On Housework and Valuing Those in My Care
Every now and then, something I read hits me hard, worming its way into my brain and my heart, forcing me to pause and confront my own ugliness. (I’m sure this doesn’t happen nearly as often as it ought: this stubborn, hard head of mine isn’t always as responsive as it should be.) It isn’t a comfortable feeling, to come face-to-face with my own selfishness and pride. Not comfortable at all. And yet, so worthwhile, and, in the end, encouraging.
This happened for me and to me this past week, this eye-opening conviction that my attitude has not been what it should be. It came after reading this blog post, and my mind keeps coming back to one line from it, to the theme of her piece:
Because she valued those in her care, she valued the tasks required to care for them.
This motherhood job is a pretty sweet gig. It comes with perqs: baby coos and toddler snuggles, preschool musings and toothless grins, belly laughs and wide-eyed wonder and an infant’s breath against your neck. There are days when the awe of it overwhelms me, when I am amazed at this incredible privilege and responsibility, when I cannot believe I have been gifted and entrusted with the care of these two little girls.
It’s a sweet gig, but I’d be lying if I pretended it was easy, if I told you I enjoyed every moment, if I said I never got mired in the repetitiveness of it all. I don’t have to tell you that the daily tasks required to care for young children are mind-numbingly monotonous; if you are a parent (or have spent any time at all around small humans), you know it to be true. The Internet abounds with articles and blog posts and tweets about the tedium and frustration inherent in the job.
There are days when I realize that the dishes I’m washing, the floor I’m mopping, the toilet I’m scrubbing will all need to be cleaned yet again tomorrow or the next day or the next, when I’m on my tenth time reading a particular book or singing a particular song or answering a particular question in the space of an hour and it all feels menial and meaningless. I look at what’s required to care for these two little ones and I find such things beneath me.
I, in my pride, in my selfishness, think I am too good, too important to spend my days this way. With my education, my skills, my abilities, I should be doing something different. Something better. Something more.
God forgive me for such hubris, for not giving those in my care the value they are due.
I am grateful, however: with the conviction, with the check in attitude, comes encouragement. Encouragement that these quotidian tasks are worthwhile and valuable, that just because I do not receive a paycheck for completing them does not mean they are worthless.
The laundry. The dishes. The floors. The meal planning. The cooking. Small, everyday tasks required to keep a home running, to feed and clothe and house a family. Valuable, because they are a necessary part of caring for those created in the image of God. Or, as Margaret Kim Peterson says in her excellent book, Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life:
There is a tendency, I think, on the part of those of us who are well fed, clothed, and housed to imagine that the needy people to whom Jesus refers in Matthew 25 are people we don’t know – the sort of people who are served at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, at which we ought therefore to volunteer at least occasionally. But housework is all about feeding and clothing and sheltering people who, in the absence of that daily work, would otherwise be hungry and ill-clad and ill-housed.
There is undoubtedly more to the merciful service that Jesus describes in Matthew 25 than caring for the daily needs of the members of our own households. Housework is a beginning, not an end. But it is a beginning – not a sidetrack, not a distraction, but a beginning, and an essential one at that – in the properly Christian work of, among other things, meeting the everyday needs of others, whether those others be our fellow household members, our near neighbors, or people more sociologically or geographically distant from ourselves.
This isn’t to say that the tasks required to keep a home running will always be fun. (Does anyone actually enjoy scrubbing the toilet?) But they are worthwhile. May I always place enough value on those in my care that I recognize the beauty and the goodness in those things I must do to meet their needs.