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Wifey Wednesday: Is There "Women's Work"?


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).

I Heart CleaningImage by Valerie Morrison - Four Thirds Photographer via Flickr

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!




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17 Comments:

At 8:08 AM , Blogger Sherry @ Lamp Unto My Feet said…

Thankfully, my husband hasn't ever been one of those that said these are men chores and these are women chores. he is willing to fold laundry and wash dishes as he is to mow the lawn and take out the trash. Although I do almost all of the inside chores, he still will help when needed or asked and sometimes without asking. :D

 

At 8:44 AM , Blogger Courtney (Women Living Well) said…

My role model for housework is the Proverbs 31 woman.

This woman poured her life out for her family - she cared for her husband, children, servants and even the poor. She rose early, stayed up late, planted a vineyard, sewed her own clothes, her family's clothing, the tapestries and beddings!

I think we need to be careful to not get caught up in who does what but rather always have a heart of servanthood and sacrifice for our families.

When we live our lives poured out for our families, we will shine as bright lights in this dark world and draw others to Christ!

The Proverbs 31 woman is truly rare this day in age (because the chore war is so common). And she was rare in Bible times "A Wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies."

Here's the link to my current series on Proverbs 31:

http://womenlivingwell-courtney.blogspot.com/search/label/Proverbs%2031

Much Love,
Courtney

 

At 9:19 AM , Blogger Cheryl said…

I agree with everything, but especially your last paragraph. We're raising 4 boys, three of which are old enough for chores. Our approach for chores is telling them "you're doing this not to make my life easier but to learn to make your life easier and how to function when you are grown and out of the house."

Chances are they aren't going to go straight from your home to marriage. There will most likely be a time they live alone and will need to know how to care for themselves.

Another huge help is my husband is all about instilling respect for mom (and women in general) so he backs me up and helps to make sure the boys help me and follow instructions.

 

At 10:23 AM , Blogger Cheerios in My Shoes said…

I love your Wed posts, Sheila! It really helps put into perspective our relationship with our husbands, and perhaps parts the veil on how we interact with each other. We joke at times here at home as to what needs to be done by who, and sometimes those moments of humor can be taken out of context. We both come from very different backgrounds, too. My husband is Hispanic and grew up in a patriarchal household, which is typical for the Latin community. I myself am 16th generation German-American, where women worked just as hard as the men; only over time have I seen a major shift with women's lib, feminism of the 60's, dysfunctional guidance, and the seeking of "the prince on the white steed" fantasy. It has taken me a lifetime, so far, to realize that yes, we do have roles as men and women but there shouldn't be labels as to who does what and who refuses to bend a little. Tasks are tasks, jobs are jobs, and its the priceless time together that we should hold as important and not who's job it is to take out the garbage or do the laundry. I learn something new everyday, and I'm glad for those moments.

 

At 10:30 AM , Blogger The Happy Domestic said…

It's good to hear encouragement for a balanced view of family chores. My husband and I were BOTH brought up with mom-does-everything families, so neither of us are great at the housework thing... but we both put in a good effort, and work hard to teach our kids (who happen to be all girls) to do regular chores as much as they are able.

As for the Proverbs 31 woman, a much beloved mentor pointed out to our women's group years ago that the key to her success lay in verse 15... she had servant girls! ;) Wish we all could say the same.

p.s. The Proverbs 31 woman also had a supportive husband who allowed her to work outside the home and who valued AND publicly praised her contributions.

 

At 10:59 AM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

Thankfully, my husband grew up in home where chores are shared, so we trade around quite a bit.

In addition to regular "chores," we try to do a "family clean up time" a few times a week, where we set a timer for 30 minutes, give the kids some basic instructions, and we all work together to clean up. We turn on some music and the time flies. We're always amazed at how much we can get done! (And my boys are only 8, 8, and 3.)

It's important to both of us that they see housework as everyone's job.

With that said, I think it can be dangerous to "keep track" of how much everyone is doing all the time. At least for me. I can run into real resentment thinking, "yeah, he did the dishes, but I did all the laundry, folded it, and put it away..."

We both work hard and do the best we can. The rest is covered by grace.

It's not always tit for tat, and that's okay.

 

At 11:23 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I still can't get myself to accept things. My husband does not have a physically demanding. The past 4-5 months especially have been easy. He is admittedly not doing anything at work.

I cook, I clean. I care for the kids when they're sick, no matter what time of day or if he's off work. I run our special needs child to his three-days-a-week appointments; One of those days my other son has an appointment at the same place so of course he goes as well. Sick or not, I take care of the kids. I had the flu 2 years ago and the first day I was sick he dealt with the kids, but after that? He was pissed that I was still laying around and not doing anything so he got to slamming our bedroom door when he'd go out, not shushing the kids if/when they got loud, etc. That's one of many times where he's been less than considerate.

Of course if he has a headache and stuffy nose he's swearing he has a migraine and he take several different types of medication and sleeps for 10-11 hours straight, yelling if the kids are getting loud.

We're supposed to move and our house is nowhere near ready to put on the market. It should have been on by now but while he had 3 months to lay the new flooring in our house, he didn't finish. One room still needs to be done. I, on the other hand, have all of the daily issues on top of painting every room in the house, getting the outside painted, repainting our kitchen cabinets, painting the cabinets in the hall and bathrooms, redoing the tile in our hall bath, rebuilding our master bath shower that he gutted 2 years ago and never finished, tiling both bathroom floors, decluttering and organizing so that the movers know what is storage and what goes.. I don't have the money to hire those jobs out so I have to do it.

He occasionally mows the yard, and when our kids start a sport he's gung-ho in the beginning but by the 2nd week in he's sighing and rolling his eyes when I ask if he's taking one of our boys to practice. Inevitably they'll have at least one practice or game per week that coincides with the other's practice or game, and I count myself fortunate if they're in the same park or building. Many times they aren't and because he's oh-so-worn out and has computer games to play, I'm running like a headless chicken. Throw in an active toddler and I'm busy, worn out, worn down, and just plain beat.

Yes, I'm bitter and resentful,not to mention completely jealous of women who have husbands who help out even when the husband has a busy work schedule.

Don't suggest I have a talk with him because I have. Many, many times. And many times he's sworn he'll change and help out. The only reason I'm still with him is because when I left him a few years ago I couldn't get a job anywhere and began having anxiety attacks. Not to mention lack of support from family and being made to feel like we'd worn out our welcome and I needed to quit being a child and just go back to my husband. So here I sit.

 

At 1:12 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Hi ladies! What a neat bunch you all are, from very different life experiences.

First, a number of you have commented that keeping track of how many hours you both work is overkill. We're supposed to give, not measure. I agree.

BUT...I think sometimes this exercise can be useful for some women who think they work all the time. For these women, when you look at it objectively, sometimes they don't put in the hours their husbands do. And so I think it can be a useful exercise--in some cases.

These kinds of posts are hard to write because people are coming from such different marriages. Some, like Sherry, have a husband who loves to clean! Others, like anonymous, don't. And how do we help those who really are desperate, like Anonymous?

I'd like to do a follow up post on this, but for now, if anyone has any great advice, please leave it. I think we often don't understand how truly difficult some women's situations are. And our typical answers aren't necessarily going to cut it. This is a tough one, and I hope that together we can find a solution!

 

At 2:00 PM , Blogger Sara said…

Maybe Anonymous could leave a to-do list somewhere where her husband sees it every morning, like the bathroom mirror, making sure she lists every thing she does and the time it takes her to do it as she checks it off. To be fair she should also make his and put his time on there as well. If he works eight hours that should be listed also. As the week goes by it shouldn't be hard to tell that she is putting in way more hours, and then the list would be the one to "nag" her husband not her. I've found it's much harder to argue with an inanimate object, and this technique works on my kids fairly well.

 

At 4:57 PM , Blogger LauraLee Shaw said…

I think your practical advice is GREAT, Sheila! God has wired each one of us uniquely, and then we are each raised in unique family environments. Even culture and region can play a role in our strengths and weaknesses. It's great that you can come alongside those struggling and give them some tips and things to think about and pray about.

 

At 6:29 PM , Blogger Courtney (Women Living Well) said…

Hi Sheila! This is my first time to ever comment on your site - though I've been reading along for a few months and enjoying it!

I kinda feel bad for what I first wrote after reading some of the other responses.

I have lots more thoughts but am afraid I might be more discouraging than encouraging.

So if anyone is interested in reading - I address the Proverbs 31 servants here (my servants are called the dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, microwave lol!):

http://womenlivingwell-courtney.blogspot.com/2010/02/proverbs-31-woman-rises-very-early.html

And the attitude of remembering that Gen. 2 says we were created to be our husband's helper (not vice versa)

http://womenlivingwell-courtney.blogspot.com/2009/02/you-are-your-husbands-helper.html

I know that my thoughts are "strong" on this...and almost controversial...yet I want to spread this truth because I think a lot more women will find joy in their homemaking when they realize that it truly is more of an attitude change than their husband changing.

Thank you Sheila for all you do - you have a beautiful ministry and I adore you!

Much Love,
Courtney

 

At 8:52 AM , Blogger Mrs W said…

Wow Courtney sounds like she has a cushy marriage which allows for useless and such self-righteous answers.

We are to be a help that is meet for our husband, but he is also to love us as Christ loves the church, which includes helping out. So throwing Proverbs 31 around in a self-righteous manner really isn't the answer.

And guess what? Some of us don't have the appliances you do to make life easier. My husband hasn't provided me with a dishwasher, and he utterly refuses to touch the dishes at any time. My husband won't allow us to use a dryer because he's too cheap to pay the electric bill, and I have to hang our clothes on a line, which I don't mind, but it does take more time and he needs to understand that and help at times. Also, it's hard to wash the socks he nags me to wash if I don't know where they are because he leaves them laying around all over the house in odd places, wherever he took them off and threw them.

I have a baby and two toddlers, one is special needs and cannot hear properly or talk. I am in the throes of potty training the oldest, and I still have to do everything for the kids all the time since they are dependent. It would be nice for my husband to get off of World of Warcraft long enough to help out sometimes.

I need to have time to sit down and learn some sign language to communicate with my son. I need to keep the house clean which is impossible while potty training. I'm sick right now and have been in and out of the doctors office with some serious medical issues.

Throwing around Proverbs 31 isn't always the answer. Because a lot of us aspire to be that woman. But that woman did not stay at home all day, she had literal servants (not appliances) to stay at home and do her dirty work for her so that she was freed up to prance around the city all day buying property and having lunch with her husband and stuff like that. She was living the life of a rich woman that most of us don't get to live.

 

At 9:35 AM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

Just came back to read these comments in light of today's post.

There is so much pain here. I apologize if I contributed to it in any way.

I get it that I'm lucky as heck to have the husband I do, and I don't take it for granted. Not for a minute.

It hasn't always been as good, but that's a story for another day. (((HUGS))) to the ladies who are living through a difficult season, with no end in sight...

 

At 9:59 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Okay, let's all take a deep breath and step back from the keyboard a minute! I think we're supposed to be encouraging each other, and this is getting a little testy :).

I think EVERYBODY has excellent points. Mrs. W: Yes, you are in a very difficult situation, and I think you need to adjust your expectations downward. You simply AREN'T going to be able to keep a perfect house and have multiple kids in for activities and all those things moms are supposed to do when you have a special needs child and all the responsibilities of the house fall on you. Let's remember that this whole idea of a "perfect" house is not biblical--it's cultural. Back then they didn't have huge homes like this. People all tended to sleep in one bed. There wasn't grocery shopping to do; it was all on the farm. People worked closer to home. So it was VERY different.

Your primary role is to create a home where your kids can thrive and your marriage can thrive. That may mean that your house isn't spotless--but it's fun! It may mean that sometimes you have cereal for dinner. There's nothing wrong with that at all. You have a lot on your plate, and God understands that, and, I think, so do all of us here!

But please, Mrs. W., don't assume bad motives on the part of others who comment here, too. Courtney has come to a very beautiful peace about her marriage, which may not be ideal, if her husband does very little around the house. But she's learned to be content anyway, and I think that's a gift. Not everyone can do that, but she has, and in the end she'll be better for it.

As for Llama Mama, you didn't make it worse at all! We appreciate you here, and your insights, and your tender heart, so don't think that!

 

At 3:10 PM , Blogger Jen @ After The Alter said…

I am a a believer (most of the time) in womens chores and man chores. Call me a traditionalist, but I believe that jobs such as taking out the garbage and mowing the lawn go to the man...that is why I am ok to accept some things that are just women's jobs. In my home I pretty much do all the cleaning and such..just how it is and I dont mind it...

 

At 9:33 AM , Blogger Mrs W said…

UGH. So, this morning my husband complained about everything getting ready for work. He was running late because he didn't get out of bed at the right time...for the fifth time this week.

So then he complains that he has no clean socks. And I tell him, yet again, that I do not wash socks that are dropped in various places all over the house. I told him I have spent all week finding them, and now I found them I might get a chance to wash them. He just complains again and says it isn't that bad, that there weren't that many pairs of socks all over the house. But there was. His solution? If I don't have his socks clean by the end of the day, he'll buy another bag of socks, and add to the clutter I have worked SO hard to get rid of. So, he thinks he can leave his socks wherever he wants, and I have to wash them, and if not he'll buy more and make my job harder.

He also complained that he had no short sleeve work shirts clean. He has a boatload of shirts in his closet, he has and always has had far more clothes than I do. I don't want to have any more clothes than fit in the closet, and I already don't have enough shirts myself. He's going to an air-conditioned office, and he's complaining about wearing a long sleeve shirt. He leaves me here every day with NO air-conditioning. (Except in the kids room).

It's NOT my fault that he's too lazy to put his dirty socks where they belong. It's not my fault he has piles of extremely ugly long sleeve shirts he refuses to let me get rid of. Instead of occasionally letting me buy him nice shirts, he only wears usually ugly rejects from someone else. I try to screen anything that's given to us first, because I'm so sick of him wearing stuff that is very ugly just because it was "free". I dress nicely for him, you'd think he could at least agree to get rid of four or five of his most ugly clothes and let me select four or five nice pieces in exchange.

I feel the other commenter who has commented on these two posts...talking to him is futile...he thinks he's too busy to talk.

 

At 2:00 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Mrs. W.:

So sorry that life is so discouraging right now! Let me say a few things that can maybe help in the here and now, and then some bigger thoughts.

First, my husband was horrible with clothes when we first married, too. I think it's an age thing. He couldn't be bothered spending money on anything. And he always looked horrible! I fixed it by laying out his clothes for him the night before. It sounds very maid-ish, but I wanted him to look good! And he'd put them on and look smashing! He just never knew what pants went with what shirt, or what was appropriate for the season (I remember lecturing him when he was 23 that you couldn't wear wool pants in summer).

I went away this week for two days, came back, and found my husband, now 41, wearing a white shirt with beige pants again. I just laughed it off, and showed him what to wear with the beige pants for the next day.

I think it's a guy thing and an age thing. Most men at 40 dress better than at 25. They just don't get it then.

As for the closet space, box up the clothes that are out of season or that he doesn't need so that you can have half the closet. You haven't given them away, but they're out of your way.

As for the socks, can you make it a game every night that the kids collect Daddy's socks?

I really don't think the socks are the issue. They're the symptom of the fact that you feel taken for granted. When we're feeling put upon, we're not connecting on an emotional level with our spouses, and the socks matter. When we feel cherished, I bet the socks wouldn't matter. I pick up my husband's laundry and don't care two hoots because we have a great relationship.

So the socks aren't the issue. The relationship is. You really need to get back to having fun together again. I can hear in your comments on this thread and in others over the months how dissatisfied and frustrated you are, and it's only going to get worse unless something changes. And that something isn't him picking up his socks; it's you guys figuring out how to love each other and how to have fun again.

I know money's tight. I know you have little ones. But you have to find a way to have a date, even if it's just a picnic. Laugh together again. Find things to do that you enjoy. Make your life fun. And if he won't plan it, you plan it. Or just do it! Have a picnic packed for dinner, complete with water guns. Whatever it takes. Just learn to smile again. I think that's the big problem. You're in a rut, and you need out of that rut. If he won't pull you out, you need to pull yourself out. And I'll pray that you find a way.

 
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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

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.

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