Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The work which is always there

The household, as a live, dynamic thing, requires constant upkeep and endless work, from the most routine to once-in-a-while projects; there's always something to wash or clean, cook or bake, make or mend, plant or grow. And, most importantly, there are the people living in the house - each of them a unique individual with their needs, wants, hopes and dreams. 

When you live in your home full-time, there is undeniably more mess and upkeep involved than if the entire family steps out of the house in the morning and returns in time for dinner, being present only on evenings and (maybe) weekends. But a lot of work accumulates anyway. Clothes are worn, meals need to be made, dust settles down on surfaces. 

If you have a garden or pets or some livestock, it is even more so. Even while you are away, weeds keep growing, chickens keep laying and pets need to be fed and taken care of. Whenever I'm away from home for a couple of days, or we spend a couple of days on errands, I find myself rushing to catch up later: weeding, mucking out the chickens, picking up stray items blown into our yard by the wind (the winds are pretty strong here, so we get all sorts, from snack wrappers to plastic kiddie chairs).

But of course, most important of all are the children. There are simply no short-cuts here: while housework can be put on hold, children must be looked after. Someone must do it... and that someone is usually a woman. Daycare centers, preschools, kindergartens are all staffed overwhelmingly by women (I've never even heard of a man working in a daycare center or preschool, at least not in Israel). In schools, too, most of the teachers are women - the younger the kids are, the more pronounced this is. That is because young children respond best to a motherly figure... who, ideally, should be their mother. 

I do realize that in some circumstances even mothers of young children must go out to work (though in many cases, creative solutions can be found and sacrifices made in order to provide a full-time at-home caregiver for the family). However, one must remember that this isn't an ideal situation. Just a couple of generations ago, it was a matter of course that a married woman with children, whose financial circumstances are not so constrained that she absolutely must work for a living, will stay home with her children (and no one would ask her what she does all day long).

I find it especially ironic, and a little sad, that mothers get up in the morning, put their babies in daycare and go off to care for other people's children: they outsource their children to someone else, while making their living off other people who also outsource their children. Financially, economically it might make sense, but in straight thinking, emotionally, socially, it would be a lot better if everyone could simply take care of their own children (who were give to us by G-d to raise and bring up), perhaps occasionally relying on help from extended family such as grandparents and aunts. 

It's crucial to remember that at any given moment of the day, someone is taking care of the children. Their parents, or someone else. The children are well-cared for - or not. Happy - or not (though present happiness is no indicator of good upbringing). Well-nourished - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually - or not. Recently, two children in a local daycare center were found playing with a dead mouse. Apparently they had been playing with it for a while before someone paid attention. I'm not saying blunders are inexcusable, but there is a heavy price to the efficiency of a group of children herded together all day long - the inadequate, impersonal care too many children are getting; the generation of overburdened, overstretched, overworked women. 


Lady Anne said...

Dead mice. Many, MANY years ago I glanced out my kitchen window and saw my eldest daughter (an only child at that point, so she was about three) sitting on a large rock and swaying back and forth. After a few minutes, the laid something on the rock, patted it, and then came inside.

"What were you doing, sugar bear?"

"I found a mouse. It was sleeping, so I sang to it for a while."

I just told her go to wash her hands really, really well, and hoped one of the nighttime critters would take care of her "sleeping" mouse. At least she meant well.


I heard an educator explain once to a parent that being away from their child also meant missing milestones and precious moments- first words, first walk, and so forth. Being there with your child is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, moments either you or the child's grandparent, babysitter or teacher might be a part of. I still believe that the people who should be raising a child (spending a high proportion of time with them) would ideally be his/her parents, though for many reasons that's not always possibles, or even the best scenario for the child.

Sita said...

A beautiful post Anna...

Much love, from Sita

Anonymous said...

Hey Anna,
I believe that your tag should be called "CAPITALISM and its dangers".
The systematic devaluation of domestic work is one of the pillars on which capitalism is built on and feminists (at least, feminists that are interested in intersectionality- opposed to the so-called "white feminists" who focus primarily on the point of view of white upper class american women) have challenged this notion more or less since Marx's times.
Also, the obsession for a continous growth and production, outsourcing the domestic work so it can generate a wage and a profit, is typical of capitalism and has nothing to do with feminism, which simply advocates for equal opportunities for women and men.
By the way, this goes for the opportunity of being a homemaker too: I think that it's a shame that domestic labour is so undervalued that men experience such a strong social stigma if they choose to do it; they are considered unmanly, a failure, while I'm sure that there are many men out there who would be happy to take care and nurture their families.
I think that what you're fighting is capitalism, not feminism.

Take care,

Chana said...

Thank you for an interesting post!I agree with the majority of what you are writing except one thing.I don't think that being a stay at home mother is the ideal for every woman.I really wanted to be a stay at home mother.However I realized that by working part time and having my son in daycare during the days that I work I have so much more energy to take care of him,the home and my husband.When I stayed only at home I felt as if I would go crazy - I didn't have any peace.

Women are different and I think in the end the most important thing is that each mother does that which will give her energy and make her thrive.If that means working I don't think it's something one should look down upon.We each have a unique mission to achieve in this world and our paths are different.

Thank you for taking your time in reading this comment and I wish you all the best!

Lady Anne said...

Chana, I can understand your frustration to a degree. When my children were small I yearned for a conversation that contained words of more than two syllables and didn't involve potty-training. But that's why the Good Lord gave us friends - to share a cuppa and a bit of adult conversation. Besides friends usually agree that your children are just the most beautiful, clever little things they've ever seen, and don't mind the crumbs and clutter, so you can wave good-bye feeling rested and refreshed.