In the previous posts ‘Wife of a Stay-at-Home Husband’ and ‘How to get children to help around the house’ I began to think about shifting out of the role of ‘Household Organiser’ that I seem to have acquired over the years. One of the commitments I made while writing the Wife of a Stay-at-Home Husband post was that I would be clearer about asking people to do things for me. On the one hand, this has seemed to reinforce my role as household organiser, because I am continuing to do the ’emotional labour’ of thinking about what needs to be done for our family and convincing and cajoling other family members to help in that. But on the other hand, it has worked to make the rest of the family more aware at what needs to be done and thus hopefully in the long term view, as Avalon argues in her post ‘How to get children to help around the house’, it will reduce my emotional labour in the form of organising.
Avalon’s basic approach advocates accepting and celebrating a mothering role, an approach which may make many old-school feminists squirm with anxiety about the possibilities for misuse and oppression, and many old-school Christian women nod and smile and point at their bibles. Yet looking through the posts on her site, she comes at emotional labour from a baseline position of women’s strength, power and sacredness — which may induce a few feminists to start nodding and smiling and a few Christian women to start squirming (especially when they see the words ‘shamanic midwife’). I personally enjoy Avalon’s fresh and honest account of both the drudgery and sacredness of mothering, and I appreciate the way in which she brings the mother-body and the mother-spirituality together in her rituals and reflections. When I get caught up in trying to put off my mothering self, I am always brought back by my mothering-body — the need to breastfeed and the desire of my youngest to be in close proximity to me no matter how capable and willing my husband is to care for him. At this age (13 months), the baby is still transitioning from being ‘part of my body’ to being a separate person in his own right. When I am home, he mostly wants to be ‘within my radar’ — sometimes glued to my hip, and other times within the same room as me. He still feels part of my body most of the time, and with all my kids this has lasted until around 2 or 3 years of age, despite Dad being present and available and willing, and despite me working almost full-time once they reach 1 year old. As much as I am familiar with the way this fact has been used to assign women the domestic role and all associated drudgery, I am still connected to him and unwilling to put that connection aside before it is the right time. And I know that this is good for his development, as pushing him away prematurely may be a contributing factor to misogyny down the track.
To me then, the way of the future is to honour the work and the relationship of mothering — which is not to say that mothering necessarily includes housework or the management of housework. I don’t have anyone in my family particularly prone to honouring the work and time of mothering, and we don’t have cultural rituals that support this. So I am now taking on not just the emotional labour of organising my family’s domestic work, but also the emotional labour of protecting myself as mother. This is partly due to personality: I am an ENFJ prone to concerning myself with harmony in the family and with the ‘J’ ability to judge a schedule, and my husband is INTP, prone to keeping his possibilities open (‘P’) and somewhat unaware of the emotional undercurrents of others (see Kiersey’s explanations here, although I sometimes wonder if I am naturally a ‘J’ or that has just developed from long and close proximity to an extreme ‘P’ — someone has to get stuff done — and therefore may be gendered. Stuff for another post.) For now, what this means is that I am learning to be really clear about what I am doing in terms of mothering, and asking others to pick up the housework and even care for me as needed:
Could someone get me a drink of water? I am breastfeeding the baby and can’t get up right now.
Could you please take over getting the kids ready for school? The baby needs to go potty and he is most likely to do it for me.
I’m just putting the baby to sleep. Could you ask your older sister to help you with that right now?
Could you please entertain the kids at the park for an hour or so? I didn’t get enough sleep last night and need to take a nap.
I am going for a run tonight, do you want me to put the baby to sleep first, or would you like to do it after I leave?
I am feeling so frustrated with the baby right now, and I can’t get anything done! Can you help me with what I am doing or take him somewhere interesting?
Could you help me with this? If we get it done sooner then we can then go swimming/play a game/read a book together before I have to put your brother to sleep.
I still hate having to verbalise these things, since at heart I would love my family to work cooperatively and intuitively to manage our household without my pushing. But I also see that no one can really know what I am experiencing unless they have this sort of embodied attachment relationship, and that leadership is now needed more than ever as we try to co-ordinate five lives into the physical and social space of our household. I have also enhanced some of my rituals of relaxation and taught my family to respect them — that’s a fancy way of saying I DO NOT DO ANYTHING WHILE DRINKING MY COFFEE. Unless it is an urgent poo explosion, all tasks wait until I have finished my cup of coffee or tea.
And the response? The usual moaning and complaints at being asked to do something, and the usual misunderstanding of my motives. But also some good responses and increasing understanding, and even some initiative as slowly our new household standards become more consistent. For example, it is now not unknown for other family members to vacuum the dining room without me requesting it, as we all realise the stupid carpet needs to be cleaned up after almost every meal rather than once a week as normal in pre-toddler world. And my 8 year old has recently started making me cups of tea when she thinks I need to chill out.
*6/01/15 minor editorial changes