Thursday, May 13, 2010

Babies and housework

A soon-to-be new mother emailed me a few days ago and asked how I combine housework with having a baby in the house - both now and when my daughter was just a newborn. I'm sharing here the larger part of my reply to this lady. 

I'm a new mother myself and can only tell you, so far, how I combine housework with having just one toddler around. Other, more experienced mothers do it with two, three, five and more children! I'm pregnant for the second time now and I'm wondering how it's going to work out with two children - I can't tell you for sure yet, but I'm certain the way will be found, perhaps with stretching my creative thinking and wise management of time (which is all to the good, right?)

Anyway, first and foremost, the standards of housekeeping probably will be lowered, at least for a while, with a new baby - and that's OK. And the house will never be as tidy with a toddler around as it was when just two adults were living in it. I have long accustomed myself to the thought that I can spend all day running after my daughter and adjust various displaced items, or I can do that only several times a day. I choose the latter, because it enables me to have a relatively presentable home without constantly fussing about toys on the living room floor. 

Second, babies do sleep. In fact, most of them need more hours of sleep in a day than an adult does, which is a blessing not only to a tired mother but also to a discombobulated house. I do believe that in the period just following birth, rest should be a top priority and when the baby is sleeping and Mom wants to lie down and rest as well, she should by all means do that and not worry about lagging behind on housework. She will need her strength later on! 

But later, as you settle into some sort of a daily rhythm, you will learn to take advantage of the baby's nap times to catch up on housework. Yes, it will probably feel for a while that you're always in catch up mode, and that's alright. There was a time when I was only able to do anything around the house at all while the baby was sleeping. Of course it means focusing on the essentials - there were days when I was exceedingly happy if only the dishes were done, the laundry washed, and I had a simple meal to put on the table at the end of the day. Now I'm able to do more most days, but not always, and again, that's alright. Neither the housework nor I are going anywhere. :o)

Yes, when a little one gets older and becomes mobile, this calls for even more supervision than when they were babies. When Shira was just a couple of months old, I could sometimes leave her alone for a little while on a blanket with some toys. Now I always need to keep my eyes open to make sure she won't pull book off shelves, open the kitchen cupboards, or upturn the aquarium. It means I almost always keep her within my view.

But here's the good news - the curiosity of older babies makes it easy and fun to get them involved, bit by bit, in the rhythm of a house and household chores. They can play by your side while you work and watch you work. To you, cleaning may be a chore - to them, it's wonderfully fun! While I hang the laundry, I let my daughter play with the clothespins - a special laundry time treat. Today, while I was pulling weeds in the garden, she was content to hang around and watch. When I'm kneading dough, I let her watch, poke the dough with her little fingers, and knead as well if she wants to. During Pesach cleaning, I gave her a little rug and she actually went ahead and helped me wipe the outside the the refrigerator. 

Yes, having a little one around does tend to slow housework a bit. It's quicker to finish with the laundry when you don't need to pick up dozens of scattered clothespins at the end - but it also provides an opportunity to teach your child how to pick up and put things in their proper place. It's more efficient and convenient to make bread without a curious toddler who wants to watch whatever you do. But those daily routine things are wonderful for teaching children the practical, hands-on skills of life. It's never too early to start. If you look at housework as an opportunity for a child to learn and be involved, not just a list of chores to whiz through as quickly as possible, it will all become much easier. 

To sum it up, it's not like you're either doing housework while your baby is clinging to your skirt asking for attention, or you're sitting on the floor playing with your baby. You can work while talking and singing to, teaching, and actively engaging your child, and the examples I provided earlier are just a few. I'm sure that in time, you'll find ways that work for you and your family.

Of course, there are still things you'll probably prefer to do alone - without baby around. I usually wait until my daughter's nap time to wash the floors, because she's not yet at an age when I can ask her to stay away from wherever I'm cleaning and I don't want her to get soaked wet and dirty. I also don't like to be interrupted while ironing, so I do that in the evenings after she goes to bed for the night. But things like laundry, dishes, cooking, working in the garden are normally accomplished with no problem during my daughter's active hours and sometimes even with her participation. 

Most importantly, enjoy those precious fleeting days with your baby! I'm sure many people have told and will tell you that, but I simply must say it once more. They grow up so fast. The cute and wondrous things my daughter does now are not the cute and wondrous things she did a couple of months, even a couple of weeks ago. It's so important to take it all in while it lasts. 

Above: two beautiful images of women hanging their laundry with babies beside them, from


Anonymous said...

Great post! Letting small children "help" with housework when they are not particularly helpful is key to having them want to help later on. And perfection is the enemy of good mothering. I think you'd enjoy this excerpt from a poem:

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For 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.

(Ruth Hulburt Hamilton, 1958)


Mary M said...

Great post Anna!

Babies and housework are hard to mix. I found when my daughter was born that using a baby sling was really handy. She would spend hours sleeping in her sling and I could go about the house, doing various jobs. It was quite idyllic really!

Of course now she is so much bigger (9 months old) it is harder to carry her constantly, but the sling does still come in handy! :-)

Mrs.Rabe said...


This is a lovely response! I do think often we see housework as something to "get through" quickly and not as an opportunity to teach and work together.

Little ones like to be with their mothers and fathers, we just need to learn to include them in our everyday work!

Jess said...

I am neither a mother nor do I run my own home yet, but I so enjoy your blog and the friendly and interesting advice you have to offer. What a lovely letter about your daughter "helping" you! It's important to enjoy life wherever you can.

Rightthinker-Andrea said...

I am always really astounded at how women today are unable to "get things done"...I don't mean to sound harsh or judgemental, but with all of our "modern conveniences", such as washers, dryers, vacuums, easy-to-operate stoves, dish washers, how can you not?

Look what the feminist movement has done for women in this regard. Women will have one child..maybe two, and suddenly she's unable to clean? I don't get it.

I am no superwoman, but I believe that my career-ordained by God, includes making a home for my family. I homeschool, and my house is always clean. Aside from a day when one of the children is sick and I can't devote attention to it as much, we don't live in a messy or dirty home, and I don't expect my husband to come home and clean and cook.

Our children are 13, 7, 6, 5, 11 months and I'm 25 weeks pregnant with our 6th. It's my job...if it were for pay, and I didn't do my job, I'd be fired. I think of it the same way at home.

Talk to your grandmothers and great grandmothers if possible-women who did it with few to no conveniences and appliances. They did it generally with a full home of children and less than modernized husbands to help!

Val said...

Nice post. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of helping my mother bake. She would let me help roll out the bread, shape it, and put it in the pans - such fun! Sugar cookies were my favorite, because they involved cookie cutters and clouds of flower. And I remember standing in the back yard, bare footed, handing mom clothes pins for the clothes in the summer sunshine. Sure, I was older than Shira, but the idea is the same....teach your children when they are young, and they will not only learn the tasks, but cherish the memories of that time with mom, as they age.

momto9 said...

what a sweet and wonderful post!!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry if I sound snide, but in your last picture it looks like the woman has found the perfect solution to combining housework with children. Get a maid!

Anonymous said...

I have so enjoyed many of your posts for quite a while. You have been a great help and encouragement to many I'm sure.

The two pictures are of mothers hanging laundry are nice; especially the first one. But, you may not realize what some may see as happening in the second picture. The woman hanging laundry appears to be "black" and the one holding the baby is "white". Since the picture is not in color and the clothing suggests it was taken in 50s, the picture is rather a mute commentary on hired help.

Coming from a different culture, you may not be aware of the implications of the photograph.

May God bless you. Keep up the good work.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon 1&2,

Indeed, I didn't see that photograph the way you did; to me, it was just two women visiting over a common clothesline, like it's common where I live. I didn't give much thought to their skin color.

Jenny said...

"Talk to your grandmothers and great grandmothers if possible-women who did it with few to no conveniences and appliances. They did it generally with a full home of children and less than modernized husbands to help!"

I have talked to them and they say it was much easier for them because they lived on farms with lots of relatives around and the toddlers and older children were sent out of doors to play once breakfast was over. Of course, those of school age were sent to school when school was in session.

Even my husband's mother who grew up in town remembers children being out of doors all day while mother went about getting her work done.

These ladies also had much smaller homes with very few possessions. They weren't constantly washing clothes and towels because there weren't that many items of clothing, baths were taken once a week, and dishrags and towels were not changed daily. Also, they had few dishes to use and therefore few dishes to wash.

They also weren't afflicted with paperwork diarrhea.

Meals were also much simpler and quite plain.

Rightthinker-Andrea said...

Yes, different lifestyle choices today, with many different perspectives today on homemaking-influenced by feminism.

We can make lots of those choices, as well.

All I know is that my grandmother (and even more so, her mother before her) worked from sun-up to sun-down to home make and child rear. She was a Godly woman, and believed it was her role. There was no permanent press, so she ironed all the clothing from the family. She just got a washing machine when she had her second child, and had no dryer. She would stay up late nearly every night and write to her sons who were away at war.

I don't buy, at all, that women had it easier then. Perhaps simpler..they were a heartier stock in general, and less plagued with me-ism that is a constant force for women (myself included) today.

As far as children being outside, I agree 100%. My children are responsible for doing chores each day, after their schoolwork, and then going outside when whether is decent. It's rare to find kids who know how to play outside rather than play video games, but it's still a choice, not a given. The same as what type home to have, and how to prioritize time.

I do think it's tremendously sad that we've lost the larger families, and having extended families as part of our daily lives as a society. However, that doesn't have to stop us from fulfilling our roles successfully, just as it didn't for women generations ago, who found themselves in new places without friends and family.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this sweet post. My 9-mo old son gets such unbridled joy 'helping' me fold clothes. I was looking for new ways to include him in the housework fun!

The responsilities of women vary so much from person to person, no matter what time period we live in. Unless we are intimately acquainted with a person's circumstances, how could we comment with wisdom or authority on their lives? Of course there are some who complain no matter how good they have it. But many of us are more comparable to the Capable Wife mentioned in Proverbs 31, who is credited with many more skills than cooking, cleaning and being a mother. (I'm sure there were days when this hypothetical woman wondered just how she was going to 'get it all done.')

But my point is, being a parent/homeowner, etc is 24/7 for mothers AND fathers. However a family is able to make it work is up to their own creativity, personal standards and circumstances.