Last Saturday was a rough day for me. The day didn’t quite go as planned–my mommy-daughter fairy tea party date fell through, my husband ditched the home improvement project he had promised to do (fixing a doorknob) and went to play basketball instead, and the kids were restless and ready to get out of the house. But the house looked like a rocket launch site. So I grumpily turned on a video game for the kids, bracing myself to clean and fold the last load of laundry, thinking angry thoughts about my husband and my life in general. Why does everyone get a Saturday except me? When do I get a break?
It took about an hour before I realized something. Who was the intended recipient of my cleaning tirade? At first, I thought it was my children. After all, wasn’t I cleaning the house for them? Providing a peacefully clean learning environment, being a good example, giving them clean clothes…right?
Except for one thing. All my four year-old really wanted was for me to play the video game with him. “I can’t right now,” I told him in my best martyr voice. “I have to clean the house.” Do you think he really appreciated my efforts to clean, or would he have preferred some time with mommy? Does he really care if he has to wear his sweatpants and monster truck shirt again instead of a freshly washed pair of jeans and a collared shirt?
When he remembers his childhood, what will he remember mommy doing?
OK, so maybe I don’t do all that for the kids. Well, what about my husband? Wasn’t I a good wife to provide a clean kitchen and folded laundry? Isn’t that what our husbands want us to do?
When my husband came home, he could sense the chill in the air. He didn’t seem to notice the smell of Simple Green cleaner in the kitchen or the sound of the dishwasher and the running clothes dryer. He came bouncing in from a fun basketball game with his friends, saw me avoiding his gaze on the couch as I folded laundry, and his smile deflated before my eyes. My toddler ran to him for a hug and he said, “C’mon, buddy. Want to learn how to fix a doorknob? Come with me.”
Do you think he cared about all my work? Sure, but it wasn’t the most important thing right then. What he wanted was a happy wife, not a martyr.
Well, then. Who was I doing the work for? My mother? My neighbors? Martha Stewart? Me?
I grew up in a home where The House was the number one priority. It had to look good at all times. It was good in many ways, because I now have a high standard of cleanliness in my own home. I don’t have a heart attack when people stop by, because the house is already clean. So in some ways, I was doing it for my mother. I’m sure she’s proud. My neighbors? They probably doing really care, as long as the yard is decently clean. Martha Stewart? Yeah, she’d probably be appalled. Oh well.
Me? Yep. Definitely. It’s the inner voice that says, “You aren’t worth anything if your kitchen has dishes in the sink.” “You are a terrible mother–your son has jelly on his face and shirt from an hour ago!” “You cannot be happy until your bed is made. Go make it. Go do it now. Now go do something else. Now clean the bathroom. Now go clean…” The funny thing is, that happy break never quite comes. The house is never truly clean, the work never truly done. There must come a point when we say, “Now is my break. It is done now because I say it is done.”
Who do we work for? We work for ourselves. We work not because society tells us to, or because our husbands expect us to, or because our children need us to. We work because we know deep down that it is right, that it is a choice, and that it is our calling in life. And since it is my call, it is also my call–my call whether to be grumpy or grateful. Whether to be stressed or content. Whether to shove the kids aside to work, or put the work aside and focus on my kids. It’s my choice.
Sorry, Martha Stewart.