I’m almost always astounded by people’s perceptions of family life when weighed against reality.
I don’t recall who said it because I don’t have a Twitter account, but somehow I came across a tweet by a man who declared that every man should assess the value of his wife during the current quarantine. He asserted that this could be done by observing the state of his home during this period.
Since wives are sequestered, he said, their homes should be spotless. For a brief moment, I offered mild mental assent to the idea that since there are more women at home, a lot of housework that has been getting postponed by the rat race would suddenly move to the top of the queue. And then I remembered something vitally important, and it came to me quickly because I have had the experience as a mother of children in school full time and as a homeschooling mom.
The reality is that a house that is being lived in all day is much harder to keep neat than one where the children are absent for 7 hours of the day. This is doubly true when you’re homeschooling, which literally every family in America has been doing for six weeks straight. It’s just another one of those things where the perception held by the uninformed sound good because they’re usually preaching to people who are equally uninformed.
Lest I’m misunderstood, we keep to a pretty strict and thorough cleaning regimen in our house. Floors are mopped every day, bathrooms cleaned every day, etc. We don’t do dirt around here. But we also have many days when our very large dining room table has art supplies on one corner and a stack of math or science books on another. Prince Caspian might be left on the sofa, along with a guitar and music stand set up by the chair. An easel with whiteboard and markers for math instruction is in the family room, and the collection of items needed to perform a science experiment are waiting to be put away. That’s not including the normal bit of clutter that comes with making dinner for seven people from scratch every night.
In other words, there are almost no circumstances under which this house will ever appear as tidy and neat as it did when our older kids were in public school all day and I was able to clean the house, breathe in the freshly dusted air, then sit back with a book for a few minutes before it was time to pick them up from school.
To be sure, there has been time to tackle a few big projects. We did such things as cleaning the garage and purging the file cabinet. I helped my husband build a couple of really nice wood storage pieces. I redid the pantry with labels and hopefully a better organization system. I’m fairly certain every family we know has been doing things like that while being at home.
However, I learned very early on my homeschooling journey that I could either give all my energy to keeping the house clean, or I could give the necessary attention to my children’s education. The latter necessarily meant there would be pockets of clutter and temporary postponement of chores not directly related to ensuring a hygienic domicile.
I can only imagine how much of a challenge it is right now for families who are suddenly juggling working from home and home educating on top of regular homemaking duties, all at once, for the very first time.
The mark of a good wife and mother is not whether she keeps a spotless house simply by virtue of the fact that she’s home all day. Being at home all day with our children opens up opportunities to do many things. If the only opportunity we take advantage of is the opportunity to keep things clean, we’re not doing it right.