During one of my regularly scheduled existential crises, I had an idea: I’m going to commit to keeping my home like a 1950s housewife. I texted my best friend, who always supports every batshit idea I have, and told my spouse, Jon, whose reaction looked a little like this:
To be fair, he might have been partially reacting to my announcement in which I said, “I can’t tell if I’m finally getting my shit together or if I’m on the verge of a psychotic break, but I’m going to clean the house like a 1950s housewife for two weeks!”
“Should I be concerned?” he asked slowly, careful to avoid making any sudden movements around me.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “Well…maybe.”
Honestly, I don’t know if he should be worried. I think I’m a little worried. I’ve struggled a lot with my identity over the last several years since I became a mom, and my life has taken turns I didn’t expect. I’m still freelance writing, but my main responsibilities now are caring for and homeschooling my medically high needs kid who has some delays due to the heart transplant he received as a newborn. My son is absolutely my favorite person and I love spending time with him, but being a stay at home mom was never part of my plan. I like working and I have a lot of personal issues about my personal identity and value being strongly tied to how much I financially contribute to our household. But, things change and my role has shifted so now writing is secondary to my roles at home. As a feminist, I support women’s rights to choose to live their lives in the way they want and if they choose to be a housewife, I support that. It’s just not something I had originally planned for my own life.
I don’t want it to seem like I don’t want to be here for my son, because I absolutely do. I will move heaven and earth to support him, but in doing so, it makes me confront a lot of my own issues like the aforementioned idea that my worth is tied to how much money I personally make. Plus, I’ve noticed that ever since I got pregnant with my son, some people have chosen to define me solely by the fact that I’m a mom. I love being a parent, but I also don’t think it’s the most interesting thing about me. I’m still a person with thoughts and ideas and interests, and when my identity is reduced to just being a mother, it makes me feel like I’m not an individual anymore and my worth is determined by my relation to someone else. For example, I have a friend who, while he means well, has literally introduced me to other adults as “Kiddo’s mom”–and this is a friend whom I knew for several years before having my son.
So if I’m so resistant to being a stay at home mom, why am I embracing a challenge to act like a 1950s housewife for two weeks? That’s an excellent question you didn’t ask, and I’m going to answer it!
As a feminist, I have a weird fascination with the 1950s and 60s and the overly restrictive roles of women. I suppose my interest could be described as anthropological, and I think it’s important as a woman to understand where women have been in order to better see where we’re going. I’ve also always had an interest in cleaning and organization and I work well within rules and guidelines for how to get from point A to point B.
Or maybe I’m just trying to scrub away the existential dread because if I’m cleaning, then THE SCARY THOUGHTS CAN’T GET ME!
There’s also an element of mental health at play. I live with depression, anxiety, and mild PTSD and I know I have a tendency to start new projects when I’m trying to kick myself out of a depressive episode. Due to COVID-19 and the fact that both Jon and our son are in high risk groups, we’ve been doing no-contact quarantine since March with exceptions only for our son when he has medical appointments that can’t be done remotely, and we will continue to quarantine for the foreseeable future. Part of me is hoping that if I improve our physical space, my mental health will improve. There are some studies to back up that hope, but I also know that I run the risk of taking things too far. My hope is that by setting up parameters instead of doing this indefinitely, I’ll be able to remember that this is a temporary challenge and keep my brain in check. Plus, by making myself write about my experience every day, this will theoretically help kickstart my creativity and get me back into writing regularly.
Here are the particulars for the challenge I’m about to embark on:
The one thing I won’t be doing is cooking dinner, which is very non-1950s of me. However, Jon is much more a cook than I am and I know he enjoys it, so I feel like sticking with those roles for now. However, if I’m not reading to strangle myself with my apron strings by the end of week one, I might try to incorporate cooking into week two of the challenge.
There’s no specific day that laundry is supposed to be done (unless otherwise listed like washing linens on the weekly tasks), so I guess I’m going to improv it and just have to pick a day to wash our clothes. But, I’ll do my best to make sure the laundry gets done before the three of us run out of clean underwear.
Am I ready for tomorrow? Now that I’ve typed everything out…it seems a little daunting, but I guess I’m as ready as I’m going to be. My goal is to get the bulk of the cleaning plus homeschooling my son by the time 5PM rolls around since that’s when Jon finishes working for the day and usually starts dinner, leaving only post-dinner kitchen cleanup and “enjoy a relaxing evening” on my to do list.
As for Jon’s opinion on the whole thing, he is cautiously supportive but (understandably) still a little concerned that this is me burning really brightly before I crash.
However, I think Jon’s starting to come around to the idea.
“We should get you an apron!” he exclaimed.
I’m fairly certain that this idea is due less to the idea of permanently relegating me to the kitchen and more because he thinks I’d look cute in an apron.
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