Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

It’s a Chore

I don’t mind most housework, mostly because I don’t DO housework.  Not to the degree that my mom used to do.

Jean maintained a rigid schedule. Dishes done after EVERY meal. Beds made EVERY morning. Friday nights the main floor vacuumed and dusted. Saturday was laundry-day and upstairs clean-up, including the bathroom. (Don’t forget, this is before we had dish-washers and automatic clothes washers and dryers.) The rest of the weekend was devoted to baking, ironing, sewing, knitting, mending… and maybe a trip to the shops. I don’t know how she did it. She worked full-time during the week as an office administrator at the high-school. During certain times of the year, such as when report cards were due out, she’d bring work home. And still she managed to keep the house in top shape.

As soon as we were able, mom enlisted we three kids as her helpers. It bugged the hell out of me that my brothers didn’t have to help with the chores on the weekend. They got to play while I was conscripted. A housewife-in-training. 

We put up the usual whining resistance, if not outright defiance. I remember terrible arguments when I was a teen. I hadn’t made my bed, for example. She insisted that I make it, even though it was an hour before bedtime.

As a young adult, I recall feeling critical of her when she planned to re-paper the dining room walls during her two-week summer vacation. But on reflection, what was she going to do with her time? Dad would not take her anywhere, even if they could afford a trip.

She must have been driven by a need for order. And control, for surely the unmade bed argument was more about obedience than it was about housekeeping. After all, Jean was a target of the 1950’s and 60’s ad campaigns. You know, the kind that outwardly and covertly suggest that you are less than scum if there is scum on the counter tops or ring-around-the collar. Mom read magazines like Red Book and Family Circle for recipes and guidance. Even her cookbook had handy household tips written with just a hint of disdain. Though maybe the contempt is mine.

Here’s something, though, that sets my mom apart from other women of her day.  Jean was the eldest of 9 or 10 siblings. (I lose count because one brother was written out of the family history for having developmental delays.) Her father died when Jean was a girl. Her brother was killed in the second world war – that would be sometime in the early 1940’s when Mom was in her teens. Then her mother was hospitalized with schizophrenia or an equivalent mental illness. Mom was now in charge of seven younger children. She was sixteen.

I think that explains plenty, don’t you?

And I think it also explains why, if left up to me, the bedrooms would be messy. However, thanks to the Jean gene, during stressful times, before I can do anything else, I fluff the pillows, clear the counter-tops, and make the bed.


Categories: Daily Post, Mom and Dad

Tags: , ,

14 replies

  1. Reminds me of my Mom. And like yours, being of the traditional mindset, boys weren’t expected to take part in household chores. This made life harder for her as there were no girls in the family, only three boys. I remember one day after lunch when I must have been around 10 and she started doing the dishes right after lunch. I asked her she needed any help and she responded telling me that dishwashing was a girls job. If she had had a daughter she would have help but she didn’t expect the boys to help out. I felt a bit rejected that she didn’t accept my offer and never asked again.


    • Those mindsets, aren’t they amazing to consider? I appreciate you telling me about your experience as a boy, and the rejection that you felt. That’s a little sad to think about. When mothers decline offers of help, it not only reinforces the concept of women’s work/men’s work, it manages to alienate children too!


  2. Those 50s and 60s ideologies have a lot to answer for. I’m really glad I wasn’t a married woman in that era.



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