Thursday, February 01, 2007

Valuing the work I do at home

Lately, I find myself answering the question of what do I do all day by saying, I work at home.

That covers it all: volunteer work, organizing the women's circle speakers, preparing classes for Embracing the Feminine, driving my kids to and fro, walking the dog, laundry, housecleaning and meal preparation, phone calls to replace missing objects like telephones and remote controllers, fixing watches...anyway you get the picture.

It may not be paid work, but it is work that keeps me busy, that keeps the household running smoothly, and food in the fridge and on the table. Plus I have the pleasure of being here at 3:30 when my teens get home from school, to nod at them briefly as they pass through the kitchen.

I asked my women's centre class today how they reconciled mothering with feminism. I got some interesting answers. The thing that bugged these mothers the most was the lack of public recognition for women's work at home, and also their husband's assumption (and sometimes a mother or mother-in-law's too) that we have it so easy, we have nothing to do all day, since we have time to take classes and do yoga. That it's not seen as 'real' work to be a full-time mother.

I don't know when I stopped being mad at my husband for not being an equal partner in the child and house-care department - probably the same year he started spending his weekends skiing or golfing with two teens, or was it when he decided to pay for a cleaning lady? We do have a traditional set-up, in the sense that he works outside the home, and I work inside it. But my work as a writer and teacher (part-time) has always been valued too. And he knows better than to make snide comments - he knows how demanding it is to be a mom.

It's not the mothering part that I don't value - at least theoretically, I think it's the most important job on the planet - to raise kids to be kind, compassionate, helpful (ok maybe some of the time) human beings. But housework - or keeping a spotless house was never my goal, nor my mother's.

Maybe that's why the Greek goddess I am drawn most to is Hestia - not because I am like her, nor because of images I have of her - there are none - but because she made housework sacred: she kept the home-fires burning. In the days before electricity or coal, that was an all important task if you wanted a hot meal or heat in the house.

She was called Vesta in Rome, where the Vestal Virgins kept the perpetual flame alight, symbol of the heart of the Empire.
Within the home, the hearth was her altar, the fire having been brought in a torch from the bride's mother's residence to light their first household fire, and make a connection to the ancestors. Vesta or Hestia also symbolized the centre of the world and the innermost mysteries - the sacred space within. (Pamela Matthews, Goddess cards)

In order for a house to become a home, Hestia's presence is required. She symbolizes intactness or wholeness, the one-in-herself quality. (Goddesses in Everywoman, Jean Shinoda Bolen).

According to Bolen, taking care of the details of housekeeping is a centering activity for Hestia types, equivalent to meditation. A woman with a Hestia archetype gets a feeling of inner peace from what she is doing, just like a nun in the service of God.

Well, I'd like to call in that archetype, to balance the Artemis in me. Here's to Hestia and housework, and to tomorrow's little ground hog seeing his shadow....




Patti said...

I am in your position, being responsible for all that goes on in the home. This means everyone else can go out into the world, do their thing, then know that they can come home to a peacful, welcoming home. I am not mad about housework either, but I do believe my role is to be "the centre of the world" or in my case family. Our home does have an "intactness" or "wholeness" about it and if I was a working mother, this would be so much harder to achieve. I play a very valuable role and I am luxury not all families can afford.

musemother said...

Thank you for your lovely message Patti. I feel the same way, most days, even if my kids are teens, they seem to need to know I am there, that the house smells good, supper's cooking. My challenge is not to bug them too much with my reminders about this and that. They really want a silent goddess at the hearth....