I have a friend who regularly riles my inner vintage housekeeper by declaring that as she rarely finds time to read a newspaper article let alone an entire book, because keeping house keeps her up most nights until long after the midnight oil has burned down, I, who downs tools the minute the dinner dishes are dried to indulge in all manner of frivolous follies, must surely be doing something wrong, or worse, she implies, not doing something at all...
Heavens to Betsy, there stands a brave woman. For sure, cast aspersions on my loud mouth, my terrible taste in snazzy shoes or even the occasionally unbecoming behaviour of my one and only child and I will take it in my pinny wearing stride but start lashing ridicule on my methods of keeping house and before you can say "come bleach my loo" I'll be sueing you for slander...
For when it comes to keeping house we women are surprisingly touchy. We cannot abide even the most minor of home-making critiques and cringe at the very idea that next door but one there is another woman keeping house, feeding her family and nurturing her children better than we will ever be capable of.
While we might not say anything and even perhaps, profess not to care about the state of our homes, inside each and every one of us harbours the kind of minor shame disproportionately exacerbated by the throwaway comments of women who know no better than to define themselves by the polish on their silverware.
For what the housework police fail to understand is that there is a difference, a huge difference, between being a model housekeeper and keeping a model home. While the model of perfection in housekeeping might be shine and hygiene, the model in perfect home-making is something subtler: something those only able to judge a house by the white glove test might just oblivious to, because it cannot be accounted for in hours of scrubbing or months of pre-meditated meal plans.
A sense of home is not defined by floors you could eat your rice pudding off, but is instead about creating a cocoon for those who seek sanctuary in it and while cocoons might be spun with care and dedication their success lies not in the spick and span efforts of those exerting themselves only to win points towards imaginary prizes but for those who think first and foremost about the life inside the cocoon and treat housekeeping only, and rightfully as an afterthought.
There is you see something often inherent in the mind of she who confuses keeping her cocoon with nurturing the life inside it, and that is the tendency to over-serve. It is the reason why my friend stands at ironing board every single night and has done for as long as I can remember. It is why she seems proud to declare how very little time she has to give over to the proper pleasures and why she is all too quick to judge the home-making exertions of every other woman she encounters. She has long defined herself by how she services her home and family and has come to believe that polishing and scrubbing and cleaning and ironing are the finest gifts she has to offer herself and her family.
But housework is not love.
Love is time and laughter and hugs and listening. Love is self-nurturing the strength and energy nurturing others requires. Love never demonstrates resentment for it never seeks gratitude. Love simply is. While is there is much to be said for the woman willing to work her fingers to the bone for her family, one day she will understand that there isn't a child on the planet who gives a damn whether his underwear is ironed but really cares about having to endure a shouty, exhausted Mummy apparently hell-bent on micro-managing every aspect of life within their families four walls.
So this then is my message for today: by all means scrub your toilet when you could be lying deliciously in bed with your husband, and yes, go ahead and frazzle yourself into an early death obsessing about your skirting boards, but understand this: housework is not love and neither the universe, not those who you consider your nearest and dearest will ever say thank you. Choosing to go to bed early is the kind of personal kindness that will pay higher dividends for your family than any amount of late night drawer organising will ever do.
If you LOVE housework, do it for yourself: do it not because you believe that the Gods will judge you if you don't or because you have convinced yourself that housework is what marriage or Motherhood is about. Do it with pride and joy, but never, ever (NEVER, do you hear me??) allow an immaculate house to make you feel superior to other women until you have walked a mile in their shoes...
Life is hard enough without judging our best friends.