Housework—a Clash of Attitudes
“I HATE housework!!!! And what’s more, I don’t do a very good job of it,” “A thankless, dull task that shall never again preoccupy my time,” responded two of fifty thousand housewives recently polled in an international survey. Ten percent of the respondents agreed.
Yet, on the other hand, many fit the description of Julie, who is up every morning at dawn to begin a daily ritual of housecleaning. Everything in her house gleams. All her friends envy the way it looks. Sometimes, Julie feels she should have more outside interests, but she sighs: “I’m a homemaker first, and we must have a clean house.” She strives for perfection.
Quite a difference of attitude from those who ‘hated’ housework! Does either viewpoint prevail in your home? Is either correct?
Certainly your attitude, or that of your mate, toward housework can have a direct bearing on your own comfort and happiness. But what is a realistic view of that which some consider a “curse” and others say is one of the “highest of feminine virtues”?
A husband, just returning from a weekend business trip, could hardly believe his eyes. The kitchen looked like a disaster area—the stove covered with scorched pots and pans, the sink bulging with dirty dishes, the floor covered with grime and grease.
Beyond the kitchen, he saw the living room cluttered with newspapers, bottles and toys. His two little children were wrestling on top of a large pile of soiled laundry. And in the midst of all this chaos was his wife, calmly sitting in an easy chair, with her feet up on a table, leisurely reading. She said: “I thought the best way to let you see what on earth I do all day was not to do it.”
Yes, housework is important! Who of us does not enjoy coming into a clean, calm, orderly home? On the other hand, dirt and grime can irritate. They repel.
“But really, isn’t it more important to be a companion to your husband and to keep up with what’s going on in the world than to spend your life as a ‘lowly housecleaner’? After all, to expect someone with brains to spend all her time doing housework is just not fair,” say many. You may feel the same way.
However, to prevent housework from becoming a boring task that consumes all your time requires skill and initiative—no small requirement in this age of mental laziness. As one authority states: “The woman who feels the importance of keeping her family comfortable, with a pleasant well-kept house and good food, is apt to snap right into her tasks and do them quickly and efficiently. And thereby finds more time to be a companion to her husband and children.”
Some homemakers are able to think about other things while doing certain parts of their housework that may require little concentration. For instance, some mentally plan future meals, organize their day’s schedule or reflect on spiritual matters.
Why do some women consider housework an important, dignified service? “It’s personal,” answered one homemaker with 21 years of experience. She explains: “I’m doing something personal to benefit someone else. We live in a world in which so many things are impersonal. You don’t see the immediate good of your work. However, housework affects another in a very personal way, and the satisfaction is immediate.” Many diligent housewives agree. They view their housework as a “labor of love” for their family.
Also, there is contentment in seeing a job well done. “I don’t know anyone who finds housework absorbing, fulfilling, challenging. However, like death and taxes, there it is,” candidly states one mother. Yet she admitted: “But, you know, when the copper gleams and the tables glow and the house smells fresh and the fire in the fireplace reflects the polished floor, I do get a smug feeling of accomplishment.”
Coupled with the “feeling of accomplishment” is a clear conscience, not always having to apologize for the condition of the home, and a sense of self-respect. All of these are fine reasons why housework should not be viewed as a “thankless, dull task.”
But what about persons like Julie, who must have a perfectly immaculate home?
Who Said You Had to Eat off the Floor?
“Relentlessly over the years, we have been threatened that if we don’t have a ‘whiter’ wash, squeaky-clean hair, a spotless floor, a glistening car,” claim two American professors complaining about some advertisers, “we are not keeping up to the proper (Madison Ave.-dictated) standards.” These experts assert that “cleanliness as a status symbol” has caused the huge demand for products that pollute our environment and has driven many women “to almost fanatical lengths to keep their families, home and themselves clean.”
Additionally, some women have been raised to view housework as one of the highest feminine virtues. These are obsessed with keeping an immaculate home—regardless of how much time it takes.
“There is no better way to make your family and yourself miserable,” states the book How to Run Your House, “than to have the house so spotless that everyone is afraid to sit down on a chair or touch a table or walk across the room with his shoes on.” Naturally this comment should not be taken as a reason to excuse a housewife from being diligent to keep her home clean, but never forget why you do it—to make your family comfortable. So do not steal their peacefulness by being overly fussy.
The most influential man ever to walk on earth, and a recognized authority for millions, made clear the balanced view of housework. While the guest of two sisters, Jesus Christ was confronted with this forceful complaint: “Lord, does it not matter to you that my sister [Mary] has left me alone to attend to things? Tell her, therefore, to join in helping me.” Mary had sat down at Jesus’ feet and “kept listening to his word,” and her sister Martha had to care for the housework—preparing the meal. Martha evidently felt that this was her most important duty. But Jesus disagreed, saying: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and disturbed about many things. A few things, though, are needed, or just one. For her part, Mary chose the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.”—Luke 10:38-42.
The spiritual matters that he was teaching were more important than a meal with “many things.” Jesus showed that only “a few things . . . or just one,” perhaps just one simple dish, was all that was “needed.” In other words, do what is “needed” so you can have time for more noble interests. How important that homemakers today remember this! But how can one gain such balance?
Developing a Balanced Attitude
First, set your priorities. Which should come first—the house or those who live in it? Are your own standards so high that others feel uncomfortable? One homemaker concluded: “Provide the family with simple, nourishing food; clean beds; clean clothes; and a house clean enough for comfort. Everything else is optional.”
You will never get all the housework done. There is always something to do. So decide how much time you will devote to it. Then diligently do as much as your own pace allows. Reportedly, some women spend on the average as little as an hour a day straightening up their homes. Others may spend longer, depending on their family’s living habits, their own abilities, strength and circumstances.
Recognize your own limitations. As one experienced homemaker said: “As with money, so with our time and strength, we can’t overspend. If we try, we end up paying for it sooner or later. We can only do so much.”
However, some other homemakers struggle against another real weakness in the human makeup—laziness. This can color one’s attitude about housework. The excuses of a lazy person are well known. The Bible mentions how the lazy one says that there are just too many problems standing in his way to work, it’s like a “brier hedge” before him. Or he is just too tired or “weary” to put forth any more effort. (Prov. 15:19; 26:15) If you see such tendencies in yourself, do something about it. “Great laziness” can lead to a ruined home—in many different ways!—Eccl. 10:18.
“But how can I know whether my present course is balanced or not?” some may be thinking. To help, let us consider a model homemaker described in the Bible, in Proverbs chapter 31.
A Model Homemaker—A Surprising Description
The mother of an ancient king painted a vivid picture of the ideal housewife. This divinely inspired picture even ‘corrected’ the king’s thinking. True, it described this “capable wife” as one who was “watching over the goings on of her household” and who performed much of what some consider “woman’s work,” such as cooking and making clothing. Yet her interests and accomplishments were not limited to the house.—Verses Prov. 31:10, 15, 21, 22, 27.
For instance, she was a careful shopper, bringing her food “from far away.” She sold her homemade items to tradesmen. She even made real-estate transactions and planted a vineyard—no simple tasks! In fact, of the eleven specific tasks she is portrayed as performing, seven are transacted outside her home. Indeed, she was not a woman “chained to a mop and bucket”!—Verses Prov. 31:13, 14, 16, 18, 24.
Her life was not wrapped up entirely with her housework. “Her palm she has stretched out to the afflicted one, and her hands she has thrust out to the poor one.” She was concerned with helping others, even those outside her family.—Verse Prov. 31:20.
Such a woman was hard to find, but, once found, her value was priceless, “far more than that of corals.” Yes, precious red coral that has long been very highly prized for jewelry and decorative purposes generally was as nothing compared to this “jewel” of a woman! An industrious, balanced housewife, who does not eat “the bread of laziness” and has additional interests outside the home that benefit the family and others in need materially or spiritually, is just as precious today.—Verses Prov. 31:10, 27.
But what happens when the homemaker must take on a full-time job outside the home?
Working Women—A Changed Picture
“Financially I need to work, but I would love to stay home with my child,” bemoaned one housewife. “It is very hard trying to be wife, mother and homemaker after working eight hours.” She echoes the plight of an increasing number of women.
However, when the wife works outside the home a number of hours similar to the workday of the husband, there is a real need for understanding and help from the rest of the family. “I am very fortunate,” boasted one young housewife with a full-time job, “in having a husband who believes that one adult should not have to clean up after another adult, and that housework should be shared.” The children also can, and should, help. Especially so if theirs is a single parent who must work full time.
If others in the family are not overdemanding, but instead join in doing the work together, it can almost be fun, as one homemaker wrote: “Every day my husband scours the bathtub after his shower. After dinner, he cleans and scrapes the dishes, while I wash the stove, counters and put away leftovers. . . . Three nights ago my husband ironed while I prepared the dinner. We were able to talk about our day while we completed these tasks. . . . We often share cooking and make it fun—drink a glass of wine and talk. If I had to do housework alone, I’m sure I would consider it drudgery.”
Such a husband not only proves his love for his wife by such assistance, but also shows consideration for her as what the Bible calls a “weaker vessel, the feminine one.”—1 Pet. 3:7.
A Balanced View Brings Joy
“It’s balance that’s needed,” concluded an experienced housewife. “Your attitude can’t be too meticulous, or it’s uncomfortable. Or if you’re too sloppy there’s irritation on both sides. You’re irritated because of guilt for not doing it, and then the family is irritated because the dirt must be endured another day.”
Proper balance creates a clean-as-I-can-make-it home, but with a relaxed atmosphere prevailing inside. So keep housework in its proper place—not first, and not last either. Balance is the key, or as the Bible well states the principle: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.”—Phil. 4:5.