Saturday, 9 February 2008

The Myth of Housework

I scored a U in one of my O levels. That’s U for Ungraded. Useless. Unworthy of even an F (Fail). The subject? Greek Classics. At the tender age of 16, I haughtily decided that stories of Oedipus, Pandora and the like were so pointless and irrelevant that I didn’t bother reading the books. Hence I flunked the exam. Utterly.

There was however one story that I must have read because I remember it to this day – the sorry tale of Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a mischievous king who had to roll a huge rock up a hill, only to watch it roll back down again when he had nearly reached the top. He was condemned to do this for all eternity, as punishment for tricking the gods. Over the years, thinkers and writers have interpreted this myth in many ways: perhaps it refers to the interminable pattern of the sun rising and setting each day? Perhaps it refers to people who strive for wealth, but fail time and again to find happiness in their possessions? Any task that is repetitive, unfulfilling and without real purpose may be called Sisyphean.

But it is only now, 20+ years after my own Greek (Classics O level) tragedy, that I finally see the relevance of a Greek myth. “EUREKA!” to quote Archimedes. The story of Sisyphus is surely about housework. Housework is as Sisyphean as an activity can be. Parents tidy up, and children follow them around making a mess again. We put away the trains, and out come the cars. We tidy up the pens, and out come the paints. We clean up after breakfast, and then it’s lunchtime. We sort out the clean clothes, and the kids get grubby. Again. And where do all the bits come from? The little rubber things, scraps of paper, and miscellaneous toy parts that have been detached from their original playthings and scuff about the carpet and under the furniture making the house look like a junkyard. It’s a fact of life that every time you clean up a family home, more mess appears. Quickly.

Housework is unavoidable, repetitive and unfulfilling. It’s something we parents have to do day in day out, to make our homes safe and comfortable places to play, eat and sleep. But, given the Sisyphean nature of housework, no wonder it’s the part of parenting that most people find the hardest. No wonder that, although they’re probably great parents, so many people score a U in housework. That’s U for Untidy, Unkempt, and Unbelievably chaotic!


  1. Agh -about 20 minutes ago I was looking at a pile of dinosaurs on the floor and wondering what the point was in tidying them up. Dirt is one thing - you can't live in dirt. But a tidy house - especially when you don't have many visitors?
    Yesterday however, I had about 20 minutes to kill. Not enough time to do anything other than housework really. I blitzed the kitchen and boy, did I feel good after that! Must admit, that doesn't happen very often.

  2. Every now & then I have a real blitz & it makes you feel really good. With my grandchildren living here, I have bits of broken or dismantled toys over & under everything, too. Masses of papers on the table. If I grade them of chuck rubbish away, there are wails of, "That was really important & now its gone"
    So I just muddle along!

  3. U for Ugh!
    and why aren't these things UPSTAIRS!!!
    I can get Up hours before anyone else, sweep the decks clear and by the time they're all in school it's an Untidy mess again.
    Found you on Potty Mummys' Blog.

  4. I do a blitz every so often & it does feel good but most of the time the grandchildren leave bits of broken or isolated toys over everything & it all looks a mess. Papers on the table get tidied away and then I'm accused of losing some vital document! Why was it on the table then?

  5. It's Utterly depressing, and frankly the only way to deal with it (for me) is to treat it like a day job. Of course, there are no appraisals, motivational training days, pay rises and bonuses - but then - there were precious little of those in my last paid employment anyway...

  6. Sorry for the repeat. I thought the comment had not gone through so put another in just before I remembered it had to be vetoed by you! Too late then!

  7. Hi Maggie May,
    Yes I thought that might have happened but I was worried that if I deleted one then it might show up as "message rejected" which would have looked worse!!!
    Anyway, the point is, houseworks stinks. Will visit you soon x

  8. oh gone back south, you touch a nerve with me! I detest housework. I have to write myself cards, then go to the card box and the card tells me which chore to do; really! Hate it hate it hate it. And I also relate to the 'bits'...i could spend a whole day reuniting the 'bits'of toys with the other 'bits' of toys...but i'm going to wait a few months, then chuck the whole lot out. Is it any wonder I cook to avoid chores??!!!