I have a housekeeper that comes to my house once every two weeks. She's lovely and sweet. She vacuums, she dusts, she does her best at scraping off that stubborn shower residue that just doesn't want to go away despite how long you soak it with harsh cleaner. I know how lucky I am to be able to outsource things like house cleaning every now and again. Technically speaking, I could have her come once a week if I wanted. But I don't. Why? Because it's important that my daughters see me cleaning the house, and help me along the way, between her visits.
No, I'm not high on Clorox as I write this.
It all hit me when I was vacuuming my den a few weeks ago. As I was pushing the heavy machine, secretly chalking up my physical activity as being equal to a legitimate workout and rationalizing how I should increase my housekeeper's visits to once a week going forward (now that I'm pretty much a full-time working woman who wants more time to play in summer), my daughter casually blurted out to me, "Hi Elsie!" (our housekeeper's name). She didn't mean any harm by it—we LOVE Elsie and have a friendship with her. But my daughter's innocent words zapped me.
"Cleaning isn't just for housekeepers," I immediately corrected. "We all clean up here, you know that."
"Oh no," I immediately said. I turned off the vacuum. My girl stared at me, not knowing what she could've possibly done that made me react so urgently. "Cleaning isn't just for housekeepers," I immediately corrected. "We all clean up here, you know that." My girls are actually pretty good at cleaning up, too. They take their plates to the sink, they pick up their toys at the end of the day, they return their shoes to their closet (OK, that one I really have to nag about and sometimes yell to make it happen, but it happens). "Housekeepers helps us keep things extra clean," I continued, "but all people clean up after themselves."
The ping of fear about the possibility of my girls growing up too "privileged" for my own taste struck me: I don't want to raise kids who think they're exempt or above certain tasks. So they need to see mommy clean house to stay grounded in reality.
Whenever questions about class or entitlement come up, I often think about a short conversation I once had with a soon-to-be college graduate a few years ago. She was a nice, smart girl who had sizable potential. The catch? She made it very clear to me in about 10 minutes that she didn't want to start her career at the "bottom" of the totem pole. She'd gone to a good college and had admirable drive and talent that could potentially take her very far.
"I just don't want to start my career having to do that much grunt work, you know? I worked too hard to start like that," she said.
You can imagine how much I was rolling my eyes and cackling in my head. I wondered if she grew up with not having to lift a finger in her house? Was she led to believe, somewhere along the line, that certain people do certain jobs and that she was above some of them?
"Well," I offered, "The way you get to the good work is by showing that you're good enough to rise above the grunt work ... and the only way to prove that is to actually do the grunt work with a smile on your face." Yes, I used to get coffee and file pointless papers early in my career—didn't we all? Did I suck it up and do those tasks because I was raised to help my mom furiously pick up our house before our twice-a-month housekeeper visited us back when I was a kid? Quite possibly. The housekeeper my mom employed scrubbed our toilets, and my mom (and later, I myself) scrubbed them in between her visits. Helping our housekeeper was something that, I believe, grounded me to know that no one is above any kind of job when duty calls.
So I will continue to clean the house in between housekeeper visits—regardless of the fact that I can technically afford a housekeeper to come once a week. This goes beyond cleanliness, people. This is officially a parenting choice.
I'm a big believer in working hard for monetary success so that you may outsource certain things and enjoy the more important things in life a bit more, but I'm a much bigger believer in my kids learning what a rational sense of respect for others is first hand, regardless of class perception. Experts agree that actually "doing" exponentially teaches more than merely "telling," which is why one of my rules for sitters includes, "Make sure they pick up their own toys." In my world, kids doing jobs that "hired help" can do makes them decent people who are well-rounded, respectful, kind, humble and empathetic.
Housekeepers, professionals and everyone in between—we all clean up in the name of life values, childhood lessons and raising good people. Now excuse me, I have to go buy more Windex.