I have a microwave, a dishwasher, a garbage disposal, and an automatic ice maker in my kitchen. I have multiple PC’s wirelessly networked to store my to do lists, grocery lists, recipes and calendars. I have an automatic washer and dryer and a Kirby vacuum cleaner with HEPA filters. I have a van to help me cart my children around. When my grandmother was raising her three kids, she didn’t have any of these wonderful conveniences. So many wonders have been invented to make a homemaker’s life easier.
Why does it feel so much harder?
I look back at pictures, movies, TV shows from the 1950’s, and things look so rosy – even in black and white. Donna Reed’s house was so clean; June Cleaver’s kids were so polite and well-behaved. The families look so calm and content and healthy. Even when I talk to my parents and their friends, the memories they share with me are of spotless homes, delicious 3-course dinners every night, moms in starched dresses and pearls, dads working 40-hour weeks.
If I get the house dusted before a party, I feel pretty productive.
You’d think with all the time-saving inventions we have today, my house would be immaculate, I’d be dishing gourmet cuisine, dressed in evening gowns while my husband served up martinis at 4:30. What’s going on?
Well, for one thing, we’ve got so much more stuff to deal with. My grandparents had one small closet that held all their clothes for both of them. My husband and I have a walk-in closet bursting at the seams. It takes me days to get through all the laundry.
For another thing, the expectations are so much higher for parents these days. In the 50’s, parents could just toss the kids outside and let them play stickball in the vacant lot. Our kids are supposed to be reading, writing and doing math in kindergarten. We have to give them structure, get them in French lessons, hire tutors and read to them constantly. They have summer homework. Plus, we cannot just send our kids out to play without every other parent in the neighborhood wondering why on earth we’re not supervising our children and keeping them safe from the child molesters and myriad other dangers that lurk beyond the safety of our homes.
And you know what? I have a feeling that things weren’t quite as idyllic in the old days as many people try to make us think. When my parents, in-laws and their friends aren’t consciously trying to compare today’s world unfavorably to the world of the 50’s, they often remember things a little differently: mothers knocked around by drunken fathers, children belittled by chauvinistic fathers and demanding mothers. And so many of the people who grew up in the 50’s are now overweight and diabetic, I can’t help but think that all those 3-course meals finally caught up with them.
So I’ll try to give myself a break when I let my son watch two full hours of cartoons during my daughter’s nap so that I can get some laundry done. And if we have to order pizza for dinner because I’m too tired to cook after work, I’ll have to forgive myself. I’m just no Donna Reed. These days, who is?