On That Poem That Tells You To Rock Your Baby Instead of Cleaning Your House

Becky Aniol

washing dishes

We’ve all seen it. That poem that tells mothers that they needn’t clean their houses because “babies don’t keep.” It rolls through regularly on social media, with women commenting that it’s their “favorite poem” and that they “needed to hear this today.” Friends, this poem is not what you needed to hear today or any day. This is not a biblical picture of discipleship-motherhood.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the poem I’m talking about:

“Song for a Fifth Child”
by Ruth Hulbert Hamilton, 1958

Mother, oh mother, come shake out your cloth!
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking!

Oh, I’ve grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby, loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.)

Oh, cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust, go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby. Babies don’t keep.

The thing is, I’ve yet to see anyone argue from these lines that mothers shouldn’t pay their bills, even though the second stanza gives that sage advice. So why are mothers taking these lines as an excuse to not clean their houses?

It’s true. Children grow up so fast. Do they really need to grow up in a messy home? I’m not suggesting that homes need to be Instagram-perfect all the time. Children make dirt and crumbs and laundry and forts. Houses get messy. But having children doesn’t mean abandon all duties, all ye who enter motherhood.

Being a mom means more than rocking babies and playing peekaboo. Motherhood is a teaching job; it’s a discipleship job. Yes, we play with our children and rock our babies. But what are we teaching our children if they live amid chaos and cobwebs during their childhood years? We’re teaching them that responsibility doesn’t matter and order doesn’t matter.

What are we teaching our children if they live amid chaos and cobwebs during their childhood years? We’re teaching them that responsibility doesn’t matter and order doesn’t matter.

In contrast, the Proverbs 31 woman “rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household . . . She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” And you know what? Her children don’t feel abandoned by her. They “rise up and call her blessed.” Her husband praises her. She is a blessing to her family by doing her duty.

The cleaning and scrubbing will not wait ‘til tomorrow. Sufficient for the day are the dishes thereof. Or, tomorrow will bring its own dishes and its own crumbs, and the dust will just get thicker.

Elisabeth Elliot says,

The way you keep your house, the way you organize your time, the care you take in your personal appearance, the things you spend your money on all speak loudly about what you believe. “The beauty of Thy peace” shines forth in an ordered life. A disordered life speaks loudly of disorder in the soul.

Let Me Be A Woman

Let’s dwell on that for a minute. (I’m preaching to myself here too.)

We’re called to rear our children, not just rock them.

Dear mothers, we have a monumental task. But we’re called to rear our children, not just rock them. And that means that we teach them that life has responsibilities that need to be fulfilled. We teach them how to find joy in the mundane (sometimes undesirable) daily tasks. We teach them how to serve others. We teach them that love is more than “quality time;” it is service too . . . and sometimes quality time means cleaning together. We teach them that disorder is not desirable. We teach them how to bring order and beauty to chaos. We teach them that God created us to work. We teach them, very simply, that if you make a mess, you clean it up.

And we don’t teach them with only our words. We teach with our example. We disciple by showing them our daily disciplines. That is our calling.

Babies don’t keep, so make the short years of discipleship count. Children grow up. Let them grow up and remember our joy—our joy in cuddling them and also our joy in cleaning the cobwebs.

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Becky Aniol

Becky Aniol is a wife, keeper of the home, and mother of four children aged 3–15, whom she homeschools. She has a PhD in Christian education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Becky writes and speaks at conferences on education, discipleship, and the Christian imagination and leads expository women's Bible studies in her local church. Her desire is to equip women with tools for discipleship-parenting and personal growth in Christlikeness.