It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!
Recently a woman commented on an older post of mine talking about children's chores, and getting adult children to do more around the house. I talked about the importance of securing your husband's support for insisting that children do chores, because it's so easy to be undermined if you're not on the same page.
A woman left this comment,
I have one of those husbands who expect women to do "woman's work." He's willing to to "man chores," like throwing out the garbage, cutting the lawn, shoveling snow, changing lightbulbs, and such. But do dishes? sweep? cook? shop? No way!
Interestingly, we shared chores up until our eldest was born. Then he went into "man" mode.
For five years I tried to talk with him about it and got almost nowhere, and it didn't matter much to him that I worked parttime earning money or that I cared for our child all day long. He wanted me to do what his mom did. This was his template.
So I had a decision to make: resent him or accept things.
I chose to accept things.
It got me thinking quite a bit, and I thought today we could talk this one through.
I am not a big believer in "women's work" and "men's work". I do think it's better if a woman stays home, in general, with the kids, simply because she is, after all, the one who breastfeeds, and so she's going to have that primary bond. However, I have known families where they have taken turns staying home, or where he has stayed home because she has made more money, and these families work fine. I know some women who comment here will be upset by that, but I think each family must figure out what works best for them. If the children are cared for within the family, I think that's wonderful. And one of the best six months of my life was when the girls were small and Keith and I were taking turns after he had finished his residency and he was preparing to start a practice. We were "between" jobs, so he would take one week of shifts at a hospital, and then I would take one week programming computer databases. We both made the same money, so it didn't matter who worked, and the girls got to know both of us. It was a lot of fun.
However, that's not realistic for most families, and so in most homes, the woman stays home and the husband works (or both work). And then we're stuck with this problem of "women's work" vs. "men's work". In the post that this woman was commenting on, I was talking about adult children who had never learned to contribute around the house, and were now driving their mothers nuts. The primary reason that most of these adults don't learn to contribute is that the dads don't expect it. Mom is there to do the work, so the kids shouldn't be made to. It's mom's job. And usually the adult child in this case is male.
Many cultures grow up with the idea that only women do certain types of work, and only men do others. I've never really bought that. For years I did the finances in our home, though Keith recently took that over. Keith never cut the grass because of allergies, but he's recently started gardening (he thinks it's a mid-life crisis, but I'm all for it). He always sweeps because he can't stand the way I do it (he thinks I'm wimpy and miss a lot of crumbs because I do it from the wrist and not the shoulder). He changed diapers and looked after babies. He even cooked a lot when the kids were little, but as I got better at it, he backed off, and now I do most of the cooking (also because I enjoy it).
One of the benefits of marriage is that you can each do what you're best at. If he's better at earning money, he can focus on that, while you focus on housework. There's no point in you both working 50% of the time and both doing 50% of the housework if another arrangement works out better. So you can figure out what works out. It's not so much about women's work vs. men's work as it is about what works in your family.
The problem comes when people don't feel it's equitable, and that's what's happening in this case. She's doing some "men's work"--earning money--but he's not doing any of her chores. And she's tired.
One comment she made stuck out to me--she said that they shared chores until the children came. That is very common. After children come, roles tend to revert to gender stereotypes, even if they weren't like that before. Men start to earn more money. Women take over housekeeping. Very common.
But what should she do? I think her attitude is actually quite healthy, because she's realized that she can't change it, and you don't want to nurse resentment. So good for her.
Nevertheless, I want to explore this scenario a little further, because it's one that many women live through. Personally, I think what matters is the hours one puts into a day, not the work that one does. As long as you're both putting in roughly equal effort, then I don't care what you do. So if you're looking after kids all day, that counts. However, if you get 45 minutes to watch TV while you're bouncing kids, realize that you are getting time off while your husband is not. If you get an hour to work out at the gym, then realize that you're not putting in a full 8 or 10 hour day. If you go to a women's Bible study and someone else cares for the kids for 2 hours, you're not working a full day, either.
I think many of us feel like we work all day when we don't. I know caring for kids is exhausting, but honestly, working outside the home all day is exhausting, too. I was way more tired at the end of the day after going into an office and programming databases all day than I was looking after my toddlers, because with toddlers I could control things.
I'm not saying we have it easy; I'm just saying understand that he likely genuinely is tired.
If, however, he doesn't lift a finger all weekend while you do everything, that can be a bit of a problem. The way I would address it is to institute something my grandmother did, which was brilliant, and which I've always followed. She had a rule that "if momma's working, everyone's working", where on Saturday mornings, or for half an hour right before dinner, everyone would clean up. Then, once it was done, they would have great fun together as a family because she wasn't busy anymore.
Talk to your husband about starting "work hours" on Saturday, where everyone does chores (maybe he cuts the grass while you clean a bathroom), but then afterwards everyone does something fun together. If he can see the benefits of you being free from chores, he's more likely to participate.
Another tact that might work is to talk to him about how he would like his children to turn out. Many men have an easier time thinking about what they want the future to look like than what they want the present to look like. Does he want his sons to know how to make a meal? Does he want them to know how to clean a toilet? Does he want them to be able to do a load of laundry? When he sees that this is likely important, then ask how the two of you will ensure that this happens. If he sees that it's important for his sons to know these things, since they are unlikely to marry at 21, and are likely to live on their own for a time, then he's less likely to think of it as "women's work".
What about you? Have you had these conflicts with your husband over chores? How did you resolve them? Leave a comment and let me know, or write your own Wifey Wednesday post and link up with the Mcklinky!
About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.