Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Factory Model in Home Life

How important is efficiency in a family's home life?

I've been thinking a lot about this since we attended a dinner theater at church way back on Laetare Sunday.  The play presented was Cheaper by the Dozen, and I really enjoyed it.  It made me laugh.  The father and mother in this biographical drama, set in the 1920s, were an engineer team with twelve children.  They helped factories become more efficient, and they applied these factory ideals to their family life.  For example, the father showed the children the most efficient way to to take a bath, and he installed record players in the bathrooms so that the children could listen to foreign language instruction while they were in there.  No time was to ever be wasted.  Great emphasis was put on testing and being able to skip a grade.   The parents obviously loved their children and wanted what was best for them, and there is an absolutely fabulous defense of the pro-life position. . .It's just. . .I don't know.  I felt like they saw their children as products to be manufactured rather than humans to be nurtured.  This had nothing to do with the number of children they had, just their way of parenting them.  My feeling was that every one in that family had to be busy at all times improving themselves or doing something productive as determined by the parents.  Maybe it's different in the book on which this play is based.

As a mother whose children are grown, I often do look back and wish that I had done a lot of things differently, but making efficiency and "measured" education top priorities of my family life are not on my list.  Pondering this, I asked my dear engineer husband what he had thought of the family life portrayed in the play.  He admitted that he liked the emphasis on efficiency and achievement.  He also said that he did not want to live that way.   Whew!

Emma and I discussed this issue as we cleaned the kitchen after breakfast one morning.  She was reading A Daughter of the Land, by Gene Stratton Porter, and she said a female character marries into a family that emphasizes work.  It is often made-up work, and there is never an end to it.  Eventually the young wife gets pregnant, becomes exhausted from the lack of leisure and dies in childbirth.  Later, I compared this in my mind with one of my grandmother's favorite stories.  She married at 15, and she and my grandfather lived with his parents in the early years of their marriage.  This was in the 1920s, just like the timeframe of Cheaper by the Dozen.  My grandmother said that she and her mother-in-law, Martha Rollo Somerset, would hurry through their daily chores so that when they were done, they could snatch up their cane poles and Catawba worms and light out for Bassett's Pond.  Clearly, the "work" had an end, and there was this wonderful leisure to be enjoyed together at the end of it, the memory of which was so dear to my grandmother that it brought a twinkle to her eyes and a smile to her lips, decades and decades later.  I think this leisure was truly an end in itself--a time to absorb nature and enjoy each other's companionship--not just a "break" so that they could do more work.

I do believe that scheduling and efficiency have a place in family life.  I just don't know exactly what prominence should be given them.  Probably if I had had more children, I would have been forced to figure it out.  All I know is, my attempts to give primary importance to these things have never lasted long, whether from my own lack of discipline or because I simply don't value them highly enough.  Probably it's both. 


angela said...

Hmmm, I just read this post with great interest. Too often I feel that I am always busy, with little time to relax. I have read Managers of their Homes (by the Maxwells) which goes into great detail about how having everyone scheduled allows so much more to be accomplished, and how going without a schedule seems to result in "spinning your wheels" without much result for so many. I would be in that category!

Part of this ssue is that I seem to have done a poor job of teaching my children to just buckle down and complete a task, expecially my daughter (12 yo). She is so very trying, it truly is a problem.

I've struggled so much with the idea of how much of my problem is lack of a schedule, or lack of family help to get the basics accomplished. When a small job takes so very very long to accomplish (ie my daughter..) it throws off many other things.

I only recently found your column, but I am enjoying it. I hope Emma continues to improve.

Wendy Haught said...

Dear Angela,

I wish I could say that I have the answer, but obviously, I don't. I struggle with finding the balance. I can only say that I do not limit my definition of accomplishment to the measurable: chores done, schedules kept. Enjoying a conversation with one of my children is just as or more important to me. I am not advocating letting the house go completely. I have just found that, for me, emphasizing schedules, chores, etc., gives them an exaggerated importance. "Be still and know that I am God." Also, since i wrote that post, I have come to the conclusion that it takes all kinds of families to make the world go 'round. Just like there are contemplative and Catholic action-type religious orders within the Church, there is variety in the types of families, and they can all help get their children to heaven.

As far as your daughter goes, have you considered that she might have a food allergy? Emma was very slow at completing tasks. Now that we have changed her diet, she has no problem. She is more motivated and concentrates and thinks much more clearly. Actually, I think that is why she was so slow, because she had such a hard time concentrating.

I'm glad you are enjoying my blog. That makes me feel good. Thank you.