Sometimes, the cookies are ugly
This post was requested by my sister-in-law. I probably won’t be putting her exact thoughts and feelings into words, but I hope my perspective resonates a little bit! Love you Beth.
I’d like to write a book entitled “The Myth of Productivity.” It would be a critique of the American culture that surrounds me with messages of my worth being based on my output as a person.
I feel like I’ve written about this before. I feel like I read blogs about this weekly. I feel like I see Facebook posts every day from women (since, let’s face it, my Facebook feed is dominated by the mommas in my life) who are anxiously trying to do *enough.*
The church culture in which I was raised has this ideal called the Proverbs 31 woman. Modern women are inspired by the description of a Middle Eastern woman who cared for her family with seemingly endless energy in an extraordinary variety of ways from buying and selling land to making clothing to feeding everyone in her compound. In return for her industriousness, her family is blessed and loves her.
Even beyond Christian church culture, I think that American culture generally has been shaped by the idea of the Proverbs 31 woman from the time of the Puritans. The Christian Puritan work ethic that built this country has trickled down for generations and instilled a love of hard work and productivity into our society.
Based on my time living internationally, I gained a different perspective on this woman who seems to be a cornerstone of our productivity-oriented society.
She didn’t do it alone.
The Proverbs 31 woman had help. She had servants. I realize that is a dirty word in America because of our historical baggage, but it’s still true. The social structure of her society used slavery as a viable form of labor. The management of her household probably included making sure everyone had jobs for each day like getting water, cooking, sewing, washing and watching the children. Help was required to live daily life just like it is all over the world today.
When I first moved to Togo I was incredibly resistant to the idea of having help in my house. My American guilt over slavery and my belief that I needed to do it all kept getting in the way of accepting that my houseworker (the fantastic Da Emily) was actually an asset to our household. I was afraid to admit the I needed her. I was afraid that I was acting privileged and spoiled. I watched Robin go through the same intense emotions when we moved to Rwanda and hired Theo. I watched multiple friends struggle with the idea of hiring someone to do basic jobs. We couldn’t accept that someone doing our laundry was just a job like someone repairing our refrigerator. The fact that our household chores were being delegated felt like a sneaky way of avoiding the work that was rightfully ours.
But the truth is, I wouldn’t have lasted in Togo or Rwanda without help. I would have been too exhausted by daily chores to even think about teaching. I would have been unable to stay within our grocery budget without having someone go to the market who knew how to haggle on the prices. By the time I took care of the house, my day would have practically been over.
My inability to do more than just chores wasn’t because I was a foreigner. No, even my houseworkers had their own household help! Theo made sure that his wife had a boy to help her with laundry and other small chores. It was normal and expected.
So how does all of this relate to the Myth of Productivity?
Doing everything alone focuses the American on their output. A mother measures her day in loads of laundry done and number of floor vacuumed. A wife feels pressure to serve a well-rounded dinner with adorable cookies for dessert. A fiancee tries to craft the perfect Pinterest wedding. Girls are raised with a societal expectation that they will grow up to ACCOMPLISH! And not just accomplish, but accomplish without any help.
Focusing on what you can DO keeps people from knowing who you ARE. You are more than your loads of laundry or perfect cookies. You are a person who is worth getting to know. You contribute to the world just by touching the people around you with your talents and interests. Some days your talents create fabulous art or witty conversation or tasty meals, but not every day. There are ups and downs, seasons of productivity and seasons of rest.
You are enough. Go ahead and play hostess and clean your house and live your life, but don’t let those things become more important than you. Sometimes the cookies fail to turn out in a respectable manner and that says nothing about you. Sometimes you don’t have the energy to clean everything before company comes over and that doesn’t tell the whole story of you. Sometimes, always, you fail to accomplish your to-do list for the day and that really, really, really doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a person. You are still worth knowing. Your cookies are just ugly.