My family and I frequent India on a yearly basis for my husband's work. During my first visit there, I learned that most middle class families in India have a full staff of helpers. At a minimum, that staff includes one driver, a housekeeper and a nanny. Some mothers might take advantage of this help by busying themselves at home while others might have a job outside of the house. This kind of help ensures that the mother can give her attention to whatever she pleases; be it staying at home, helping with homework, cooking and/or having a career outside of the home. A friend from Mexico and a friend from Colombia both say that the same applies for middle class families where they were raised. Now, I don't know about the rest of the world, but I certainly know this is not the case in the US. You have to be rich in order to afford that amount of help, and most rich families I know definitely do not have a driver.
So, why is it your average American lacks help around the house? Did our unforgivable history of slavery end up making the middle-class too ashamed to employ people? Are we trying too hard to be heroes - so in love with the struggle - that we reject any form of help? Can we blame it on the Great Depression? Or did convenient cleaning products wipe out an entire housekeeping profession for middle-class families?
The first domestic, portable vacuum cleaner might have been quite an investment back in the early 1900's, but perhaps it was worth not having to hire housemaids. Therefore, the stay-at-home mother could effortlessly plug it in and in a quick breeze suck up a week's worth of dirt in under an hour. Whether a housemaid did the vacuuming or the mother took over that job, I'm sure the housemaid's hours would have been cut significantly. Progressively, one invention came out after another in aid of making the life of a stay-at-home mother look doable. Goodbye, housemaid. Hello, mama in a housemaid's apron... only, slightly personalized to mama's taste.
Little would she know that it is not doable. That her oh-so-convenient homemaking lifestyle would cascade into mania, depression, restlessness, fatigue, nervous breakdowns, and then a feminist movement would swoop right in to free the desperate housewife from her domestic prison cell and empower her to work outside of that crazy-making hell hole called Home.
The Feminist Movement is as complex as a woman's anatomy and her web-like intelligence. We've certainly seen the movement's dramatic pendulum swings, and I think the domestic category of Feminism is finally reaching its peaceful center. My generation has seen a huge amount of sociological pressure on women to go out into the "corridors of power," for mothers who didn't have a career outside of the home were thought to be weak and oppressed. Alas, we’re seeing a gentle movement of SAHM's sending the message out that it's okay to choose a career of full-time domesticity, especially if that's what makes you happy. These days, it’s not as popular to peg one another as the secretly suffering 1950's housewife.
Now that we're finally reaching a more even era of domestic feminism, how can we protect middle and lower-class parents from going insane? We can’t go down that unsustainable rabbit hole once again; simply because evolution is inevitable.
Perhaps the larger question is: Where is our tribe? Because it certainly does takes a village to raise a child. Whether we pay for our tribe or we’re blessed with helpful friends and family, we must not ever feel ashamed for expecting and accepting that tribe to show up for us and our children. Provided we already cherish quality time with our little ones, at the end of the day we ought to be able to say with aplomb, “I have a lot of help and that’s the way it should be.”
Easier said than done for lower and middle-class families who are barely scraping by and, for whatever reason, don't have friends and family at their beck and call. It is most unfortunate that a financially corrupt country - like India - could have their middle-class benefit from an abundance of domestic help at the expense of their poorly paid employees. However, I think their government may have formed at least part of itself around their ancient culture's standards. Our young and naive America doesn't know the true meaning of tribal community; so much so, that we tried to wipe them all out. Sure, we can argue all day about tribes wiping out other tribes since time immemorial, but what made European colonizers different is that they fundamentally disagreed with the way tribal communities lived. As far as India goes, the Brits successfully ruled them for 89 years; which, I suppose, wasn't nearly enough time for Indians to forget their ancestral identity. Thus, we see a more tribal approach to their middle-class home.
It's about time American families put their egos aside and start letting in their tribes. This is for the protection of our sanity so that our children will grow up to remember us as a grounding force for them rather than the mom or dad who "lost it" a bunch of times because he or she couldn't handle the load. Mind you, a load that even the worst boss at a corporate job would ever demand on their paid employee.
Parents, forget about winning trophies and invite help wherever you turn. Take it from me who's always trying to impress myself (a guaranteed set-up for disappointment.)
If there’s ever a time you begin to feel guilty for having someone help you with your children and/or homemaking responsibilities, remind yourself that there are thousands of villages all over the world where - without ever thinking twice - mothers are handing off their children to a caretaker. As cliche as it is to say, it does take a village to raise a child.