I've been thinking about homemaking, and making a home. About making things homey, feeling at home, turning a house into a home. About whose job it is and who it is for and why we need homes and not just hotels a month at a time. About how I can study and improve here.
I can't stop thinking about that mysterious mixture of things that goes into a good home, or at least into the home I want us to have:
the mixture of relaxed and put together,
welcoming and private,
tidy and lived-in,
classy and modern,
projects that are like work and that like play,
masculine and feminine,
practical and decorative,
old and new,
strength and beauty,
established and evolving,
quiet and conversational,
clean and yet not sterile-feeling,
and so many more things.
Tonight I'm thinking about whose job it is to manage these things. And I believe that the balance of these (sometimes seemingly opposite qualities) is achieved by both man and woman being involved in some way in the house.
The 'homemaker' probably makes us all think of the wife, and it's true that often, historically and in our circles, the woman of the house is responsible for much of this because she is there more hours of the day than her husband. And because most women have an eye for beauty; they enjoy the planning and buying and arranging and decorating and cooking and cleaning that make this place run in a lovely and functional way. If that is where your strengths lie and what your husband would like and what you are able to accomplish with joy, then splendid. And I might envy you your ability to do it all.
(rabbit painting by Terri Rice)
But what if you both work and you aren't home until pretty much supper time just like him? What if he works from home and has fewer demands on his time? What if he came into the relationship with a more complete set of furnishings, dishes, art, and linens? What if you are often so busy with the care of small children that you have no energy to finish the evening meal and do more than swish out the toilet with some bleach, let alone scrub the entire house every day, and who even cares about whether there is a nice looking arrangement on the side table or there is anything hung on that one empty wall in the living room? What if he has an eye for aesthetics that you don't, or what if it just exhausts you and stresses you out, but makes him happy to set things into place and make things attractive and give to you through cooking or doing the dishes every night or cleaning the bathroom or picking up pieces of art he comes across somewhere? Strong believers in gender roles tell us it is 'femmy' or gay for a man to care about the house. We hear (sometimes aloud, sometimes implied) that the woman who lets or asks her husband to do the interior decorating is failing in her job as keeper of the house. A woman who doesn't do 90% of everything in the home (and have it mostly done before her husband gets home from work) feels guilty for not doing her job completely enough. Even the woman who has an 8 to 5 job is often expected to carry a large portion, if not all, of the runnings of the household on her shoulders.
I love beautiful homes. Sometimes I even have ideas on how to go about making an empty wall look better, but usually I have to see something in a magazine or showroom or friend's house to spark my creativity. I love cooking and baking and presenting a meal. At least a couple of times a week I am inspired to do these things and most of the time I receive compliments on my work in the kitchen. I love to clean, and to inhabit a clean, clear space. But I am not perfect in these areas (in fact, I am trying to spur myself on to do a lot better in all of them!), and I am definitely not alone in these things. My husband is very attune to the aesthetics of a room, an outfit, a meal, a wall, a piece of music, a movie or book; and he is not only aware of when they are good or bad and willing to comment (which sometimes makes a detail-oriented person terribly annoying to a spouse trying hard and not being perfect). Fraser can *do* things about his tastes. Often better than I can, or with less hesitation than I do. He is the one who has had (progressively better) ideas for laying out the living room; he is the one who brought home the Renoir print that sits on our dresser; he measured and arranged and hung most of the pictures and mirrors on the walls; he cooks at least as much as I do, and reminds me often that he WANTS to do these things for or with me. And it's wonderful.
I realize that every couple is different, and that my husband is probably (if not almost certainly) more helpful and interested in arranging the living room, or making quiche or braised chicken, or dusting the house on Saturday while the game is on, than most husbands are. Not every man wants to be that involved. Some perhaps seem to not care at all. But I think that they should care, and should be involved with how their home serves its members and those who receive hospitality there, whatever level it may be for him.
Of course, a man who takes over completely the running of the home (whether he tells his wife her work is shoddy, re-does whatever she has thought of whenever she leaves the room, or just overturns her every spoken idea for what could be done in it) is doing his wife an unkindness and a disservice. And a woman who decorates and buys and plans and cooks without any regard for the wishes of her husband is likewise doing it wrong. Theirs will not be a happy home, because it is not a balanced home, and I think it will be obvious that there is an imbalance to those who visit. I've been in a few houses where I wonder HOW on earth a man would ever feel relaxed here because there are SO MANY ruffles and everything is floral and shades of pink and teacups sit on doilies everywhere you look and is there even a place he can set his shoes that won't look silly?
I think marking out our differences and our spheres of work or specialty is sometimes done too strongly, and our partnership and likenesses and friendship and co-ownership in all our things could be lived a little stronger. It is not the woman's domain to the exclusion of the man's comfort, expression, or participation.
God made us humans first, and a man and a woman are more alike (when you think of the whole creation) than they are different. Our roles are going to differ, and our jobs are often going to be very different - especially if there are children or she is home most of the day and he isn't. But we are first and foremost partners, not opposites, and our homes should show that about our persons and our relationship; that we have done this together (even if the collaboration is as simple as running ideas past one another and asking for input) and live here together.