To Love, Honor, and Vacuum
April 20, 2007
There are so many resources out there in book land that are full of tips and hints that’ll click with our specific situations and make our lives a bit more productive — if we knew where to find those resources.
So today, I’m interviewing Sheila Wray Gregoire, author of To Love, Honor, and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother. In her book, Sheila takes our home responsibilities and combines with it our marriage and mothering jobs, too.
SB: Thanks for dropping by, Sheila. What in your life prompted the idea for this book?
SWG: Once upon a time, when my children were little, I was surrounded by women who were miserable. They had achieved their dreams: they were married, they had houses, they each had an adorable little baby. But they weren’t happy. And both of them blamed their husbands.
Diane, one of my friends (not her real name!), used to say to me, “Everyday, I get out his clothes, get the kids up, spend all day cleaning up after everybody, and then I make dinner. He comes home and eats it in front of the TV. He goes out with his friends, and I bathe the kids and put them to bed. He hasn’t been nice to me all day, but then he comes home and you know what he wants?”
I think we all know what he wants, Diane.
Now her husband sounds like a complete idiot from this description. I knew him, and I don’t think he was. I think they just got comfortable in a very dysfunctional way, and Diane didn’t know what to do to change things up a bit.
Other women may not have had issues with their husbands (I certainly didn’t), but they could still feel some of Diane’s frustration. All day long they do nothing but work, work, work. When I walked down the aisle, I thought I was signing up for the greatest relationship in the world.
But five years later, when the kids were little, it sometimes felt a lot more like a to-do list than a fairytale. And I don’t think that’s how God meant it to be. So I wrote the book to help women sort out what really is important, foster relationships that make us swoon rather than whine, and make housework far less of a chore!
SB: Sounds good! Can you give us an idea of what’s in the book?
SWG: Surely. The first half of the book I tackle YOU: the moms. What can you do to change your life, even if nobody else ever gets a lightning bolt flash and decides they want to help. I talk about why we’re so stressed; why modern life can often be less fulfilling and far more complicated than it was a century ago; setting our own standards (and letting go of our mothers’ standards!), and creating balance in our lives. If you just do that, your life will be better.
Then I tackle the relationships. How can you change the way you relate to your kids so you’re serving them appropriately, and not waiting on them like maids? Remember that the best gift you can give your future daughter-in-law is a son who cleans toilets, so you’re not doing him any favors by letting him get out of doing housework!
I tackle how we can help foster a house where people respect each other, rather than take each other for granted. Of course, the book doesn’t only deal with kids doing chores; it also talks about how we can make sure we spend quality time with kids, and how we can encourage that same relationship between our kids and our husbands.
And finally I tackle two big things which are often a challenge in marriage: money and sex. In fact, I liked the sex part so much I turned around and wrote a whole book just about that: Honey, I Don’t Have a Headache Tonight: Help for women who want to feel more in the moood which is an elaboration on chapter ten.
SB:I have to ask, Sheila — what’s your relationship with your vacuum?
SWG: We’re really more in-laws than anything else. My kids are the ones who are wedded to the vacuum! It’s their chore, not mine, so I only see the vacuum at holiday times, like Christmas or Thanksgiving. Other than that it stays with the girls. Which is, of course, where it’s supposed to be!
I’m not sure why chores seem to have fallen into such a black hole over the last few decades, but kids did a lot more work fifty years ago than they do today. We think kids can handle soccer, and gymnastics, and karate, and homework, but they can’t clean a toilet. Anybody can clean a toilet. And five-year-olds like to!
So why don’t we make them? Because they may not do it right, and it makes more work for us. But if you think about it, what is the purpose of parenting? It’s to raise responsible and independent adults who love Jesus, right? So what better way to teach them that than to let them do chores! In fact, you’re harming your kids if you don’t. If you raise a son who leaves home knowing how to cook five delicious meals and keep a house clean, you will have created quite the catch. So don’t get too up close and personal to all your cleaning products. Let the kids get to know them better. It works out best for everyone!
SB: Do you think housework is that big of a deal to our mental well-being?
SWG: I think it is. but only because we focus our self-worth too much on our homes. We think we have to be perfect, so we watch all those home makeover shows and read Martha Stewart Living and then we feel guilty if we don’t pick pinecones to spraypaint and use as table settings for a big get-together. Instead, we cocoon and don’t have anyone over.
And we watch our homes get messier and messier until one day we blow up at the kids and our husband and demand that everybody drop everything and help us clean up this pigsty! They don’t know what hit them.
So I think we have two problems: one, we expect too much of ourselves; and two, we’re not that organized. I deal with both in To Love, Honor and Vacuum.
First, I ask people to figure out what the purpose of their homes is. It shouldn’t be a showcase. It should be a place of ministry where people get to look more and more like Jesus. You can relax in a bubble bath with some chocolate without noticing that your bathroom walls need cleaning and feeling guilty about that. Your kids can have friends over without incurring your wrath if crumbs spill. Friends can drop in for coffee without you being nervous that your house isn’t presentable enough. After all, they came over to see you, not your living room floor. Create a comfortable house, not a perfect house, where people can relax and be themselves. That means you’re allowed to leave your knitting around the house, but you should probably leave the bathroom looking free of communicable diseases. There is a balance, you know? But you don’t need to be magazine clean. Just be comfortable clean.
Then get an organized approach to housework so that it does get done in its time and you’re not so stressed. I suggest assigning certain tasks to each day, and then sticking to it as much as possible, so you know everything will get clean in its time. When you’re done with today’s task, you’re done! You can go play with your kids.
SB: So where do husbands fall into the home chores picture?
SWG: I hate to disappoint readers, but I don’t come down hard one way or the other. When my kids were little, my husband was working 36 hour shifts, and when he did get home I didn’t want him vacuuming. I wanted him playing with the kids. As he has more time off now, it seems more appropriate that he do more of the work around the house. But I actually enjoy housework (that’s a new thing for me), while he likes organizing the finances and taking care of the yard work. So he doesn’t do much housework, but he does do a lot of work for the family. I don’t think we should get so caught up on who does what, as much as we are looking at the nature of relationships.
Are both spouses giving to each other? Are we tender to each other? Do we respect each other? If the answer is no, and if you feel like your husband takes you for granted, I have some great ideas in the book on relationship revolutions that can help improve that all important intimacy and respect. But who cleans the toilets? Who knows. Don’t fight over it. Get your relationship on an even keel, because tension over housework is really a symptom of something bigger.
SB: Okay then. What’s your favorite time-saving tip?
SWG: Clean to music! Turn on some fast music, put on your running shoes and workout clothes, and set the timer for 25 minutes. It is absolutely amazing how much you and your kids can get done if you dare yourself not to slow down until the timer beeps! And, if you work up a sweat, it counts as exercise! Woo hoo! You kill two birds with one stone.
SB: We like killing two birds with one stone. Thanks, Sheila!
To find more encouragement to get your kids to help at home and make your marriage less stressful, you can pick up To Love, Honor and Vacuum ($13.00) at www.sheilawraygregoire.com
Sheila blogs at www.homeschoolblogger.com/SheilaG. She also writes a syndicated newspaper parenting column, Reality Check, which she sends out by ezine every week. You can sign up for it at www.sheilawraygregoire.com/blogtoursignupc94.php. and you’ll be entered in a draw to win a bunch of Sheila’s books and audio recordings. She’ll make the draw April 30.
I signed up for Sheila’s ezine. Got it once already. I enjoyed it.
I want to jump on one thing Sheila mentioned — getting our kids involved. What do you have your kids do? I’ll share mine. My kids are 7 and 5. They empty the dishwasher, set the table, and I’m starting to have them clear the table. My oldest has washed dishes a couple times and is begging me to let him do it again.
No problem there!
They also pick up their own toys, take their sheets off their bed on laundry day, and they’ve helped clean the bathroom counter and switchplates. (I’ve handled the cleaners, though). They’ve been dusting for “years,” so the fun in that is starting to wear off.
Might sound like a lot. It’s really not, though. What do you all have your children do? Any routines that have worked well for you?
- Next Friday, get ready to get tipped off!
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- And have a happy weekend!