Today my husband sends me this Newsweek article regarding something any traditional (that is to say, two-parent) family knows: that even in dual-working families, mom is doing more of the family work.
There are two potential reactions to this newsbit. There are those without families who read this or hear of it and they simply don’t care. Maybe they think it doesn’t really matter, doesn’t really affect them. If they start families of their own someday their tune will change and they’ll be fighting over this mundane shit. Even if they don’t start a family, these issues affect them. Cultural and societal expectations of men and women regarding work and the home infuse our entire experience of living, whether we are aware of it or not.
I found the article mostly a waste; under-explored, trite. But the subject itself is very much with me and has been for the last half-decade. In fact on Monday I sat on my counselor Cheryl’s couch in our first-ever session without Ralph and this was part of what we talked about – the societal function and personal experience of housewifery. I expressed my growing frustration and disillusionment, an ennui that in part stems from a lack of acknowledgment within my community and larger culture. Cheryl asked me to provide some examples of this and I had so much to say I almost choked on the words: the categorical assumption that my time is valueless and fluid; an observance of how when mommy starts feeling ready to work her income is deemed “supplemental” and therefore any childcare expenses are de facto deducted from her earnings (as opposed to a combined income); how in most blended families I’ve known or experienced it is stepmom, not bio dad, who manages her step-children’s school, doctor visits, social calendar, care and clothing – she is merely expected to do so and in fact Daddy often quickly sits back and lets his former and current mate to sort out the messy issues between families. Some of my examples had no relevance to my personal life (we are not a blended family and I have not seriously considered working out of the home, for instance) and most of my examples have so little to do with my own family (Ralph and the kids are genuinely full of love and acknowledgment) – but these examples and others have everything to do with an oppressive and depressing outer reality.
These issues are not a problem for breeding females alone. Whether the other caregiver (hereafter called “daddy” for ease’s sake) can express it or not, he suffers as well. Speaking in generalities I have seen how the lack of know-how, competence, and ownership that daddy feels will create – often, not always – a father who feels out of their element, constantly nagged or perhaps just not ever “getting it right”, and tempted to carve out limited space (his shop, hunting trips, the game of airplane referenced in the article) where he can experience life with his children in a meaningful way. Daddy feels a stranger, intruder, or bumbler in his own home; perhaps he is resentful or believes his partner over-exacting or on the opposite end of the spectrum, a slovenly housekeeper (my husband, having spent a year being housekeeper and caregiver – not merely a weekend here or there – never makes this erroneous charge). Daddy pines for time to himself or out with friends while often not fulfilling an egalitarian view of time at home. Neither mommy or daddy are truly satisfied and both feel frustrated with the other and sometimes, their children.
I notice Daddy’s consistent contributions seem to be alternately glorified or denigrated. If I hear one more time how “lucky” I am that my husband can and will “babysit” the kids I’m going to deliver a cock-punch (altho’ it’s usually females that tell me this). On the other hand, when is the last time we ladies earnestly thanked our partners for some of their consistent and not-so-glorious efforts for the family? For instance their willingness to drag the garbage can out in the freezing morning rain, to take a late-night drive to the store (and yes A., I know M. really likes to do that; most people don’t), their tireless efforts to actually accomplish tasks on a list that we make for them (I would not like to do that, myself). Have we thanked them for their good spirits when the fact is their work – whether they love or hate it – is made liquid into cash which is devoured, literally, by those in their household? Have we stepped back and marveled at their ability to eschew powerful cultural expectations of being lavicious, selfish caveman lusting afer boobage and instead remain faithful, sexually available, and loving to us for life?
I am grateful to my husband for everything listed above and more. But when it comes to the distribution of household work, I honestly feel like if I worked outside the home it would be easier to know when I’m being taken advantage of for being Mama. Because as it stands, it is right and good that I am doing more work than Ralph. Ralph has his fifty or so hours away from home and during that time I’m expected to do my job – cook, clean, launder, run errands, and mess about with the kids by grooming, loving, reading to, feeding, disciplining and encouraging them; an endless series of repetitive tasks, none of which are rocket science but the balance and coordination required to pull them all off can be by turns draining or exhilarating.
I imagine in dual-earning families it often just seems like a heck of a lot of work when parents return home; both of them tired and wanting respite, wanting time together, time alone, time as a family. Frustrated by projects or housework that is never done to one or both’s satisfaction (ask my brother about, “This house WAS looked good!”) but at least a fair bulk of the work needed is not definitely placed in one parent’s sphere (as in the SAHM’s case). I feel like if I worked outside the home as much as Ralph did I sure as hell wouldn’t meekly accept more of the dishes than he does.
I have some thoughts regarding the deficit in husband / daddy care – opinions that are based on my own experiences and that of close friends (literally three minutes after Ralph sends me this link a friend (mother to two) says via IM, “Kelly, I need to ask you a question. How clean is your house? … [I]f you are busy now, I would really like to have this conversation with you at a later date. I trust your opinion and know we are coming from a similar place as domestic workers.”). I’m sure I’ve exceeded Chris’s word count tolerance; I’ll step off the soapbox in just a minute. Here’s my summation, since the article above came nowhere close.
First, let’s have some acknowledgment of one another. People – especially you boys – take some time off to say, “Thank you” to your Mama, even if only in your own mind and heart (in person would be better). The truth is, your mom probably worked too hard without enough self-care and respect for what she did. Perhaps she never took the time to find out what she wanted for herself. That’s her deal. But in the meantime, thank her for her efforts.
Men, put your minds to how you can help out at home. Diminishing the significance of the ongoing argument about where the dishes go after they’re washed is Assholian. You benefit from these systems as does your children. Man up. You have a big brain in your cavity; you are not a clueless Homer Simpson even if you sometimes use it as an excuse to be lazy. Still not convinced? To be over-frank, putting your mind into your household will get you laid. And I mean your wife will buy something slutty and do something really dirty
to you. Do you want that or not?
Ladies, ask your man what he might need. Let your kids be dirty or unfed or screechingly loud for a few minutes to focus on your man. It may surprise you. Maybe he doesn’t need a night out with friends or more time at his hobby. Maybe he needs more sex (that goes a long way for lots of men), a nicer dinner on the table, or ten minutes to himself when he gets home – after which point he should focus his ass on the family a bit more. Ask more from him and rather than nagging or complaining or accepting his hangdog I-fucked-up routine, meet him with clear-eyed questioning and don’t let him off the hook. Don’t look at this as you being a Mama to another (adult) child; look at this as an adult who has an agreement with another adult.
And ladies, since you’re kind of an overworked mess, take time to acknowledge your needs. Quit pretending that’s anyone’s job but your own.
Kids, maintain. You’re doing good. We love you.