Of course, there is a lot more to homemaking than dusting and washing dishes. But housekeeping is a useful skill to have. My mother nearly killed herself keeping the house clean after working all week teaching without any help from my father. It’s not that he was a lousy husband; it’s just that it never occurred to him to pitch in. I doubt it ever occurred to her that he might. But, as I wrote yesterday, she didn’t raise her children to help either. I suspect it was partially due to the way she was raised: in a middle-class home in the 1920s and 30s, as the 6th and youngest child of a respected judge in Staten Island, New York. In those days SI was a pretty nice place to live (I’m told that is no longer the case) and they had a big house with sevants. How many I am not sure, but I know that they had, for example, a woman to do the ironing, and at least one maid who did most of the cleaning. I think they had a cook some of the time, although Mummy would talk about the way her father cooked roast beef and some desserts that her mother made. She never thought of her family as being affluent, but I don’t think she had a clue about how less fortunate people lived. The point being: my mother learned things like how to hem and to embroider, but I don’t think she had to do much daily upkeep of the house. She hated housecleaning as a wife, although she worked hard at it, but when I asked her once when I was about 14 why I didn’t have to do the chores that were routinely expected of my friends she answered that I would have plenty of that sort of thing to do when I was grown up and married and she saw no reason to make me suffer now. Being something of a martyr she never considered the fact that if her children had been required to help, she herself would not have had to suffer so much. Clearly my two brothers were never expected to do anything, and my sister, who had issues with my mother from a young age (really it was the other way around, but that’s another story) was sent to live with our Aunt Mary (my father’s sister) and Uncle John, who had a very clear understanding of the value of chores.
But, as I said, cleaning is not everything. I think my sister actually has a pretty healthy attitude towards housework. Taught by our aunt, she keeps a clean house, but she doesn’t obsess about it. She raised all of her kids, 2 boys & 2 girls, to do their part and their training has carried over into their adult lives. I have 3 daughters, who, without the model mother/homemaker to learn from, range from sloppy way beyond what even I can tolerate, to medium sloppy, to fairly neat. I long for a staff, because I really do like to live in a clean and orderly environment, but I just really hate housework. It is less onerous when the ambient temperature is reasonable, but it’s still not fun.
Then again, I know families who live in perfect houses, clean and well kept up, who don’t really have great homes. They don’t sit down to dinner together, they don’t talk that much to each other, parents never read to their kids… My parents served us four children well in that regard; we had a home full of books and music, we always ate dinner together (6:00 sharp or my father got very grumpy), and dinner was when everyone talked about their day. Both parents read to me when I was very small, and long after I was old enough to read them for myself my father still read the Sunday funnies to me and my Little Lulu comics as well.
We raised our children with books and music as well; there is still an unspoken competition to see who receives the most books at Christmas. When all 3 girls were young it wasn’t unusual for the 5 of us to get 70 or 80 books among us. Dinner wasn’t always served at a sacred hour, but we always ate together, with no TV allowed, and we talked and argued in much the same way as my parents, sibs and I had done 30 years earlier. Our daughters have grown up to be, if not perfect homemakers, intelligent and competent adults who are funny and creative and generally nice to be around. So, despite being something of a slut (earliest known usage = “a dirty untidy woman”) I think I have, with plenty of help from my spousal unit, succeeded in making a home. I decided awhile ago that I wouldn’t be embarrassed by my house any more; it’s not spotless but it’s okay, and if you like me you’ll put up with it. If you can’t put up with it, you don’t have to come over.