I admit I rarely read books that are targeted at married mothers. I'm not married and I'm not a mother. Go figure. But since I moved in with my parents and two younger brothers a few months ago (got laid off, minimizing expenses while looking for a job, you know the drill), my healthy, if distant, appreciation for home engineers has developed into downright deification. As an adult member of the household, I'm frequently overwhelmed by how much needs to be done on a daily basis.
Perhaps that's why TO LOVE, HONOR, AND VACUUM strikes me as one of the best books I've read in a long time. Written by home schooling mom and entrepreneur Shelia Wray Gregoire, the book is chock full of practical tips for doing everything around the home from cleaning to keeping spending in check to stoking the romantic fires. A lot of her suggestions aren't necessarily rocket science, but she presents them in a fresh way and gives the business of running a family a new spin.
One feature of the book that I found especially insightful is a section profiling one day in the life of three women living at three different points in American history. These short fictional accounts reveal that while women over the years share many of the same concerns about the welfare of their families, the tangible nuts and bolts of running a household have evolved significantly. This will be an epiphany for the many modern women harboring guilt-inducing notions that the housewives of earlier generations were better at running their households despite the absence of the time and effort saving conveniences that clutter homes today. On the contrary, Gregoire convincingly points out that these technological advances have actually added more lines on today's to-do lists.
And while all of this is helpful, the real value of Gregorie's book is in its discussion of the principles that should guide the division of labor in the home.
As the back cover says, this is no "women's lib" book and Gregorie does not fail to mention biblical verses referring to wives submitting to husbands. Nevertheless, she does a masterful job of exposing how commonly held ideas about gender roles within the home are of a cultural construction and not a biblical construction. Furthermore, she points out that these traditional gender roles aren't effective for many families existing in our modern economy. With this in mind, she suggests innovative ways to devise a truly harmonious living and working environment.
This harmonious environment is ultimately the goal of everything that TO LOVE, HONOR, AND VACUUM proposes.
"As you change your emphasis to people's comfort, rather than keeping up appearances, your attitude toward housework will probably change as well. Having the 'perfect house' as a standard can be very debilitating, constricting our ability to share with others. Maybe you'd like to invite that new couple over after church, but you can't possibly let them in your home right now because there are still crumbs on the counter from breakfast and the kid's toys are lying on the stairs.
When we think this way, we are putting things ahead of people. Creating a family friendly home means creating a home where people feel comfortable. Pastor Kevin Dowling, a friend from our hometown says that Christians should aim to be hospitable, not to entertain. Our aim is to share our homes and our lives, not to put on a show. So instead of putting your energy into keeping a perfect home that few see, try creating a comfortable one the people feel welcome in."
And, as a result, TO LOVE, HONOR, AND VACUUM offers encouragement for the overwhelmed, freedom from perfectionism, and a vision of life dominated by care, not precision.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on June 10, 2003