I do not belong to that subgroup of women who have immaculate houses. In fact, those types of houses (and women) scare me. If I walk into a house and it feels like a storefront window, or a hotel suite at the Sheraton, I begin to feel a little bit uneasy. Not only that — I automatically begin to feel inferior. I actually begin to feel physically uncomfortable. I have that flight or fight response. In my case, I feel like I just need to escape.
Now don’t get me wrong, I abhor extremely messy houses too. Sitting in chaos or a dirty house also strikes me bizarre. In those situations, I also experience the stress response; I just want to get out.
I must admit I often wonder why God created housework. I know that in most cases, we create housework by the mess we make and the stuff we buy. But there really is housework that is made by for us by some invisible force.
Consider hanging dust, that kind that creates spider-like webs on legs of furniture and walls. How does it get there? Why does it get there? I often think about stuff like that. After staring at it and meditating for awhile, I do eventually face the fact I do have to clean it up.
While seemingly unimportant, mundane and mind -numbing, housework needs to be thought about. Just the sheer amount of time we spend doing it demands our attention. Making beds, washing dishes, drying dishes, putting them away, washing floors, dusting, laundry, the folding, the putting away of clothing, the weekly sock hunt, toilets, sinks, stairs and walls, vacuuming, sweeping, window washing, never mind the cooking, shopping…. It all takes so much time and it can be exhausting.
I will never forget the year I had my first child, transitioning from a high-profile career that gave me tons of recognition, to being at home, picking Cheerios up off the floor. I remember being shocked at all of the hidden work of a stay-at-home mother– All of the work that gets no recognition at all. My thoughts turned to Mary, and her son Jesus and their hidden years. Surely there must have been some meaning in it all? God knows that all of this work takes time, which on a certain level means that He’s willed it for us.
The National Bureau of Economic Research actually has a working paper entitled, “Time Spent in Home Production in the 20th Century: New Estimates from Old Data.” Valerie Ramey, a research associate out of the Department of Economics at the University of California, found that, “Women between the ages of 18 and 64 spent 18 few hours on housework each week in 2005 than they did in 1900. However, men aged 18-64 took up much of the slack, spending about 13 more hours on housework in 2005 than in 1900.” The paper also states that, “Surprisingly, while electricity, running water, and washing machines probably increased household output and reduced the drudgery of household tasks, they had little impact on the time spent on housework.”
There is no escaping it. Housework is here to stay. I am determined not to tackle it all alone! I remember once being taken aback by a couple of teenage boys who were visiting a friend’s cottage. While the entire family got up to pitch in, do chores, pack and clean, these two boys admitted, “Clean, chores, work? I don’t know how to clean. We have housekeepers, and other hired help. They all do that.” These boys were serious. Both came from affluent families that didn’t make their children do ‘that’ type of work.
Honestly, I didn’t know whether to laugh, or cry, or be jealous. It did make me think, “Is it important to teach your children to do housework? What ever happened to ironing, sewing, baking and knitting? Does anyone still do that?”
As a Catholic, I try to stare down housework with Catholic spiritual tools. I often turn to St. Therese and ask her to help me do little things with love. When I don’t feel like doing housework, I do it with a specific intention, offering up my work to God as a sacrifice. I lift my heart to Mary and ask her to give me the patience to do this type of work.
Other days, I just get plain old mad. I have often had to run to the confessional when things have gone completely amuck. Housework has this uncanny ability to pierce my pride. I often battle the temptation to think that there are more important things to do, and I struggle with women who think they are superior because their house is more organized, cleaner or prettier. At those times, I am often consoled by Luke 10:38-42 where Jesus himself says,