A reader kindly pointed out an article that appeared in Mishpacha magazine which looked primarily at the challenges of regular cleaning help (having a non-Jew as a member of a Jewish household, being a good employer, payroll legalities, when kids get too used to the amenity, and more). I guess the article was biased towards cleaning help, noting a famous Rebbitzen who talked about trading in fancier dinners for more tuna and cleaning help. For many, there is no such calculation.
In the sidebar, the author writes a little history of household help titled "How Maids Became the Rule, Not the Exception." The truth of the matter is, yes, cleaning help has become a very marketable service in the United States, as evidenced by the many cleaning agencies that one can locate in the yellow pages. But regular cleaning help is still the exception, not the rule across the USA. I wish I could find the footnote in a book I read about spending habits in the United States where it noted that homes employing cleaning help had doubled between the late 70's and late 90's. The percentage of middle income to upper income households employing regular cleaning help is still somewhere around 15%. Of course, if you live in the frum community, it would be easy to believe that cleaning help is the rule, rather than the exception, because within the frum community that is largely true.
The part of the article I wanted to concentrate on is this:
Every Jewish woman has to keep in mind her natural inclinations and her priorities. Most rabbanim will insist that a Jewish mother’s primary tafkid is not housecleaning,not even cooking, but the chinuch of her children. If our children are well-cared for and given the proper love and Torah guidance, then it doesn’t really matter whether the kitchen floor is washed by Mom, by Dad, or by an immigrant from Guatemala. Cleaning the house is a relatively low-skilled job that many different people could do, but Jewish motherhood requires a large measure of seichel and love that are not easily replaced.Perhaps it is because I lack *paid* cleaning help, but I do not view chinuch and cooking/cleaning as separate realms in which if I am doing one, I can't be doing another. Granted, one's work schedule certainly plays into the equation. Not only do I believe that I can both parent and cook/clean at the same time while enhancing the chinuch my children receive, but I believe that engaging in some cooking and cleaning with them around and/or participate is part of being mechanech them. Perhaps the most important lessons they will learn are that of caring for belongings and that sometimes things just need to get done. (This, of course, is not to say one has to do all of the cooking/cleaning to be mechanech, just to point out that they need not be viewed as separate realms, one detracting from the other).
I have run into many children over the years (and a handful of adults too) that have no idea how to perform basic tasks. The author seemed to be dismissive of the skills involved in cleaning writing that "[cleaning is a] relatively low-skilled job that many different people could do" as she compares cleaning to Jewish parenting. But is cleaning really something "anyone" can do? Well, yes, with the proper training. Few parents would say the same of learning handwriting, i.e. anyone can do it. We recognize that the brain needs training in this area and we recognize that the fine motor skills necessary for writing need to be developed, preferably in the younger years. Same goes for cleaning. There are fine and gross motor skills that need developed, as well as certain brain functions. And, yes, not everyone has developed those skills adequately.
By no means do a mother, father, and children need to do all of their own cleaning at all times. However, chazal tells us that we need to ensure our children have the life skills they need. Basic cleaning and cooking should be part of the chinuch we provide our children, and we should not be dismissive thinking "anyone" can do it, because, well, I've seen plenty of grown adults who can't do it!*
*I'm reminded of a neighbor who called me on a Friday noon desperate to borrow my non-existent cleaning lady, as her cleaning lady was sick that day. I informed her that I didn't have a cleaning lady, but was more than happy to give her a hand (Note: her husband was a student and she only worked about 10 hours a week. They had no kids at this point). She wouldn't allow me to come up and lend a hand, but was rather amazed that I either knew how to clean and/or was willing to do the job, saying "you clean your own bathroom." Personally, I wish she would have accepted my help. I can't think of a much bigger chesed than helping an adult become more fully functional.