This Mother’s Day, we went home to see my father. There were many pictures and belongings of my late mother still in the house. Her clothes still hung on hangers, her shoes in boxes, and her beloved knick-knacks sitting on shelves, in plain sight but collecting dust. In the weeks shortly after her death, I had tried to cleanup the house. But, I would hit an emotional roadblock. Every time I’d open a box, a barrage of raw emotions would open up too. The chore of tending to our home took a heavy toll on me. I was emptying our home of my mother and our childhood. My heart was not in it, because my heart was broken.
In sorting through my mother’s belongings this weekend, a new passion awoke. I reminisced about when, as a child, I’d polish the silver, dusted the dining room furniture, vacuumed the rugs, ironed the clothes. Some two years after my mother’s passing, I see our home differently.
In our home, the females tended to the house—us girls did the chores and household work. We also tended to the emotional labor—everything from tending to each others’ feelings to managing family dynamics to displaying feminine virtue. This was rarely discussed. What was discussed around the dinner table were our goals and tales of success—public life virtues. We were to be A+ students, top athletes, gifted piano players, college graduates. Work done inside the home was considered less than and frankly invisible.
As I sorted through her beloved belongings, I began to think. My mom, as a stay-at-home mom, did she feel appreciated? Was her work acknowledged? Did she feel….invisible?
She raised us girls to be independent and to pursue careers. In the early years as a working mom, I would come home from a long day at work and take on the labor of housework and childcare. It felt like I was effectively working two jobs and not doing a good job in either. In my head, I would grade myself on the real work—how successful I was in my career. And, in my heart, it felt like the more I pushed myself at work, the more I neglected my home and family.
Raising a family and tending to the home is work. In the home my husband and I have now since built, chores and household work are visible, they are cherished, and expected to be completed by everyone. My husband does the dishes and laundry. I shop, clean and vacuum. The kids put away the dishes, take out the trash and walk and clean up after the dog. Everyone pushes the broom. Because I’ve learned that personal happiness comes not from high achievement alone but from strong relationships. Grades and achievement are no more important than caring about others. Chores are not a duty but a way of taking care of each other.
I now feel a sense of duty and honor in unearthing my Mom’s clothes and her beloved belongings. I do think my mother would be proud, as she was of our trophies and degrees, of the work we women do, of the homes we’ve built, the children we’ve raised, and the choices we’ve made for family. With no regrets.
We are not gods, we cannot resurrect. We women build homes and we build families, with our hands and our hearts. And I want to help my father build a new home for himself. Because my mother raised me that way.
I see you Mom. Adelante.