New parents face a near-constant barrage of well-meaning clichés and advice. “It all goes so fast,” people will sigh. “They won’t be little forever,” grannies coo. “Treasure every moment,” parents of older children will murmur, conveniently forgetting all those times they had to leave their room to scream into a pillow over their toddler’s refusal to dress in anything other than socks and a Spiderman mask that day.
But at least those comments are well-meaning - there’s one phrase in particular that gets trotted out again and again, and it makes me really cross: “The housework can wait.” Wait for what?!
Recently a friend of mine moved house and was struggling to unpack on her own with a playful four-year-old demanding attention. She mentioned this on Facebook, only to have someone comment: “Awww, huni. She won’t be little forever, go and play with her. The housework can wait.”
No it can’t! All her possessions were in boxes, there wasn’t even anything to play with. And that’s what winds me up about ‘the housework can wait’ – it sounds like a supportive comment, it’s probably meant to be supportive, but actually it’s not.
It’s piling even more pressure on parents, by telling them that if they are doing anything except playing with their child full time then they are failing and probably raising a future sociopath or politician.
And this is crazy. At no time in the history of humanity has it been normal for a parent to spend most of their time playing with their children. Kids tumbled around the cave while their mothers gathered nuts and peeled mammoths. Children played in the fields while their parents scythed corn. Children kept themselves busy while their mothers birthed baby number 10 in the bedroom and their fathers mined coal.
Of course it’s good to spend time playing with your children – my two get so excited when I join in and I try to do it every day. But I refuse to feel guilty because I also spend some time picking up their toys, ironing their clothes, cooking their food.
That is part of the work of childrearing, we parents should be proud to spend time making our homes fit for our children to live in.
Since the housework can’t actually wait, and unless we want our progeny to drown in a sea of shed skin cells and ironing, what is the alternative? Those parents who do bow to this pressure to be constantly available to their children will end up doing all the housework in the evenings, once the little ones are in bed.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I treasure my evenings. After I have cooked for Harry and Olly, fed them, bathed them, warmed their milk, read them a story, read them another story, sung them a song and then spent 20 minutes occasionally hissing: “Go. To. Sleep.” at their doors, I don’t really want to start on the housework.
I want to sink into the sofa with a glass of wine and an episode of 'Game of Thrones'. I want to talk to my husband without stopping every three minutes to retrieve a Hot Wheels car from under the sofa. Sometimes, I even want to go for a run. I want some time off, and I think that’s okay.
If I feel bad for doing housework (or, since I work from home, any work) when my boys are awake then my free time, my me-time, will be swallowed up by jobs. And I don’t think that will make me a better parent, I think that will make me a snappier, short-tempered parent.
Not only that, but I think it is good for children to understand that houses don’t automatically tidy themselves up. Food must be cooked, laundry must be put away, toys must be tidied. By watching my husband and me carry out these jobs they learn about them, and they will understand better what it takes to make a home.
The Best Parenting Slogan
In a sea of parenting clichés, there is one phrase that I cling to. It’s a valuable proverb for any stage of life: “This too shall pass.”
When my boys have high temperatures, or when they fall and bang their heads, or when they fight or shout or behave badly in front of my mother, I count to 10 and remember that it is not for ever – this too shall pass.
And when my beautiful boys throw themselves into my arms to give me a joint hug, or little Olly clutches my cheeks with his hands so he can stare into my eyes and smile, or when Harry picks me a fistful of crumpled daisies to show me he loves me - then the same phrase reminds me that this beautiful age will not last forever and I do treasure it more.
Everything shall pass – except the housework.
What do you think? Does this phrase ever annoy you? How should parents balance the housework around their children? Have your say using the comments