Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Understanding the Nebulous: We're in it for the Long Term

I think much of the criticism aimed at vocation homemaking has been because of the sheer nebulousness of the job. And, of course this criticism comes from both people who would never call themselves "homemakers" and those of us who, whatever our circumstances, are happy to take on the role. The physical work we do is often never-ending; mopped floors are soon dirtied, toilets are used as soon as we've cleaned them, meals are eaten, beds are slept in; even those of us who engage in more "definite" homemaking activities, such as baking, preserving and gardening know that the results of all of that patient work will be eaten for breakfast without even a backward glance in the direction of the homemaker from the devouring hoard of the family in full-on morning rush mode. I sometimes think that this is why there are so many homemaking blogs out there. Thousands of women from across continents collectively howling into the ether "this is what I did today, please look and acknowledge my work before it disappears!"

Of course, our work seems even more nebulous when we compare it to the world of the market economy where we were constantly evaluated in terms of what we could produce, and produce it quickly to boot. Even in a creative profession such as teaching I was evaluated whilst "in action" on a regular basis, and given a number from one to three as an indication of the value of my work, my capabilities, myself. My husband is also subject to yearly evaluations of professional competence, and his department is under constant scrutiny and is weighed, measured and sometimes found wanting in terms of achieving a set of inflexible production related targets. So in the world of payed work, even if we are not producing something definite and concrete, even if we work in the service industry, the value of our output is presented to us within the concrete frames of targets and assessment, which are imposed upon us by a higher authority.

In homemaking however, there are no such targets, no such assessments. Even if there were, they would have to be completely self-imposed. Can you imagine the scenario of targets being imposed upon the homemaker by the rest of the family? Can you imagine your work in the home being assessed by children and spouse? "I believe you are a level one cook, but unfortunately I can only rate you a level three on floor cleanliness. If you do not meet the floor cleanliness targets by the end of the quarter I'm afraid I will put you on probation." Having a formal assessment of our output as homemakers is almost a barbaric prospect. So, we live in a society which, to use modern parlance, is very goal driven: where assessment reigns supreme within the workplace; where target setting is a way of life; where your value is given only in terms of whether targets are met and assessments go well: but we homemakers, by the very nature of the job, cannot function under those terms.

Therefore, we are left in the very peculiar situation of working very hard, yet not doing such work within the parameters of the current market zeitgeist. We are amongst the few workers in the western world who are left to work in a way which pleases ourselves. And, of course the temptation is to feel frustrated with the more nebulous parts of the job, not only because we see nothing concrete at the end of the day, just more work to do the next morning, but have no formal assessor; no-one to praise us and no one to punish poor workmanship. Now, as a woman of faith, I know this to be untrue, I have a Higher Authority, who is ready to assess justly the work I do in His name, and I know his assessment of me will be more thorough and more true and more fair than any attempt at target setting done in the world of work by a bloke in a dark suit, carrying an ominous clipboard. However, I do know this this assessment will be done in His time only, and often this doesn't seems as quite quick enough for the average person. This, I suppose is my primary point. We should realise that any work done in service to others is done in service to God too. Now, this may not make the work any less frustrating, any less boring, any less grubby, but it does make the work have great purpose. We serve others, we serve our Creator, there is no greater purpose.

So, in a round-about way I come to my secondary point. That is, the work we do in the home is not nebulous at all, but simply work which has very, very slow results. We may think that cooking three decent meals a day is a little pointless, when the results of hours of labour is gobbled down in less that twenty minutes. But providing good nourishment is long term, and the affects of good nourishment are long term too; what we feed our children now helps them grow into healthy adulthood, what we teach our children now about food will in turn be taught to our grandchildren. Cleaning floors and toilets seem like nebulous tasks, but the long term results of good hygiene in the home are good health, fewer viruses, fewer infections. Moreover, every little kiss, every clean pillow case, every homemade brownie, every cup of tea served has a long-term cumulative affect of making others feel loved, welcome and comfortable.

I think sometimes there is too much of an emphasis put on "performance" in homemaking and even in parenting. You are a good homemaker if... well, I leave you to fill in the gap, it could be anything, but I bet it's not something long term. But, we're in it for the long term, homemaking is a SLOW occupation, the little, seemingly nebulous, tasks we do on a day to day basis are not pointless but are part of a greater point. A good job well done, slowly (but perhaps never perfectly), for the love of our family, our community and our Creator. And, seen in those terms, it's not such a bad job after all.

I've said it once before, but it bears repeating...
I'm very keen on homemaking, I'm a domestic animal, I love my job. I think that many people, regardless of social status and payed work commitments, enjoy the domestic sphere and when I use the word "homemaker" I use it to describe a person who sees their house as something much more than just a crash pad. I'm not keen on the mummy-wars and I make no judgments about my friend's life-choices, when we talk about homemaking we tend to get tangled in a web of cultural differences which tend to muddy the important (and I believe it to be of crucial importance) issue of what "home" really is, therefore my definition of homemaker tends to be pretty broad and inclusive.


Anonymous said...

Loved this post...and I smiled when I read the bit about us bloggers showing eachother the fruits of our labours before they disappear....so true.

love, Tina :)

Left-Handed Housewife said...

So much to unpack here, as they say! Like Tina, I smiled when I read the remark about why so many of us homemakers blog. Exactly right! I have actually posted pictures of freshly cleaned bathrooms because I know that the only people likely to appreciate my work are my fellow domestic bloggers.

I also want to second your point that the work we do may seem nebulous or unquantifiable, gone in a moment or a day, but I do think it has a cumulative effect. Sometimes I wonder why bother to make the beds or tidy up the clutter before the boys come home, why not let it go today? But I think that coming home day after day to an orderly home, where the predictable smells of dinner cooking begin filling the house every evening around 5:30, will have long term consequences. I want my children to feel safe, cared for, to have the sense that our existences are ordered, and that our daily lives are meaningful.

Oh, I could go on. Great, interesting post!

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Tina
I'm glad you smiled at that bit, I began to think that some bloggers may find it a bit insulting! I know it's true about myself. I may label all of my baking posts "look at the pie before it goes".

Hi Frances
You know, I think there may be a bit of an unspoken pact between domestic bloggers. A mutual appreciation of our work, no matter how trivial the outside world finds it!

I have a theory, which I may (ahem) expound on further, that the routine of home (which you described in your comment) is THE most important aspect of home-life. Children, in particular, thrive on daily rhythms, feel comfortable and secure, and so on. I think a home-rhythm may be essential the development of strong self-esteem and good mental health. We have a problem in Britain with the mental well-being of our children (shameful), we were joint bottom in a UN league table on child well- being simply because our children were drinking earlier, using drugs earlier and having intercourse earlier that any other nation in the developed world (other than the USA, with whom we are bottom of the league). Children in the UK also expressed more depressive thoughts than normal. I have a hunch that it is due to the breakdown of family life, not enough help is given to families in the UK, not enough encouragement to parent full-time. There is a real lack of parity between the funding of day care (lots) and the funding of SAHM/D. We also have the longest working hours of all of Europe and spend the least amount of family time with our children. Our love affair with consumer capitalism has affected our kids, but no-one really wants to acknowledge it.

Seraphim said...

"Our love affair with consumer capitalism has affected our kids, but no-one really wants to acknowledge it"

Oh I'm so glad I read that! I was starting to think I was the only one in the UK who 'got it'. The domestic profession, i find, is still very 'looked down upon' in Britain (at least in my area).... but look at where Britain has arrived at, now we have cheapened homemakers to the point of shame. Not doing us much good, is it?

I'd rather my family live on one income (one and a half in our case, for purely financial reasons)and be frugal, than end up as a broken 'modern' UK family.

Anonymous said...

Lovely thoughts chuck. I totally agree with your sentiments on the fact that once it's done it's going to get messed up (or eaten) and then you have to do it all over again. Lol!

But this is the crux of the matter:

...every little kiss, every clean pillow case, every homemade brownie, every cup of tea served has a long-term cumulative affect of making others feel loved, welcome and comfortable.


For me, just as marriage represents the church's relationship with Christ; so the home is the sanctuary, the place of love and of safety, where we dwell in peace as one - just as when the family of God are gathered together with Christ ('where two or more are gathered...') there is love, safety and peace among bretheren - and feasting!! ;).

Good stuff!


Dulce Domum said...

Hi Seraphim
I used to think I was the only one who "got it" too. I think many people are seeing it, but we're just a bit scared to speak up, lest we offend, or appear as dreadful, reactionary tub-thumpers! You may want to visit "Time for Parenting/Full-time Mothers" on my side bar. You'll find lots of information on that site, which you'll be interested in I'm sure.

Hi Sarah
"For me, just as marriage represents the church's relationship with Christ; so the home is the sanctuary, the place of love and of safety, where we dwell in peace as one - just as when the family of God are gathered together with Christ ('where two or more are gathered...') there is love, safety and peace among bretheren - and feasting!! ;)."

Lovely, chuckie egg, and I'm glad you didn't forget the feasting!

Gumbo Lily said...

Thank you for this, Dulce, because for the last couple of days, I have been feeling very out of sorts in my homemaking job. I've been a cooking maniac -- for my own family, for pop-in company, and for overnight guests. I'm tired. I want to merely sit down at the table and have someone serve me, then get up and allow that same someone to do the dishes and plan the next meal.

Taking a nap yesterday seemed to help my attitude. Thank you for the perspective.


Anonymous said...

Indeedy, we must never forget the feasting! ;)

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Jody
I reckon we all feel that way at times Jody. It sounds like you've been working very hard and deserve a bit of a rest. A bodily rest, and sometimes a mental rest, really helps. Ignore the dust, drink tea, read a novel, knit, whatever, until you feel ready to get cracking again!

PS. I watch old movies and knit when I feel shattered and fed up after a busy period.