Many years ago I was addicted to housework. I based my self-esteem on whether or not my stovetop and oven shone to perfection or the windows gleamed so invisible that birds crashed into them (I kid you not). I could be breast-feeding my babies and notice a speck of dust on the skirting boards and actually break mother/child suction to wipe the offending speck off my cognitive map. I made Bree Van de Kamp look like a slovenly, slack and sluttish Desperate Fishwife.
Over the years, I have relaxed my standards. It hasn’t always been easy, but as the kids grew and I went back to work, I realised it was either a relatively, reasonably clean house, Lynette Scavo style, or I ended up in a psychiatric hospital (again).
But lately, as a work from home mother, I find myself crying when I move the fridge to clean behind it or welling up with emotion as I pull the vacuum cleaner out or actively howling as I’m dusting the ornaments in the lounge-room. I’m feeling fine (ok F***ed up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional) till I actually get up and start any form of housework.
So where do these feelings come from? I have heard some women cry after sex. It’s the orgasm that releases some form of cathartic emotion reaction that appears to be indistinguishable from sadness and sorrow. I wonder if there is a correlation between housework and sex? But I don’t believe shedding pent-up tears is actually about scrubbing the shower or doing what they do on the Discovery Channel. It seems far too deep, complicated and personal and from a female’s point of view for that. I fall asleep after sex but removing orange juice stains from my cream carpet sets off an emotional reaction that can last for hours.
I have never heard of a man crying after sex. I have also never heard of a man who fights off the tears while washing the dishes and cleaning up curry and rice off the kitchen floor. Men see sex as a physical release and housework as something he helps the wife out with occasionally. A good man will equate his wife’s tears to suffering regardless of the catalyst.
Therefore my husband, gentle, intuitive and kindly as he is, not only comforts me when I cry, but will do the housework for me that I am sometimes unable to do. When we do housework together I don’t cry as much.
Is it self-esteem related? Is it if I can’t do it all I may as well not do anything and just cry about it? Does it evoke memories of childhood? Is it a meaning of life issue? Is it covering up another more important issue and one that I’m unable to access without further psychotherapy?
I do know I’m not the only one. I know other women who cry for no reason or various reasons or reasons beyond their understanding. Or look at the decaying contents of the fridge vegetable drawer and see not just blackened bendy carrots or green grungy grapes, but the formative beginnings and wizened endings of mortal life as we know it on this planet and therefore let out a silent primitive howl of existential injustice in solidarity for womankind.
So why do I cry when I do housework?
I really don’t know.
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Last reviewed: 11 Jul 2009