One of the reasons I left Facebook this last summer – one of about a half-dozen not-that-big-a-deal yet cumulatively significant factors – was the depressing reflection of modern married live vis-a-vis housework and gender-substantiated parenting roles. Case in point, status messages like: “My husband is doing the dishes tonight, I’m the LUCKIEST WOMAN ALIVE!!1!” Oh how I wish I was joking and oh how I wish this was just a singular event. But I’m not, and it wasn’t, and although my friends and acquaintances are free to their relationships I wanted to experience Facebook as lighthearted entertainment, not teeth-gnashing reminders of realities I occasionally need a break from. Facebook had to go, and I don’t miss it – and yes, since you ask, I’ve found another social media service by which to fritter away my time.
So, me. I grew up in a household where really, to keep a dude you (Lady) did the chores. Both things were equally important: having a man, that is, and doing the work around the house to make sure he stayed happy.* Oh and by the way, I have heard every excuse in the book as to why in general, heterosexually-partnered men do roughly half the work at home of their female counterparts** (unless the female is employed out of the home and the male is not, the one exclusion): from the (supposedly) individualized “Oh but t-hee!, he just likes it messy and I like it clean!” (heard this one many times) to evo-psychology drivel: you know, Guys are meant to hunt mammoths and Laydeez weave baskets. So if you have some of those arguments, please don’t bother. Heard ’em all.
If I sound a little harpy-like now and then (I do!) please know that although my logical mind knows fairness in the home makes sense and should be strived for – and I am fortunate to have a partner who believes the same – in some way my emotional sense is still reeling from the training I received growing up (see above) and the crushing amounts of depressing bullshit perpetuated ad nauseam in the world around me. And I’m still kind of pissed, and kind of looking around like, Am I taking crazy pills? Why should we give a dude a lot of praise for doing his own damn laundry?
In a way I lucked out I didn’t marry an entitled little prince when it comes to chores, housework, and parenting; but also it wasn’t just luck, of course. Some deep part of my nature loves work, and loves keeping house – taking care of myself and my own – and bridles at the thought that I should shoulder this burden alone. When Ralph and I began dating we had separate apartments and neither of us were particularly neat, tidy, nor even cooked or cleaned much at all (this has changed, very much, obviously). We dated for three and a half years before marrying; and he and I may have thought we would work well together but in a very real way we were so untested for just how much work we would find in growing (and feeding! Jeebus!) a family. You know that idea that you and your Intended are supposed to sit and chat and discuss hopes, dreams, the future, and all the values you each have and make sure in every way you are completely and totally compatible? Yeah, whatever. Good luck with that, because at least in my life I’ve had so many things thrown at me I just had no way of predicting, and I’m not sure my husband fared better in that foresight.
Over the years I’ve observed my husband is drawn to family life innately. There is no other way to describe it. I mean, he regularly goes above and beyond to do everything he can for us to the point of feeling guilt when he’s away – yes, even at worky-work (I’m not going to go into the great length I could in describing the many comments, praises, and “Superdad” monikers he’s received over the years). This isn’t his journal, so I can’t (or won’t) speak for him; I will only say it took me a while to figure out he didn’t long for freedom from the oppressive reality of family life. At first I thought his compulsion to be home and Parenting and Husbanding hearkened back to the days of early parenthood, when I was completely overwhelmed by my newborn and really, really needed his involvement. I’d be like, If you say you’re going to be home a 4:45, it better not be 4:47 motherfucker, and I really meant it. This lasted some time and was not easy on either of us (although it was, oddly, very joyful and exhilarating; I honestly think breastfeeding hormones made me a kind of Superwoman). One benefit of our lifestyle is I remember the years with infants as being entirely resentment-free on my part; I was proud of my husband’s work and grateful I’d required his invovlement and thus didn’t, you know, secretly hate his ass in any way.
I’ve discovered though, that as motherhood became a learned skill, Ralph’s devotion did not decrease. Inasmuch as I’ve found myself able, willing, and more or less happy to cope in the home (“with some complaints”) including tons of time with my own children – Hello! Homeschooling here! – my husband’s sense of responsibility is strong enough that it seems hardly related to me and my difficulties or successes whatsoever. It’s a touchy thing, because it’s not my place to talk him out of his feelings, and I don’t want to be the kind of spouse who caretakes my partner’s every emotional need. That said, I have tried to help him more of late than I did for years – help him, I suppose, in shedding his guilt when he can’t be here, or can’t do his best, or do five things at once. Because honestly, I may be tired and underslept and never get quite get enough Me-Time and every other thing but really, it’s okay that he’s human, or has a job, or wants to do something of his own.
So today it took a lot of encouragement to get him out the door to record some music. He was making up for my inefficiencies: I was tired from the twin strains of entertaining company and sleeping poorly (sadly, the second element made me rather lousy at the first, although I did my best) and dragging in a way worse than I can remember for past years. This morning he mentioned four separate times he could just forget recording today, and stay home, and hang out with the kids, and all that, so I could rest. I wasn’t having it. A few minutes later he posited he could take a kid with him to record (which has, truthfully, yielded some awesomeness before). And I kept ushering him away: it was fine, yeah, I was tired, and I wanted to rest a bit, but it would be a good thing for him to go. And go he finally did.
I did my best at trying with a bit of cleaning and sewing and cooking and in between I rested and watched a couple films (Mamet’s The Edge – which I enjoyed – and Heist, which I found a bit dull). Nels fell asleep at my feet, huddled oddly under a blanket on the floor and blissfully giving me a break from his Nels-ness. Sophie cuddled me on the couch and the first movie made an impression on her; throughout the rest of the day she would chant – in a tiny, but fierce voice – “What one man can do, another can do!” and “I’m going to kill the bear! I’m going to kill the bear!” And we made it through okay.
Ralph came home a few hours later with his “new” studio set up (a generous donation from a friend), a third song recorded (coincidentally, this year’s numerical song 2000), and his spirits a bit higher than before; and we all survived just fine, and the day slowly sort of settled like a falling leaf in the gentle autumn breeze, and here we are, just the four of us, like so many nights before and I earnestly hope so many more.
And I’m grateful for the family; for a husband who, I guess for lack of a better phrase, knows his place. Ha.
* And provided sex, and dieted to look your best: all messages my mother taught me through her actions.
** Gay couples, incidentally, have more egalitarian division of work in their household; don’t think it hasn’t occured to me that if, God forbid, really I mean God forbid, I should end up an early widow I’m not going to be dipping generously from the female dating pool.
I am not married, nor do I think I am intended to be, but I understand the give and take of what it means to live with one another. We want the best for each other, right? Sometimes at the expense of ourselves and sometimes at the expense of the other. And don’t those expenses pay in the manner of understanding what would make the other happy? I don’t know. It’s not about checks and balances, because for God’s sake, THAT never works out. But keeping the other’s happiness in mind, we all do what we have to do and it works out in the end.
You know, I think people are often unaware of the (numerous) ways in which men are condescended to in everyday female discourse (the facebook status updates being just one excellent example). Why are women so surprised when men prove to be just plain self-sufficient, much less when they prove to be active and equal contributors to a household? On a mothering forum I belong to, I am often appalled by insinuations that the poster’s husband is an extra “child” to be supervised if not outright looked after. I see many remarks in this line, and they drive me nuts.
On the other hand, it doesn’t surprise me to see that you think of your husband as a purposeful and conscientious human being, capable of considering the needs of others alongside his own. After all, you seem to regard your children as conscientious and purposeful decision-makers too. Hmmm, it’s like everyone’s a PERSON at your house, or something.
To me, it speaks loudly not just of ingrained attitudes about gender that some people expect so little of their husbands and therefore have their expectations miraculously exceeded all the time (he did the dishes!), but also of a failure of imagination. I mean, isn’t it the job of the sympathetic imagination to suppose that other people’s motivations, capabilities, needs, desires and so forth are LIKE ONE’S OWN? My husband is no less a complex person than I am. He wants to promote the same interests that I do. He feels his responsibilities the way that I feel mine, whether or not these are the same responsibilities. His sense of humour, sense of community, sense of altruism, are like mine, or at least relatable to mine. That’s kind of why I married him.
Good points, Medrie. I have always hated the “my husband is a bumbling fool” stuff. I don’t think it’s useful nor helpful. But in a way it makes sense. Most of us growing up today think men and women are afforded more equal treatment than in days of yore. So some women get married to men and soon (especially if they have children) many of their lives look more typically gendered – they’re doing a heck of a lot more housework and kid care than their male partner. And changing the status quo? It’s scary, and hard, and our culture (and often our families) work against us to do so. But blowing off steam / venting on an online Mama’s group? That at least is effortless, and releases some of the pressure.
The discussion reminds me of a brief bit at Sociological Images. The Sarah Haskins video is excellent – but don’t read the comments if you want to keep your sanity. They turned violent pretty quick.
I honestly believe our culture is still profoundly sexist, and the fact that discussions like these turn so vile and rancid so quickly informs me this issue is one that a lot of people feel strongly about (basically: women, shut up and do the dishes) – even if it’s not the most public or direct conversation. In fact, keeping the discussion out of the limelight is a great way to continue the status quo as is.