Less Martha, More Matisse

Do you ever feel as if you have to be like Martha Stewart in order to be a good mom?

A post written by Defining Motherhood has got me thinking about this question. In Opting Out of Martha Motherhood, the blogger writes about how, somehow along the way, great housekeeping skills have become synonymous with great mothering ability. The quintessentially excellent mother, or a “supermom,” is someone who’s on top of everything, like Carrie:

“…even among her cohort of devoted supermoms, [Carrie] was a standout.  She cooked healthful meals and concocted clever art projects, arranged play dates and drove to lessons, hosted creative birthday parties and planned inspired family vacations.  She decorated her home for every holiday.  She oversaw a large yet tastefully cozy house renovation.  She did a turn in all the top parent leadership positions at her daughters’ prestigious preschool.  And she made sure no grandparent went a year without an updated album of family photos…”  [“The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In” — New York Times magazine]

As Defining Motherhood points out, it’s absurd to imagine judging a career woman’s ability to do her job by how organized/creative/clean her office is and whether her lunch is gourmet. So, when and how did it become appropriate to use “Martha” measuring sticks for moms, all of whom come so differently?

Photo: mikeduran.com
Photo: mikeduran.com

I struggle with this because I’m really bad at cleaning and decorating. Because I’m at home all day, I feel as if I should be good at those things. Sure, I keep the house moderately tidy, but I’ve never cleaned an oven in my whole life, I never vacuum behind furniture unless I have to move it, and I have no idea how to clean windows. As for decorating, there are times when I walk into friends’ homes and feel despair at the sight of their gorgeous paint colours, matching artwork, accent pillows, and decorative vases. Their homes have cohesive style, whereas mine is a mishmash of university leftovers and garage sale finds. When I think of doing something about it, I become paralyzed with doubt and not knowing where to start.

By contrast, my passion is cooking and everything related to it, from meal planning and sourcing local food to baking artisanal bread and preserving. The irony is that some moms might consider that to be very Martha Stewart, and intimidating, but just as interior decorating is someone else’s strength, cooking meals happens to be mine. I’m realizing that it’s absurd to expect a “good” mom to be good at everything she does because that’s simply not human, nor does it have anything to do with mothering ability.

Defining Motherhood’s post, and the original New York Times article that inspired her post, have inspired me. They give me the freedom to accept my individual abilities and shortcomings for what they are. I’m not going to feel guilty anymore about my house not looking like a spread from Better Homes and Gardens. So what if there’s no headboard on my bed and all our dressers are mismatched? So what if I’ve never printed and framed any family pictures for our walls? So what if I don’t have a good system for sorting hats and mitts? So what if my toilets get nasty before they’re noticed? So what if all my zucchini plants rotted because I over-watered them?  So what if I dislike Pinterest because it only makes me feel awful about my home and all the projects I’ll never do?

From now on, I’m giving myself permission to be the woman I am, instead of striving to be a perfect Martha mom. I’m going to push back against the expectation that a stay-at-home mom should have a spotless, tastefully decorated house just because she’s at home all day. I’d rather my kids see me writing, creating, dreaming, singing, playing violin, and exercising than decorating, cleaning, and organizing. I’m not saying those things are wrong, but they don’t fit ME and how I see myself. On a practical level, this means I won’t be painting the stairwell or the kids’ room, as I’ve been intending all summer … because I don’t want to. What a relief!

Photo: webgrrls.com
Photo: webgrrls.com

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6 thoughts on “Less Martha, More Matisse

  1. Catherine and I will paint if you watch our babies!! Anything you want – murals included. I can draw a pretty mean Thomas 😉

  2. My favourite line is “it’s absurd to imagine judging a career woman’s ability to do her job by how organized/creative/clean her office is and whether her lunch is gourmet.” That actually makes me feel better. I know I am a fab teacher, but my classroom is a bit over-cluttered with crazy projects and math manipulatives. That and making lunches sucks. I know that nobody judges me on that.

    Why doesn’t that ring true for moms? Le sigh. Not only are we judged on our “homemaking” skills, but also scrutinized by the mothering choices we make (You breastfed your son until he was 2.5??!?!!). Moms are the worst. “Mean girls” grow up?

    I love decorating my house – little by little. Although virtually all of our furniture is ikea, and we can’t have anything remotely valuable our with our toddler, I love finding fun prints and chalkboarding and playing with colour. I have found a new-found love for landscaping. I also love to craft and do epic projects and make secret presents for friends. I think I’ll be all over homemade birthday parties when Eli is old enough to care. I also am a bit pinterest obsessed (Some fun ideas, and it is a goldmine for teaching ideas).

    On the other hand… I loathe cooking. Rob does most of the cooking here. I can make up a weekly menu plan and go grocery shopping, but that is about it. I just don’t enjoy it. I started cooking dinners when I was on mat leave because I felt I should, since I had more “time”, but I’d rather make art on paper or with music instead of in the kitchen.

    Our house is also a disaster zone most of the time. I’m really good at throwing things behind closed doors when people come over. Baby wipes make quick toilet cleaners if you are in a pinch. I also usually rewash laundry 3x times because I forget to take it out before it starts to smell. In this house, I have never vacuumed, cleaned baseboards or dusted ceiling fans. My kid eats just as many dust bunnies as he does fallen 4-day-old cheerios.

    Be the woman you are – don’t strive for something because the media/bloggers/other moms/your mom/people without kids or Martha tells you to! (besides, Martha was in prison.)

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