Monday, August 21, 2006

Dismaying Story #38: The "It's Only A Little Work" Excuse

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.

Dear Andrew,

Okay, so my husband doesn't know which end of the mop to wring and can't tell a whisk from a spatula. If he liked the idea of housework he would have offered to pitch in years ago. Why should I go through the bother of trying to get him involved? It's easier just to keep on doing what I've been doing. After all, you know what they say: A little work never hurt anyone.

Besides, there is one thing my husband can never be; he can never be a mother. I know my children need their father too, but while they are young there is no substitute for the nurturing their mother can provide. I feel especially strongly about this because I work and have to miss so much of the kids' lives. I don't want to give up any more time with them than I already do, so I'm the one who looks after them when we're home, no matter how much extra work that means for me.

Signed, Working Hard

Dear Working,

Yes, I've heard that saying about how a little work never hurt anyone and it applies to your husband as well. I also realize change can be scary even when it's for your own benefit. You have a choice between redefining your role in your household or proving to yourself that you don't need to. I can tell you're busy working on the proof.

Domestic work issues can have a big impact on quality of life for everyone in your family. Researchers have uncovered the following facts about living with an inequitable work sharing arrangement:
  • It's not good for your marriage. One study of working couples found that those who feel they are doing more than their share are more likely to be dissatisfied with their marriage.6 On the contrary, husbands who contribute more at home have wives with lower stress levels.4 These women tend to see their men as loving, caring and more sexually attractive.
  • It's not good for your health. The more time people spend performing household chores, the more likely they are to be depressed.3 Beyond that, a lack of fairness contributes more to depression than just doing plenty of housework. Both men and women tend to be depressed more often when the division of household labor is inequitable.1 One survey of working women showed that those who perform the greatest percentage of domestic work also have the highest blood pressure levels.2
  • It's not good for your children. Studies show that fathers who are more heavily involved in housework and parenting are more effective role models for their children.4 Such children tend to get along better with others, be more outgoing, have fewer behavior problems at school and be less depressed. They also achieve higher school grades.5
Your attitude towards your children sounds noble but I doubt you're achieving the results you hope to, for a variety of reasons. First of all, I don't buy the argument that your children are somehow getting less of you when your husband is helping out. The kids actually get a full dose of Mom and a full dose of Dad whenever the two of you work together to look after them. As I talked about in Dismaying Story #11: Mom's Bonding Time, your children really are able to enjoy the company of more than one person at a time.

More than that, they will have a Mom who is less stressed and more fun to be around if she is not so overworked all the time. Allowing your husband to share the burden can help to achieve that.

Finally, your husband can pitch in with the more mundane housework and parenting chores, such as cleaning up messes and preparing meals. These are tasks that tend to prevent you from paying attention to your kids. With less time needed for these activities, you can have more direct interaction with your children.

If you are wondering whether you should bother getting your husband to help out more, consider how important these issues are to you. To provide the best care possible for yourself, your marriage and your children, get your husband to pitch in.

All the best,

I'm going on vacation for a few days, so I won't be posting stories again until late in the week. Until then, I would like to ask two favors:
  1. If you haven't already done so, don't forget to check out this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I will post my favorite response next weekend with a link to the winner's blog.
  2. Also, if there is anything you would like to know about me or this site, now is your chance. Your interview questions are needed so I can be interviewed online. You can find the details here.
1. Bird, C. Gender, household labor, and psychological distress: The impact of the amount and division of housework. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, vol. 40, 1999, pp. 32-45.
2. Brisson, C., Laflamme, N., Moisan, J., Milot, A., Masse, B. and Vezina, M. Impact of family responsibilities and job strain on ambulatory blood pressure among white-collar women. Psychosomatic Medicine, vol. 61, 1999, pp. 205-213.
3. Glass, J. and Fujimoto, T. Housework, paidwork, and depression among husbands and wives. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, vol. 35, 1994, pp. 179-191.
4. Lovekin, K. When dads clean house, it pays off big time. UC Riverside sociologists say men likely to have better behaved children and wives who find them more sexually attractive, University of California-Riverside Public Release, June 2003.
5. Radin, N. and Russell, G. Increased father participation and child developmental outcomes. In Nontraditional Families: Parenting and Child Development (M. Lamb, ed.), Erlbaum, 1982.
6. Wilkie, J., Ferree, M. and Ratcliff, K. Gender and fairness: Marital satisfaction and two-earner couples. Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 60, 1998, pp. 577-595.


  1. As per your request, Andrew, I’ve added a link to your blog. A reciprocal link would be appreciated. Thanks! :-D

    I enjoyed this article. I’m married to Mr. Clean (which sounds so much nicer than “Mr. Neat Freak”). The best part is that he readily pitches in without ever being asked. The worst part is that he alphabetizes everything on my spice rack and rearranges my haphazard shelving methods in the pantry. He even organizes my grocery cart as we shop.

    The only time I vehemently object to his orderliness is when he starts eyeing the chaos of my office. As a “surprise” he neatened and organized everything once a few years ago and I still can’t find things. I’ve had to remind him whenever I see that systematizing gleam in his eye that my work space is strictly verboten. LOL

  2. Few things are more sexy than watching a man care for his kids, and clean house! I must have the sexiest man in the world cause he is great with both!

  3. My husband had to do all the work for a whole year in 2005 because I was in an accident. I was impressed. He was brought up nicely and has always helped me, though.

    If the first woman has any boys, she is teaching them to be bad husbands and fathers. Bringing up kids has to be done together. There has to be some fair division of household chores if you both work. Boys need to know a few basic cooking skills and how to sew on a button.

    She is also setting a bad example for girls. Does she want them to value themselves as little as she seems to value herself?

  4. I know many people and I have noticed a number of things.
    First I know 3 single parents that are men.
    Two are widowers and one his wife ran off and left him with the kids and all three of them raise their kids in a nurturing environment.
    Most of the problems start when all of us are growing up.
    Duties are broken down into gender based duties and even today my mother who is 80 says that this is a woman’s job that is a man’s job on certain duties.
    I could easily ask if she knows which end of a hammer hits the nail.
    Girls are given dolls to play with because they may become mother one day.
    We are the people responsible how our kids act when they grow up.
    Maybe its time dolls and toy tools become something either sex can play with.
    I know women that don’t clean house or cook and I know men who live in a perfectly clean house (This is not me).
    I think she should teach her kids how to mop the floor now and that it’s not a woman’s job to do housework and hope that when her son is in a relationship he would share the house duties.
    I believe girls should learn how to use tools so they could repair small problems at home and not rely on the man to come home to do it.
    Both should be working at a team not as individuals.
    It gets frustrating having to rely on someone to do something for you and it’s worse being taken for granted because you are the one that always has to do certain jobs because you are always the one that does it.
    Times are changing and we have to change with them but it has to start and an early age.
    It’s hard to teach and old dog new tricks but if you attach the mop to his butt you can at least get the center of the floor washed.

  5. Never mind that if he does more housework, she has more time for the kids! My mother cannot, for health reasons, do any heavy housework so my dad and I do all the vacuuming, etc., and Dad always claims the right to clean the pots and pans after dinner, while he's listening to the news.

    My dad was as much as mom as my mother was. Not that my mom wasn't a great mom, but my parents had much less defined gender roles than the stereotype and my dad had no problem being the story-reader, nightmare-soother, and other "snuggly" roles. It baffles me that people think this is "girly". Kids need both parents as role models and nurturers; being that comfortable with my dad as well as my mother made a huge difference for me.

  6. My husband helps occasionally. Like when I'm sick he'll fix PB&J for the kids for dinner. Sometimes he even picks up after himself in the living room by putting his drinking glass on the kitchen counter--not in the sink all rinsed out, but at least in the kitchen. There are some things at which women are just better!

  7. Leslie, you're a lot more patient than I would be. My dad (and my brother, in his own home) both cook real meals at least half the time, and I was raised to think that "putting my glass in the kitchen" was the next step above living in a barn. I'd have been drinking out of my hands under the tap if I had done otherwise. None of the men in my family assume that women are going to pick up after them. My parents never picked up after us kids, either--if the mess got bad they would scoop it up and dump it in our beds so we had no choice, but they never put anything away for us.


    Is chore division a bigger problem when the wife stays home? (I'm not married so I don't know.) My mother was home most of the time when I was a kid but it didn't mean she wasn't busy, and it seems that one of the arguments I hear about men not helping is that it's the wife's job, especially if she's a stay at home mom.

  8. i want to thank you for a single mom, i know it was hard on my kids...

    i just wish you had asked her to show this column to her hubby - so maybe his eyes could be opened...

    have a nice vacation!!

  9. My husband and I went through a spell of arguing over house chores. It happens every summer (he's a university student) I left my part time job and took a full time job to enable him to leave his crappy IT job and go back to college. Understand now, I have four, after working a full day, I would come home to...that's right...a freaking mess, and people asking me what's for dinner! It took me a week or two before it sunk in that this was not a fluke, but a pattern! ARRRGGG! So, it took a while, but I was able to convince my husband that it was unfair of him to amuse himself (playing video games all day!) at my expense. I told him that from that day on, the only way to relieve our relationship from the brewing resentment I felt was for him to put in a full day of work each day that I was expected to put in a full day of work. He initially tried to argue that he didnt "expect" me to put in a full day of work, so I should not place expectations on his free time. I corrected him by informing him that every time he turned on the shower and expected hot water to come out - he was, in fact expecting something of me(the only one with a job). Every time he went to the kitchen for food, he was expecting something from me...I think that helped him understand how I felt. Since that time he has painted our entire house, fixed my car, got the kids on a schedule of was wonderful, but I had to be persistent...and very patient. Thankfully, he cared enough to make the change.

  10. I think I realized all that too late in my marriage. I had already invested 6 years of doing... well everything. When I got sick of it and expected him to pull up his socks, he just wouldn't/couldn't.

    Would you say that defining "roles" (per say) early in the relationship would possibly avoid any conflict later? I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't eagerly accepted the Miss Molly Homemaker role in the beginning...

    ...The man would cry at the thought of doing his own load of laundry. His Mother did everything for him before she passed him over to me and I think that was the root of his problem.

    I wish I had read this in 1999.

  11. I have just come across your blog and was very happy to have my first impression be that of a man with a mop.

    I like what I see already.

  12. first time here and i know when i show this post to R (my husband) he's going to be all smiles:) coz when it comes to sharing work arnd the house, he's perfect:)...! *touchwood*

    and I am surely going to be back here time and again:)....

    will blogroll u!!!

    tc:) and hope u have a gr8 time on your vacation...

  13. I always tell my husband, I think you'd look really sexy with a dish rag in your hand, or, I think it's sexy when a man vacuums the floors. There were years when our sex life would have been so much better if he could only have taken the hint!

  14. To me, the most important reason for getting your husband more involved, above everything else you said, is that it'll make him a better role model for the kids. Boys who grow up watching their fathers being attentive and helpful to their mothers and themselves will become men with greater respect for women, more self-esteem as fathers, and a more realistic understanding of their place in the world in the 21st century.

    If a woman can't relinquish some of the control for the sake of her marriage, she should at least do it for the sake of her children. Her sons will become better people/spouses/fathers for it, and her daughters will grow up to expect more role-equilibrium instead of historical female martyrdom. Aren't marital behaviors trans-generational? Gotta teach the kids by showing 'em.

    After all, when I'm a mother-in-law one day, I don't want to deserve all that finger-pointing in my direction.

  15. Enjoy your vacation, Docteur Andreas.

  16. Andrew..nice post and I wish my husband would read this. he is not the helping kind and it does seem overwhelming when u have to do it alone. I have learnt so much from reading your posts.thanks. have a good vacation.

  17. Your blog grows more interesting with each visit. Definitely will be posting about it soon.
    Take care,