Monday, October 20, 2014

No suitable help makes it hard to be a minister's wife or even, for that matter, a minister

After all these years of struggling with work and not-work, I’m still struggling. I have days where I take the kids to school, drink a slow coffee, have a slow chat, then wander home and hang out the washing. I work for a few hours before it’s time to pick up the kids and leap on the after school treadmill. On such days I feel a bit guilty for not working as hard as my husband. But, said a friend, perhaps you’re not seeming to work as hard as your husband – and that’s a different thing.

There’s no question that my husband works hard, jolly hard. His hours are packed. Mine aren’t. At least, they’re not packed with ‘work’ things. I’m certainly doing the requisite hours and more of working and studying, but I also do a whole lot of other things, invisible things, that I somehow think don’t take any time. But when I reflect on them, they are actually significant parts of the day.

Take the other day. I razzed three kids up and took them to school, despite their usual shenanigans which required me to leave the room several times and breathe slowly and carefully so as to avoid losing my temper. Then I had a long pastoral conversation. I went home and worked on my thesis for a couple of hours. I ate lunch standing up, then ran out of the house to meet someone and do a couple more hours pastoral work and study. From there, I went straight to school and picked up the kids. One of them did a runner, so I chased her through the schoolyard and go to be That Mother who yelled. We squeaked home in time for piano lessons. I shunted all three through their lessons; brought in, sorted and folded three loads of washing; filled in school forms; washed the vegetable crisper; unpacked the weekly veggie box; prepared a healthy balanced meal; ate with my kids; bathed and de-loused them; supervised readers and homework; played a few rounds of racing demon; did the dishes with my six-year-old; got the kids to put their clean clothes away and their dirty clothes in the wash (which takes much more effort than seems reasonable); ushered them into bed; then sat down, at half past eight, with a cup of tea.

But my husband got home from work after nine. So I felt like I hadn’t worked as hard as him.

There are so many tasks that feel like not-work and like they should take no time. They appear on no balance sheet, and I expect them to fit into the cracks of the day. Filling in school forms. Paying bills. Planning and cooking meals. Buying groceries. Washing dishes. Sweeping floors. Mending. Any form of housework. Buying birthday presents. Most of the emotional work. And yet when you have three primary school aged children, washing, cleaning, admin, mediation, and food preparation take an hour or two every day.

The frustrating thing is that my consciousness is well and truly raised. I’ve read Marilyn Waring’s books. I’ve thought and written about the importance of homemaking, and despite my previous conclusions, I really do think that it’s work – in my head. But my gut still doesn’t really recognise it as work, or that it takes real time.

Last week my father, the historian, told me about a woman who came out from England in the nineteenth century. She complained loudly that there was no suitable help in the colonies, which made it impossible for her to perform her duties as a minister’s wife. It made me laugh, and then rock back on my heels. Because I am not the minister’s wife. I am, in fact, the minister. I am also doing postgraduate study. And I am the cook, the laundress, the mostly cleaner, and the gardener for a family of five.

I know all about feminist consciousness raising and The Wife Drought, and they’re all well and good. But it took a word from the nineteenth century for me to hear, quite clearly, that these other things are work, too. That, and talking with friends, and blogging about it time and time again. I am writing about it now as part of my remedial learning process. But I am such a slow learner. By the time I really recognise it as work, my kids will have all grown up.

The Wife Drought

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