Sisterhood Blog

'Balebuste' Means Homemaker — Not Cleaning Lady

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

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I’m interested that Debra and Elana chose to focus on the housecleaning dimension of the balebuste role that Elissa describes aspiring to in her youth. I thought balebuste meant homemaker, not cleaning lady.

Working at a marriage for many years, and watching it grow and change while raising children gives Debra and Elana different perspective. I don’t need to visit their homes to know that they likely have me beat in the arena of domestic expertise. They’ve been at it longer. Elissa and I are newer to this, and I imagine that vantage allows us to approach the homefront differently. I have yet to abandon my wide-eyed optimism or my dreamy naïveté about house making. Perhaps I’ll feel differently next decade. Maybe I won’t.

My mother had many jobs, but one of her favorites, a constant, was the curation of the home where I grew up. She kept it beautiful and comfortable. It was equally inviting to loved ones or strangers. Home-cooked food was always ready, many pets ran around our feet and nothing was too precious to pick up or sit on. There, she hosted seders, Thanksgiving dinners, pool parties for sports teams, even a banquet prior to my high school prom. I wish I could say my Brooklyn apartment was constantly ready to be photographed or host company, like my mother’s home or anything featured on the roster of design blogs I read, but it’s not. More often, my husband and I find ourselves scrambling to tidy in the minutes before guests arrive.

Keeping a clean and inviting home is hard work, and paying someone else to do it isn’t in our budget. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take pride in the result of the work, which is a place where I want to be more than any other.

I often think of my mother’s lovely ideal — a happy space, filled with beauty and food and always ready for visitors. I love design and collecting bits of furniture and treasures as our finances allow. The stress and patience of this process is part of the work of homemaking — what was once some rooms that stored both of our stuff is slowly becoming a home full of pieces we’ve chosen together. And I value caring for what we’ve assembled, even if I’d rather be sitting on the couch than wiping it down.

If a balebuste is a woman who strives to build the home that now holds not only herself, but also her family— then call me one. That not-always-pleasing job is pivotal in setting a tone in the early years of a marriage. How we create and treat our living space now forms our habits for the future. I’m still excited by this prospect.

And while a devoted partnership is ideal, there are still duties I relish that my husband just doesn’t. Like the last minute assembly of disparate things in the kitchen, and bam we have dinner. He’s impressed, and we’re both fed and content. Call me old fashioned, but this makes me happy.


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