I have four grandmothers (including in-laws). With one exception, they are all scrubbing that great floor in the sky.
They were all great housekeepers. They provided three (often warm) meals a day to their families, and feeding often included gardening and canning. There was bread baking involved. Laundry was a much more serious undertaking, a ridiculous amount of ironing took place. They all did church work and routinely produced gorgeous handicrafts, generally in the form of afghans.
Oppressed, you say? No. Actually, with one blatant exception, they weren’t oppressed in the least. They didn’t work outside the home, had purse money, were fashion-conscious to varying degrees, and each of them had hobbies and interests. More than one wielded subtle but solid primary control of the house.
Oh, and incidentally, they all were mothers. Mothers who, on the whole, raised decent kids, although they attended to them very little by today’s standards.
They lived in a time when it was clear what made a homemaker, wife and mother a success, and those were all the same things. While it’s true the vast majority of their identity and purpose was culturally outlined for them, that core curriculum was supplemented with a variety of electives to enjoy and excel in–just not so much in the workplace, unless the boys were at war. However stifling it may seem to some, with post-feminism ennui I see at least they had clarity.
However you feel about the universal “freeing” of women from homemaking, you’ve got to admit there is something paralyzing about too many choices, and with that freedom comes the entitled mantra of “I’m liberated, I shouldn’t have to do this” whenever we’re faced with a distateful domestic task. For me, it creates the constant distraction of “Why isn’t someone else doing this?” Which makes just doing the dishes everyday an affront.
The luxury of choice is spoiled by the fact that cooking, cleaning and generally caring for the homebase (if not the home) still needs to happen whether the 70s happened or not.
And nevermind that the “someone else” would simply be another woman who hasn’t the luxury of divorcing herself from the basic needs of food and sanitary shelter. Everyone–wealthy, liberated or otherwise–depends on these items yet we measure our success by how little we are required to think about them.
I rationalize that the grandmas’ times required less vigilance as a parent; their “be home before dinner” parenting style is completely unthinkable in many areas of the country now. But at the same time, I wonder if the unstructured breathing of fresh air, combined with examples of hard work both in and out of the home and steady routines of sacrifice for the family’s well being–weren’t a more efficient form of parenting in itself.
I say “efficient” because it seems housekeeping and yardkeeping weren’t at odds with parenting, but an essential part of it. And maybe we’ve replaced that two-for-one system with an exhausting, endless and expensive curriculum of after-school programs. And in the end, maybe the kids aren’t really raised as well and now the dishes aren’t done either.
I’m now in the rare and unexpected position of living in a way and a place that will allow me to experiment on this hypothesis, as I’m moving out of the city and going “back to the land” as they say. If my kids end up in jail, we’ll all know this was indeed rose-colored retrospect. But if my primary goal of happy, healthy and helpful kids is more easily met in this old-fashioned way, hindsight really is 20/20, and the Grandmas really did have it right.
PS, I recently enjoyed a quick, funny, twisting and surprisingly heart-tugging read. Related to this post, it’s about the fall-out of feminism and the reincarnated caricature of the bride, mother and housewife (and it’s uncoincidental alignment with the rise of Martha). Read a book!