Motherhood and Household Duties

I remember when I was a nanny for a young boy during one summer. He was the youngest of two siblings. His parents both worked full time at jobs they loved. I was hired to hang out with him and do light housekeeping. I loved this family and their selected values. They didn’t have a tv, lived in a modest home on the beach, and while they had their own unique family challenges, they seemed generally happy to be around each other.

I distinctly remember walking into the house on a Monday morning, and it being a big mess.  I would lightly clean and then we were off to the beach for the day.

One day the mother told me she knew the house stays cluttered but she chooses to spend time with her family on the weekend instead of tirelessly cleaning. I remember judging her for not doing it all- deeming her a less than perfect superwoman.

I feel awful about this today. Where did that standard even come from in my mind? Well, I was newly married, had no children, and it was easy to keep the house clean. While I liked to keep the house clean and took much of time to do it, she made a conscious decision not to.

It struck me as odd. Didn’t she want her house clean and sparkly everyday? Didn’t she want those piles of laundry gone? Wasn’t it her responsibility to keep her house tidy?

The answer used to be an unquestioned yes. But thinking about her lately, I have come to utterly respect this woman. She had a husband and two teenage boys who could of held more personal responsibility in the home. And of course, not always doing everything, she could have been teaching them about self-sufficiency, letting them see how much work it really takes to manage a household instead of only complaining about it.

I can see now this was my introduction to one of the principals I am concerned with today – division of household labor.

Here’s the thing that people don’t get- some think if you’re a feminist, you’re supposed to only care about making enough money to outsource your parenting responsibilities so you can concern yourself with breaking the glass ceiling. People assume feminists only care about changing the world beyond the domestic realm.

But there’s a whole lot of feminists and fathers who care about things such as how housework is split between the family.

Some feminists are concerned how many devalue housework because it’s work outside the “meaningful sphere” of making money. It’s hard to calculate when a mother’s work  begins and ends, which of it is work and which of it is play.

But just because something is complicated doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question it.

Sometimes I sit and think isn’t it nice to have a slave? I mean I would like to have the benefit of a clean house, clean laundry, and a warm meal the moment I walk in – all without having to do it myself.

With my relationship, I constantly evaluate leisure time and responsibility time. However, I also know that when it comes to housecleaning, I have higher standards than my husband thanks to in part how young girls are socialized to be perfectionist house cleaners and boys are socialized to think of housework as feminine.

Mike takes a lot of time to train for Ironmans and competitive cycling. Often, I am secretly angry because the house is a mess or the laundry is piled up, and he’s out having fun. Yet, there are times that for my leisure I want to walk the dogs or play with my baby, but that doesn’t mean I want to always be the one responsible for these.

Nevertheless, I think more women need to have clearer boundaries when it comes to free time. Sometimes, yes, you have to literally leave the house to ensure your time is all your own and your own instincts or perfectionist behavior doesn’t become a hinderance to how your spouse parents when its his turn. And sometimes you just have to get out so that dad doesn’t always rely on you to fix the crying baby. And also, you have to make yourself make your own time. You can’t sit back, compare time sheets, build resentment, and make your spouse the only one responsible for your own lack of boundaries.

Being a new mother I understand things will never be 50/50 when it comes to child rearing, especially if you are a mother who breastfeeds. The more time mom spends with the baby, the more she becomes the expert with him.

But we certainly can get to a better percentage place where partnership parenting is the prominent goal.

The thing is each family has to find the right balance for them. What’s the most important to you, what’s important to him? – a clean kitchen? folded and ironed clothes? healthy meals? The Equally Shared Parenting website reminds us:

Equal sharing of the housework begins with consensus on three fronts: 1) what needs to be done, 2) when it needs to be done, and 3) how thoroughly it needs to be done.   Once these difficult negotiations are complete the assignment of tasks becomes a bit easier.  The ‘perfectionist’ parent should be especially careful to avoid controlling the decisions, and should be prepared to ‘let go’ to some degree.  Good enough is good enough.  The achievement of equality is the real victory.

So I can sit here and take a distorted martydom approach that seems to be glorifying a type of superwoman motherhood (poor me look at all I have to do but look how great I am for attempting to do it all) or I can work with my partner to come up with homecleaning values, time tables, and required child free time for BOTH parents that work for us. And I’m so happy that my partner is willing to do this. I only wish all women had it that good.

Yes, while some feminists seek to change the whole world at once, I can’t be a superwoman and hold myself accountable for all that. I can, however, change my little world and the experiences my son learns from when sharing a life with someone. I can change my perspective, my boundaries, how I use my time, and my expectations of perfection.

So I nod to the stay-at-home mother feminists out there who started asking these questions, and I nod to the husbands and fathers that care to make their feminist wives and sons happy by being fully present in their lives, even when that means sometimes grocery shopping or doing laundry instead of building a cool new trike.

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