Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Invisible Hand Does Laundry


My mom was a helicopter pilot and an artist. What did she do with her free time? Laundry. I never saw her fly and she used her artistic skills to help her kids with school projects. However, doing the laundry and cooking permitted her to do what was most important to her, hang with her kids.

As a teenager I thought, “Why on earth would I want to spend the rest of my life cleaning up after people? There has to be a better way” About the same time in high school economics I learned about the invisible hand. Society functions at its best when every one specializes in what they’re good at, and then engages in trade. Why can’t I, as a mother, do the same?

I do not cook, I do not clean, I do not scrap book, I do not bake, I am a terrible homemaker. I can rip it on a snowboard, I can negotiate, I manage finances, I know how to get a job easily and help others to do the same and I can sell software. It seems counter productive for my plan in life to be a traditional ‘homemaker’


So why not apply Adam Smith’s economic philosophy to motherhood? Why can’t mothers make money doing what we’re skilled at and then pay others to do what we're not skilled at doing (i.e. laundry)? According to Adam Smith our economy as a whole will benefit. It makes sense, if you sell your crafts on eBay, decide to become a photographer, or practice law, then use that money to employ another to clean your house; you’ve just given someone a job- and created a positive impact on our economy.

It was hard for my mom to give up her life of art and flying to watch Sesame Street and do laundry. I benefited from having a stay at home mom, not because she cleaned the house, but because she was there to listen to me.
In addition, a very good friend of mine’s mom is a doctor, and a single mother. She’d go to work and pick up dinner on the way home; she hired a cleaning lady, so that when she was home her kids got her time and attention. All of her children turned out great- they went to college at Columbia, UCLA and BYU. They became very successful individuals, and kind people. They were in no way impacted because their mother wasn’t the stereotypical ‘homemaker’, because she took time to listen to and talk to her kids. (Side note, this woman has also given a great deal of time and energy to humanitarian efforts in 3rd world countries, and sits on the LDS church’s medical board)


If you like to iron, clean and cook- I applaud you. I know there are thousands of women who have chosen to stay at home and do chores they hate in order to be there for their children, which I admire greatly. I'm not that strong- I'd go nuts. With telecommuting, is it still required that to be at home with your kids means you must do housework? Is there a reason why the invisible hand can’t apply to motherhood, and each of us can find a way to specialise in what we do best? Can we be stay at home mothers, but still working moms? As I am not a mother, I don’t know I that I’m the most qualified person to write on this topic- but as a woman, hoping to be a mother- I very much hope that being a good mother has nothing to do with the laundry.

13 comments:

Miss Hass said...

Amen! I hope it doesn't hang on my ability to clean a toilet either.

crazy4danes said...

Beautiful post! I always admired Lori's mom for being the woman she is...and now I admire my own mom...she's singel...teaches piano 4 hours everyday...is in the relief society...donates her time to the assisted living home 3days a week...and still is always there to help me out and I'm 30!, not to mention my 4 other brothers. Being a mom lasts until we die and I think that the invisible hand is a great thing. We have to feel good about what we are doing and as long as our children still feel our love and learn by our example...then hire the maid...and have the cleaners do the laundry! It's not about what we do but how we do it as women that will leave the everlasing imprint on our children. Again...love this post!

ChelMo said...

Interesting thoughts. I've grappled with this same topic for YEARS, and here I am, a stay-at-home mother.*

I think that the real key here is spending time with your kids. I honestly don't think that it has anything to do with cleaning and laundry, though they are necessary evils for survival in the modern world.** I guess the idea is that when kids are taking naps/watching a movie/playing with friends/at school, the person at home with the kids has free time. Heaven forbid that this time is spent, say, reading, exercising, or [gasp!] sleeping. Nope. Laundry. Dinner timed to be done right as husband walks through the door. Scrubbing floors and toilets on hands and knees. And all this for ZERO income. Yikes.

According to an article from Time that I was reading yesterday, women spend an average of an hour (??) per day less at leisure activities than men. And that's INCLUDING young and single women, homemakers, and retirees. And for some reason men still think that we don't do enough.

I say hire someone to clean. It sounds like you'd make more with a side business (another economic principle: opportunity cost!).

*I'm also a full-time student and am starting to research for a one-day novel.

**As Mark Twain once said: "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society."

f*bomb. said...

Whatever, Chelmo. I'm naked most of the time, and I am VERY influential.

Personally, I think this view of "homemaking" gets skewed. There is merit to working hard on something of your own that gives you pride and a sense of accomplishment. As a kid, I loved mowing the lawn, pushing the mower that was 3 times my size and harder for most of the boys to even bother doing. But I saw the pride my grandfather took that I was willing to spend my afternoon helping his lawn. I loved the successful beads of sweat pouring down the sides of my face to tell me that I was really working hard. I love coming home to my clean house and knowing that when I reach for the platter I want, it will be there for me, clean and in the place that I left it. I love that my home reflects where I've been, what I've done, and the people I've met. And when I have a family, I look forward to teaching them how to do dishes and fold laundry "the right way," and spending that time arranging OUR house together- as a family.

We don't need movies and theme parks to create quality time together. We have a plethora of activities that will result in a happier home, full of evidence that we've worked hard on a common goal: creating a home we're proud to be in.

Kimberly McEvoy said...

I really like what fbomb said. I am a stay at home mom. I have a bachelors degree. I do have skills other then laundry and cleaning. I see the point in hiring a maid, sendign out the laundry. But really what did the apostle mean when he said every mom should be a stay at home mom (granted there are all sorts of exceptions) he didnt mean if you have a marketable skill you are excluded. that said I think women, Mothers sadly loose themselves, loose their personal time, their hour more of personal time. Yet isn't that the definition of mother, women, We nurture others, We don't need 3 hours of football to relax from 8 hours of work.

I am not just arguing this point b/c it is what i am. In dental school My husband and I had a very spiritual experience with this topic. we both know no job int the world no matter the pay or outlet it brings me is better then me being at home with the kids.

That said I really feel deprived. My goal is to spend one afternoon strictly indulging in MY hobbies, and I want to always be reading a good book.

It is too easy for mothers to get lost in the house and family. It is not a problem with the position. Just a mothers nature.

I think it is sad when women put their needs for career, power, outlets ahead of their kids and their family. There is( as always) a needed healthy balance. I have seen my brothers life and his temple marriage ruined by such a wife. She 'hobbied' her self out of being a mom, out of his bed and into anothers.
she took her nights out with the ladies every night. She is a perfect example of selfishness gone too far. And now her 8 and 5 year old kids dont have a mom. Sorry to drag on, seeing Dan in real Life just opened wounds.

to sum up. The best place for a mom is in the home. if that means she hires a maid, and spends 2 days
being her and not mom. If it works for the family it's perfect!

Salt H2O said...

Crazy: Your mom is awesome. I felt lucky to grow up in a communtity full of such wonderful women.

Chelmo: That's interesting about the liesure time. I've also read articles that have said in dual income homes, the woman ends up doing the majority of the housework any how.

Farrah: Have you ever played with a wood chipper? It's my new favorite outside toy. I liked the emphasis on 'together'. I'd much rather mow the lawn than vacuum the house.

Salt H2O said...

Kim-
I'm sorry to hear about your brother. It's really unfortunate he and his kids have to go through this- it happens a lot more frequently than we think (it's happened to a friend of ours, TWICE) I'm inclined to believe it's due to the character of his wife, not because she pursued interests outside the home.

It's true, the apostles of the church have said that the ideal place for the mother to be is in the home. But it is not church doctrine that women have to clean. There are other options out there.

How depressing (not to mention oppressing) it would be if the LDS church told men to pursue any career they like, but told women they were doomed to a life of cooking, cleaning and scrapbooking.

Right now I'm knee deep in Mormon culture, and for some reason the women here think that being a good mom means a life of total self sacrifice, hiding their talents under a load of laundry. I'm not surprised that year after year, Utah continues to end up as the most depressed state in the union.

Not only that, the biggest meth useres in Utah are mothers. To be honest, if I believed that to be a good mother I had to cook and clean, I'd be on meds too.

I'm saying that there can be the balance- we can be stay at home moms but use our talents. I think happy mothers working from home are better than depressed mothers that keep a spotless house.

I'm glad you've found what works for you and your family. There is no one right way to be a mom.

Vanilla Vice said...

I have a friend who is getting divorced because she was both the husband and wife - breadwinner and still in charge of a lot of the domestic responsibilities, and the load became too much to bear. Which I believe you just brought up in the comment, and anti depressants are definitely a help...

This is interesting as I chatted with a friend last night about this topic from the male perspective. If a man is 31, has a JD, PhD, etc. advanced degree, and thinks he's better at something else, does he pursue a different career path, most likely "one that makes him happy" (probably in the arts)? A woman is assumed to drop her career path for one that makes less money and sacrifice for the family to help the kids, a man should sacrifice his happiness for the good of the family as well. That was my argument. I don't know if this helps. My point is that you do what you have to do that works for the greater good of your family that will keep them closer to the gospel, obedient to it's principles, and love one another. Period. If it means self sacrifice, so be it. If it means you can work and hire maids, awesome.

crazy4danes said...

Women sacrafice enough having kids, sacrificing your mind, and talents, is where I draw the line. I think there is balance in all things, (including being a mom) and I think that forcing all your time and energy into being a stay at home mom can be detremental (for some). It has been for me, it's depressing not to use my mind and social skills outside the home. I feel I would make a better mom if I was happier about myself and what I was accomplishing. I am going back to work in February....NOT for the money, but for my sanity! Balance...I'm not saying that moms should put all their times and energies outside the home either, but I think that balance is good. There is nothing wrong with our children (especially daughters) seeing their mothers get their degrees and then use them, and still have time to give to their families. What a great example! And I don't think it's being selfesh at all. I have done both, worked and not worked, and I don't feel less of a mom, or more selfesh when I work. There are plenty of woman out there (lds and non) that have great buisnesses and jobs that are still wonderful moms, and that to me is the ultimate mom!

cropstar5 said...

I believe “homemaking” has nothing to do with cooking or cleaning. Homemaking has everything to do with creating a safe, nurturing, fulfilling environment for everyone in that home- wife, husband and children. That’s not to say that having a clean home and food on the table aren’t very important. The means to those ends are up to the individuals concerned and shouldn't be dictated by traditional Utah Mormon culture. There just isn’t a right or a wrong way to getting the job done. Doing it yourself or having someone else do it for you... it's all good as long as it gets done.
Also, salt h20… you “can rip it on a snowboard”??? This may sound a crazy because I know you’re married and I’m not into girls but, I think I just fell in love with you! Can we be boarding friends?

Salt H2O said...

Crazy- I think LDS women as a whole get in a trap of thinking there is one right way we should be living our lives. We tend to compare ourselves to others, frequently. Every individual is so different, and every family is different- it'd be tragic to think that there is one way to be a good mother.

Crop- I need of a boarding buddy! When I was single I always went up with guys, kind of don't have that option any more.

I'm serious, come to Utah, give me a call- we'll hit the slopes.

Vanilla Vice said...

I snowboard too! Don't leave me out of this one! 10 years and counting...

Salt H2O said...

Done and Done- Vice you've always got a boarding friend in Utah.