Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Slaying my Protestant Work Ethic: Or the Time I Hired a Housekeeper

A week ago I heard one of those "game-changer" sermons. It was on simplicity and cultivating a life that "fits" ("Simplicity: The Elegant Life" Steve DeNeff). Simplicity in life is not about whittling down my to-do list until there's nothing left; rather it is about cultivating a well-integrated, sustainable life. This was a timely word.

Up until this point, John and I had been operating in crisis mode, looking for shots-in-the-arm, quick-fix, silver-bullet type solutions to the sleep problems in our house. We were exploring options like hiring a babysitter to spend the night and help soothe Sam back to sleep. And while something like this might be momentarily rest-filled for John and me, it didn't result in any kind of sustainable rest. A full-night's sleep might feel good for 18 hours or so, but the next night we would be right back where we started.

Pastor Steve's sermon prompted me to explore ways of incorporating sustainable rest in our house. So I made a list. I'm a list person. I listed out all of the things I'm currently doing each day to see if I could find some sustainable rest amidst my daily activities. Surely there were things I could do, people I could hire, activities I could streamline to make my life more integrated and restful. Here's a peek at my list of "big" things I do.

Care for two kids
Write a dissertation
Spend time with my husband
Clean the house

I then took my list and asked myself whether or not there were things I could hire out. Here were my thoughts on these tasks:

Care for two kids: This is one of my favorite things. And truth be told, I actually like being the one to get up with Sam at 2 am. If he's having a rough time I want to be there. I currently have a wonderful babysitter that comes so I can work and I'm not sure I want to add more babysitting hours at this time. Which leads me to the next thing I do: dissertate.

Write a dissertation: Hmmm, I probably can't farm this out. And please don't hate me, but I really, really like writing. Things may change, but at this point working on my dissertation is a source of joy for me. I did, however realize I could hire someone to transcribe my interviews. I can buy six hours of my time by hiring someone to type (thanks, Ethan). And voila--more space to sleep/rest during my day

Cook: Days when I have the time and energy I like to cook. There are days, however, where this is an effort. And I often feel guilty when I pull out of a frozen box of chicken nuggets. So I'm going to compromise. Tomorrow when I'm in Indy for an appointment I'll swing by Trader Joes and Whole Foods and stock up on a few freezer meals I can pull out in a pinch that won't reek havoc on my guilt complex.

Spend time with my husband: John has been my sanity. My partner. My bud. Time alone with John rejuvenates me. So we've brought back the weekly date night. And we've found an amazing, talented babysitter who has the patience to sit with Sam for two hours if he's having a rough time falling asleep. Having one night a week when we don't have to put kids to bed is an indulgence. And it's worth it.

Clean the house: Here's the biggie. I value a clean house. I really, really value a clean house--especially now that I know every speck of dust makes things tougher for Sam. But I've come to the conclusion that I don't have to be the one doing the cleaning (John's very convenient but very severe allergy to dust means this is one of the tasks we can't go 50/50 on). So I bought a one month subscription to and found a housekeeper--someone to come twice a month while we're in this sleepless season. Because if I have to choose between cleaning the bathroom for half an hour or squeezing in a power nap I'm going to choose the power nap. Because the power nap will give me what I need to care for kids, dissertate, etc.

Are you catching my defensiveness? Are you seeing all of my justifications? Did you notice how long it took me in this post to admit that I've hired a housekeeper? I have my Protestant Work Ethic to thank for that. I have hired a housekeeper. There. I've said it. I now pay someone to clean my bathtub. At least for this season of life.  Ooooh, there are my disclaimers again!

You may notice how often the word "hire" or "bought" was mentioned in this post. The changes we're making cost money. And we're at peace with that. A year ago John and I read The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family and have come to the conclusion that our current family battle cry is "Health!" This is our top priority. More than buying a second car. More than purchasing a new kitchen table. More than buying sod for the backyard. It's worth it to us to invest our money in practices of sustainable rest. And so far it feels like money well spent. 

I cannot buy sleep, but I can buy rest. And so far it's feeling good!


Elizabeth Glass-Turner said...

It makes great sense! I have thought a lot about The Era In Which Everyone Had a Housekeeper or a Daily Woman (in English village parlance).

I started thinking about it more when I read Agatha Christie's autobiography. Early in her life, when she was just beginning to write, she cut budget items elsewhere to ensure she had a nanny and a cook.

Somewhere between 1925 and 2000 things changed - for the worse, in my opinion.

Thanks for the book recommendation!

Mandy said...

you are one smart momma. i "re-found" your blog last night and read up on little sam's sleeping issues. it struck a cord with me and i spent some time praying for you all.

Anonymous said...

Ah justification... The love child conceived by the interminglings of guilt and feelings of inadequacy.
Well good for you I say! No justifications needed for trying to spend more quality time with your two very young children and your husband. Save all of those justifications for something better. I like to use mine for fun and frivilous things like Sarbucks and getting the occasional pedicure. You are a great mom and your kids and husband deserve your best. If having a housekeeper allows for that then who cares! It doesn't make you a lazy person, it makes you one highly discerning mother who knows how to prioritize. If bosses have secretaries, then mothers need sitters and cleaners. It makes us more efficient and productive.
Now- if you will excuse me, I need to go get some Starbucks. After all, I DID do 5 loads of laundry today which was VERY tiring. I just hope I can lift my arms to drink it.

- Liz

The Rupps said...

Girl, if you lived virtually ANYWHERE outside of the western world, you would have had a housekeeper from the moment you tied the knot. It is considered selfish, in fact, for a person with means not to give a lesser fortunate person a good job in a kind home.

What I am saying is, I have a housekeeper. Granted, I pay her the equivalent of $1.50 an hour (very good pay for her), but still, I am convinced that America should adopt this practice. Less unemployment, and less mothers running around with half a clean house and half a relationship with their husband and half-nurtured kids and one foot in the asylum.

So what I am really saying is GOOD, GOOD, VERY GOOD DECISION.


Amanda said...

Thanks, Kayla. I actually read your post on this a few weeks ago and it made me feel better. :)

I still need your snail mail address...I have a few goodies just sitting on my bookshelf.

Sarah Sanderson said...

I love your writing Mandy! Thanks for your honesty and realness - it's inspiring!

Jessicah Duckworth said...

Amen, amen, amen. We have an au pair because we've used a similar rationale, Mandy. And to support what Kayla wrote, Chris likes to share his experience living with a middle class family in Chile who hired a housekeeper. Chris asked them why they had a housekeeper. They responded, "why wouldn't we? We have money. And people need to work." This family saw hiring someone to help them not as a matter of passing off responsibility but as a matter of stewardship -- of providing LIFE for someone else's family. I think your discernment indicates the faithfulness of your stewardship practices too -- LIFE for you and LIFE for someone else. Lots of love!