But once we have created our special family space, how do we maintain it? When we first had children, I felt pulled in several different directions at once. I had just decided not to follow though my plan and go back to my paid job (which I loved) but instead to look after our baby (whom I had discovered I loved even more). People referred to me as a “housewife”. I really was very unhappy with this description, not because it was so 1950s but because it suggested that what I was married to was a thing, a house and that my primary role was to service the gadgets contained within it. I knew this was not what I had left paid employment to do. Yet I had a vague, inarticulate but deep seated feeling that cleaning, tidying and especially food preparation were crucially important; I lacked the vocabulary and role models to articulate why I felt this so strongly to be true whilst not being the kind of person who values ironed sheets and underpants and clean skirting boards. Sometimes I would stand in the middle of the kitchen with a dishcloth in one hand and an item of shopping in the other with the baby on the bean bag beginning to cry and feel physically pulled in three directions at once so that I almost spun on the spot. I almost cried when I read Naomi Stadlen ‘s book “What mothers do even when it looks like nothing” where she vividly describes what this feels like and just how common such an experience is for mothers.
Gradually through my experience and through reading, I came to realise the truth of the matter; housework is vital not because it services things but because it supports the family life of the home and the physical, spiritual and emotional growth of its members. It is vital when it does this; anything over and above what is vital is likely to detract from the well being of the family; ironing a shirt may well be a help; systematically ironing everything in sight including the cat is arguably detrimental, but then each family will reach its own conclusions as to where the line is drawn. A home cannot truly be a home without a home maker, a mother or father whose primary responsibility it is to create the home. Some parents do manage to combine this responsibility with paid employment but it must be very difficult indeed if both of you are working the kind of long hours that most “full-time” jobs seem to demand now. “There needs to be a home maker exercising some measure of skill, imagination creativity, desire to fulfil needs and give pleasure to others in the family…” (p43 “What is a Family?” by Edith Shaeffer)
I hadn’t realised it when I made my plan to go back to my paid job just how absorbing and engaging a task this could be, even for someone like me who hates ironing and who is by temperament more comfortable with peace and quiet, a good bit of translation and a clear reliable work schedule rather than with the messy reality of every day life with small children at home. But it is engaging; I have worked in many different roles in my life, as care assistant, translator, Articled Clerk in a large Law firm and as a teacher, but none so engaging and compelling and vitally important as the one I currently fulfil; that of full-time mother and homemaker. I wish someone had taken the time to explain to me earlier in my life, as Edith Schaeffer does here, just how important and wonderful this role is and crucially, why this is so. “To be a..homemaker and an environmental expert in designing a place for the particular blend of people which will be your family- to grow and develop- is an amazing possibility” (p48 “WF?).…The balanced environment for a human being includes a home of some variety as a shelter… A home can’t come ready made from any kind of commercial source, no matter how expensive or cheap. Something must be added to furniture and walls to turn a house into a home…A [true] home combines the shelter from physical storms and floods and physical attack… with the reality of tiny, growing or adult human beings finding the shelter they need from intellectual, emotional, and spiritual attacks. The family and home are meant to be the environment where human beings can find shelter, warmth, protection and safety in each other…..(p43 “WF?)