These types of images always make me laugh. I NEVER look that cute and happy when I work around the house, and I hardly ever iron (One day, I brought out the ironing board, and my six-year-old exclaimed, “What is THAT? Can I lay on it?”), but I truly value the work that takes place in our homes.
There’s a common misconception that housework is terrible, mundane drudgery that needs to be accomplished as quickly as possible (or avoided at all costs) so we can move on to the “more important” things in life. I don’t love scrubbing bathtubs or mopping floors, necessarily, but here are a few experiences from my life that have helped me to see the meaning, joy, and purpose in the work required to sustain a family.
(1) Housework is a way to show love. I had four challenging surgeries last year, and I spent months in bed recovering. On days that were really hard, my children would send me to bed, and they would clean the whole downstairs for me. My 6-year-old likes to polish the wood table with Pledge, my 7-year-old can do the dishes without gagging (she’s the only one who can do that), and my 10-year-old can manage the other two children, take out trash, and put things in their places. They would always run upstairs and say, “Mom, will you come down and clean up the house? It’s a mess!” (But I would see their little smiles hiding behind their mock-concern.) I would go downstairs and say, “Oh! How did the house get so clean?” And then they would walk me around, showing me everything they did. It brings tears to my eyes just to think about it.
We also have a sack where stray toys go, and each child has to do a household job to earn a toy back. My 6-year-old son was on the verge of tears one day because he had 15 toys in there. Alia (10) didn’t have any confiscated items. She whispered to me, “Can I do Ethan’s 15 jobs to earn his toys back?” I said that would be fine, so she worked the whole evening and then presented her delighted brother with a whole pile of toys.
(2) Housework brings us together. We’ve divided our dishwasher jobs into four parts, and we all unload it together each morning. My two-year-old can sort silverware now, so he helps Ethan, who HATES the silverware job. We all gather around when I call out, “Dishwasher jobs!” and we talk about our day while we work. While my children don’t jump up and down when it’s time to unload the dishwasher, they don’t complain. It’s just another meaningful event in our day of togetherness.
I’ve noticed that my children don’t care particularly about WHAT we’re doing, as long as we’re doing it together. They like to organize closets with me, clean out the pantry, trim the roses, de-junk the toy closet, rearrange the furniture, make new recipes, fold laundry…even as I list these “chores,” my mind is flooded with sweet memories of the hours we’ve spent working together to make our home a place we love. Someday I’m going to miss the “choo-choo trains” they make out of kitchen chairs while I mop. I’ll miss the squeals of excitement when I pull out old toys in the closet they haven’t played with for a long time. I’ll also miss all the conversations we have about how roses bloom, how Ethan grew out of his new jeans SO fast, and how excited we are that our pantry is finally starting to feel healthy (we just purged all the sugary stuff together). Work in the home is a social, beautiful experience.
(3) Housework provides the backdrop for necessary conversations. The great thing about mundane jobs is that it allows your mind to be actively participating in conversations with your family members. One such conversation took place when Alia was almost 3. She had been admitted to the hospital for a couple of days because she’d gotten a terrible flu and suffered from dehydration. Every single morning for the next two weeks, she would sit next to me in the kitchen while I washed dishes (I was pregnant with Ethan and so sick, and we didn’t have a dishwasher). Alia would say the same thing every morning: “Why did I have to go to the hospital?” I would tell her the same thing every day and help her to understand the trauma of the ER, the IV, and the hours in bed. After a few weeks, she stopped asking about it, and we moved on to other topics, but I could see how these morning talks over the dishes were helping this little toddler cope with a very scary experience.
Housework is constant. It doesn’t stop when you’re having a bad day. It doesn’t always feel “fun.” It doesn’t always result in Hallmark moments. However, if we look at housework as “family work,” and focus on how it encourages love, togetherness, and essential opportunities for meaningful conversations, we’ll find SO much more joy in this process of motherhood.
CHALLENGE: Next time you have a household task to tackle, try to involve one of your children in a positive way, and then come back and comment on this post to share your success.
QUESTION: What has been one meaningful experience YOU have had with family work?
Originally published on April 30, 2010.