I’m baaaack! This is my first official Pickle Patch post since taking “maternity leave” in late May. And I’m excited, because this is a post that I feel passionate about. It came about based on MANY conversations I’ve had with other women. I’m hoping that, for those who need to hear it, it’ll provide your daily dose of liberation. Surviving as a woman is all about daily liberation, isn’t it? I feel like every morning I have to liberate myself from my own expectations — or from what I imagine others expect from me: those expectations that I’m going to be a perfectly calm and loving wife and mother who completes numerous educational crafts with my children, maintains a perfectly neat house, prepares delicious meals (always with home-baked bread), plants gardens, and stays fit and fashionable. Sound familiar?
As you may know, an important part of this blog for me is that it’s an exercise in honesty. I’ve confessed that I hate housework, that I’m not a gourmet cook, and that I’m a very imperfect person. You’d think there wasn’t much else to confess, wouldn’t you? (I mean, apart from things that would bring the Vermont State Troopers knocking on my door.) How much lower can you get than being an imperfect, messy person who can’t cook?
Well, there is something else; one of the hardest things I’ve ever confessed: I HAVE HELP.
That’s right; my life might be more of a rusty clunker than a well-oiled machine, but I don’t do it alone. We have two amazing sets of grandparents, and between them there are grandparents visiting us almost monthly. The minute they walk in the door, I throw the kids and a household “To-Do” list at them, and spend the next week in the coffee shop. During the school year, my two oldest girls were in preschool three FULL DAYS a week (I consider this “help” more than “education”). All summer long, we’ve had a wonderful high school girl who bikes to our house two mornings a week and plays with my older girls so that I can focus on the baby and various chores. AND we have a lovely woman who cleans the house twice a month.
I owe thanks to many of you for our house cleaner. Last fall I wrote a post renouncing my passive-aggressive attitude towards housework, having gained the perspective that MY HOUSE IS NOT ALIVE. And multiple readers responded along the lines of: “That’s a nice insight, but you should consider having someone come help out with the housework once in a while. I do.”
I was shocked. It had never occurred to me that so many other women — some of them working, some of them stay-at-home, none of them fabulously wealthy — might actually hire cleaners. So, a short time later, when a local friend confessed that her “little secret” was a wonderful cleaning woman, I took it as a sign from the universe and asked for the cleaning woman’s contact information.
This led me to question: Why, for so many women, is this kind of help considered a “little secret?!?” Why do we have so much trouble admitting to each other that we need or receive help? Why are we still burdened by the expectation that we need to do everything, and that outside help is a sign of weakness or incompetence?!?
I’m announcing our cleaning woman on the internet, but this isn’t information that I’d normally disclose to anyone with whom I wasn’t extremely comfortable. I feel a little embarrassed about it. Why? Well, I tend to think of cleaning women as belonging to the world of the rich and famous: luxuries employed by mothers whom I’ve heard dismissed by the phrase: “Of course, she has TONS of help.” (That phrase is never, ever meant as a compliment).
And another thing: I’m a stay-at-home mom. My JOB is to care for my family and home. What on earth is wrong with me that, with all the hours in the day, I can’t manage to keep my own house clean without outside assistance?
In short: What justifies the luxury of a cleaning woman in a household with a stay-at-home mom and the income from one assistant professor’s salary?
The best answer I have is: My Sanity. COULD I do all of the Superwoman things I feel that I should be doing — care for four kids and a puppy, love my husband, make delicious home-cooked meals every night, maintain flawless gardens, sew all of our clothes, decorate the house with my own hand-made crafts, carve out some daily time for reading and writing and exercise, and take charge of all the cleaning? I probably could, but I’d be a mess. Sooner or later I’d burn out, and the whole house of cards would come down on all of us.
Instead, we have a cleaning woman twice a month, and she’s been a lifesaver. We initially hired her because the physical act of housecleaning became difficult for me during late pregnancy, but we’re keeping her on post-baby. Having her come twice a month is nice, too, because I still feel like I’m responsible for maintaining the house on those weeks when she doesn’t come (although often I’m lazy and let things slide). Her help has taken just enough off of my plate so that I feel a little more sane, a little more able to focus on enjoying my family and making time for the things that recharge my batteries.
Don’t get me wrong: a cleaning lady IS a luxury. I know that hiring help doesn’t fit in everyone’s budget. We’re certainly not super-wealthy; we’ve prioritized this by sacrificing some other things.
But really, I’m talking about something larger than cleaning ladies, or budgets. I’m talking about GETTING RID OF THE IDEA THAT WE SHOULDN’T NEED HELP. Because obviously help isn’t just something that you pay for: It comes free, too, when we take up friends and family members on their offers to watch our kids for a while, to bring over a meal, to run an errand.
I’m trying to avoid the over-used quote that “It takes a village to raise a child.” But that’s essentially what I’m saying. The longer I do parenthood, the more convinced I am that WE WERE NEVER MEANT TO DO THIS ALONE. For centuries, before post-secondary education and changes in industry and infrastructure made it possible for people to leave their hometowns, most people stayed close to family. You might even raise your own family in the house where you were born, surrounded by parents and siblings and extended family who could help with the chores, or at least hold the baby for five minutes.
That might sound like a mixed blessing, and I’m sure it was. But now most of us have to build our own support structures when it comes to caring for a home and a family, asking for or hiring help that used to be a given. So, where did we get the idea that to be a parent (especially a mom), one needs to be a Lone Ranger? Why are we guilty about getting help? Why are we afraid to admit to others that we NEED help?
I’m going on record: I need help. I get help. And I’m getting better at accepting help without worrying that I’m unworthy or lazy or incompetent.
After all, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.