Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mama's Dirty Little Secret

I have many talents in life: I'm a fairly good baker, I have good balance, I know a lot of grammar rules, I have no fear of public speaking.  Housecleaning, however, is not one of those talents. I mean, I know how to do it. My parents were big believers in chores, and I had to do laundry, scrub my bathroom, vacuum and dust on a very regular schedule for most of my childhood. I can clean up my house quite nicely before a party (though please don't look behind my closed bedroom door), and I think I was a fairly good roommate who kept common areas neat.

But just because I know how to doesn't mean I want to. I will happily cook a three-course meal with a two-layer cake before I'll bother picking up a dust cloth or pulling out the vacuum (though I do hate the dishes after the cooking). I occasionally get bouts of motivation, where I'll clean all the bathrooms, or vacuum every bedroom, but then I run out of steam and get overwhelmed realizing how much else needs to be done (must I clean All the Things?!).
(c) Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Having children forced me to do better. Setting their tiny bodies on the floor made me realize the need to vacuum. Serving them first foods forced me to mop the kitchen floor regularly. Cloth diapers and a million tiny onesies turned laundry into my most dedicated hobby. I began to clean more, but it was never enough, and I lived with constant guilt about my dirty house and frustration knowing it needed to be cleaner.

There was another layer of guilt too. When I had Sylvia, I quit my 9-5 office job. I was a stay-at-home mom, and as such, cleaning duties fell almost entirely to me. It was part of the job I signed up for. I couldn't really get away with blaming it all on my husband anymore, as he was out of the house 40+ hours a week, and I was home most of the day. I should have had time to clean. I should have been more inspired to clean. But it never happened, and the guilt (and dust) grew.

After each of the girls were born, my parents gifted me money to hire a housekeeper, and those few months were glorious times in which All the Things were clean at the same time (!), and I actually felt at ease in my own home. I wanted desperately to keep paying them to clean for me, but the guilt of doing so as a stay-at-home mom was too great: I should be able to do this. It's part of my job description. We have one salary and money could certainly be spent better elsewhere.

But I started talking to other moms -- other stay-at-home moms -- and I learned a little secret. Lots of people hire house cleaners. I should note that my mom friends are all solidly middle class. This is not a group of society moms hanging out between spa appointments and luncheons at The Club. Yet almost all of them scrape together funds to pay someone else to clean their homes. No one really talked about it until I asked, but all were quick to admit that it was worth every penny.

So a few months ago, I hired cleaners full time. They come every other week, and it is glorious. They do a better job than I ever could, and they've relieved me of guilt, embarrassment, and probably a few health-code violations. It's worth the sacrifice to our budget to make the house run better.

This Mother's Day, I hope all you moms out there will realize that you can't do it all. It's OK to ask for help. And it turns out, more moms than you realize are getting some help. And for you dads and kids out there, for Mother's Day or any other occasion, considering getting Mom a service instead of a gift. A house cleaner, a masseuse, a tax professional, or someone to cook up three casseroles for the freezer: these pros will give mom the break she deserves, and will perhaps allow her other talents to shine through.

So I guess this means I should start baking more cakes.


  1. Great "confession!" We've had a cleaning person come three times in 2013 and each time has been glorious. It leads to the best weekends ever--no racing to clean the house and cram in all the other work and play a family does during the weekends.

  2. You're right, Lisa. Weekends are much more enjoyable, though I still have to do a lot of straightening to ensure we can still walk through the house and eat at our table.