Wednesday, September 17, 2008

House cleaning is the Achilles heel of the modern working mom

Confession: I am a crappy housekeeper.

Another confession: When my husband decides to start scrubbing, I feel grateful and mortified at the same time. Grateful because I appreciate beyond words the way they understand how overloaded I get. Mortified because, well... shouldn't I be able to do it all?

Over at Shine: Work + Money, we're talking about how keeping the house clean often takes a back seat to everything else we're trying to get done at the same time:

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.)

A few weeks ago, my husband hit his limit and started scrubbing. It was something I'd been meaning to get to, but with deadlines piling up and no extra hours in the day, I hadn't been able to stay on top of more than the laundry and the dishes -- things we both take care of regularly. He started deep cleaning, first in 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 typed 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've written 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.

By the time my husband had moved on to the dining room, and had moved on, too. Instead of being upset that I can't do it all -- and instead of feeling criticized by the cleaning -- I decided to just be grateful about it. Maybe we whip the house into shape together, 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.

How do you do it all? Do you have help or do you let the housework slide? Is there a happy medium?

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