WOMEN STILL DO THE MAJORITY OF THE DOMESTIC HOUSEHOLD CHORES
even in families in which both parents work outside the home. As a married dad with a full-time job and a wife who also works outside the home, my immediate reaction is twofold: Way to go fellow dads. And, how did I miss out? Unfortunately, I am the exception to the rule: a dad who does his fair share of the housework.
I say, “unfortunately” because let’s face it – nobody likes doing housework. Oh, there are exceptions. I recently saw a pre-adolescent boy featured on The Tonight Show, demonstrating his favourite pastime – vacuuming. He explained that he had been in love with vacuuming ever since he received his first toy vacuum as a toddler; outlined how his mother has to put limits on his daily vacuuming the same way most parents restrict TV and video game watching and included a show-and-tell segment featuring a sampling of his antique vacuum collection. But I digress.
It’s not just that housework sucks; it’s that doing it in addition to full-time aid work leaves little time for ‘funner’ stuff. In Canada, full-time working moms report the highest levels of ‘time stress’ and more than half feel they don’t have enough time for family and friends. The numbers are particularly bad for working moms with children under age six who add 5.6 hours of housework to their nine-to-five shift. Add a few hours for sleep and that doesn’t leave time for much else.
Women have made great advances in equality in the past decades, but increased opportunity to participate fully in the working world hasn’t been matched by a corresponding decrease in expectations on the domestic front. While we are much more capable of thinking of women as doctors and CEOs, most of us still think of household chores as women’s work. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve had a female colleague tell me how lucky my wife is because I do my share around the house, I could afford to hire someone to do the cleaning – perhaps that would solve everything. In any event, there is clearly an underlying assumption, by men and women, that housework is woman’s work.
John Gottman and wife Julie Schwartz Gottman, renowned American relationship experts and authors, note in their most recent book, And Baby Makes Three, that men who more equally participate in domestic work have happier marriages and have more frequent sex with their wives. And therein lies the solution. Men may be naturally lazy, but we do respond to proper motivation. You just need to make the reward system obvious. In other words, if your man learns that he can score a happier, ‘more available’ spouse simply by pushing the vacuum around the family room during commercial breaks in the hockey game, everybody wins.
So you can motivate your man to take on more work, but one problem remains: Women have a hard time letting go. Not only does the man have to be ready and willing to do the work, the woman has to be prepared to let him do it – and that means doing it his way.
Here I can sympathize with women because the fact is that most men suck at household chores. Our attitudes may be changing, but the skill set is lagging behind. Most of today’s fathers spent our formative years in a gender-biased world in which we watched our moms slave in the kitchen while dad sat on the couch with a beer in his hand. Boys did woodworking and metal shop in school while the girls studied home economics. Boys cut the grass, shovelled snow and took out the garbage to earn their allowance while girls did the dishes and helped with the cleaning. Even in the female-led household that I grew up in, where gender role stereotypes were avoided, it wasn’t uncommon for one of my sisters to trade off shovelling the driveway after a big storm for a week’s worth of dirty pots and pans.
That said, most of this stuff isn’t brain surgery. Men can learn. But often, women will fall into the trap that it’s easier to just suck it up and do it themselves than to teach their old ‘dog’ new tricks. And women do fall naturally into this martyr role – likely plenty of role modelling from the previous generation of mothers.
SO THE QUESTION REMAINS: Is the prospect of a happier, less time-stressed life with more sexual activity enough of a motivation to get women to let go? I’d like to think so. Sure, there are plenty of surveys that show women, when given a choice between sex and chocolate, choose the chocolate. But those studies are usually sponsored by chocolate purveyors around Valentine’s Day. I’d like to believe that most women would go for the ‘all of the above’ option if given the chance. If not, your marriage may have bigger problems than an unequal division of domestic labour. PC