Note: This post is part one of a series that originally appeared at my now defunct blog A Dragonfly Diary sometime in 2010. It has been updated slightly for publishing here but mostly left as it was. Because of this, this post reflects my attitude at the time of writing when I still felt a strong connection to Christianity. I’d also like to note that I’m not suggesting it is necessary to leave one’s husband or faith in order to find happiness. That’s just my story.
Work, work, work!
Recently I caught the tail-end of the US-made Wife Swap program. The father in one home was a real stick-in-the-mud and a big believer in strictly ‘training’ his children. How I cringed to watch a work ethic so like my ex-husband’s standing pasty-white, flabby and naked on reality TV.
This guy and his wife owned a restaurant and they – and their children – worked 7 days/week so that they could ‘have the freedom of lifestyle’ they wanted. Those poor kids had no free time and lived weighed down by inappropriate burdens their parents inadvertently laid on them. Of course the new mom was a ‘servant’ who didn’t allow her kids to do anything for themselves at all. Juicy conflict ensued as she insisted Dad sell the inn and give his kids their lives back. The new mom encouraged the kids to string worry beads on a thread to symbolically give back the adult worries they were carrying. The poor little mites listed things like ‘I don’t want to worry that the inn will go broke and we’ll all have to live on the streets’. It was all uncomfortably familiar. I’ve seen it in so many QF patriarchal homes.
Some years ago I was invited to take a session at a homeschool mothers’ group. The leader had asked me to speak about home organisation as, apparently someone thought I had got that together. I’m guessing the entirety of my self-congratulatory little speech was pretty cringeworthy but I blush particularly as recall myself quoting from some book I had read on the subject which smirked, ‘Don’t ever do anything for yourself that your kids can do for you.’ I actually read it aloud twice telling them I agreed with it so strongly. And I really did.
Although with just seven children, our family is not so large as many I know, having the first six kids in relatively quick succession does make for a pretty busy household. At various times I inflicted new and proven-to-succeed home management systems on my family in an effort to impart a smidgen of orderliness. I’ve been known to impose Managers of their Homes, the happy face system, Fly Lady and numerous other mercifully short-lived, chart-ticking nightmares on my long-suffering offspring. While those programs are not all bad, in our home they were mostly educational in just two respects: They taught me that (1) nobody likes me when I’m in Household Hitler Mode and (2) I can only tolerate making my kids miserable for a short time.
But even though I failed to stick with a consistent program, my kids used to do a huge amount of housework. That’s not entirely unfair as they did create a lot of mess. And it wasn’t all bad. They learned some useful skills and developed – as promised by the program publishers – the seeds of character. But looking back, they did way more than was appropriate. It’s cute (hmmm, maybe) that a 10-year-old is capable of cooking dinner now and then for a family of nine, but hardly fair.
I don’t think I loaded the kids up because I was lazy – I’m not. But I do think that I was rather too proud of my little army of worker ants. Obedient, productive kids are a bit of a status symbol in QF. And it’s not like giving up homeschooling so I’d have time to hang my own washing was an option. Having a husband whose only interest outside religion was work – his and ours – did not help. But if I think about it, I suspect my easing up on the kids work-wise coincided with my loosening ties with QF families and what I believed was their ever-present judgement.
And now that the kids are in school, I take a totally different view of housework. I feel that getting an education and having a childhood are the primary responsibilities of children. I do nine-tenths of the housework and this is how I think it should be. I have lowered my standards a lot. If I’m hung up about something needing to be spotless all the time, I clean it.
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Jane Douglas (“Daisy”) was at one time a pastor’s wife, homeschool mum and advocate of QF patriarchal Christianity. She is now none of these things and is instead discovering the joys and challenges of living, loving and learning in a whole new way with her children in their home in Australia. In her spare time Jane works on her university studies and blogs at All the Way Out.