it’s not really about the dishes

little red circus boz

On Friday, I wrote about how I don’t really do it all. I leave dishes in the sink, I don’t vacuum the floor, I have a babysitter to help me take care of my child. You all wrote back to say that you’re glad you’re not alone – you don’t do it all either. What I really wanted to say is that watching TV, having a hobby, even going to the pool on the weekends, just isn’t as important as what I’m trying to create. But with the exception of one commenter, your responses centered around the topic of housework. I was a bit surprised. And while a lot of us have great husbands or partners that help out around the house.

But I feel like there’s still a real social assumption that this is “our” responsibility.

It’s not really about dishes, vacuuming, dusting, and laundry. It’s about creatively questioning your role as a human being, woman, lover, and nurturer.

After Lola was born, I tried – for well over a year – to fulfill those traditional responsibilities. I had never really wanted to have a child before I married my husband. But when Lola was born & I discovered I was hopelessly in love with this tiny creature, I thought that meant it was time to be a proper mother, a proper wife. I tried to keep the house to my husband’s standards and be an attentive [read: perfect] mother. I channeled my ambition to these goals.

Well, the problem with channeling my insane ambition towards being a proper wife & mother is that there is no prize or measure for success. There is always something else you could be doing better.

Not to mention that railing on other moms in the grocery store – while fun – is not very nice.

Instead of being a loving wife & mother – I was angry. Pretty much on a daily basis. Uncool. My marriage suffered to the point of nearly breaking apart. Then we got creative. If I was going to be happy, I needed to go all out. I needed to embrace what I was creating and tear away everything that was superfluous to that dream. We are in the process of completely reversing roles and it’s working well for us. Like I said before, I’m a better woman, a better mother, and a better wife because of it.

I’m all those things – but only in an outside-of-the-box way of thinking about those roles. If you compare me to traditional roles, I come up short. And I’m okay with that.

While my own personal struggles have been with maintaining a house as my business grows and grows, it surprised me to learn that it was so many of your struggles too. I was very surprised that the majority of comments were based around this same topic. Is housework really what’s holding you back from realizing your dreams? Or is it a misguided view of your role in your family? Your role is not to keep the kids fed dressed and loved. It’s not to make dinner and wash then dishes. It’s not to run errands. Your role is to be the best woman you can be in your family.

When you fulfill your own needs, you will finally be ready to meet others needs.

{little red circus cabinet by zumo}

37 thoughts on “it’s not really about the dishes

  1. Very thought-provoking post Tara, thank you. And thank you for being honest about this issue.

    My husband and I have reversed ‘traditional’ roles. I work, he does all the cooking, cleaning, chores, etc. At first it was out of necessity – he was in the country on a visa that didn’t allow work, and I worked full time, so we naturally fell into those roles.

    It has worked for us for almost 4 years now – and I dread the day he has to go to work outside of the home!! (May I just mention he has income from investments, too, which is how we’ve been able to do this). Hopefully my business will be successful enough so that he never has too – I know we’d both be happiest this way!

    It still surprises me when anyone questions our roles – though it is a rare occurrence these days, thankfully.

  2. Oh, Tara. As always you hit it right on the head…

    Thanks for letting the rest of us know it’s cool to pursue our own dreams, not only to become successful and feel fulfilled for ourselves but as a path to becoming a better mother and partner.

    I hope that by pursuing my passion, I’m letting my kids see the power in chasing your dreams AND making a beautiful life in process.

    1. i’m so thankful for all the times that people remind me that i’m setting that example for lola, even if she doesn’t get to see as much of me know.

      and i know that it’s true too – my husband didn’t have that example and he doesn’t have the “big thinking” ambition that i do. it’s a struggle for him to pursue a dream. lola won’t have that kind of mindset.

  3. YES! You are so RIGHT! It’s NOT about the dishes! Although it can be as trite as the phrase “If Mommy isn’t happy, NOBODY’s happy” I believe that we do our families a HUGE disservice by allowing our NEEDS to be creative take a back seat to all the other things that have to happen to make the family tick. For years and YEARS this had happened to me, the need to create in me would build up inside of me and I would often explode because I hadn’t had time to make something. One of the most awesome thing about starting my business is that I now have reasons to create that allow me to put OTHER things on hold instead of creating. I am happier, more fulfilled, and vindicated, because my little business gives me both the funds and the reason to keep making, and it even helps provide my family with: 1) some fun little extras and 2) a happy, more fulfilled Mommy because she’s fulfilling her need to make on a regular basis, which leads to her having even MORE places to go with her art! Woot!

    So, I’m with you Tara, it’s not about the dishes! (best money spent = hired help with cleaning…)

    1. yes! i feel so bad for mom’s who are at their wits end because everything they do is for someone else. they think they’re doing everything right and then beat themselves up for not being happy about it. we all need to figure out our own needs first.

  4. Your posts are always so thought-provoking. Thank you for a crafty, DIY blog with meat! :)

    Did you really mean to say, “Your role is not to keep the kids fed dressed and loved.”? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. I think the problem is that this is the job of a Parent, and most people define it as the job of a mother ONLY.

    Working hard to keep your kids fed, dressed, and loved is a valid worthwhile goal. And it seems a false dichotomy – part of being the best I can be is working as a team with my husband to make sure our kids grow up in a pleasant environment with healthy food. (And this doesn’t really address all the single parents/caregivers out there.) Perhaps I am misunderstanding?

    1. elizabeth, thank you thank you for questioning me. i did mean to say exactly that – but only because i felt the need to go to such an extreme as to make people question their roles at the most foundational level.

      of course, that is part of my job as a mother – but if i focus on that role as a means to an end, i will go crazy. i need to focus on myself as a means to an end – my child’s needs are apart of my own.

      1. So true. I know I have to create to be happy – I can’t not make things. And I have found that people that don’t like themselves can’t truly like anyone else. In the way I grew up, it’s stated “love your neighbor as yourself”. I just get antsy at what you called “extreme” because I find pitting things against each other to be unnecessary. I balk, not because I’m good at this, but b/c I am bad at it. It’s way too easy for me to chase my dreams and be in la-la land on the computer or creating and forget about the creating of a good, or at least decent, environment for my family. It is really easy to be selfish. And on the end, as you point out, it’s really easy to be an unnecessary martyr. I have found that each new age and season of the year bring new needs and opportunities, requiring adjustments in our rhythms and routines.

        Thanks for taking the time to respond before. You’re great.

  5. It does my heart good to know that you gals have learned to continue your creative passions and let the little things slide. My generation didn’t get it and lost so much time. You go girls.

  6. Amen Sista!
    We do our best in my house to practice Shared Parenting, which includes household stuff.
    This was a topic recently on Manic Mommies Podcast (love these Boston Ladies) They had the authors of Equally Shared Parenting on, and discuss this often skipped over, very important subject. http://www.manicmommies.com/index.php/2010/05/24/podcast-equally-shared-parenting/.
    I mean, it’s not 1950 anymore? I love my cute ruffled apron but I’ll be darned if I am bringing anyone their slippers! Plus, my husband is a MUCH better cook, so he does a nice portion of that!
    I was just talking to my sister yesterday about her feeling inadequate after reading a Mom’s daily blog of her super-mom’ed-ness. I asked her if being like that Mom would really make her feel happy? the answer was no. And like everyone here has said, in one way or another, if Mommy’s Not happy, no one is:)

    1. isn’t that funny that there’s a name for everything? i’ll have to check out shared parenting!

      i didn’t want to dilute the post but i was about to include on the end that this isn’t even about parenting, per se. the roles are so well-defined in that arena but i think even our friends or coworkers benefit from us being unbalanced by our passion, when we’re in hot pursuit of what we really love.

  7. I really like this post for your honesty.

    Though you are right, it is not that easy to break up with traditional roles.
    Not because it is “traditional”, but because we continue to lead our lives like we saw it in our upbringing family – this is called socialization (I am not sure of the spelling, sorry!).
    So questioning your traditional roles means to question the model of family you were brought up by, question your mother etc…and these are not easy steps, to rewrite socialization.

    I think that those who have the courage and chance to rewrite their socialization are very lucky ones, though it is a difficult process.

    1. so true, judit. i was raised to question NORMAL so thinking outside the box comes pretty easily to me. as a whole, society tells us that normal is good and purposeful.

      i think really embraces creativity though requires thinking creatively about the entirety of your life & the whole of society. so, to continue to fulfill our own creative needs, some times we need a bit of a push to venture into scary territory!

  8. To me, what you are saying is that it is about putting yourself first…your needs, desires and dreams.
    Not in a forget everything else, Me first / only (’80s) style.
    But in a fulfilling way, so there is more to give.
    Housework, parenting, a deadend job those are all roles and sometimes excuses for not digging for, unearthing and then realizing your dreams. Stifling. Other than the parenting aspect, I have been there, stuck in roles I didn’t want to have. Have also seen friends wither on the vine from taking on someone else’s desire / need.
    So much more freeing to be focused on something I love.

  9. Personally, I love the fact that you get a sitter for your daughter. I know so many moms that want to work from home so they can save money on a sitter or they can be home with their children.

    By getting a sitter, you are giving BOTH your work AND your child the proper attention they need and deserve. The time you have designated with your daughter is time for HER. She isn’t distracting you from work and work isn’t distracting you from her, saving you both from resentment down the road.

    You are setting a wonderful example for your daughter and the rest of us as well.

  10. I’ve never been a good cleaner/homemaker type. Ever. And I vowed to be better when Wren was born. It’s not necessarily because of my husband or some sense of Housewife as Job Title, but because I’m LIVING in it! And unfortunately, when I live in tons of clutter it gradually starts to affect my mood. Double whammy for me because I kind of hate our house! So it’s become the paradox: why clean something you hate but yet you’d like it better if you clean it. Either way, the trick I find is to figure out some sort of balance. I tend to clean and maintain the certain areas we spend more time in, for instance (and only when I have a few spare minutes, while my daughter is awake and happy). Our bedroom, unfortunately (and this could be an entirely separate post on marital bliss) is suffering from a case of complete neglect.

  11. My husband is a great cook, so almost every night – he makes dinner. If I could have one extravagance, it would be to hire someone to clean my house on a regular basis – and really clean it. I now pay my teenage sons to clean bathrooms, but sort of feel like it’s not really clean….
    Both my husband and I work fulltime, as well as run 2 etsy shops, and have a menagerie of animals, so there’s never enough time for anything.
    SIGH

  12. totally with you on this, tara. if it doesn’t work for mommy, it doesn’t work for the kids. i don’t care WHAT dr. spock or dr. phil would say – my pediatrician when i was a kid had it right when he told my mom that happy moms lead to happy babies. clean houses or pressed clothes do not lead to happy babies.

  13. thank you for this incredibly supportive post tara! my friends and i are discussing this very issue on facebook right now and finding that the women in our circle who have “multiple and/or competing driving passions”, i.e. for their families, careers and creativity, are beginning to show signs of wear. insomnia, stress and heart concerns are all on the table right now and i wonder if there isn’t a way for us to be a little kinder to ourselves and each other. love, penelope.

  14. Many months back I was struggling with depression and my husband asked me what makes me feel better: meds, therapy, etc. My reply was immediate, “Sewing”; it truly is therapeutic to me. My husband then told me I should sew more and I told him I didn’t have time. Our conversation went on like this for awhile and finally it came down to the fact that I felt so much pressure to keep the house clean, have dinner cooked, the dishwasher emptied, and laundry cleaned that I never took time for anything else. He asked me why I felt I had to do those things, he told me he didn’t expect that. My jaw dropped! Ever since I have really disciplined myself to let the household chores go and as a result he has really stated to chip in more, in fact he cooks more than I do these days. And while I’m still battling with anxiety and depression, I feel that when I truly take care of me and my needs, my symptoms are less intense. Thanks again Tara! You’re amazing!

  15. Well, Tara, you’ve done it again- written something that has my mind spinning with thoughts!
    I understand the frustration of feeling like I don’t have enough time for creating and business-building when dealing with my real and/or perceived responsibilities. But here’s the thing.

    I signed up for this gig.

    My husband and I agreed I’d stay home with Jack. Along the way, starting my business was added to the mix, as opposed to returning to teaching. But my son was always the priority and motivation/reason/inspiration for doing all of this.

    And he’s only this age once.

    I don’t know if having him when I was 35 or the fact he’ll likely be only child that makes this weigh so heavily with me, but before I know it, he’ll be in pre-school, then school, then off with friends and out the door to college. I want and need to treasure this time with him.

    However, I still NEED my creative pursuits and to build something that’s mine. But I also know that as time goes on, I’ll have more time available to devote to it. In the meantime, I carve out niches for myself and look for ways to handle the un-fun crap, like housework, in more efficient ways. (Blog post to come.) I don’t do 100% of the house stuff, but I do a good bit of it because my husband is self-employed and works a lot of hours. And really, I do it for my mental health and to nurture the very creative business I want to build because for me,

    Cluttered surroundings = Cluttered mind = Creative block= Crap work

    And that’s just no good, now is it?

    1. What gig, exactly, did you sign up for? Because I think that’s the heart of what I’m trying to say for. There isn’t a gig. “The Box” tells us there’s a gig – that there’s a set of responsibilities and expectations for being a wife, a mother, a caregiver, a day job worker.

      But there isn’t.

      Outside “The Box” there is a set of expectation & responsibilities that work best for you and those around you. If creating a harmonious space for you to work in means putting the toys away every time kiddo leaves the room (it does for my husband….), then, yes, that’s your choice. But it can’t be dictated from outside – it’s not a gig you choose. It’s what works for you – what drives your ability to care for others and do things that are unpleasant.

      I’m certainly not saying that you should only do things that “feel good” or make you happy. Not at all.

      But what I am saying is that if there’s something driving you, pushing farther than you’ve even been pushed before, embrace it – and let go of the constructs of society that tell you you shouldn’t.

      1. I should have been clearer when I used the term “gig”.

        By gig, I mean my daily life of trying to balance the things that are important to me (this time with my son, family time, & my creative business), as well as handle all the bullshit that does have to be handled at some point (toilet cleaning, grocery shopping, bill paying, laundry).

        By choosing to start my own business and nurture that desire, I also signed up for more stress in my life because it means finding time and ways to make it all happen.

        Years ago I heard a women discuss about how women CAN have it, just not necessarily all at once. That sentiment has always stuck with me.

        I think women (being the ones who take on the majority of the household duties) ought to take the lead in educating the whole family that all the un-fun domestic stuff is EVERYONE’S job. Teaching everyone to pitch in and pull their weight instills individual and collective responsibility, mutual respect, duty, self-sufficiency, etc. Life lessons & skills for them, more time for you, it’s a win-win!

        I’ll continue all this on my blog tomorrow…

        1. I meant to say “women CAN have it ALL, just not necessarily all at once.” Sorry. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. After being this way for almost 10 years while I was realizing my dreams, I drafted a post on my blog a few months ago that’s almost in direct opposition to this idea. I came to realize I was being immensely selfish on so many levels … and I learned that taking care of my family first (b/c I’m part of the family, too) fuels my creativity like a rocket blast. I am on top of the world when I know I’ve given us a toehold on the day by getting things done around the house here and there. Clutter in front of me is clutter in my brain…can’t have it. I’m not a neat freak AT ALL – and I make no attempt to keep up with dog hair (holy shit), but I control what I can so that that mindset carries over into my work. I must also mention that M is a 50/50 kind of husband/parent. And for a long time, he was doing waaaaay more than me. I started to see the frustration in him just as women typically feel…and I needed to reset the balance by stepping up to the plate. This change was necessary, and I gave up a blog in order to pull my weight in my family. Sometimes something has to give. Taking care of our people is a gift, just as having a creative outlet is… I relish and savor both.

    1. Jan, I wonder if our experiences are so different because our husbands are so different (I’m assuming, at least). Mike is not driven by passion, ambition, creativity, or any of those things that I was told should fuel your career. He works to live – he doesn’t live to work.

      I am quite the opposite. I grew up expecting that my life would be my work & that my work would be my life. I relish that. Especially now that I have it.

      In that way, there is nothing 50/50 about our relationship. He has to work so hard to make a decent living that he has no ability to do things that are important to him – including caring for our child. I work so hard because I love it. The more I work, the more energy I have to take care of our family – but I don’t have the hours in the day to be the housewife his mother was.

      He is going through a tough transition but our family is working better each step we take.

      I feel like I went on a tangent….

      I guess what I’m saying is that I look at a family like yours – that’s 50/50 and I get jealous. Sometimes I think I’d like that balance better… but maybe in the end it wouldn’t work for me. And I don’t think there’s a lot of people out there saying that.

      Btw, I am so freaking glad I finally wrote something that a few people disagree with. About damn time.

      1. Points taken and appreciated. Your explanation makes a lot of sense on your perspective. Not a direct response at all, but I was also thinking about how stressful it is to own your own business. The anxiety I have is real and has been detrimental to my health at times. Sometimes the mundane tasks around the house allow me to escape my head and catch my breath – plain & simple. When you have the literal pressure of a boot on your chest from your work b/c even a creative business is still a business, it’s nice to do mindless, heartfelt caretaking of other people and things that don’t require constant analysis of ROI….ahhhhh.

  17. Oh Man! I was totally there. Determined to stay at home with my boy and only work at naptime because I thought it was selfish of me to want to be doing something other than change diapers. I mean, I wanted to break plates for a living, how silly of me. My partner owns his own business and did really well, so I felt like I should have felt privileged to stay at home and be a kept woman. Nothing made me feel worse. I knew I could do more, I just needed a little help.

    One day, I saw a train of hand holding toddlers walk by my house and I knew that this was what I was going to do. I called my neighbor who ran an in home day care and picked up a few days of “school” for my son. Suddenly, I was able to work, shower and most importantly, I had a chance to miss my son for a minute which made our days together that much better. I was not distracted thinking about shipping packages and breaking plates.

    Now, a year and a half later, my son is 2, knows his colors and numbers and even some presidents. Partially because the daycare director is awesome but mostly because he was around a pack of kidlets that were helping teach each other and competing to see who could learn more. I could never provide that here.

    I am super happy with my choice, I know that I am not meant to be a stay at home mommy. My son is in love with school, I am in love with work and there are even some months when I make more then my partner =)

  18. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We must love ourselves and care for ourselves before we can love others as ourselves.

    Back in the eighties our family watched a little sitcom called “Designing Women.” In one episode the ladies had taken a girl scout troop on an overnight camping trip. Upon arrival, they encountered a boy scout troop and competition arose. Three of the women wanted to prove that they were every bit as good as the boys and could do anything the boys could. The little girls, however, stayed in the cabin with one of the women, Allison ( I think that was the character’s name), and had a regular slumber party. At the end of the episode, Allison asked why we are always trying to be just like the guys. She further stated that we should be focused on trying to be the best women we can be.

    These two ideas of loving myself and being the best woman I can be have long stayed with me. My lifestyle choices seem different to many and aren’t always understood, but they work best for me. They keep me truer to myself. I find more joy in life and am better able to share that joy with others.

    Just wanted to share these thoughts and to say how much I am enjoying this blog. I discovered it recently, but I love the inspiration and thoughts gathered here.

  19. i could write paragraphs about this! but instead i’ll simply say “thanks” for bringing this up as i think this is a household topic for so many of us. it’s nice to know it’s not just in my household :)

  20. p.s. i sent this to my husband to read. i think it will be helpful for him to read it and to hear about other women/households in the same boat with these types of things!

  21. Wow. Great to hear I’m not the only one! The problem is that hubs isn’t in a position to reverse traditional roles. At least in the summer (seasonal farm job, works 11 grueling hrs a day!!) But this is the first winter where I’ll be working 38 non-jewelry hours/wk at outside jobs and using all my free time for running my business. Hubs (traditional Mexican native) says that he’ll be happy to do the dishes and help by doing more of the dinner making work and cleaning.

    So summers will continue to be hectic, at least for another year, but this winter my little macho’s got my back! I’d rather be crazy busy and interested in life than have a perfect house and feel unfulfilled!!

    Great post Tara, thanks for sharing :)

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