Saturday, November 29, 2008

Domestic Derring-Do: Mentoring Homemaking

This is going to be a very domestic post – very homemaker oriented. The rest of you, move along. There’s nothing to see here.

It – the post, I mean – is aimed at homemakers “of a certain age;” that is, we who have been at it awhile. As in any profession, homemakers are put in mentoring positions. Unfortunately, most older homemakers I know do the mentoring aspect poorly.

See, the thing about mentoring is to teach and provide encouragement. It is best done by example rather than by obvious posturing.

I will tell you what mentoring is not: it is not a method to provide yourself with an ego boost at the expense of your “student’s” confidence and self-esteem. Yet that is the attitude of most older homemakers I know: “I’ll show them what a real homemaker is like.” And so the good-natured sniping begins.

The reason this comes to mind is I know that this time of year young marrieds return to their parents’ home for the holiday and the holiday itself is one that spotlights homemaking skills. So it is a fertile battleground for familial tension to begin with, let alone when those in charge have an agenda.

The other reason I was inspired to write this post was a flashback memory that was triggered when I was ironing Heir 2’s shirt.* I thought back to when I was six years old and my mother was teaching me to iron, starting with my father’s handkerchiefs and working my way up to the white dress shirts he wore to work (“permanent press” was still only in the future).

I might take this moment to let you know, my mother had it going on in terms of homemaking. She absolutely loved staying home, raising us and puttering around the house. I like to think that is where I get my inspiration, even if I don’t in any way approach her mastery. She kept all the plates spinning straight and without the emotional drama that current writers tend to inflict on women of her day. She was not in the least bit frustrated or demeaned by her role.

Anyway, in terms of ironing, my mother was as good at it as anyone else. Back then, ironing required an entire day and I’m sure she was relieved when I had mastered even the most basic aspects of it

I also remember years later when permanent press had come and then was partially replaced by the preference for natural fibers. We had to go back to ironing some of the laundry. By this time I had taken up sewing my own clothes and, because I had a better concept of how cloth is woven and clothing construction, I developed a more efficient method of ironing shirts (which was a good thing, since most of the natural fiber shirts were mine…).

My mother could have pointed to her expertise and claimed that there was “a reason why we do it this way.” She could have said, “Good! You think you know so much? You do all the ironing from now on.” She could have given me a “mother knows best” look. She could have agreed to disagree and continue to do it “the right way.”

Instead, she asked me to show her how to do it.

I can’t tell you what a confidence boost that was. That I could teach my mother something after all the years of her showing me how she did things made me respect her skills even more.

It happened again a few years later. My mother was an excellent baker and taught me everything she knew. One Thanksgiving, she allowed me to make the most precious commodity of that holiday. No, not the turkey – the apple pie. Everyone waited for my mother’s apple pie. There were never “overs.”

This is what I expected: Everyone would politely eat and praise the pie, secretly wishing that, at least for Thanksgiving, she would have baked it and let me bake one some other time when having “the best” wasn’t as crucial.

I tasted it and was moderately proud of myself. I looked around the table and, as I expected, everyone praised my effort.

Then my mother turned to my father and said, “Go ahead and say it. It’s obvious. This is better than anything I’ve ever made. Jeanne, you have a real touch with a pie crust.”

I don’t know if it really was all that good. All I know is that she was willing to cede to me what was once her honor with a grace I rarely see between women, let alone mothers and daughters.

I contrast that with what I witnessed at the home of an acquaintance, whose newlywed daughter was home for a holiday (this time, I think it was around Easter). Daughter was very anxious, as she sat with us “old married women,” to be one of us; to share her domestic war stories and how she triumphed over them. Only every story she related, her mother would smile wisely and interject something to the effect of, “Well if you’d known that (insert some ancient axiom here) then you wouldn’t have had to (insert clever solution here).” Then she would look at me and smile knowingly as if to say, “Isn’t she cute, trying to be a real, grownup homemaker?”

You could practically see daughter's shoulders slump.

Is it any wonder adult children come home and resume acting like irresponsible children or don’t come home at all?

This is just one of those concepts that, I think, underlie my feeling that people have children for all the wrong reasons. Your children don’t exist to make you feel better or to give you validation. It’s up to you to provide that to them.

Funny thing is, when you do it right, you will feel better and get that validation without even trying.

*Yes, Heir 2 knows how to iron his own shirt. I also know, he would wear it wrinkled rather than actually iron it. Even in this day and age, this reflects on me since people assume that a 17-year-old does not know how to iron a shirt and, therefore, I was the lazy party. I'm sure Heir 2 knows all this. But, Future Partner of Heir 2: He can iron his own shirt.


John said...

sounds like your mother has a grace befitting royalty (without any of the stuffed-shirt posturing). What a gem she is! I know my mother would show a similar grace, but can't say the same about the mohters of several who married into my family. (None of them can compare to my mother in the kindness and consideration department). I would bet that our mothers would get along nicely.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post. Thank you.