When you think about being a stay-at-home mom, what sort of life do you picture? Is it a scene from the 1950s where the perfectly coiffed mom is busily a housekeeper? She’s humming around the house with a vacuum, a duster, and maybe a cocktail. The kids are quietly watching TV and eating healthy snacks. Or do you imagine a more modern scene with a house that looks like a bomb went off and piles of laundry everywhere, but the mom is on the floor with her children drawing, crafting, singing songs, and teaching ABCs?
Do you notice the stark difference between those two scenarios? No matter what decade your stay-at-home mom portrait is from, one thing remains true: neither is accurate. The truth is, there is only so much time in a day, and you can’t do it all. This means that if you’re spending a lot of time cleaning and tending to your house, you’re not actively spending time with your children. And if you are actively spending time with your children, you are not cleaning the house. Something’s got to give, right?
If you’ve been a mom for 5 minutes, you understand you can’t have both a clean house and happy, engaged children all the time. Have you tried doing chores when you have 30 lbs of a very whiny but adorable human attached to you? I can tell you from experience it’s not fun. It’s much easier to give in and spend time with the tiny human. Plus, the dividends from spending time with this human will pay out for years to come. The clean house, however, will last 5 minutes, if we’re honest. Where would you rather invest your time?
How the role of the stay-at-home mom changed.
Even though it’s 2021, many moms are still plagued with the outdated and utterly fabricated idea of the “perfect housewives” of the 1950s. In the eyes of society, that was the pinnacle of perfection and the family ideal we should all strive for. The truth is that the 1950s “ideal family” image is not realistic any more.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 1965, moms spent roughly 8 hours a week doing paid work, 32 hours a week doing housework, and only 10 hours a week doing childcare.1 Consequently, in 2011, moms spent roughly 21 hours a week doing paid work, 18 hours a week doing housework, and 14 hours caring for children.1 As you can see, housework has taken a back seat to paid work and childcare for most moms.
Moms of the 1950s and 1960s were more “housekeepers” who also had children. On the other hand, modern moms have flipped the script and spend more time engaging with their children. And for a good reason. Today, parenting has become highly hands-on. Stay-at-home moms are involved in all aspects of child development. They are responsible for creating nutritious and delicious meals (which her child will most likely not eat #toddlerlife) and facilitating age-appropriate learning. They try to limit screen time, organize social activities, and participate in developmental activities. They also try to be an emotional coach and therapist daily. The list is never-ending. So, to put household duties on top of that seems like overkill.
What jobs compare to that of a stay-at-home mom?
Maybe one of the best illustrations of how housekeeping and childcare don’t go hand in hand is trying to find a nanny. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, you may never have looked into having a nanny. But I encourage you to look at what people ask of their nannies and what services nannies offer.
According to Nanny Authority, it is customary to expect your nanny to do some “light housekeeping.” 2 This would include cleaning up after the kids, dishes related to the kids, kids’ laundry, and some organization of the kid’s rooms. What you will not find in your nanny’s job description, unless you specifically agree and pay much more, is the cleaning and organizing of the whole house.
But surprisingly, it’s always expected of moms. As if we moms are the only responsible adult in the house who can keep things clean! Just because you stay at home taking care of the kids does not mean you are also doing maid services. If you look at how wealthy people structure their help, you’ll notice they never have a nanny do the duties of a maid or vice versa. Those are always two separate roles because it is physically impossible to keep an impeccable house while tending to the various needs of children. Yet stay-at-home moms twist themselves into a pretzel trying to keep up with these impossible ideals.
Why stay-at-home moms need to share the load.
Anytime you feel guilty or are guilted about not performing housekeeping services, try to stop and put things into perspective. Try to remember these basic facts about the roles of the adults living in your house:
First, how many adults reside in the home?
If you’re not a single parent, two adults are in the house. Regardless of the time spent in the home, both adults contribute to dirt, mess, laundry, and dishes. So, since both people contribute, both people should engage in cleaning things up.
Second, you didn’t create these kids on your own.
I’m guessing you had some help creating these children. Consequently, those kids and their mess, dirt, and destruction are your partner’s responsibility equally as yours. You should not be the only one cleaning their rooms, washing their clothes, washing dishes after meals, and scrubbing one-of-a-kind crayon art off walls. And as the kids get older, a lot of the cleaning up, laundry, and putting things away needs to transfer to them in the form of chores. After all, the goal of parenting is to prepare a new generation of fully functioning human beings.
Third (a big one): YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR CLEANING UP AFTER YOUR PARTNER!
This is non-negotiable. For far too long, many men have been given a free ride by society regarding adulting. There used to be (and still are) jokes about getting married so the wife would replace their mom. It’s ridiculous! Every human, regardless of gender, is capable of cleaning, cooking, and keeping a house livable. There should be no excuses why your partner can’t do his laundry, put things away where he got them, clean up after kids, make meals for the family, and do any other housekeeping task required.
And don’t let your partner give you the excuse of “I work all day.” So do you! You have kids to take care of and entertain. It’s a physically and emotionally demanding job with few breaks and little chance for adult interaction. Since you both work hard during the day, it’s only fair that you both take care of the house outside of working hours.
You’re a Mom, Not a Housekeeper
I hope I’ve convinced you enough that being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t also mean that you are your family’s housekeeper. As a mom, you’re already doing a lot for your children, including some housekeeping duties. You don’t need to give in to the societal pressure that you should be doing more. You shouldn’t! What you really should be doing more is giving yourself the grace and space to be human. You are more than just a mom. You have interests, passions, and valuable skills to contribute to the world. Don’t forget that!