When you stare at the laundry piles in the bedrooms, the dirty dish stacks on the counters, the crumb accumulations across the floors, homekeeping can feel impossible, especially as a one-woman endeavor.
It seemed like it’d be so easy, but most of us come to the place of realizing that we’d flunk out of Homemaking 101, if there was such a thing.
We desperately want to organize our lives, to be happy moms, to actually finish something for once and be satisfied with the results. Yet everywhere we turn, the fact is clear: Homekeeping is work that will always be undone.
We aren’t the only ones making the mess, so why should we be the only ones cleaning it up? This kind of question, however, generally comes from a bad attitude. And so no one can satisfy it.
If we shift our attitude, however, to be a manager rather than a grudge-filled maid, we will not only get more willing help from our family, but we will also find ourselves more satisfied and content and grateful with the help we do get and even with the work itself.
So let’s look at three categories of help we can leverage and manage in our role as homekeeper, homemaker, home manager.
1. Homekeeping help from our kids.
So, we get a chore system up and running because we want the kids to help out, to make up in some small way for the amount of work they create for us. If we can just get them to pitch in a bit, then, we think, we can be happy moms.
If we try setting up a chore system with self-serving motives, it will come back to bite us. It will not work out for our benefit or their good in the long haul unless we treat the chore system rightly: as a means to train and educate and bring up our children well, as yet another way we are actually serving them – not them, us.
When the children are under 7, we function as a team by working alongside them, not expecting more from them than is reasonable for their age. We must watch and guide them as they learn to work and model for them what cheerful work and diligence looks like. Starting chores at 3-4 years old is great, because they have such enthusiasm for learning and helping. Harness that and show them that their enthusiasm is well placed and you love that they are contributing to the family, but also don’t expect much from them if you aren’t right there with them keeping them on track.
When the children are 7-15, we begin delegating responsibilities to them and teach them what responsibility means and how it works. This stage is where the bulk of chore training work comes in, with negative consequences implemented and positive reinforcement included.
Older teens and young adults in our homes are yet a further developmental milestone for us as parents. We can truly delegate to them and expect responsibility if they have been trained to it, but we also must be careful in not overburdening them with the responsibility just because they are capable and we are tired. At this point they have their own life to be lived, and that should be a joy to us, not an inconvenience. It is also tempting to give them the work rather than continue to train younger siblings, but that is cheating the younger children from the growth they ought to be given.
2. Homekeeping help from our husband.
We’re used to hearing two different extremes when it comes to husbands and wives arranging the housekeeping details necessary for building a home.
On the one hand, there are the mainstream voices for “equality.” They tell us it’s not fair unless we split the housework and child care 50/50, regardless of who prefers to do what or what other responsibilities and opportunities the family has.
On the other hand, there are the “old school” (not really old or traditional enough in the scheme of history) reactives who maintain wives may only do housework and child care.
Both of these miss the point.
God gave the first husband a job: to tend the garden and fill the earth. Turns out, he couldn’t do it on his own, so God gave him a helper, a wife. Her job wasn’t different from his. Together, they were to fulfill the one job: tend the garden and fill the earth.
At different times, in different cultures, in different seasons, each family works this out differently.
But it is something you need to work out intentionally. It is something you need to have ongoing conversations about as a couple.
Your goal is to be on the same team, pulling together toward a common end. Each person should not be tallying his or her own contributions, trying to make sure life is fair. Life is never fair. We are to give ourselves sacrificially for one another and we are to work hard in the Lord, without keeping score.
3. Homekeeping help from our machines.
I don’t know about you, but I have thought longingly of “the good old days,” where there was hired help or servants to do the menial household tasks. Somehow these discontent daydreams always assume I’d be the lady of the house and not one of the servants.
The truth is that the work of homekeeping in modern America is drastically reduced. It is no longer heavy manual labor. Of course there’s still menial and mundane tasks to do, but just read about the Ingalls family on the prairie to get a little perspective on the amount of work we do in our homes today.
Yes, because of technology, our expectations have shifted. Yes, because of social norms, the work of making a home is less valued now – which affects our satisfaction with the work itself. Yes, because of electricity and the tools it powers, we are now executive, middle manager, tech support, and grunt labor, all rolled into one.
Personally, I’ll take it over scrubbing out fireplaces any day.
Think about the electric tools you have and view them as servants. Sometimes servants quit on us, sometimes they must be fired. Sometimes they need a vacation or get grumpy at us. Any homemaker with hired (or unpaid) help in the past would have also had to deal with such things.
Appreciate your tools as hired (because they do cost money to buy, maintain, and replace!) help. While you think longingly of a cleaning lady or a hired girl, others in the world today are thinking longingly of a washing machine, dishwasher, or vacuum.
When we think about our team, don’t discount the fact that a machine can be washing or drying the clothes while we do something else, or that a vacuum can make quick work of the crumbs on the floor. We can pick up packaged chicken thighs quickly and easily – no keeping chickens, feeding chickens, killing chickens, plucking chickens, etc. etc. Someone else has done that work for us.
We do have hired help, it turns out. It just looks different.
Homekeeping is work that will always be undone, but after an attitude adjustment, we can still approach it with gratitude, work alongside our team without grumbling, and be satisfied in the accomplishments of the day.
This post is excerpted and adapted from a new module within Simplified Organization: Streamline Your Homemaking.
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