelers Says:

    Partnership is a good thing. In this day and age, it makes no sense for one person to bear more of an overall burden than the other person. That’s not a partnership!

    Whether it’s bringing home the bacon, attending to the needs of kids, housework, etc – people should be sharing the overall work. Now, how it gets divided up can be different for each family, but an imbalance means that it’s not a a fair partnership. In my view, anyway.

    If a guy just inherently expects that his wife will do most of the housework and child rasing, and the wife inherently expects that her husband will do most of the income producing, then they each have to offer some balance to make it fair.

    Man or woman, it’s not necessary to be a martyr.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Or both parties can agree that one takes care of the house and the other earns money — if they discuss it and decide together and that’s what they both want. I just think that most women I know don’t want that — but there are unspoken and assumed compromises.

  8. First Gen American Says:

    As much of a do it yourselfer I am, I do hire a cleaning lady to come in 2xmonth. I resisted at first, but my husband put his foot down and I’ve had someone for like 12 years. I still feel like I’m cleaning the house constantly with all the laundry and cooking and dishes. I have to admit though, it is a big help and I forgot how much time it took while my person was out on maternity leave. I’m glad to have her back.

    When I first got one, it was before I had a house or kids, so it was a real luxury. Nowadays I wonder how I would fit in all my weekend chores (groceries, activities, laundry, renovation projects etc) if I had to add another 4 hours of housecleaning to my weekend chores list.

    I love your statement about how each generation of husband is more capable.so true.

    It is weird that I’m still a little ashamed of having a cleaning lady but with the hours and travel my husband and I put in, I just don’t see any other way that wouldn’t lead to severe marital discontent. I guess the guilt is because I’m pretty frugal in a lot of other areas and it seems odd that I would have one…but then I know I’m helping employ someone who really needs the cash too, so its all good.

  9. Scientist, Mom « Anne Peattie Says:

    […] Nicole and Maggie explain Why I’m not a guilt-stricken mother and why I have it all and why the patriarchy sucks […]

  10. Kathryn C Says:

    My mom and dad got divorced when I was 7 (but my dad is still very much in the picture, i’m not one of the dad haters despite coming from a divorced family).

    My mom has had her own business since she was 30 (when I was born). We’ve had a live in person help raise us because my mom had to work, she needed help with house stuff obviously.

    My mom would go to grocery store and buy frozen food, take it out of the container, put it in a pyrex, bake in the oven, and take it to pot luck dinners…doy, because she didn’t have time to cook. It’s genius.

    I do that now, it’s the best strategy in town. Oh, and I do tell people that it’s fozen food…..after we eat it.

  11. Lindy Mint Says:

    I may have said this before, but the best advice I was given about being a working mother was to allow yourself to be a ‘B’ in some areas of life. Your house may not be the cleanest, you may not be the best at keeping up with birthday cards or being crafty, but I’m okay with that.

    If ever I feel guilt it’s for not taking full advantage of the time I do have with my kids – but that is something I can change.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      B is even passing in graduate school. Our house is more of a C, but it’s not actually a class that I care about, just some dumb gen ed. (Apologies to Martha Stewart, but of course she cares, that’s her major… heck she’s teaching at the Harvard of the subject.)

  12. Favorites the kid experiment issue First Gen American First Gen American.com Says:

    […] and Maggie share why I am not a guilt stricken mother and then Science Blogs Retorts with How Fortunate believing that Nicole and Maggie’s opinion […]

  13. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    It’s kind of funny how half our audience no doubt feels sorry for us for having had working mothers because we were deprived as small children (we weren’t) and half our audience is claiming that we have some sort of unfair privilege because of it! The negative response from a few working mothers who had SAHM when they were growing up is incredibly ironic… and I guess point-proving. But rather than attack the messenger, I think perhaps they should think about what great role models they are being for their own kids.

    Though again, we don’t think that SAHM or WOHM should feel society-induced mother guilt. And we think they should fight anybody who tries to make them feel it. We’re not trying to add to their guilt, perhaps they should try to throw off the chains that bind them, instead of attacking folks who already decided not to wear theirs. We’d be happy to help, but really that kind change can only come from within.

    We roll our eyes because repeating these guilt-mantras spreads the patriarchal idea that a woman/mother must be Martha Stewart on top of everything else. And that’s not something we want to be a part of. There’s another way.

    In a couple/few weeks I’ll post a post on married women’s labor force participation over time. It is worth noting that the year I was born, 50% of married women with children at home (under age 18) worked. The year my mother was born, that number was 20%. And, of course, this percentage is much greater for less-advantaged groups such as blacks, immigrants, and lower-income households. My story is not unique, but that of a sizable minority.

    Also: Some people have real problems. Not being able to keep the house spotless is not one unless you yourself are making it a problem. If you can either hire a cleaning person or let go… well, just maybe you will be happier. It reminds me of the mother of the bride when my brother-in-law got married… she was freaking out because some of the candles at the reception tables were of different heights. Really? This is what you’re worrying about? And I laughed at her and laughed and laughed. Eventually she started laughing too. (Then DH and I went through and alternated short and long on the longest table so it looked planned.)

  14. Well Heeled Blog Says:

    WOW you are certainly good at generating controversy! I’m with you on the away with guilt – if I become a mom, I’m going to be a guiltless mom.

  15. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I just want to point out you didn’t title this one “A deliberately controversial post” and it ended up as one so maybe you should turn things around and name all of your non-controversial posts “deliberately controversial” and pass off your controversial posts as run of the mill content!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      An oversight, I assure you. :)

      (Actually that’s a lie. Who knew so many folks out there resent people telling them to stop feeling guilty about not being Martha Stewart? Rich people problems…)

  16. Dr. Sneetch Says:

    Hi NicoleandMaggie, patriarchy totally sucks. I can’t stand this stuff and I’m in a peculiar situation where I care for one such “nut” being a relative and all, but she is such a fruitcake. I have volumes to say about this movement and I’m glad to see others take notice of it. It is really quite an abomination of religion.

    Once I tried to suggest to my cleaning lady that she clean a different way and she informed me she knew her job and asked me to stay out of it, which I did. Ha ha What to do? She’s the expert.

  17. SouthernPlayalisticEvolutionMusic » Feministing Fridays: Womanism, Feminism, and shades in between Says:

    […] Goddess (’cause I’m reading in revers chronological order). And that led me to Why I’m not a guilt-stricken mother and why I have it all and why the patriarchy sucks by Nicole and Maggie at the Grumpy Rumblings of the Untenured which took me back to Isis (link at […]

  18. Cloud Says:

    Hi! I found this post via the #scimom posts, and I love it and agree 100%. I have often said that anyone who thinks working mothers are a new phenomenon created by feminism should look up the instructions for making your own soap.

    We have a cleaning service, my husband does his share of the chores and doesn’t think that is abnormal, and I am generally pretty guilt free about my life. I’ve posted things very similar to this frequently on my own blog.

    But I have to point out… there is a fairly vocal group of liberals who think I am taking advantage of the women who clean my house. So you actually get the guilt trip about not doing your own cleaning from both the left and the right. Luckily, I’m good at ignoring guilt trips.

  19. An End To Working Mom Guilt | Oilandgarlic's Blog Says:

    […] and retirement.  And if it does mean allowing for extra indulgences, that’s fine, too.  Life is too short for guilt.  Happy Mother’s […]

  20. What makes a blog post popular? Drama or the hope of redneck jokes? | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured Says:

    […] Why I’m not a guilt-stricken mother and why I have it all and why the patriarchy sucks 47 comments April […]

  21. Do you feel any pressure to be a “super mom”? | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] along reasons).  Women feeling like they have to say they’re not perfect, check.  Why we can thank our mothers for not feeling guilty for working…  And what is UP with all that guilt in parenting […]

  22. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Update: I was just talking with my mom, and she said: The hero in my family was my great grandfather [Lastname], who believed in education for women. His mother had been a teacher, and he thought that no woman should ever have to be dependent on a man.


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