Monday, August 28, 2006
Dismaying Story #41: Traditional Work Sharing - Does It Work?
I am a proud husband and father of one great 18 month old baby. My wife has been a stay at home mom for almost two years. My wife does a great job with our son. My problem is that I get upset when the house isn't clean, laundry isn't done, or when there are dirty dishes etc. everywhere.
Before we were married, we discussed our wishes of having her home to be with the kids.
I was raised with a working mom who always had a spotless house.
Should I expect my wife to do all of the housework? Please help me understand what you would consider to be correct expectations.
Signed, Husband Who Doesn't Help Around the House
Sure, you can let your wife do all the housework, especially if you would like her to be overstressed, overworked, more crabby than she needs to be, less able to cope with your baby's needs, more likely to be depressed and have high blood pressure, and less likely to find you sexually appealing. Hey, if that's what you're aiming for, then by all means camp out on that couch while she works away.
Regular readers of this site will be aware of a continuing series of articles I have been running, which I refer to as The Hunt for the Vacuum Cleaner Gene. The most recent installment in that series, entitled The "It's Only A Little Work" Excuse, discusses how research shows inequitable work sharing arrangements have negative consequences not only for the couple, but also for their children. I suggest Husband should read that article.
Today's question is not part of that series but it very well could be, because it raises a very relevant issue. Many of us learned how spouses "should" interact by watching our parents. In this case you say your mother always kept a spotless house and now you expect your wife to do the same. Girls are commonly raised to have the same expectations for themselves, although your wife may not feel that way -- there must be some reason you wrote to me.
My experience has been that working fathers can sometimes have a skewed perception of the workload their stay-at-home wife faces. Dealing with a baby is a full-time job during the day. The child needs bathing, changing, feeding, entertaining (LOTS of entertaining), walking, soothing. Then there are all the tasks she must do to support those activities, like running out to buy diapers or formula, preparing bottles and food, preparing and cleaning up after the bath, laundry, and so on. It is no secret that the amount of housework explodes when little ones arrive.
That lunch hour you got? And the leisurely ten minutes you spent talking to a co-worker by the water cooler? She doesn't get those types of breaks. Instead, she gets the mind-numbing stress of rarely having an adult conversation anymore. She faces a never-ending stream of tasks she must perform, many of which could be categorized as drudgery.
Now back up and realize that her job didn't begin at the same time you arrived at the office. She was probably up a few times in the night and your baby required care from the moment your wife got out of bed in the morning. To catch up on that lost sleep (and to have the energy required for the evening and the next night) most moms truly need to nap during the day when the baby naps. There is just no other way to fit in a decent amount of rest during a 24-hour period.
Your expectation, however, is that she should forego this need. Instead, during those times when the baby does not demand immediate attention, she should make sure ALL the housework gets done up so you can walk into a spotless house when you come home from work.
To me, that is clearly an unfair expectation. In many cases it is the wife who has had the harder workday, not only physically but also emotionally. Don't believe me? Try switching places with her for a week. You'll soon understand.
When you arrive home from work, you and your wife have both just put in a full workday. The two of you are "Even Steven" in terms of your work contribution so far for that day. There is still plenty of work, however, that must be done. Your child still must be cared for until bedtime. The house (which you both sleep in, make dirty, etc.) is still in use and must be maintained for the rest of the day. You both could use a change of pace by that point in the day. You get yours automatically because you leave the office and come home. The only way she gets a change of pace is if you help to provide it.
A "fair" model is to share the workload equally from that point forward in the day. That means she does whatever housework she can through the day, but there will inevitably be more to do while you are around. How is it fair that you should work 8 hours a day and she should work 16 or more? Roll up your sleeves and take care of life together in the evening, then maybe BOTH of you can have a bit of leisure time to enjoy. Sometimes that might be alone time (which is important) and this can also allow the two of you to spend some time as a couple. What a concept -- having some time to strengthen your marriage, even after you have children. I highly recommend it and sharing the housework makes it easier to accomplish.
You are correct in thinking that this model of fairness was not typical in your mother's day, although you might be surprised to learn how many households worked this way even back then -- not as many as today but still a significant number. In my view, however, not all social norms should be automatically carried forward to new generations, and this is a good example. There is growing awareness that the traditional model for domestic work sharing is inequitable, and studies show this model is becoming less common as the years go on.
I urge you to consider becoming part of this trend. You might even find that doing the dishes proves to be a highly effective form of foreplay.
All the best,
Do you have a relationship issue in your household? I would welcome your email or any comment you wish to enter using the link below.