Saturday, May 26, 2007

Buck Up, Ladies!

I'm pretty steamed about a comment on Amri's post "Part-Time Jobs and Part-Time Daycare." Amri wonders if a part-time job might help her SAHM friend's mild depression, and asks if part-time daycare is really all that bad. Several commenters defend stay-at-home mothering, and offer suggestions on how to alleviate the depression. Then bbell chimes in with some advice he says comes from his wife, who "at one point had a 4-year-old, 20 month old, and a set of newborn twins at home." Here is the advice:

1. Shower, dress and put on makeup. Being slobby is not going to help your mental state
2. get other SAHM friends including non LDS SAHM friends. The non LDS SAHM friends will be guilt free friends who will not see you thru a pressure filled LDS SAHM prism. You will be able to relax a bit in their presence
3. have lots of sex with hubby
4. Make the bed in the morning
5. Clean the house. Do not have a messy house it will kill you mentally
6. Work out. Get a jogging stroller and go every day
7. Get unlimited long distance and call lifelong friends regularly
8. Do not use food to help you feel better. Getting fat will not help you feel better
9. Date night on the weekend
10. New hobbies
11. Buck up
12. Make your husband cook, clean, laundry, dishes etc. at night Never go to bed with a messy house. Its a horrible feeling to wake up to a mess

And now, here is how some women reacted to that advice:

"I believe you, bbell, that these are your wife's suggestions. But somehow, I wish she had commented herself. I don't know why, but it makes me MORE depressed to hear a man tell me that the way to cure my depression is to have lots of sex with my hubby, don't get fat, don't look slobby, and clean the house..."

"buck up is quite possibly the worst advice i've ever heard. ever."

"I don't think bbell's list would help someone who is already depressed. Those items take a lot of energy and ambition. When I had depression, I'd make lists like that too. Then I'd stare at them and cry..."

"That list looks like exactly the thing that creates that guilt-inducing pressure that mormon women suffer from. You will only be happy if you wear makeup every day, your house is clean, you work out, aren't fat, and have a great sex life. I mean, duh, I think every woman wants her life to be like that. But isn't the point that you get bored, depressed, and often overwhelmed? How is adding tasks to the day going to make someone less overwhelmed? How is telling a woman unfulfilled with her life as a SAHM that she would be happy if she were just, you know, skinny and cute and sexy every day, going to help her? yeesh."

When I was a young SAHM, I was given similar advice in the form of a book by Daryl V. Hoole, The Art of Homemaking, published by Deseret Book. A representative piece of advice in this book is the following:

"Not only is your attitude of great importance, but your appearance also plays a vital role in a happy home. One of the most common complaints unhappy husbands have is that their wives have neglected their appearance and slop around the house with uncombed hair and in runover slippers which look like two dead rabbits. If for no other reason than to keep the romance alive in your marriage, it is worth it to put your best self forward. Each morning get up and get completely dressed...And remember, as far as make-up is concerned, Even a barn looks better if it's painted!"

As I was looking for a link to Ms. Hoole's book, I discovered that she had written a new, updated book called The Ultimate Career: The Art of Homemaking for Today. I figured that perhaps her views had changed since she wrote The Art of Homemaking in 1967. Perhaps she had advice which addressed some of the challenges of being a homemaker in today's world. I haven't read the book, but Meridian Magazine provided some quotes from this new and improved version:

"The hope is to have many more good days than bad ones and to experience joy in our daily lives. To bring this about, our best efforts are required; yes to be happy at home is the result of all ambition. Now, while you're waiting for more to come in the months ahead, treat yourself today to a quick lift and some instant satisfaction by doing three simple chores:

First, sweep your front porch or outside entry way. This stops dirt at the door and provides a welcoming experience for family and friends who approach your house.

Second, wash the window over the kitchen sink, if there is one. As you look through a clean, sparkling window the entire world brightens up. If you don't have a window, shine your sink.

Third, pick up and put away, give away or throw away ten pieces of clutter..."

Now, I am sure there are many "feminist Mormon housewives" out there who will tell me that the advice to "buck up" has changed their lives, or that shining that sink can give one a whole new perspective on life. But to me, this type of advice is at best, silly; and at worst extremely damaging to a woman today. To a woman plagued with guilt, boredom, and depression, one need not pile on more inane and worthless chores such as sweeping the front porch or putting on makeup each day for hubby's viewing pleasure.


JohnR said...

I really think that this list did come from bbell's wife, but I also think it's likely that she's channeling his concerns. Either that or she has no clue what severe depression is like.

I really liked Julie Smith's PPD post at T&S, which had this to say:

A note to husbands and others who might be in a position to help: I have two pieces of advice for you (1) do what you can to give mother time away from the baby and (2) do whatever you can to minimize instead of adding to feelings of guilt. You might find it hard to believe that someone home all day couldn’t find time to make the bed. If you have ever been home all day with small child(ren), you know that getting the bed made can sometimes fall somewhere between writing a dissertation and converting the pope on the scale of difficulty.

JohnR said...

O.M.G. She did not say, "Even a barn looks better if it's painted," did she?

Thanks for this post and the link to BCC. I think I've learned a thing or two about my own emotional-health struggles. I am nothing if not a pressure-adding, guilt-inducing machine (mostly on myself, but I think this spills over to the family in the form of heightened expectations).

jana said...

When I was in my darkest days of depression I couldn't even leave the house. I can't imagine how such a list would've helped me because my house was clean and I was wearing nice clothes and makeup and yet I was completely empty inside. I was also having sex with my husband quite frequently. It didn't help one bit. Really. I was also the thinnest I've ever been, too. I stop eating when I am depressed--so the overeating/exercising advice is irrelevant, too.

I still can't exactly say how I got undepressed, but I know for sure that it wasn't about a clean house or better clothes or more sex. It was a combination of having my kids get a little older, some changes in my marriage relationship, some altered goals, and my return to school. Depression still revisits me often, as I expect it always will. It came and settled in about two weeks ago (again) and I found myself in a stupor--unable to garden or blog or find any joy. And as of just yesterday I think I can say that s/he's moved on again--at least for a time.

For me, if things ever get really bad again I am going straight to counseling. I've asked my husband to help me in this regard--to get me there even if I don't think I want/need to go.

Bored in Vernal said...

even a barn...

That's a direct quote from the book, I have it here before me, or I wouldn't have believed it myself.

Here's another one of my faves:
"The living room should be--like Grandmother's memorable parlor--the place where the family's finest in furniture and decorations can be displayed in gleaming perfection and where guests can be entertained in pleasant, uncluttered surroundings. The living room can then be a place where the children enter when they are prepared to behave like little ladies and gentlemen and when they are ready to enjoy special, memory-making occasions."

I don't know about you, but we do most of our living in the living room.

Bored in Vernal said...

Jana, you're right, usually by the time one needs to go see the counselor, one is so deeply into the depression that it's hard to get oneself there--or can no longer see the need for it clearly.

That said, I've never found much real help in counseling. A lot of it is that I've had bad luck in counselors. And, when I've really needed it, I couldn't afford it. And I don't have much faith in what they are trying to do...

long story.

Bored in Vernal said...

The funny thing about this post is that after reading it, 9 out of 10 Mormon women will go outside and sweep off the front porch, even after I have thoroughly made fun of the notion.

Admit it!

Jo said...

Nope bored, not even inclined to sweep my front porch. But I was blessed enough to come to the Church 1. in Calif and 2. as a late teen, so I got to miss all the inculturation. Yay for me.

littlemissattitude said...

Well, my first thought, before I even read bbell's list, was to think that with a 4-year-old, a 20-month-old and newborn twins, he's darn lucky his wife didn't do a Lorena Bobbit on him.

Anyway, it's a funny thing to me that the list has more to do with making the husband's life pleasant...making sure he has an attractive, slim wife and a clean house; lots of sex; that she has "the girls" to talk to so that she won't bother him with her problems. Honestly, the only reason I have to suspect that the list really was from his wife was the last entry...making him help with the cooking and cleaning.

Sorry to be cynical, but while I don't have kids I am familiar with the depession that can come with having to stay home and take care of this case my mother. She doesn't need that much "care", really, but because she has memory issues, she has to have someone around on a constant basis. As much as I love my mother, it can get wearing...and wearying sometimes. And when it does, cleaning the house, getting dressed up, and watching my diet isn't going to change that.

sarah k. said...

I think I've swept the porch 3 times in 6 years. My husband does it, if he wants it done. This is a great post.

My mom had The Art of Homemaking. Maybe that's why her marriage failed? She had so much guilt over the fact that her house was not always sparkling clean, that she wasn't the perfect skinny wife (which she really was), and that no amount of makeup or lack thereof would please the man.

I'm a little more secure than my mom was, but that doesn't make me less frustrated with how overwhelming being a SAHM is.

Anonymous said...

IMHO, if you're depressed, ask yourselves, "what am I unhappy about?" Then try to remove that which makes you unhappy!
1. Too many kids? Use BC or vasectomy.
2.Too many people telling you what you "should" do? Tell 'em where to stick it!
3. Remember: real feminists make their own decisions.
4. Ask for help! It's okay to ask - really.

Not every woman is cut out for being a SAHM. If you're happier, the kids will be happier. They won't die or turn into sociopaths if they're in daycare. You MUST take care of yourselves. No "prophet" or member of the penishood has the right to tell you or anyone what they should do!