Sunday, February 8, 2009

Lesson 1-7 "Homemaking"

We try our darnedest around here to not be critical, to find ways to be constructive with the materials we've been given....but, seriously?

Oh this lesson. This lesson.

[Bangs head on desk. Thud. Thud. Thud]

I think when we all get together and express our most fervent wishes that the manual would be revamped, this is the lesson we think of. Unfortunately the only thing that the new resource guide adds to it is Sister Beck's controversial "Mother's Who Know" talk.

I have issues with this one from the silly little "Surprise! Fooled you into thinking Homemaking was a real job!" opening exercise, to the twee little stories about how a YW's parents love her because she cleans up, to the promises of "satisfaction" to be found in martyring yourself to your family, to the *conclusion* that a clean house is a happy house. Boy does this one miss the mark.

Buried among all the stuff that makes me a little crazy are two great points. Points that I plan on drawing out, planning a whole new lesson around, and then tossing out everything else.

Point 1: "Homemaking is an important and sacred responsibility." "Explain that homemaking is one of the responsibilities we have been given. Heavenly Father wants all men and women to give their greatest priority to their homes, their spouses, and their families. Our families are part of our divine mission."
Here is the only place in this whole lesson where it mentions that men are also responsible for the environment of the home. In my family, we share chore responsibilities (at least in theory. I'm still fighting the effects of my husband being raised with a maid), and even though it would often be easier for me to just do things myself, I delegate because I want my kids to see my husband working in the home too. I want my kids to have chores even though I know they will fight me on it. I think it's an important lesson for the family to work together to create the home. Important for several reasons, but one of them is so that it frees the mom up to do the really important work of homemaking once she's unchained from her rubber gloves.

One of my dearest friends growing up was the daughter of the resident ward Wonder-Homemaker. You know, that one woman that exists in every ward. The woman that makes her own bread, sews her kids clothes, the woman that everyone else speaks of with equal parts awe, envy, and derision. The first time I met my friend's mom I referred to her as a housewife, and I got my head bitten clean off by my friend's stepdad. "She's not married to her house!" He said. "She's a homemaker! She makes this house a home."

He got it. He understood that what makes a home is not the house maintenance. It's the love and care we show to the people living in it through our work. Its the feeling of peace and security that comes when you feel united together in your efforts. As grownups we understand that we have to provide the basic needs of life - a sanitary environment, food to eat, shelter - but we make a huge difference when we go from meeting the bare minimum to celebrating an artform. We demonstrate with all of ourselves how high a priority our family is. I don't think a kid always appreciates a spotless bathroom, but I know they appreciate good food, an attentive ear, a comfortable room.

The importance of homemaking should be viewed in light of the effect on our families. Call me an apostate if you must, but I think the Spirit is far more likely to dwell in a slightly sloppy home where people are kind to each other than an immaculate home where everyone dreads catching Mother's gaze because it will lead to a list of chores that would make Cinderella blush.

Homemaking is only important because our families are important. And if our efforts towards homemaking are detracting to the feelings of love and unity within our family, then those efforts, in my Oh so Lofty opinion, are misguided.

Point 2: "Explain that homemaking involves a wide variety of activities, all of them important. Of great importance, of course, is keeping a house clean and taking care of the physical needs of the family members. However, there is another important side to homemaking, as Sister Belle S. Spafford, a former general president of the Relief Society, points out:

“Homemaking, as I view it, falls into two major divisions: homemaking and housekeeping. Homemaking takes into account the spiritual values: love, peace, tranquility, harmony among family members, security. It makes of a place of residence a spot to which family members can retire from a confused and troubled world and find understanding and rejuvenation. Its character is quietness; it evidences good taste, culture, and refinement. Men, women, and children alike have their individual contributions to make to good home and family life, and each shares in its benefits.

“Housekeeping involves the work of keeping a house clean, orderly, and well managed. This includes financial management, failure in which often becomes a source of family friction” (Belle S. Spafford, A Woman’s Reach [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974], pp. 24–25).

Of course, immediately after making this point, the lesson then abandons it in favor of another story about cleaning up messes. Which, above everything else, is what disappoints me the most about this lesson. This is the whole point. Homemaking is more than housekeeping. So then why is the lesson all about housekeeping? Why not follow the title of this lesson and teach about what exactly homemaking is supposed to be?

I agree that a clean house creates a more peaceful environment, facilitates learning, allows the presence of the Spirit, and is all around healthier. But is this really news in the Western world? Is this really worthy of being the entire *Conclusion* of this lesson? A clean house is something that I'd guess about 80% of people manage to strive for on their own. The other 20% probably have bigger problems than soap scum in their shower.

Accomplishing a clean house is a constant marathon that no one ever manages to feel caught up on unless they outsource it, and there is a multi-million dollar industry and many great websites devoted to helping us each find our best method. Do we really need to devote a lesson to the theory of housecleaning when we have practical instruction during activities and all of Relief Society to learn more?

Where is the lesson on bringing peace and tranquility and refinement? Is this a holdover from all those "Women are naturally more spiritual" thoughts? We give so much lip service to how sacred a calling homemaking is, and then we never explain why. Why is homemaking sacred? If it's just because the Spirit needs a clean tabernacle to dwell in, then why don't we all just hire maids and be done with it? Where is the big meaty discourse on the divine nature of a Homemaker's calling?

After scouring the available resources, I didn't really find one. The closest I could find was Sister Tanner's very good talk after the addition of "Strengthen Home and Family" to the Young Women's theme. Sister Tanner's discussion of what Young Women can do right now to strengthen home and family is really sweet, and she doesn't once mention picking up a broom.

Once again I'm going to bring up Elder Uchtdorf's talk. And here comes my personal creative manifesto. The true work of Homemaking is a creative art. Creation of a peaceful environment. Creation of refuge. Creation of loving relationships. Creation of budding testimonies. Creation of self-esteem, trust, opportunity, knowledge. This is what's sacred about the act of Homemaking. A clean house makes these efforts easier, but they are not the goal. The goal is *Growth.* And Creativity is the Means.

Each of us as Children of the Creator are creative. This is the language we speak and the sacrifice we have to offer. It is through our creative acts that we can show the depth of our feelings. One of the greatest examples I've ever witnessed was when I was living in Snohomish, Washington and I was friends with a girl named Amy Hawks. I'd spend the night at her house and in the morning her dad would make us as many pancakes as we could eat while her mom passed us the syrup she made herself from the fruit trees in the backyard. What impressed this family so firmly upon me was the feeling present there at the table. They were all united in their joy together, sharing their efforts and their love for each other and me as their guest. I'm sure the pancakes and syrup were great, but I don't remember their taste. I remember how participating in that morning ritual made me feel. Safe. Included. Treasured. Heard.

Those are the feelings that our work in the home create. That is what is sacred.


  1. I think distinguising between "homemaking" and "housework" is very important! Also teaching children (NOT just the girls!!) how to run a home (including the drudgery side of it!) is maybe one of the most important things we can teach them.

  2. Oh my gosh, thank you!!!! It was an amazing day. I told my girlfriend about you and your blog (she is YW pres and knew shed love the insight) we had a 30 min conversation about your blog!!! Huge fan!!!

  3. Hmmmm...I dunno. I haven't read the lesson, but I wonder if it's really necessary to devalue housework so much. I remember a college roommate who was a total pig and would not help the rest of us with chores like cleaning bathrooms and kitchens, vacuuming, etc. Her attitude was that she had more important things to do. Housework is extremely low status work in our culture, and I kind of wonder if the young women might actually be better served by a lesson the tries to promote it as a necessary and valuable part of homemaking. Just my two cents.

  4. I agree, E, that housekeeping does have an important value and that it should be respected more, but I think it should be taught as a life skill - something along the lines of taking care of a car or eating right, something that a grownup is expected to know how to do - rather than a woman's divine role.

    And that's why I think it should be taught, but taught through activities and Relief Society Enrichments rather than a devotional lesson.

  5. But the lesson is on homemaking and I think housekeeping should be addressed when talking about homemaking because that really is a big part of it, whether we like it or not. It is easy to draw a false dichotomy when we say it is better to have a messy house where we love each other instead of a clean house where all the emphasis is on keeping things clean. We can live in a clean home (not neat freakout type)where the spirit and love dwells. Yes, it is important that husbands and kids have chores, but even that statement makes them helpers, while the main responsibility falls on the mother. Teach it as one of the skills that should be developed to enhance their ability to be an effective, creative homemaker.

  6. This has always been an issue for me, even as a young girl (like, 10 years old). I feel like I spent my whole life trying to avoid feeling trapped by this "divine role" of housekeeping. Now that I'm a mother (of three boys... oh, the irony) I often find myself smiling as I clean. The kids and hubbie work around the house, too. But I am surprised that the physical labor and the grunt work very often feels like a consecrated, holy gift that I give to my family. Who knew?!

    I am sure it has something to do with the fact that my husband and I both see housework as secondary to homemaking, which takes a lot of the "trapped" feeling out of it all. And that we both agree that it's a group effort. The house isn't perfect, but it is neat most of the time.

    ALSO (and this is the real reason for this comment): I read a book about the Amish called Plain and Simple which had some insightful ideas about what homemaking/housekeeping can mean as part of a faith-filled life. It's a quick read and might be useful for this lesson, too.

  7. We haven't gotten to this lesson yet, but I did have to teach something similar to this last year. Being single (I've never been married) I looked a bit different at the lesson. As I taught the lesson and the girls discussed, it evolved into more of preparing for the responsibilities of your own home, whether that is in an apartment with roommates or a house with your husband.

    We talked about keeping the peace in your home and having the spirit there. We also talked about some of the things that they would need to learn; how to read a lease, how to set up and pay utilities, how to maintain a car, and the like. I didn't really plan it that way, but I was happy that the lesson evolved the way it did.

    Love the blog, it is great to hear and commiserate with other YW leaders.

  8. Exactly Rachel! That's the point I'm trying to make.

    "housework as secondary to homemaking"

    Believe me you guys, I'm not trying to belittle housework, I'm just trying to stop the thinking that homemaking = housework. Housework is a crucial and necessary part of homemaking, and yet it's all we ever talk about.

    So let's just set aside housework for awhile, accepting that it's important, accepting that the Spirit won't dwell in a messy house (I said He'd dwell in a slightly sloppy house, not messy. Wouldn't we all describe our houses as slightly sloppy? No? How about untidy? Can we agree the Spirit will still dwell in an untidy house?).

    Aside from housekeeping, what do we teach the girls to help them understand the sacred aspect of this calling?

  9. I actually taught this lesson last week and was having a real struggle with it for many of the same reasons you mentioned in the post. After really working on it I had that thought that the girls will get more from my attitude about homemaking than from my words. I think it is important to remember that they really dont have the same issues that we might have with that word. They are growing up in a world with much different expectations and pressures even than 20 yrs ago. If they can actually get into a situation in thier future lives that allows them the chance to work in the home full time they will have a rare blessing. I did not like much of anything about the lesson so I decided to share a story about how several friends of mine ultimately joined the church due in part to the feeling they had felt while in the home I grew up in. I asked the girls the question from the supplement. "What is the feeling that you want in your future home?" It actually opened up alot of discussion and even the normally quiet ones comfortably answered. I spent some time on each of thier comments and asked the class for ideas of how to go about creating that specific feeling that each girl had mentioned. It was so practical and real for them and one of the best discussions we have had. I know maybe it varied from the lesson too much but I think it accomplished the intended purpose, and I just couldnt share that negative story with them.

  10. Something fun I did when I taught this lesson in YWs.

    I rented "Hello, Dolly" with the intent to show one of the musical numbers in the movie. That being, "It Takes a Woman"... What I really wanted to do was have the bishopric preform it for the girls... If you aren't familiar with this little ditty, it basically states men are helpless without women. It's a fun song... nothing to get offended about.

    The girls really enjoyed watching it and it set a funner tone for a lesson which could of created some negative feelings. As a hand out, I found little screw drivers at Lowes, spray painted the handles pink, and attached a piece of paper saying, "It takes a woman..."

    Because, truly... It does take a woman

  11. I totally relate to what you say about the super-homemaker in the ward. Mine is my sister-in-law, who has 6 kids, 4 goats, 3 dogs, a large garden, 10 years of food storage (this one might be a slight exaggeration, but the rest is not) and homeschools her 3 school-age children. Gah! She makes me feel intimidated and scornful all at once, because geez, her kids are hellions and her house is NOT a place of peace. I agree, let's talk about homemaking, and what we can do with a slightly messy house.

    Oh, and just to address the housekeeping...I now do 10 minutes of picking up, 10 minutes of floors, 10 minutes of cleaning the kitchen every day. It works for me, and I feel like a genius!

  12. Annie Cash, I love your lesson idea.

  13. First of all, what a wonderful site. I came across this while doing a search for new beginnings ideas and did I ever find a treasure! I'm a fan of sugardoodle, but the substance and spiritual needs of a calling/lessons aren't addressed there. Thank you! I also love reading the comments- what a great forum!

    As for this lesson which I am about to teach on Sunday. I agree it can be uncomfortable, but after reading sister Tanner's talk (thank you) I have to agree with her in that this may be one of the only outside places these girls can celebrate homemaking and motherhood. They probaby aren't hearing it anywhere else. I also agree with whoever said that our attitude in presenting it can make a huge difference. Thanks for all your comments and the post.

  14. To your point, Sarah: this week in my class on 20th century American history we were talking about gender roles in the 1950s. I gave my students (both men & women) a survey about how/whether they thought homemaking was valued today, and what skills they have. One question was whether home ec should be taught in schools and I was stunned that they almost universally said yes. I think Mormon moms invest in skills-building and skills-instruction, which as you say isn't really done elsewhere. In our parents generation you could pick it up from the ether or would get it in school, but not so for Generation Y or millennials.

    Look, everyone's got to live somewhere. Everyone needs to make a home. Everyone is a homemaker. In that sense it's not something you choose to do or not to do. It's not a "career option," it's the baseline thing on top of which are your life choices & options about marriage, children # and spacing, employment, and church commitment. What I think this post and our really useful discussion point to, is that we do YW & ourselves a disservice by defining the outer bounds of womanhood and womanly fulfillment in terms of this one set of life skills. But I completely agree with Anne Cash, that they have not sat through years of RS about this, and won't have our hangups, and we need not to communicate those hangups to them. More on that in the next lesson.

  15. AnnIe Cash, sorry.

    And heh, sugardoodle. No comment.

  16. I'll comment (again) on sugardoodle. A time and a place. It's helped me come up with ideas several times. It has it's own purpose. . .for me anyway. But I see no comptetition with this site as they are completely different. Ideas vs. content. Just my two cents. :)

    And young women may learn about homemking in school and but one word is key- celebrate. Where do they get to CELEBRATE homemkaing? Like you said, no matter what their circumstances may be, these young women will need to make a home somewhere.

    I actually was very on the fence about how I was comfortable presenting this lesson,and I think it's safe to say the manuel is a little outdated. I think the more current resources we have will make for a better lesson.

    I'll be glad to move on to to the next one!

  17. I'm teaching this lesson tomorrow and have also struggled with it. I bristle at the word "homemaking." But as my husband and I talked about it, we came to the obvious conclusion that members of the family have to do housework in order to survive - cooking and cleaning are simply necessities. It doesn't have to be the woman, and it definitely shouldn't be only the woman.

    But more importantly, everything worth having takes work - developing talents, gaining and growing a testimony, having a career (there's a reason we call it going to work!), etc. So it's going to take work - including housework - to create a happy eternal family. And, for me, looking at it from that perspective relieves my issues with including a brief discussion about housekeeping in a lesson on homemaking. It is, quite simply, one of the ways family members can serve each other.

  18. I have struggled for a week with this lesson. There are some who assume that I fall into the uber-homemaker category. This is because I can make a loaf of bread. I am also a good cook, as are all my siblings, and I know how to sew.

    What they may not realize is that after struggling and failing for years to make a decent loaf of bread, our RS had an enrichment night where some pro’s shared a no-fail recipe and gave a micro-step by micro-step demonstration.

    They also don’t know that the reason my siblings (all boys) and I are such good cooks is because we had to cook for ourselves our whole lives. Or that my grandmother would set me up with a simple pattern and some pink polyester so that I wouldn’t get in her way while my mother was at work.

    They also don’t know how infrequently I clean my bathroom. No joke, it’s bad.

    And I know they don’t understand that while my childhood home was lacking all “homemaking” due to a working mother, and I longed for that kind of structure, whenever I went to any of my friends houses (whose mothers were uber-homemakers—Where did I grow up!?,) instead of feeling the spirit, I felt unwanted and unwelcome. The possibility of me ‘messing up’ their immaculate homes was far too great.

    I’m seriously conflicted.

    So today, I am baking some bread. I will give the girls a slice while I explain what it means to me to have the spirit in my home. I will talk about their Divine Nature and how it is not dependent on their ability to cook or clean. I will remind them that they will all be away from their childhood homes at some point and that they will be responsible to create a home for themselves wherever they are.

    I will also tell them how peaceful my own dysfunctional home was when all 10 mouths were full of warm bread, even if it was Rhodes bake and serve.

    And I will encourage them to use this time to gain as much knowledge as possible in as many areas as possible, because while homemaking skills do not and will never factor into their Child of God status, or make them more or less valuable to their Heavenly Father, they will never regret the knowledge. They will never sit down and wish they didn’t learn how to bake, or sew a strait stitch, or clean a bathroom in less than 10 minutes. And if they’re feeling a little feminist pull, I will remind them about the kitchen I rebuilt, and the floors I laid. You see, I’m making a home. I’m doing it anyway I can. Sometimes that involves hammers and nails, sometimes fresh cookies, sometimes just a video and some popcorn, or frozen pizza. And I think they should sell Raman Noodles at the distribution center because, as any homemaker knows, they are the center of our universe.

  19. Heather, I love what you said. Especially your last paragraph. Brilliant.

  20. As women who have spent years cleaning and cooking, it rubs the wrong way to present this lesson and focus so much on housework. But you have to remember that this lesson is for 12-18 year old girls. They are just starting to be old enough to realize what it takes to create a home.

    The other elements of making a home: love, faith, sacrifice, etc. - those are all covered in other lessons. It's not like one week focusing on cleaning will make them think that's all it is.

    Follow the counsel of the prophet to teach from the handbooks. You'll be blessed for it.

  21. I just found your blog, and I like it. I've never served in YW, but as a YW I remember how obtuse some of these lessons were. I'm sorry that I didn't catch this earlier, but I think that if I were teaching this lesson I would go in and make the room a complete and utter mess, chairs turned upside down, papers and books everywhere, piano in the middle of the room, etc. instruct the other leaders to show up late to class, and not to do anything, just go on like nothing is wrong and watch what the girls do. Chances are that at least one girl is going to start fixing up the room to make it easier to have the lesson. Then you have somewhere to start. If our homes are so out of order that we can use them as a place to relax, interact as a family and be safe and healthy, then we need to do something about it. Talk about the proclamation and how it says that happiness in family life... work.... Talk about how your family all works together to oversee the care of your home. I would also mention that I oversee most of that because I am the adult that is home most of the time. I really liked Elder Uchtdorf's talk as well.
    I hope your lesson went well.

  22. Wonderful. I am teaching this lesson this Sunday and have been stewing over it for a couple weeks. I totally think homemaking is the most important calling we have in this life and that learning to manage a household and keep the house clean is an important part of that calling, but the resources in the lesson are not up to par. This blog and the comments have given some great ideas to make this lesson work. Thanks.

  23. seriously!!! you always complain!

  24. Thanks for all these comments and advice. I am teaching this lesson tomorrow so these ideas are coming in handy. I love how everyone adds their own insights and ideas and we all work to make our lessons the best they can be.

  25. Reese - I really liked these paragraphs of your post:

    We give so much lip service to how sacred a calling homemaking is, and then we never explain why. Why is homemaking sacred? If it's just because the Spirit needs a clean tabernacle to dwell in, then why don't we all just hire maids and be done with it? Where is the big meaty discourse on the divine nature of a Homemaker's calling?

    After scouring the available resources, I didn't really find one. The closest I could find was Sister Tanner's very good talk after the addition of "Strengthen Home and Family" to the Young Women's theme. Sister Tanner's discussion of what Young Women can do right now to strengthen home and family is really sweet, and she doesn't once mention picking up a broom.

    Once again I'm going to bring up Elder Uchtdorf's talk. And here comes my personal creative manifesto. The true work of Homemaking is a creative art. Creation of a peaceful environment. Creation of refuge. Creation of loving relationships. Creation of budding testimonies. Creation of self-esteem, trust, opportunity, knowledge. This is what's sacred about the act of Homemaking. A clean house makes these efforts easier, but they are not the goal. The goal is *Growth.* And Creativity is the Means.

    Thanks for looking past the dos and don'ts to the why behind things, and thanks also for finding & sharing those talks by Sis. Tanner and Pres. Uchtdorf. I love trumping the manual with latter-day prophets and leaders, who actually get to the meat. :) :) Seriously, why even have manuals anymore? Let's all just go to the scriptures and these talks! Teach it straight! :)

  26. Thank you so much!
    I have also struggled with this lesson. My reasons being my parents practiced the idea of "the husband goes to work and the wife does EVERYTHING else".
    It made me become angry at my mom and her submissive ways. I remember thinking, if being a homemaker = this - then NO THANK YOU!
    Years later and several humbling experiences later, I saw my mom for what she truely was. That she in fact was NOT submissive nor was her role as a homemaker degrading or unimportant.
    I saw her in a new light that glorified her calling as a mother.
    I still disagree with the roles not being equal (as far as importance) among my parents, but I now see how being a mother (homemaker) is one of the most important professions of all.

  27. Oh my gosh, I almost wept when I read this. THANK YOU.


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