Wednesday, May 25, 2011

housework has a 'work' in it

It's funny how the me of the past can surprise and challenge the me of the present.

Usually, I regard the me of the past with a little disdain. Haven't I moved from there? Was I really so worried about that issue? Oh, please!

But sometimes the me of the past floors me with her (my?) wisdom - a wisdom I lost somewhere along the way. This happened to me recently when a friend sent a suggestion for a blog post:

I remember when I was first home with my first child, that you helped me greatly by suggesting that I work at the housework consistently through the day with a few breaks rather than completing a job and then stopping.
I said what??? And (embarrassingly) how seldom have I lived up to this since? Of course, there's nothing magical about my then-approach to housework, but it's a helpful pattern.

But it's what my friend added next that really helped me:

I have found it much better for my mood to see the house and kids as
something I work at all day not just when a need arises.
Now that's helpful.

It's relatively easy to work when you're at work. The boss is watching, there are people around, and you'll eventually get fired if the job's not done. There are clear expectations, clear tasks, and clear achievements.

It's not so easy with housework. You have to be self-disciplined and self-motivated (or visitor-motivated). No-one cheers you on. You do it, then do it all over again the next day - and the next.

Like all work in this fallen world, housework can feel like unrewarding drudgery. Probably more so, because (or so the voices in our heads tell us) who wants to be a housewife these days? Shouldn't my husband be doing as much as I am? Isn't there something more meaningful I could be doing with my time?

So we swap anecdotes about how little we do, boast about how much our husbands do, squeeze housework into increasingly smaller portions of time, and look down on our house-obsessed friends. I know, I've done it. (And yes, while you can turn housework into an idol, my tendency is to go too far the other way.)

So I like what my friend says. I like the idea of treating this wifing / mothering / housework thing as my job, not an annoying intrusion into work, ministry and relaxation. Because this is my work (or part of it, anyway). This matters. This is valuable. This requires generosity, self-discipline, grace - and a pair of strong arms (Prov 31:17).

Thanks, friend, for the reminder that housework has a 'work' in it.

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy:
a tale of two mornings
cleanliness is not next to godliness


Tasmanian said...

As a young(er) woman, I thought that motherhood was going to be my dream job - cuddles, cuteness, puppet-making, sand-castle building and endless fun educational activities. Boy. My "dream" job description did not include this degree of washing, mopping, wiping, washing, disobedience, sweeping, whining, washing or night-waking. I am trying (TRYING) to focus not on what I dislike about all this, but that I would be devastated if I lost them. And also just postponing the washing for 20 minutes while I cut up more cellophane. (And usually leaving the internet alone until everyone is asleep... except right now...)

Anonymous said...

Isn't God funny, or more to the point, so knowing it's scary. Here i am sitting at my computer, once again being distracted from the housework that i have avoided for a few days! I know my heart and my attitude are out of kilter. I am usually pretty good with keeping up. I am one of those people that if i have a messy house, i have a messy head. So in order for me to function well, my house must have order and even better, cleanliness. My friends do have digs at me for my house which always "seems" to be clean and i feel like i have to justify those comments every time. It is interesting that we (i) tend to swing the pendulum to both extremes with attitude towards housework; begrudging the thankless constant task, therefore letting it slide, or to turn it into an idol that feeds the pride. Thankyou for providing the balance for me today. I needed that. Am off to happily work at the washing, vaccuuming, mopping, bathrooms, toilets, making beds, sorting cupboards....... because it is good and it matters, just as He does.

onlinesoph said...

Thanks for this post, Jean. Coincidentally, I am having a 'catch up on the housework' day at home. It's good to be reminded that this is the work that I do (not a task to be sidelined), which is pleasing to God and loving to my family, no matter how mundane it may seem.

I blogged about this topic a while ago ( I actually sometimes find satisfaction in doing chores - the feeling of 'getting something done' and being productive :)

Jean said...

Thanks, all. It's good to know you related to, or were encouraged by, what I wrote. Here's to housework! ;)

Jean said...

I enjoyed your blog post, Soph - especially the positive comparison with work. Thanks for the link!

Meredith said...

That's an encouraging post. Thank you.

I've been thinking about this very topic myself lately. I keep coming back to Genesis 2:15.

"The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it."

Even before the fall there was work. Work is from God and work is good. Which is taking off on a slight tangent from your post, but it's a truth that I find helpful when I am having trouble doing the work set before me with my heart in the Right place.

Thanks again.

Deb L said...

Oh, a great reminder! Thanks, Jean.

Rachel said...

Something I've found very helpful lately was a comment Dale Ralph Davies made at Katoomba Easter Convention this year. An aside, really, as he briefly covered the ten commandments, he explained that implicit in the command to rest is a command to work (the rest of the time). As a "stay-at-home" mother, I have found it helpful to delineate that which is my "work" (cooking, cleaning, washing, general household management etc), in order that I might deliberately rest from it. Has made it easier to persist with the jobs during the week, knowing that this is my "work" (a la Gen 2:15).

Jean said...

A few more comments from my friend's facebook page, where she posted a link to this post...

Amy says,

"Good one! I often find myself thinking at the end of a normal day that I haven't done much if I haven't done a 'big' job like gardening, church admin etc. The truth is I have been busy doing the small things all day, washing, dishes, cleaning, feeding and loving Libby! A good reminder that those seemingly 'small' jobs are my work now and are actually one BIG job! Does that make sense!?"

Jean said...


'Life is about Godly toil regardless of what our work entails. Identity founded in Christ brings so much freedom. Freedom from judgement felt by others and even ourselves. Only being a mother and homeworker has gotten me to this stage of thinking, and I'm grateful that God continues to refine and sharpen my thinking. We need more mums at home to advocate this important life choice.'

Jean said...


'I really like the general idea of this post. The only small concern I have with thinking of mother/wifehood in vocational terms is that we might fall into the trap of professionalising mother/wifehood to the point where we beat ourselves up... for not keeping everything together enough in the home. Housework is relatively simple and quantifiable (you can tick jobs off a list!), but managing the relationships that exist within a home with prayerfulness, grace and wisdom takes up lots of emotional and physical energy, which can result in lost productivity with housework. Like everything in life, we need to work hard to serve the Lord Jesus and play to an audience of him alone. He will know our hearts and the degree to which the housework is done or not done is not best test of this.'

Jean said...

To which I answered:

'I'm glad you all found the post encouraging. Jane, I agree heartily with what you say. Housework serves relationships, not the other way around - and, as you say, this can result in lost productivity. I agree that our heart-motivations are more important than outward results. Just as well, in my case! :)'

Jean said...

Thanks, all. A very interesting discussion.

Put your thinking hats on, I'll be passing on a question about working at home next week ... about how to avoid laziness and disorganisation...