This post is part of a continuing series entitled The Hunt for the Vacuum Cleaner Gene. This series uncovers the many excuses we use to perpetuate some old-fashioned stereotypes. Many people believe it is normal and inevitable for women to be responsible for the bulk of the housework and parenting within their household. This series includes motivational posts that argue "why" these beliefs are largely unfounded, as well as instructional posts that move on to discuss "how to" effect change in your household. Today's entry is a "why" topic.
Let's get right to the heart of the matter, because one issue will overshadow everything else until we get it out of the way. I've had ladies say to me: "You might have some great ideas, Andrew, but you haven't met my husband. There's no way he's ever going to cook a meal or run a load of laundry, and he'd rather wear a diaper than change one. Getting him to do more around the house isn't just hard, it's impossible."
If this sounds familiar, I have good news. Usually there is much more to a case like this than simply a stubborn husband. The posts in this series will show you many other factors that are often behind these types of situations. More than that, these stories uncover the excuses women make for their unfair work sharing arrangements. Imagine the powerful difference you can make in your life once you learn to recognize and avoid these excuses.
To get you started, this post challenges the notion that there is nothing you can do to get your partner to pitch in. I want you to gain the conviction you'll need to work toward a more equitable deal.
Oh ... and if your husband chooses to wear a diaper rather than change one, I take no responsibility for that.
I tried asking my husband for help with the housework in every way imaginable. I nagged. I pouted. Once I even left the vacuum cleaner in the middle of the living room for a week, hoping he would notice the dirty rug and do something about it. None of this got me very far. Once in a while I could get him to wash the dishes if I really insisted, but before long he'd be back puttering in the garage or watching TV in the basement. Meanwhile I ended up looking after the kids and doing my best to clean up behind them. Eventually I realized bugging him was a losing battle. Now I don't bother asking anymore.
Signed, Vanquished Cleaner
Dear Needlessly Vanquished,
Sadly, your story is all too common. Research studies over the years have shown consistently that women shoulder the bulk of the housework and parenting, even when both spouses work and when the women would welcome more help. For example, a recent study by Lee and Waite appeared in The Journal of Marriage and the Family ("Husbands' and wives' time spent on housework: A comparison of measures", vol. 67, 2005, pp. 328-336). They studied 265 married couples and found that women still shoulder almost two-thirds of the total household workload. This is clearly a difficult issue to resolve.
But take heart. Many couples are able to work out an equitable deal, even when their marriages don't start out that way.
To understand your situation better, think of yourself as a mountain climber. You've lived beside a particular peak for many years and from time to time you get the urge to climb the thing. So you pull on a pair of hiking boots and arrive at the foothills brimming with determination. Every time, though, you end up frustrated by the icy surfaces, vertical cliffs and oxygen-poor air. None of these hurdles can be conquered by sheer willpower alone. After trying and failing several times, you decide the task is just too daunting for you. You know that other people have reached the summit but you can't imagine how you could ever do so. Like you said, you don't bother trying anymore.
Okay, but what if you were better prepared to tackle the mountain? You could anticipate the problems you might encounter and pack appropriate climbing gear. Taking some training would help you develop the skills you need to deal with those challenges effectively.
It's the same with your quest for a helpful husband; you attempted a difficult task with little preparation. As you will see in the coming posts, the road to household workload sharing is littered with a surprising number of land mines. These can include societal and family expectations for gender roles, mother's guilt, marital insecurities and challenges in balancing dual careers, to name just a few. It's no wonder so many couples struggle to navigate their way through all of this.
You need to understand the potential pitfalls and have an action plan for dealing with them. Happily, this series provides exactly that. And by the way, you haven't asked him in every way imaginable, because you haven't tried an approach that works. I'm confident this series will give you the chance to do so.
Note to Faithful Readers: Presenting a large, multi-faceted subject like this as a series of short blog posts is like performing a striptease over a period of many weeks. Any of you who would like to see this material collected into book form are welcome to leave a comment. Or if you happen to work at a publishing house, feel free to visit the sidebar and contact my literary agent. :o)