We have an intense lawn. In addition to the front and back yards, there’s also an immense side yard (suitable for sledding in the winter). It’s hilly, rife with years of random landscaping, sidewalks and paver stones. As city folks for most of our young adult lives, we were completely unprepared for taming this beast. We moved to the suburbs equipped with an electric push mower and that’s it. We were going to do it ourselves, no hired help!
Soon, we realized it was only possible to mow one section of the yard at a time before needing to charge the battery. So we sprang for a larger, gas-powered mower. Then, after we treated, fed and seeded the lawn ourselves, the rains came. And came, and came. Finally, we were out of town for a weekend and our yard became a jungle. There was no way even our new mower could handle it. Our determination to do it ourselves was at its limit. I went about trying to find a lawn service.
My Anti-Hired Help Years
In my early- to mid-20s, I was staunchly against hiring help to do anything a capable adult person could conceivably do themselves. I grew up in a household with financial struggles. It never occurred to me that regular people might hire someone to clean their home, wash their clothes or take care of their yard. Both my parents worked, and they still managed to get the housework done (with chore help from my brother and I). In addition, my grandmother was a product of the Great Depression, inspiring a strong work ethic and maniacal obsession with saving money. I’m not saying it was easy to do it all; just possible.
I once got into a back and forth with a college friend who lived in New York City at the time, and who paid to have his clothes laundered and folded. “How do you not feel bad paying someone barely anything to do something you should just be doing yourself?” I asked him.
He explained he was busy working in the finance industry, didn’t have easy access to a laundromat and could afford it. So why not? I remember walking away from the conversation still seeing it as a personal failing on his part.
But was it just my background that was making me so averse to hiring help? Or was this stigma culturally widespread?
Especially for cleaning or housekeeping services, the stigma or guilt of hired help tends to disproportionately affect women. We’re supposed to do it all—work, raise kids and keep a clean home (on top of a lot of other expectations I won’t begin to list).
And this expectation persists despite the fact that the majority of women work (62 percent in 2013) and are, increasingly, the primary breadwinners (in 40 percent of homes according to a 2013 Pew study). Yup. And even though it was a societal norm to have hired help in the home as recently as the 1960s, it’s now generally seen as something only wealthy people can afford.
In the case of the lawn, my husband was feeling a different kind of stigma. As the male homeowner, the manly thing to do was to obsess over his yard. It made him feel like a failure that he couldn’t keep up with it.
But as our primary breadwinner, he works a lot and often has an hour-long commute, which limits his time during the week. Doing lawn care for four hours or more nearly every weekend instead of spending time with our daughter also seemed pretty ridiculous. It wasn’t worth the guilt or him feeling mentally anguished over it.
Coming Around To Hired Help
It all started after the birth of our daughter. As a gift, my husband hired a cleaning service for a few months while I got used to motherhood and eventually went back to work. Instead of worrying about how I needed to scrub the tub, it freed me up to spend valuable time bonding with my daughter. It also lowered my stress levels. And when it came down to it, we could afford it on an as-needed basis.
Having a kid changes your perspective on a lot of things. The biggest for me was learning to ask for help. Whether you’re paying for childcare, grocery or meal delivery or other household services, it’s okay to need a little help. Or in the case of our yard, a lot of it.
Fast forward to this year and the lawn that would not stop growing. With a post on NextDoor, I was hoping to turn up some offers from neighborhood teens, but I got zero responses. We had a false start with a service, who overcharged to clean up the overgrowth (poorly), plus a steep weekly rate and contract. Then our new gas mower completely died and needed repairs. Finally, we found a local guy and his son who were flexible and gave us a very fair rate. He did laugh at us for thinking we could get away with a push mower with our lawn. But we probably deserved that.