This Mother's Day, I'm grateful for my mom's failure as a housekeeper
Our house might have been messy, but we had loving relationships and meaningful work. My mom was busy 'having it all': raising two kids and pursuing a career. She was modeling a liberated womanhood that has shaped me more than my shame about our unkempt dining room.
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In her recent New York Magazine cover story “The Feminist Housewife,” Lisa Miller cited a survey from the Families and Work Institute, in which women said that they hated doing housework and yearned for more free time. Yet when the women had more free time, they used it to clean. (Unlike my mom, apparently these women didn’t need to read all of Proust.)Skip to next paragraph
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“Psychologists suggest that perhaps American women are heirs and slaves to some atavistic need to prove their worth through domestic perfectionism,” Miller wrote.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also writes about the unequal division of household chores in her best-seller “Lean In,” encouraging women to make their partners “real partners” – in other words, loosening their domestic perfectionism so that men can be involved at home.
If you have time to lean, you don’t have time to clean, my mom might say.
But seriously, isn’t the constant pressure to have a beautiful house just an extension of the pressure women feel to be beautiful? While we teach young girls not to define themselves through their appearances, we seem to have no problem letting adult women be defined by whether or not the dishes are done.
My mom, God bless her, didn’t spend much time worrying about what other people thought. Sure, she occasionally felt guilty and embarrassed, but mostly she was unapologetic and defiant.
Our messy house was also a lesson about relationships. Instead of trying to change my dad, my mom chose to accept him – clutter, flaws, and all. She always looked at the positive: “Some men gamble or have affairs. Your father just wants to buy some used books.”
As for me, I take after my dad in a big way, so “naturally,” for my own partner, I’ve chosen an industrial designer who worships minimalism. But like my mom, my boyfriend is incredibly kind and doesn’t judge based on appearances. And like my dad, my boyfriend is looking for a lot more than a domestic goddess.
That’s why I find myself writing tonight, in a new apartment, surrounded by boxes I’m in no hurry to unpack. It’s about to be Mother’s Day, when we celebrate mom for how perfect she is. Or, for me, just the opposite.