Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Hunt for the Vacuum Cleaner Gene

Last week I drove my wife to the airport so she could catch a flight. "I hate it when my wife goes away," the airline guy told us while he checked in her luggage. "The house gets so messy while she's gone and I have to eat out all the time."

We've all heard stories like this, haven't we? I've spent Christmas parties listening to work colleagues discuss their husbands, who are apparently incapable of figuring out that whites and darks don't mix well in the washing machine. Whenever this happens, the other ladies in the circle of conversation always nod knowingly and chip in with gems of their own. It seems there is an epidemic of guys who are missing the help-with-the-homework gene, not to mention the neurons that reveal the mysteries of the mop, the can opener and the ever-perplexing Huggies.

Every time I hear some dynamite, intelligent lady tell one of these tales, they finish with essentially the same punch line: "Men are so helpless, aren't they?" I've heard many variations of this lament. My favorites include: "Guys just seem to be so much needier than women," and "I don't know what he'd do if I weren't there to pick up after him."

The message is always clear. Many wives have resigned themselves to doing the bulk of the household chores, even if they have a career equally as demanding as their husband's. It doesn't seem to matter how exhausted or over-stressed the lady of the house becomes. "I have no choice," she'll say. "Getting Mark to help is impossible." These ladies have bought into what I call the myth of the helpless man. Their husbands (surprise, surprise) seem more than willing to believe right along with them.

I usually smile at these stories and try to appear sympathetic. Meanwhile I feel like shouting to the world: "It doesn't have to be that way!" Admittedly, I hear about the other flavor of household less often, but I've met plenty of wives who claim to have supportive husbands and to be completely satisfied with the balance of work at home.

Here's the kicker. Every good-news story I encounter happens one of two ways. Occasionally a lucky lady wins the equivalent of the Y-Chromosome Lottery; she marries a guy who does his share without being asked. Most cases, though, involve a wife who firmly believes that her husband can and should help out, and decides to do something about it.

Some of you might be shaking your head in despair at this point. Let me guess why. You tried tying his leg to the vacuum cleaner but he gnawed off his right foot and crawled back to the TV. Arguing with him just makes him defensive and you end up fighting. It's easier to do the work yourself.

Am I close? I suspect so. These are just a few of the powerful reasons why women continue to believe the myth.

I want you to discard that belief, so I have gathered stories based on real hard-working wives. The first of these stories is already available on this site as Dismaying Story #1: The Myth of the Helpless Husband. These situations illustrate the many ways husbands get away with doing less than their share, as well as the most common reasons couples use to justify this behavior. I bet you'll be surprised at how many of these reasons have crept into our culture.

I plan to present a series of these stories on this site. These posts will be interspersed with a variety of other topics: answers to your questions, Relationships in the News, and many more. My goal in featuring these stories is to help you realize the following:
  • You make an amazing contribution to your household. If you're feeling overwhelmed, you shouldn't feel guilty, selfish or inadequate for wanting more help.
  • In many cases, the husband is not the only reason for the imbalance. Your own beliefs and fears may be contributing significantly to your workload, even though such beliefs are often groundless and unnecessary.
  • Not only is it fair that your husband should pull his weight, every member of your household (and that includes your husband) will benefit once he does.
  • Change is possible, even if you believe your husband is the most stubborn creature ever to walk the Earth; even if you gave up hope long ago that you could ever have a better deal.
I understand where your husband is coming from because I, too, am a fully-certified TV remote operator. I've inhaled my share of secondhand stress, just like all the other husbands out there. Yet, despite being a guy, I still know enough to insert the bottle in the noisy end of the baby. I'm tired of hearing about ladies being sentenced to life with hard labor because they don't get the support they deserve from their men, so I've decided to do something about it. I will include pieces that discuss why the myth is invalid and should be discarded, along with others that delve into how you can achieve real change in your home. You can get your first taste of the 'How To' information in Dismaying Story #6: The Permission Paradox and Dismaying Story #7: So THEN What Should I Do?

There is value here for the guys too. I have spoken to many men who are frustrated by the tension between themselves and their wives over the housework issue. They don't understand the underlying causes, however, and so feel powerless to fix the problem.

So come back and visit often. As you review these stories you'll be able to help me and your fellow readers by sharing the benefit of your own experiences. Together we'll work toward achieving some workload equity in your house.


Is domestic workload equity an issue in your household? Have you become convinced things will never change? Let me know by sending an email or by entering a comment using the link below.


  1. I absolutely hit the Y-chromosome lottery. My husband is very motivated to do things. He's not a stranger to the iron, a mop or the vacuum. I've never even had to ASK him. It's just that his parents raised him to be responsible and clean up after himself. Most of my friend have complaints such as you stated above. Most are complaints that he's lazy or hasn't a clue or is helpless. I think they enable that behaviour to a degree. I am one of the lucky ones, I never have to threaten, chase or even ask politely!!
    Thanks for a nice, fresh perspective!

  2. I just came by and read the entire top page of your blog. Common sense and humor -- I could learn to like it here.

  3. I stumbled across you from a link in a friend's comments. Sir - I shall definately be back. I think your views are refreshing & since I am the poster child for dysfunction - your words may well prove to be comforting. :) You have been linked. Good day to you.

    Grrl Ignored

  4. goingforgreatness: Thank you for the kind words. Based on the many discussions I have had (and my wife has had, and apparently you have had) you are indeed one of the lucky ones.

    quilldancer: Thanks to you, too, for dropping by and for the nice feedback.

  5. tragic: ...and I shall definitely be here when you get back. Thank you for the feedback and for the link.

  6. I love him dearly, but....what about a husband who does a few things around the house (mows the lawn 4 or 5 times a summer, grills out on the weekends, etc.) but THINKS he does it all!?!? a lost cause....