Competence drives satisfaction. We like what we are good at, and we shy away from things we think we are not good at. Car mechanics, baking pies, volleyball, spreadsheets, public speaking, settling a fussy baby, higher math – it doesn’t matter what it is – if we have had some experience and success doing it, we are much more likely to rate it as a positive way to spend our time. Homemaking works the same way.
|The girls at a camp I helped with this week participated in a Life Skills activity – they circulated around to several stations and learned something about several practical skills. “Meal Planning” involved cutting out pictures from a grocery store sale flyer and pasting them on paper plates to represent their choices for healthy, balanced meals for one day. Eventually they will be doing this for real, so it makes sense to be learning about it before they have the responsibility.
Competent homemakers used to be highly esteemed but then the biggest lie of feminism, that service was demeaning, helped them fall far out of fashion for a few decades. I have hope, however, that some in our society are waking up to the reality that homemakers contribute more to life satisfaction than just about any other profession. If Pinterest is a social barometer, there are an awful lot of people out there who appreciate handcrafted items, an organized pantry, a homey casserole, and even aprons! Maybe the lousy economy is helping us realize that living in big houses where nobody ever cooks or cleans and everybody runs from one expensive pastime to another may not be a sustainable way to live. Maybe we are just collectively longing for real homes, where people do nice things for each other, where good smells welcome us in from the big, bad world outside, and where we can spend time together in pleasant surroundings instead of chaos.
I am acquainted with more and more young women (and some older ones) who want to make homes instead of building a resume of only paid employment. They see the value in homemaking, but there is often a great big barrier to overcome: they have no idea what they are doing. It is easy to see why – they are the daughters and granddaughters of women who gladly and often thoughtlessly exchanged their rolling pins for Mrs. Smith’s frozen pies and their flexible time, which allowed them great scope for self-direction in meeting others’ needs and
personal growth, for a rigid work-week schedule and weekends crammed full of trying to accomplish everything at home that was neglected the other five days, which didn’t work very well, of course, so mostly they just stopped accomplishing it.
An awful lot of knowledge was lost in just a generation or two, and would-be homemakers of today are feeling the effects when they look around their apartments and houses and wonder what they should be doing with themselves. Most have worked fulltime elsewhere for some time before they “come home,” and often a major life-change accompanies their decision – marriage, a new baby, a move to a new location. There is a lot to adjust to and a steep learning curve to navigate. Everything seems so hard – all those appliances to figure out and I-can’t-even-chop-an-onion-without-nearly-amputating-a-finger and the-clean-laundry-smells-funny and how-long-can-I-keep-ground-beef-before-it-goes-bad and why-does-it-take-me so-long-to-clean-the-house and surely-I-should-have-more-to-show-for-my-day.
No wonder some ladies get overwhelmed and run right back to the office as fast as they can arrange daycare. Others stay home but wallow in a kind of half-hearted, dispirited existence of getting through the days wondering why they can’t seem to find any satisfaction in doing what they are doing.
They find no satisfaction in homemaking because they are incompetent. Sounds awful, doesn’t it, but it is the plain truth. (And it is a shame, not for them, but for their mothers and grandmothers who abandoned their homes and did not pass on knowledge their daughters needed and now want.) That is the bad news.
The good news is that becoming a competent homemaker is totally achievable. Here is what you need to do:
- Don’t be afraid to be a beginner. We hate to be seen as ignorant, and our fear of that stops so many of us from even trying to learn something new. How dumb is that? Decide that your first efforts probably won’t be as good as you wish, but you’ll get better as you get past the beginner stage. But you have to go through the beginner stage to get to “better!”
- Find a teacher. It may be a person, a book, a web site, even a fictional character in a novel or movie. For me, it has been all of these, multiplied over and over. Watch people who are good homemakers. Ask questions. Read about how to do things well. Study it just like any other thing you want to learn.
- Practice. Accept that it takes time and experience to get good at any pursuit, but trust that with good effort and a good attitude you will get there. Because you will.
Homemaking is a profession with a vast skill set, but you will gain competence gradually and steadily if you apply yourself. In a short time, you will have successes to build on – you’ll cook something that turns out great (so you make it again and then you make something kind of like it but different and that will be good, too), you figure out how to clean the bathroom efficiently, you study how to treat laundry stains and stop ruining nice clothes, you learn how to use the grocery store sale flyer to save some money. Remember that competence does not equal perfection. Competence is being able to handle your tasks with some effort but without strain. It is having things turn out well most of the time. It means knowing how, and it is a great comfort and satisfaction to know how.
Putting My Thinking Into Practice:
Choose a job you need to do often. Start doing it mindfully, trying to figure out the best way to do it efficiently and well, but not necessarily perfectly. It could be chopping onions, folding laundry, paying bills, planning menus, or, yes, cleaning the toilet. Can you discover a better way? Practice!
What will you work on this week?