Homemaking: what it means and how to do it better

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Is homemaking old-fashioned and outdated?

Do you picture a woman with a flirty apron and heels, hair neatly bobbed, red lips smiling? Is that a homemaker?

Homemakers have looked like many things in the history of man, and few of them wore heels. In fact, we must remember that those pictures come to us from advertisers trying to sell us something – an ideal. That picture is just as false as the have-it-all-together career-woman-who-can-also-spend-quality-time-with-her-kids image television promotes today.

For a pioneer wife, a homemaker’s duty was weeding and harvesting from the home garden and making little go a long way.

In Jane Austen’s day, a homemaker’s duty was to plan a menu and delegate the cooking and cleaning to a servant girl.

In Katharina Luther’s world, a homemaker was a hostess, a beer-brewer, and a charity-provider.

Harkening all the way back to the ancient homemaker, the Proverbs 31 wife, her activities boil down to caring for the needs of those in her weal: her children, her husband, her servants, her community.

Whatever resources and time we have at our disposal, our function as homemakers is to promote the welfare of our families and our extended connections. The specific tasks, the specific people involved, the tools and the duties change, but the role remains a vital one.

The dictionary defines homemaking this way:

the creation and management of a home, especially as a pleasant place in which to live.

The pioneer wife’s first considering was creating a home where none had existed. The homemaking responsibilities of more established and wealthy times was management, stewardship of what had been handed down.

If we think our times are the only ones that have looked down upon homemaking and homemakers, it’s only because we don’t know history very well.

At the time of the reformation, women weren’t being encouraged to take on paying work (actually, housewives often did sell their work and women of lower class cooked or cleaned or nursed for women with money). Rather, women were encouraged to become fully devoted to God as nuns rather than submit to the drudgery of being a housewife.

Katharina Luther, former nun, knew her work as wife, mother, and hostess was just as much “full time Christian work” (as we might say now) as her life in the convent – perhaps more so. Her husband wrote:

What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and the work flow.
-Martin Luther

A homemaker may or may not be the one washing her sheets, but she is the one ensuring its done. She may or may not be the one washing the dishes, but she is the one who sees to it that there are dishes, that they are clean, and that there is cause for using them (i.e. regular meals).

The nitty-gritty work of making a home has been the work of every housewife of lower class, of pioneer women, of farmers’ wives, and now, of even the middle class, who have not human servants but mechanical.

The duty of the homemaker is to take the resources of the family and distribute them as required to care for the family, to provide comfort and a base of operations for not only her family but also her community.

Think of the March family – they not only made what they had work for their needs, they personally extended charity of food and time to their neighbors in need.

A homemaker’s concern is not simply for her home and those who sleep there. A homemaker’s concern is making a home and extending the joy and provision of that home out to where it is needed.

We truncate the role of homemaker when we limit it to meals, laundry, and vacuuming.

A homemaker is important not because someone has to change diapers and wash dishes, but because someone has to care – it is the homemaker’s job to care.

Sometimes – and most times for us – caring means doing the work. But it doesn’t have to.

And here’s the rub: Doing the work isn’t the same as caring. You can care about and care for the home without being the one to mop. And you can mop the floors and not care about having a clean floor or a happy home.

A homemaker is one who does what it takes with what she has to make a home. She is a manager, running an organization, and that organization is a life-giving home.

The business done in the home is nothing less than the shaping of the bodies and souls of humanity.
–G.K. Chesterton

All that we do shapes others. How we do what we do shapes others. Such is the responsibility and vocation of a homemaker.

Homemaking, as Edith Schaeffer reminds us, is an art. It’s not a set of tasks; it’s a vocation. It is a discipline, but a creative one.

All art involves conscious discipline….One is always having to neglect one thing in order to give precedence to something else. The question is one of priorities.
– Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking

If homemaking is making a home “particularly as a pleasant place in which to live,” then our first duty as homemakers is not to find the perfect schedule for chores but to actually be pleasant.

What will make the home pleasant more than having a cheerfully bustling wife and mother at its core?

Of course the floors should be scrubbed and the sheets washed and the meals prepared – these are outworkings, things to keep our hands busy. But what makes us homemakers is not these tasks, but our hearts.

When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word… if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless, and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean…No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.
– G.K. Chesterton, The Emancipation of Domesticity

Our role is huge because it is not folding laundry (although we do that), but being “everything to someone” – and if we are everything to someone, to many someones, the one who makes and unmakes their world, what a responsibility lies to us – not to keep a rigid checklist of tasks, but in giving sacrificial, joyous love with every task.

I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely, in reality, the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, mines, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr Johnson said, ‘To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour’. (1st to be happy, to prepare for being happy in our own real Home hereafter: 2nd, in the meantime, to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist.
C.S. Lewis in a letter to Mrs. Johnson

Being a homemaker starts not with a menu plan or a cleaning schedule, but with our attitudes. That’s why our attitude is the first thing we have to organize.


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