Feeling Like a Maid Instead
of a Wife & Mom?
by Sheila Wray Gregoire
Ever feel taken for granted? Most moms and wives do at some point.
And that’s why I wrote To Love, Honor and Vacuum. I wanted to help moms who feel unappreciated rethink how they do family so that instead of feeling like a maid, she can feel like part of a healthy family unit that’s all working towards the same goal.
In that vein, I thought I’d share the top 10 things that we wives and moms do that we think are helping when really they can actually make our family situation worse. Be sure to read through to #10, because that’s the most important one–and it’s the root cause of all the other ones.
I asked on my Facebook Page last night, “When do you feel most like a maid instead of a mom?”, and many of these 10 things were mentioned!
Now, of course, you could answer that question with…
“When my husband ignores me” or “when my husband sits on the couch all night and does absolutely nothing”, but I think it’s more helpful to give women strategies they can use to actually change things. We can’t change someone else; we can only change ourselves. So let’s look at the things that we women do to undermine ourselves:
1. Doing all the housework yourself
One woman on Facebook says that she feels most like a maid when she’s doing the dishes–for the fifth time that day. I totally get it! Housework is exhausting. It’s never-ending, it’s tedious, and no one really says thank you. So why are you doing it all yourself?
You cannot keep a perfect home and raise kids who are active and engaged all at the same time. Something’s gotta give. And one of the best ways to help you not feel like a maid is to make sure that from a very young age kids are doing chores, too. Tie the chores to an allowance when they’re young. If it’s a struggle with teens, change the password on the wifi every day, and don’t give it out until they’ve completed their chores. Require your kids to work.
A 3-year-old can dust a coffee table and clean the bottom kitchen cabinets. A 5-year-old often LOVES cleaning toilets with that toilet brush thingy. An 8-year-old can clean a bathroom well and can certainly do the dishes. So don’t do it all yourself.
2. Not asking your husband for help
Many men do very little housework if they work outside the home and you stay at home. My husband always worked long hours, and when he got home, I didn’t want him doing dishes. I wanted us to spend time together as a family. So I didn’t ask him to do housework (though he always picked up his clothes and took care of his own messes). But if you both work outside the home, you’re definitely going to need some help. Even if you do stay at home, you still will need help with childcare (and men need to spend time with their kids) and you’ll certainly need help on weekends.
But too many women don’t ask for help. They assume that the men should know what to do, and if they’re sitting playing a video game or if they’re goofing off, they’ve actually decided not to help you. That may not be the case. I asked on Facebook a while ago how many women had actually asked their husbands for help, and I received story after story of women saying, I stewed for ten years about how insensitive he was, and yet when I finally asked him to do the dishes after dinner, he did them no problem. He just never knew I needed help!
Try asking. It doesn’t always get you the results you need but don’t be resentful if you’ve never even asked. Men often think that because we have systems for things, we would find their help more of a pain than anything else. If you want help, don’t expect him to read your mind. Ask.
3. Allowing your children to treat you rudely
From an early age, make your children say “please” and “thank you”. If they talk back, discipline them immediately. If they ask for anything rudely, they never, ever get it. Do not let them treat you with disrespect.
When my oldest was five, another five-year-old once stayed with us for a week. That little girl whined all the time. It was her default setting–and I can’t stand whining. So I stopped giving her anything if she was whining. “Can I have some mi-i-i-lk?” she’d whine. And I would say, “When you can ask in a proper voice.” After three days she had stopped whining. I honestly don’t know how her parents stood it. It would have driven me beyond the bend if my kid talked like that all the time. Within a few seconds of her mom walking in the door, though, the whining had started again. Don’t ever reward whining or rude behavior, or they’ll just keep doing it.
4. Picking up after everybody
Do you spend your life putting stray socks in the hamper and picking up toys? That’s exhausting–and can easily fuel resentment.
But people will keep leaving stuff everywhere if you keep picking it up.
If your ten-year-old comes in the house and drops his coat on the chair and his backpack–with his lunchbox inside–on the floor, and you pick those things up and clean out his lunchbox, you’ve taught him to treat you with disrespect. But not just that–you’ve also taught him to ignore the mess he’s making so that he likely doesn’t even realize that he’s inconveniencing you.
Don’t pick up people’s stuff. Require them to pick it up–and have consequences if they don’t. For husbands, have a corner of the bedroom/house where you can put stray items if they drive you nuts, so that they can be his responsibility again.
5. Rescuing everybody
You’re running late, you’ve got to get to work, and you get a text that your 13-year-old forgot his lunch at home. So you drive back to get the lunch and drop it off, making yourself even more frazzled. Or you mentioned to your husband that he really needed to send that birthday card to his mom, and he didn’t, and you notice it on the counter the morning after it should have been sent, so you run to the post office and send it express. You had to squeeze it in between appointments, but you did it–and you were only mildly late for the kids’ piano lessons.
Do you rescue everybody? There’s no problem with doing it occasionally, out of love. But if family members start assuming you’ll rescue them, they also stop taking responsibility or even making an effort. They’ve taken you for granted. That’s going to make you feel like a maid, too.
6. Overscheduling yourself and your family
If you’re busy and exhausted, you’ll feel like a maid. If your life is spent chauffeuring everybody, but rarely in the things that feed your soul, like downtime with those you love, you’ll go through life with this chronic malaise like something’s wrong.
Beware of over-scheduling your family.
7. Being disorganized
Are you the kind of laid-back person who goes along life just fine for about five days, letting the messes get worse and worse, but having fun with your kids, until you finally realize OH MY GOODNESS THIS PLACE IS A PIGSTY and you go ballistic? And then you feel like you need to spend twelve hours in a row cleaning?
Sometimes the best way to feel less like a maid is to get a little more organized, so these crises don’t happen!
8. Asking your children to do things instead of expecting it and following through
When you ask your kids something, do you make it a firm command? Or are you wishy-washy?
Johnny, it’s getting to be time to clean up your toys, okay? It’s almost time for dinner.
Johnny, start cleaning up your toys now. You have five minutes before we eat, and I’m setting the timer now.
In the first case, you haven’t actually asked Johnny to do anything. You’ve just made a statement about the time. You may feel like you’ve asked him, but you haven’t. And so he’s unlikely to listen and do anything, and you’re likely to get your blood pressure boiling! If you want them to do something, make it very clear. Ask firmly. Set a deadline. Expect follow-through.
9. Eating in a rush–and not at the dinner table
You’ve spent an hour making a great meal, but everybody sits at the table, rushing through it, with their phones on. Or else someone grabs it and heads to their room. Perhaps you all sit at the table, but the kids are whiny and picky and don’t like it and the meal is over in five minutes.
Make dinner a family time. Keep conversation starters at the table. Ask trivia questions. Have everyone say their “high” and “low” for the day. Start some family traditions where you really connect and talk over dinner. It’s an important family time–don’t waste it.
10. Thinking that the goal is to make your family happy
Finally, here’s the most important one: You think that your job is to make sure your kids and your husband are happy. In fact, that’s likely why you do each of the nine things already mentioned. You want them to enjoy life. You want them to smile. You want to avoid unpleasantness. But in doing this, you’re likely inadvertently causing your own unhappiness, because you’ll feel taken for granted. But even more importantly, you’re missing the point.
God’s priority is not that your kids are happy; it’s that they look like Jesus. And He wants that for you and your husband, too. If you set up your family in such a way that you’re enabling selfishness, laziness, and ingratitude, you’ll be miserable because you’ll always feel put upon, taken for granted, and like something’s off-kilter. But the rest of the family will also not learn what it is to look like Christ.
That’s what To Love, Honor and Vacuum is about–it’s to change our perspective so that in everything we do, whether it’s housework or childcare or paid work or even how we do marriage, we’re encouraging Christlike behavior from ourselves and those around us, rather than encouraging people to take us for granted. It’s amazing how the way that we do the little things in our home, like chores, dinner, and school, can have such spiritual ramifications.
So be careful that happiness doesn’t become your goal. If it does, you’ll almost guarantee that everybody will be miserable. Raise a family to be responsible, though, and you’ll likely find that peace and joy you really want.
Sheila Wray Gregoire is a Christian author of 7 books and a frequent speaker to women’s groups and marriage conferences. She also writes a syndicated parenting column and speaks to women’s groups around North America. Read her marriage and parenting thoughts daily at her popular blog, To Love, Honor, and Vacuum! Follow her on Facebook or check out her webpage to see where she’s speaking next!