If you are a SAHM/D, and you’re anything like me, you can’t help wondering how much cleaning is enough? I remember the early days of motherhood, when I was spending 8+ hours nursing a day (my daughter nursed A LOT) and did not have much time for anything else. Still, I struggled to prepare meals, clean clothes, and do the basic sorts of tidying that have to happen to function in a house. In addition we had just moved, so I had to get organized whether I wanted to spend my time that way or not.
I am a clean freak. I have been known to have it out with my poor husband over shaved hairs on the bathroom counter and to wear a baby in a bjorn to scrub my foyer by hand in addition to wiping down the surfaces of closet doors and all the moldings. I remember, after this frenzy, confiding in my girlfriend, mother of two, that I had no idea how I was supposed to balance detailed housework with motherhood, and when I started elaborating on the types of things I was juggling, she sort of snorted. Like specifically at my baseboard cleaning. Then very gently said, “I don’t know when I’ve last cleaned my baseboards…” I felt a flood of relief fill my heart, as I thought, well, maybe I can let that go.
But it did raise the question: how much cleaning is part of the SAHM/D job, and what is above and beyond the call of duty? All parents struggle with balance and juggling household chores. But for SAHM’s or SAHD’s, managing both responsibilities can be especially challenging in that you have both duties all day. And you can’t point to the pile of money you brought in to say, yup, I’ve done something of significance for our family. Instead, you point to the freshly changed sheets, or the dust-free family room. I remember reporting to my husband my list of daily accomplishments, like he was my supervisor or something. He kept reassuring me, “I don’t need to know, hon.” Yet I felt like I had to prove myself, to demonstrate my contribution. And I felt the numbing frustrations of waking up every day to redo the same work I had just completed, to show I was still holding my own. Somehow, the fact that we could not measure the efforts and energy I was expending into mothering, made me feel I needed some tangible evidence that I was producing. I found it hard to let go of the world of work and embrace the more subtle giving that is parenting, day and night.
Eventually, I couldn’t keep up the pace. As my daughter became mobile, and less inclined to be satisfied moving about rooms in her carrier as I cleaned, I had to give up the attempt. Because being a mom, is ultimately more important to me, and I was paying attention to the previous generation of moms when they said, a bit wistfully, “It goes so fast…” So now the decision is what is gonna give? How much household work could I give up while maintaining a level of cleanliness that would make me still feel like I was productive and contributing (not taking advantage)?
I kept thinking, if I could only gauge what sort of household chore routines that other parents follow, I could at least have an idea of what the average parent is able to accomplish. And maybe I could relax a bit.
There are weeks when I feel on top of everything, and then I’ll have one day of extended outings or errands, or a busy weekend where we do the pack up diaper, toy and food bags thing and then return and drop them along with purchases, mail, shoes, hairbows, etc. Then it feels like I am being literally buried alive under the weight of clutter. This week, I took a laundry basket through the house, collecting items and redistributing them along the way. I had a moment where I felt like everywhere I looked, something was out of sorts. So I took my daughter for a walk, and came back with some energy to tackle a few tasks. Some miscellaneous items still remain in the basket.
I have to face the fact that being a parent means there is always work to be done. When the last piece of laundry is folded for the week, we discard three more outfits that night into the laundry baskets. When the dishes are unloaded from the dishwasher, the ones waiting on the countertop slide into the freshly vacated slots. When a diaper is changed and bath given, the next will be needed, usually immediately following the next meal! When a book is read, V will want me to “read again, mama.” There will always be a household task vying with my daughter for attention. Add my own needs, and the needs of my relationship as a wife to the mix, and there are times when I can feel like I’m attached to a medieval torture device that pulls me, at every limb, stretching me like Gumby.
There will always be items in every basket in my life that require attention. The trick is to know when to switch gears. I tell myself my priority is always my daughter, but I’m not always perfect with this intention. There are times when I finish the dishes, and times when I let them wait to read a book or take a walk with my daughter. I’m learning to trust more in my ability to read my daughter’s needs when determining what tasks I am able to tackle in a given time frame. But I still think that it is helpful for parents to share household strategies to help us gauge when we’ve done a good day’s work! I’m curious to know what my SAH partners in grime do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
So, I’ll start by sharing my household routines and I hope, hope, hope, you will share yours as well! Please note that my husband does help with all the below as needed! I want him to get his fair share of respect as a hard-working at work and home, Daddy!
Decluttering: every moment of every day, it seems!
Dishes: daily, sometimes twice daily
Laundry: I devote a day to this once a week, but throw in loads throughout the week to keep on top of it
Floors: vacuum multiple times a week; swiffer mop as needed; handwash usually once every two/three weeks
Bathrooms: once a week with some touch ups; wash rugs and floors usually once a month
Linens: launder once a week, sometimes twice in hot weather
Dusting: at least one room per week (I have 5 rooms, so every room gets done at least once a month, but some more frequently)
Cooking: at least two meals a day; husband helps with this
Bills: as they come in
Recycling: my husband does this biweekly
Lawn care: I weed and trim hedges as needed; water gardens daily; my husband mows
Car maintenance: I take the car for oil changes; usually my husband gases up the car and takes for inspections
Home projects: these are the areas we struggle with; we do them when we can!
Every day I read to my daughter, take her outside for a walk and/or additional play time, we include play dates, library trips, park excursions in our weekly planning. We do crafts or art at least twice a week and build in time-in where she can choose her play with her father or myself.
Reading all of this, and knowing all of the one-time projects and tasks that I did not include as part of my daily routine in addition to the tasks of child care unrelated to learning and development, I can see for myself that I am holding my own. I invite you to share your routines as a way to give some definition to the roles you juggle daily, because whether you are a SAH parent with few external boundaries and daunting internal expectations, or a parent who works outside the home who is throwing an additional role in the mix, we can all feel like we are never doing enough, never accomplishing enough. Seeing all you do on paper can help you to see what is reasonable and how much cleaning is just too much! We can detach ourselves from the self-torture by prioritizing our in-baskets and listing our successes, one clean sock or story time at a time.