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How to be a housewife
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 17 - 01 - 2019

In the past, many people might judge a sitt al-bayt al-shatra (Egyptian Arabic for a “good housewife”) by how well she could cook, clean the house and have well-behaved children. However, nowadays this has changed with the changing social and financial status of the family.
There are no more housewives like Amina in Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz's novel Bayn Al-Qasrein (Palace Walk). The novel portrays a housewife who is obedient to her husband, does all the housework, and never steps outside the house without his permission. Such Amina figures are now very rare, since many or even most wives now work like their husbands to make ends meet, while taking care of the children and the household at the same time.
Fortunately, professor of educational psychology Rabab Al-Sheshtawi told Al-Ahram Weekly that it is absolutely possible for women to manage their households efficiently, to take good care of their children, and, last but not least, to get ahead at work.
Al-Sheshtawi began by defining a skilled housewife. “Anyone who is good at something is someone who can do it well with the least amount of effort, like a professional football player playing football. The definition of a skilled housewife is a woman who can carry out her tasks with the least effort and the least psychological pressure,” she said, adding that managing anxiety was important since it could be transferred to the children.
To measure the degree of skill of a housewife there are certain criteria which include “saving time, saving effort, and keeping calm”, Al-Sheshtawi said. A good housewife should be able to do her work without worrying, while her children should be able to achieve at school without being stressed out.
According to Al-Sheshtawi, for a housewife to manage her time efficiently she should draw a “conceptual map”, a plan resembling the shape of a tree on which she should write all the things she has to do. “If there is something that is very important, that should be part of the ‘five-minute plan' — the thing she should work on for five minutes every day until it is done,” she said.
For example, if there is a messy wardrobe, a good housewife could tidy up a shelf a day for five minutes until the whole wardrobe is neat and tidy. The same thing applies to a messy kitchen, or even a long piece of research. As a way of reducing anxiety, she can simply write a page a day until it is done.
“There is also the ‘authorisation plan', which is if I have someone at home who can do something to help me out. If this is the case, that person should be enrolled to do things for me. If your child has finished eating, he should put his plate away or wash it himself — his mother should not have to do everything for him,” Al-Sheshtawi said.
A good housewife is not necessarily the one who does everything by herself. She is the one whose children know what their functions are at home.
A good mother should also try to monitor her children without interfering. This is one characteristic of a good manager, who also monitors workers to maintain quality. “To juggle everything efficiently, home, children, and work, the tasks a housewife does should be on a synchronous and not a sequential level. Many mothers with children in kindergarten send their children to sleep in the afternoon while they prepare dinner. Then, they wake the children up to do their homework, for example. However, by that time the mother may have become exhausted while the children are awake and active — things need to be done at the same time.”
“Recent research has shown that coffee can be good for children, so a mother can give them some in the morning with milk so that they are alert at school and can concentrate better. They will then take the time they used to sleep in to do their homework while their mother is cooking. By eight in the evening the children will be sleepy, and this means they will go to sleep early and wake up early,” Al-Sheshtawi said.
This will also improve the health of the children since they get longer hours of sleep and their mothers will have more time for themselves.
“Whether a child is hyper-active or not, if there is an opportunity for him to practise sports it will be good for him in terms of making friends. It will also help to relieve him from stress. If a mother walks around while her child is practicing sports, it also relieves her from stress and helps her stay in shape. It also gives the child an example of the need to depend on himself. This is another example of working synchronously.”
The same thing applies to studying, where a child should be encouraged to depend on himself. “Learning is not just about obtaining knowledge: it is about developing social and emotional intelligence and learning to feel for others. If a mother studies with her child, he may not be able to depend on himself,” Al-Sheshtawi said. If mothers do the homework for their children, this negates its value.
“A child must know that the grade he gets is the result of his work, not his mother's or his tutor's. It is not the end of the world if he does not get the full mark. He could be good at music or sport or any other activity. Not everything has to be academic,” she added.
Moreover, a mother should neither overstress her child nor herself. For example, if a mother has four children, it will be stressful to study with all of them. On the other hand, a child who learns to depend on himself will be excellent at school since he will know exactly what to do. In fact, Al-Sheshtawi said, the less a mother interferes in her child's education, the better. A child can even be left to fail a monthly exam so that he can learn the consequences of not studying.
Al-Sheshtawi also compares working mothers and stay-at-home mothers. “Some people may think that a stay-at-home mother is better than a working one. But this is not true, since a wife who works learns from her colleagues who can exchange experiences with her in fields like household management, cooking, and taking care of the children's education. A working mother will also likely feel the importance of time more, unlike a stay-at-home mother who could wake up late and feel that she is not achieving anything,” she said.
It may even be that the children of working mothers achieve more at school than those of stay-at-home mothers.
“Women can do many tasks at the same time since they were created by God in order to do so, unlike men. Women know how to take care of their children, their husbands, and their households. They will also see the difference if they leave their children with their husbands for a day,” Al-Sheshtawi added.
She also has some tips to help working and stay-at-home wives manage their homes more efficiently. If you do not ask your children and your husband for help from the beginning, they will get used to you doing everything for them. So, distribute the work among all the family members. In the long run you will not be able to do everything for everyone, and your husband and children will feel neglected.
Always write down the things you want to do the next day at work and keep a note in your office so that you don't have a mental load to carry with you at home. The same should be done at home, she said.

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