Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dad's cleaning the house: Does it help or hurt Mom?

A few weeks ago, when I was up against a couple of deadlines simultaneously, I let the housework pile up. Mountain up is more like it, I think, but the bottom line is that I let it slide for a few days, thinking I could catch up once I'd gotten my work done. But my husband got fed up with the mess before I finished my assignments. When he started cleaning, I felt guiltier than ever. Why?
With five kids, two parents who work full-time, a 75-pound black lab who sheds hair like he's desperately trying to clone himself, no housekeeper, and my tendency to clutter, I don't need to tell you that my house isn't pristine. It's not filthy -- in terms of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization's Clutter Hoarding Scale, we're not more than a 1, the lowest score. But still, I wouldn't happily eat off of the floor or anything. (My toddler is far less discriminating.)

The other day, my husband went on a cleaning tantrum. He started with the kitchen, moving things off the counter tops and scrubbing the stove and swabbing the backsplash with powerful detergents. He tossed the newspapers I'd left languishing in a pile on a chair and wiped down every surface he could find while I worked in the next room.

I was grateful. I was also mortified. I appreciated the fact that he recognized I was overloaded and couldn't get to the cleaning myself, but still... it made me feel like I'd failed, somehow.

In spite of everything I do, I can't shake the feeling that I should be able to do more. Is this the Achilles Heel of the modern working mom? Shouldn't I be able to keep my house spotless and clutter-free, decorated tastefully yet stunningly? Have all the clothes cleaned and folded and put away properly instead of heaped in clean or dirty piles in the hallway near the laundry room? Pack five exciting, delicious, nutritionally balanced lunches for the kids, preferably the night before, all while while working full time, supporting my family, freelancing on the side, socking at least 10 percent of my income away, and climbing the corporate ladder in 3-inch heels?

I know, I know... I just wrote about how, sometimes, working moms do it all by not doing it all. But I want to be good at everything, even if I don't have the time or the wherewithal to do so. And, really, I suck at housekeeping.

My husband has moved on to the dining room, and I think I should move on, too. Instead of being upset that I can't do it all, I'm going to try to be grateful that my husband is doing this. Maybe, together we can get it all done, if we take turns. And, if that doesn't work, I'll take solace in the fact that our house is still a few clutter-levels away from utter chaos.
Amy at Equally Shared Parenting has a very interesting take on the post; check it out here (thanks, Amy!). Do you feel bad when you can't do it all, or are you over it?

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