Sunday, September 8, 2013

If I Can't Have it All, I Choose to Not Have the Vacuuming

In the early years of marriage and kids we lived in a series of small apartments and houses. I had a little system in which I allotted specific tasks to specific days of the week, which I had written down on a schedule that was taped up inside a cabinet door. I won't claim to ever have been an expert housekeeper, but it was a major improvement from the "I'm out of clean dishes/underwear, better run over to Target and buy some more" system I had going as a single gal.


I never loved it, but I did feel proud of myself for being able to manage my home. Then, my husband got a "real" job and we moved to a city we expected to be in for a while and bought a much bigger house than we had been in before. I was expecting my fourth baby and was sicker than I had been with other pregnancies, then we decided the parish Kindergarten wasn't working for Jack and felt like the best option for our family would be to start homeschooling him.

I was bound and determined to be able to do it all. Apparently some ladies can (or have no choice but to) do it all themselves. I was not managing to. My husband had offered to get me the help I needed in babysitting or housekeeping (and so had my mom, I must have really looked like I needed it), but I was having stay-at-home-mom guilt. I figured that if I wasn't going to contribute to our family financially then I had better be the awesomest housewife that ever was.

But I was a mess.

We got a neighbor girl to come over and play with the kids a couple afternoons a week so that I could catch up on the housekeeping I now wasn't able to get to in the mornings because of homeschooling, but that just made me feel even worse if the house wasn't spit-spot when the husband came home from work. And it's not like the kids actually left me alone because she was there. It just meant I still didn't get much done, but now I was even more disappointed about it.





I was past the point of ever getting to deep cleaning, it was all I could do to get the dishes and laundry done and the floors and counters cleaned off occasionally, but you can forget about vacuuming and mopping and scrubbing. It just wasn't happening. And as the state of the house deteriorated, so did my sense of worth. My home was a visible sign of my failure as a homemaker. Not only was I not bringing any money in, my husband had to come home to a messy house and a grumpy wife.

Finally, my mom stepped in and insisted that I get some help with the housekeeping, because I was being stubborn. And me being so behind on the housework meant that when my parents came to visit us and the kids they just ended up helping me catch up with all the messes and that's not very fun.

We started out with help one day per week, and added another day or two as each new baby came along and now we're up to five mornings a week. And it is SO not a disaster.

I love her, my kids love her. She's worked for us for six years now and it feels like she is part of the family. My house is clean -- vacuumed and everything, and I'm able to focus my attention on mothering and schoolwork, which I find much more fulfilling than basic housework (and which I happen to think I'm much better at too.) Far from making me feel like I'm not a good wife and mother, it finally made me feel again that I was.

I like that during our summers in Chicago we have to manage our own laundry and general tidying. I feel better knowing that I could handle our laundry on my own, in case of a zombie apocalypse or something. (Although, I doubt laundry would be super-high on my priority list.)


you know you want to go here and buy this

If you are doing it all on your own because you must or because you are some kind of domestic superwoman, then you have my utmost respect. But if you could have help, but you don't because you think you ought to be able to manage it all on your own -- Knock It Off and get some help, woman. I wish someone had talked me into it earlier.

Because I really believe now that what we are trying to do currently in the western world is unprecedented in history and nearly impossible. Rich and middle class women ALWAYS had help around the house. Poorer women lived multi-generationally and had the help of neighbors and friends. No one thought that they could grow and feed and clothe and educate and interact with and clean up after their children all by themselves. (And occasionally also pay attention to their darling husbands.)

Having tried it both ways, I can assure you that, for us, this way is much, much better.



Update: My kids do chores. See here for more on that.
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Happy Sunday and Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin everyone! We're going to say a family rosary and eat off the good china and have birthday cake this evening.

Here's what I wore to Mass:


Dress: custom ordered from eShakti to have cap sleeves (my favorite, so I don't have to wear a sweater when it's 104 degrees) AND be long enough. I seriously love this site, and if you're a new customer you can sign up for a $30 off coupon!
Belt: Old Navy
Shoes: Zappos
Necklace/Earrings: Souvenir from Lisieux (they're roses!)
Bump: 28 weeks

Thanks to the good ladies at Fine Linen and Purple for hosting yet another What I Wore Sunday. Head on over to check out what everyone else wore to Mass today!



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54 comments:

  1. "Because I really believe now that what we are trying to do currently in the western world is unprecedented in history and nearly impossible." I've been thinking the EXACT same thing lately.

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    1. It does seem so true. I live very near family, minutes away, but they all work, all day, outside of the home. So I sometimes tell myself that I can do this because family is near, but their presence is lacking because of their work - not faulting, just a realization that even though their homes are near doesn't mean it's the "community" living of old.

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    2. Snooping around the archives because I just discovered this blog and love it. Some friends and I discussed this same thing not too long ago. It's just not enough "village" anymore, even when you are near family, because all the ladies have left the village for the office. And those of us still at home are homeschooling,blogging,running another home business,urban homesteading,sewing all our own and kids' clothing,underwater basket weaving and other time-consuming things that our grandmothers just didn't feel the need to do for themselves. Perfect storm for isolation and feeling like a failure.

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  2. I don't have help in my home because I can manage with my three boys. They are 17, 10, and 5 years old and are a huge help. Plus, it is not in our budget.
    I think it is wonderful when moms have help. Having a clean home is important, but not as important as taking care of the people in our life. It is so much easier to be available to them when we do not have to worry about the crumbs on the floor.

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  3. I love this post. Thanks for sharing your struggles with housecleaning! I struggle in much the same way, but unfortunately we can't afford help. I designed some systems to make things easier, and I take shortcuts in lots of places, but it IS exhausting, especially with homeschooling.

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    1. I really challenge you to pray pray pray and keep crunching numbers. We are able to have help twice a month, the 1st and 3rd wednesday of the month. Nothing astronomical but it is SO nice to know that if I get behind, help is on the way. Together we did seven loads of laundry last week! And all of it made it into the dressers and closets. I thought that we would never ever be able to have help, but keep your chin up! I will say a prayer for you!

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    2. Suzette, I'm super disappointed by your post. One of my least favorite things that Christians and Catholics say is "I will pray for you" when they disagree with your life choices. We pray for one another out of empathy and our call, not out of condescension. It would be terrible if I responded and said, "Judge not lest ye be judged." Ewww, right?!

      Major props to you, Kendra. Killin' it!

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    3. Thanks Alyssa. :0)

      I really do think that Suzette was being supportive, though. It looks to me like Amelia was saying, "I wish I go do this, but I just can't." And Suzette was saying, "I thought I couldn't either, but I kept trying and figured it out and it's been great, so don't give up the fight."

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    4. So, I'm just seeing these replies now to my long-ago comment. LOL

      Anyway, I do see Suzette'a reply as trying to be supportive. Unfortunately at the time I wrote that (and still now), we are in a situation where no amount of number crunching would make me be able to afford household help like that. We are hopeful that will change in the next few months, but for right now (and when I wrote that), it is simply impossible.

      This post is still helpful though, becaue I do agree that trying to do it all (homeschooling, cooking healthy meals from scratch, keeping a clean house, chaufeering kids around, etc.) is impossible. I consider homeschooling to be a part-full time job (depending on the season), so it helps to think that I *am* working part-full time (in addition to regular mom/wife/household stuff). Just recongizing that is a big relief in knowing that I can't do everything.

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    5. That's true Amelia, just having in mind that I DO work around here makes me feel better about how much there still is to do come quittin' time.

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  4. I've only had help for a couple of weeks but my life is soooo much less stressful and happy! I work part-time as a teacher, and our last babysitter left things a total mess, so my husband and I were spending hours every night catching up on housework before falling into bed, exhausted. Our new sitter is doing EVERYTHING and the house is spotless every afternoon when I get home! It's amazing what a difference a little picking up, dishwashing, laundry folding, etc. can do for morale!

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  5. Well gee, no wonder you have a "happy" Catholic Mommy blog!

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  6. I was doing it all myself (or trying to) until I got pregnant with #3 and decided it was time to get help. We're all much happier :)

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    1. Number three was the kicker for us too. :)

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  7. I love this post and so needed to read it! My struggle with this comes with homeschooling, and, after the last two years struggling to adequately teach my boys who have learning disabilities, we FINALLY are getting my oldest tested to figure out how best to help him and we have hired a tutor to work with my other son. And I am so relieved!

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  8. Kendra, can you please write a post and let us know how you handle newborn/infant sleeping? I'm a FTM to a 9 month old who wakes constantly. We want to have another soon but I just can't with no sleep. I could use any advice you've got! :)

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    1. OH HEY ME TOO. My daughter will be 10 months tomorrow and sleeping is still tricky. Do you have Elizabeth Pantley's "No Cry Sleep Solution"? It's helping us. I also love the blog nurshable.com, and the related Facebook support group (for the "Wait It Out" method... cute, right?). Either way, sleepless sisterhood! I feel your pain!

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    2. Yes I will, but everything I do mostly comes from "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child."

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    3. That book is the best one! It works! And having the baby in bed at 6:30 and the preschooler in bed at 7 is the BEST!

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    4. I'm referring to "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child".

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    5. I'm thirding this request! I'd just like to hear how a real live mama incorporates this zany trying-to-get-baby-to-sleep process into family life with other kiddos. Please and thanks!

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    6. I also like the Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child book, it's got some decent tips. I combine Babywise (yep, I'm an evil horrible mom), The Baby Whisperer, and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child concepts. All my babies are breastfed, sleep through the night at 8-12 weeks and I could count on my hand the number of times either has 'cried it out' at all when going to sleep for naps, never at night. It might not work for everyone's parenting style, but it works for us and I think it's why I'm sort of sane with 3 kids under 5 :)

      Oh, and ITA that an early bedtime is key! That's the simplest but most effective piece of advice I was told as a first time mom by some friends who use Babywise and HSHHC. I thought they were nuts but it worked and I never looked back :)

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  9. Ugh, I'm almost to this point. I keep wondering if I'm just lazy. I still feel like maybe that's it. I'm about to write an epic housekeeping/sleeping/eating/playing/shopping plan for the week, but if that doesn't work, I should probably just swallow my pride and hire someone to clean. Super stay-at-home-mom guilt. WOW.

    LOOOOOOVE your dress. Love.

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  10. I recently had a pretty monumental breakdown about how I was "so worthless" now because I stay at home with the boys but our house is dirtier than when I worked full time (& had one independent toddler). I was really, really feeling sorry for my husband and the fact that no matter what I did our 2.5 year old and 6 month old still managed a mess before he walked in. And there is never dinner cooking. Or clean laundry. Or clean me...

    But I am getting over it. Mostly because this post and a few good people letting me let go and know its ok. We don't live on a den of filth (no matter how many times I call it than) and my kids are always clean and dressed. I would love help around the house, but we don't have the budget. We do have grandmas willing to babysit, at their house, so we can deep (deep deep!) clean once or twice a month!! And that's working our for us and I am happy with that! :) thank you for your wise words!

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    1. Also, remember: your house was cleaner when you worked full time because no one LIVED in it full time. You know? Daily activities with babies and toddlers are messy. They just are. If you're home, you cook. You dirty dishes. You create forts and piles of books and toys, track in dirt from playing outside. But you're living! And it's your home. And it has more love in it than when it sat empty all day.

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    2. True true true. Our utilities are higher than most people because we are here all day. It is a totally different mentality having your home as a center of production rather than consumption.

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    3. Oh my goodness Sarah, loved what you said. True! 😊

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  11. "Because I really believe now that what we are trying to do currently in the western world is unprecedented in history and nearly impossible." LOVE that paragraph! SO, SO, SO TRUE! And I had never thought of it like that before. I love that paragraph so much, I'm gonna pin it to remind me. :) Thanks for another great, thought-provoking post!
    Also-my mom gives me this poem each time I've had a baby (she knows I like to keep a clean house)...and it's a good reminder. (not sure of author) But, if we are blessed with a #3, I'm thinking some hired help is the way to go!

    The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow,
    But children grow up, as I've learned to my sorrow.
    So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
    I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.

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    1. I want to drop what I'm doing and embroider that on something.

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    2. My grandmother had this embroidered and hung on the wall, above a rocking chair. Made me smile to see it again. :)

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    3. If only I COULD embroider! That poem expresses my thoughts perfectly. I adore it; thank you for sharing. Kendra- how 'bout a printable? ;)

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  12. I'm really hopeful that one day we'll be able to swing a housekeeper. Because nothing makes me feel sadder than having to say "no, baby, mommy can't play with you right now because I have to sweep and mop and DO ALL THE THINGS."

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    1. "DO ALL THE THINGS." Ha! I had to giggle...its like talking about "they" in society and government.

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    2. I love DO ALL THE THINGS. That's totally me second trimester before the nesting instinct gives way to the couch sitting instinct.

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    3. HAH! If I were drinking milk Kendra it would have just come out of my nose. :)

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  13. For me, children have assisted in learning how to forgo my perfectism for cleanliness and enjoy what I can do. My husband is very rarely at home due to deployments and family has never lived around us. Right now I have a 4, 3, and 8 month old. I constantly baby wear and my toddlers have a list of chores to complete each day alongside of me. I do a zone a day approach which has worked with children. When my toddlers were babies I rocked the double sling a lot. My eldest absolutely has to be scheduled as rigorously as possible due to OCD/Sensory issues which really helps me stay on track.

    I think getting help is great if that is what needs to happen. I also think as children go older they do more as well. My grandmothers always instilled in me a Romani proverb, "the mama only does what the children can not".

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    1. I changed my mind. I want to drop what I'm doing and embroider THAT on something!

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    2. It would be a great pillow on a window seat right!

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  14. Loved this post!! When we made the decision for me to be home with the babe, I had very high expectations for myself and all I'd be able to accomplish around the house. Turns out being a mom is a full-time job and I'm not actually a full-time housekeeper. Thanks for the encouragement. Oh, and you've inspired me to use our china for more than just our birthdays :)

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  15. My mom says that you can do two of the three: job, mother, and homemaker; and beyond that, you'll probably go nuts! Homeschooling wasn't in her equation but it sounds equivalent to a job to me!

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  16. I totally agree Kendra. We live on a tight budget, but by cutting back in some areas we are able to afford help the first and third wednesday of the month. This has really helped me to take a breath and relax. My husband is so supportive of outside help and that is such a blessing!

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  17. Here, here I totally agree with having house cleaning help. We are very fortunate in So. Calif. to have a source of very nice ladies who love kids and families and do a great job helping around. My experience has been that they are honest, loving and a pleasure to have with you. Since my husband and I both worked and were gone over night we even had one living in with us. I could come home to a clean house after having been gone for 3 days instead of 3 days worth of dirty clothes and dishes. My 2 daughters each had chores to do around the house and their rooms to clean up but someone else did the vacuuming. Horay!!!

    Nanacamille

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  18. Oh gosh, I can't tell you how nice it was to read this! I only have three kids (9, 8, 6) but my oldest has severe autism and the youngest has high-functioning autism. We live near no family/friends. We have two therapy programs going on in our tiny home 5 days a week which means there are a LOT of people coming through our house every day. My two with autism do not sleep well and I've had maybe 5 full nights of sleep un the past 9 years. I homeschool 2 of our children. I clean pretty much every spare moment I have except for when I am exhausted and stop to play a few rounds of candy crush before I get back to it. And my house is a disaster. So many people who are in our house often have told me they've never seen anyone clean so much and still have a messy house! ;). I keep trying to figure out how to do it better but I read blogs like your and often feel like I must be just a complete failure. Knowing you've got some help and reading the comments here has pretty much made my year. Thank you!

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  19. I realize I'm way late to the party, but I know you'll see this, Kendra. Just wanted to say that someone told me that, if you're going to homeschool, consider taking what resources/money you WOULD HAVE put toward paying for schooling (so, I guess more of Catholic school setting where there would be a tuition payment) and reallocating those funds for keeping up on the house (i.e. a housekeeper or periodic help of that sort). People may look down on someone for having a housekeeper, but they themselves are "farming out" the schooling responsibilities of their children to someone else and are paying a price (literally) for that service. Thus, there's nothing shameful about shifting the focus and paying for help in the housekeeping department in order to take on homeschooling; other people are just doing the opposite. Great post. Love your blog. Thank you for being you!

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  20. I'm so glad that your day in the life post linked to this old post. Perfect timing for me right now. I really want to be able to find a way to keep up with the housework, care for my family, work, etc. Sometimes I even feel like I'm making progress, but mostly it causes me a great deal of stress, and I never feel like we can have people over. I mean, they come over, but I'm always scrambling to try to make the house halfway decent. I know I need to consider finding a way to work help into the budget, but I've been resisting. After reading your post I'm thinking that if I combine having my family chip in more, with me working more efficiently/ maintaining better, with having someone help with the deep cleaning, then maybe I won't feel so embarrassed by the state of my house AND can have more time for things that are really important.

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  21. Yes, yes, yes! We have a 3 year old, 1 year old, and I got really morning sick with #3. We started off hiring a teenage girl from church for 2 hours a week, which may not seem like a lot, but has been AMAZING! She can catch me up on whatever the most pressing thing of the week has accumulated. I am hoping as my kids get older that they'll be able to do more of what I use her for and I won't need household help, but we'll see! I'm all for hiring HOUSE help before CHILDCARE help. Priorities, priorities!

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  22. Late to the game too...are you talking hiring a teenager to clean? Babysitter/cleaner in one? Or a big
    Company? I feel like it's hard to get word of mouth recs. I'm getting ready with your help for September ;) so lucky to have the internet as a resource, otherwise I feel I'd have never attempted homeschooling!!

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    1. When we first moved in to this house, we had the kitchen redone and I just really loved our cabinet guy, so I asked him if he knew anyone who could help me around the house. He said his wife would, but she was about to have a baby, so his sister-in-law came to work for us, and between the two of them they've worked here for seven years through four of my babies and three (about to be four) of theirs. We really lucked out.

      But my sister uses a company, and that seems to be working fine for her.

      Hiring help for the house feels more liberating for me, but if you don't mind the housework so much and would love to be able to have an afternoon to run errands footloose and kid-free, then I would totally support doing that instead!

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  23. This is my favorite post on your blog, and what blogs are all about, sharing life, being real, encouraging others.

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