Jennifer at Conversion Diary (formerly Et Tu?) had a post up about a month ago concerning housekeeping, and its relative importance in the whole scheme of things. The discussion has been interesting to me on a number of levels; it's an area I struggle with, and I haven't really decided what is, or ought to be, my realistic (or even God-given) responsibility where cleaning, scrubbing, disinfecting, cooking, laundering and the like are concerned.
Standards of "necessary" cleanliness vary considerably among the commenters. Most seem to agree that the priority given to housekeeping will vary from person to person and family to family; and given the huge variances possible -- family size, age and ability of children, natural tolerance for clutter or mess (or lack thereof), even square footage can be an issue -- that's a position with which there can be little disagreement.
A few stouthearted souls were gutsy enough to delineate a standard for cleanliness beneath which no one should fall. They cited things like depression -- as both symptom and cause of untidiness -- laziness, and the unnecessary accumulation of too much stuff, as evidence of the rightness of their standards; and, on the positive side, the general peacefulness that a clean home can offer both family and guests, and the opportunity for grace to abound as one seeks to meet this challenge well. Yes, yes, yes and yes on all counts; it's hard to disagree there, either.
In reading through the comments, though, I began to feel more than a little condemned, to tell the truth: There are a lot of really clean, well-organized people in this world, I guess. Sadly, I am not one of them. I would love to have a perfectly clean home, full of perfectly happy people, who cheerfully fulfill each of our roles with energy and enthusiasm, all the time.
Since reading that post last month, I've actually replayed it in my mind many times over, almost as an examination of conscience. But what keeps coming back to me is the memory of my public school teaching days, when the line between teaching and cleaning was fairly clear; where the explicit function of the district's support services was directed toward making it possible for "teachers to teach." (I'm sure the union had something to do with that; but I digress.)
When I was a classroom teacher (of preschool-aged children with special needs), I was responsible for the education and care of two groups of 12 little children for a two and a half hour time period each. I had a full time aide, and a full-time speech therapist working with me. If the children were sick, we sent them to the full time nurse, while the full time admin staff contacted their parents or babysitters to come get them. If one of the children's behavior was out of control, we had the services of full time social workers, a child psychologist and a district-based behavior specialist at our disposal. We fed the the children one meal and one snack during their time with us, which were fully prepared and wrapped in individual portions, by the district Central Kitchen's full time staff of dietitians and food preparers. The children arrived to our school on buses, driven by district employed drivers. When the day was over, we conferenced, straightened up our toys and materials, got activities ready for the next day, and put the cute little chairs up on tables -- so that the full time custodial staff could more easily sweep, mop and vacuum for us after we were gone.
And they took out the trash and cleaned the bathroom, too.
Sure, I had some heavy-duty paperwork to keep up with, and some kids' needs were truly puzzling, providing us with a great deal of challenge along the way; but most days I left the building no later than one hour after the last group of children was buckled into their carseats, to a 500 square foot one-bedroom apartment that took minutes to straighten, dust and vacuum whenever I felt it needed it. I chatted on the phone with friends, made arrangements to go to the movies or shopping or hang out pretty much as I pleased. I had 9 weeks of summer vacation, every state and federal holiday off, plus 3-4 full weeks of "break" at various points throughout the school year. Three to four times a year we had "teacher development days" when the children didn't come in at all, during which we went to inservice workshops and out for lunch. And don't forget snow days! Three were usually worked into the planned school year, and they were almost always used. I was paid handsomely, too, I thought -- my final salary before becoming a "SAHM" upon the birth of my now 8yo daughter was approximately $50,000, with guaranteed increases on a stepped scale every year. If I were still teaching now, I'd probably be making half again as much on top of that.
Both my home and my classroom certainly met with most anyone's standards of cleanliness, with perhaps rare exception.
Now, I am responsible for a 2300 square foot home. I have three children with me at all times, and occasionally the assistance of an older child or my husband. The Chief normally leaves for work at 6:30 am, and arrives home around 6:30 pm, and then frequently has Fire Department business to attend to at night (let alone fire and EMT calls). If one of the kids is sick or out of control, it's up to me to handle it; there's no one to call. When the kids need feeding, no one arrives at my door with fully-prepared MREs. When there's sweeping, mopping or vacuuming to do, it's up to me to find a way to fit it in -- and often several times a day, too. Plus laundry, food and clothing shopping, and dinner for 6 people. In addition to this, I am homeschooling my children, which in NYS means a considerable amount of paperwork, at least during quarterly "crunch times." I get very few "breaks" of any kind (the time I spend doing this is pretty much it, most days). Time out with friends is a rarity -- I actually don't remember the last time. I frequently don't get enough sleep to function effectively. And my salary is exactly ... zero.
Things are not as clean as they used to be.
I am certain that, as a stay at home mom and homeschooling mother, these responsibilities fall primarily to me. However, I don't think I'm called to any kind of perfection here: When I stand before the Throne for the final judgement, I don't expect the condition of my silk flowers or the number of dust bunnies accumulating under the bed to enter much into the conversation. The attitude I bring to these tasks, and the extent I used my ability to manage them effectively to bring peace and joy into our home will, though (and believe me, there is plenty for me to worry about on Judgement Day there, without ever bringing up dust!!). While I am sure God doesn't want me to use my family's happiness as an excuse for laziness in accomplishing these tasks, I am equally sure He would abhor the stress getting them done can cause, as if doing them thoroughly without concern for how it impacts my family were somehow His will or command.
See, the thing is, it's not always about my God-given responsibilities as a homemaker. If I can't get to the cobwebs on the ceiling or the dust on the silk flowers, or even that dribble of chocolate milk that (somehow!) found its way onto the living room wall next to the couch, maybe it's because my "staff" (I wish!) wasn't available to assist me. If the laundry piles up, perhaps it's because my attention was of necessity directed elsewhere, not (necessarily -- there's certainly plenty of room for improvement here!) because I'm lazy or depressed or failing to avail myself of God's abundant grace.
Sometimes, it's not really about standards or objective priorities at all; sometimes, it really is just too much for one person to do, every day, day in and day out, 24 hours a day, come what may.
And what I need at those times is a helping hand -- or, at least, a little understanding; not condemnation, or a lecture.
And nobody understands that better than the One who calls me to this role.