Dobby The House Elf
28th October 2015
This post was originally published in Practical Parenting Magazine, September 2015
You know what explains housework stress? Science. The second law of thermodynamics says that entropy (or disorder) is always increasing. Therefore, toy-clutter will expand to fill the available space. The washing-up will breed. And Mount Washmore on the lounge will always tower. It’s actually ridiculous how much messier life gets once you add kids. One tiny, three-kilo baby can add a shockingly disproportionate amount of chaos to a formerly smooth-running household.
Having kids can be messy for your relationship too. Welcome to tonight’s round of ‘It’s Your Turn’: the fun after-dinner game that the whole family will love!
As parents we become servants to tiny, unreasonable masters, and this takes some getting used to. I remember intense surges of panic in the early days, as I realised ‘there is NO WAY OUT of this’. As I adjusted to motherhood, this feeling passed. That’s because I was absolutely in thrall to my master. Really, motherhood is a little like Stockholm Syndrome.
But the main, overriding and unpredicted shock of new motherhood for me was the housework. I was really excited to become a Mum. But I had not realised that small print in the Motherhood Contract had also locked me into a lifetime of being Dobby The House-Elf. It’s a common story, and it happens easily: one partner is home with the baby while the other is putting in a full day at their job (with the not-insignificant addition of the emotional weight of being ‘provider’ placed upon their shoulders), and also managing a shift of baby-wrangling when they get home. The stay-at-home partner feels like it’s only fair that they manage the lion’s share of housework. Everybody is working their tail off in Newborn Land.
The housework, though: it’s crazy. Breastfeeding women eat like first-grade footballers, babies soil clothes constantly and nappies leave a pungent odour of sickly-sweet poo through the house. Add more children to this mix, and there is just no way of keeping on top of the chaos. It’s like they say: trying to do housework with small children around is like running a blender with the top off.
There’s a real coming-to-terms that had to happen for me when I became Dobby the House Elf. In lots of ways I embraced it, unexpectedly. I found something deeply satisfying and pleasurable in those mundane tasks that were all part of building a foundation of our family life. I remember calling Mum after we moved from our flat into a house when our first baby was five months old. ‘Mum, I’m hanging out the clothes on a HILLS HOIST!’ I told her joyfully. ‘Who are you,’ she said, ‘and what have you done with my daughter?’
It’s tough though. It took some reconciling, that identity shift from single working woman to stay-at-home mum. Domestic life takes negotiating with your partner too, so you don’t end up nursing terrible resentments about your role. (Watch out, kids! Mum’s gonna blow!)
Whether you stay at home or your partner does, whether you work part-time, full-time, or not outside the home at all, it’s crucial to be able to acknowledge that housework takes time, holds real value and can be incredibly stressful, like all jobs. It’s a good conversation to have before the baby arrives. And when I say ‘baby’, I mean the Master of Your New Universe, Maker of Incredible Mess and Evil Smells. Prepare yourselves, my pregnant friends. Housework is coming.