It wasn’t until I started working full time, that I really started seeing the imbalance of chore delegation in our household. Until then, we’d been very traditional. I did everything related to the house and kids, and Dan worked. Occasionally, Dan would help out as a favor to me, but this was usually after being asked, or after I’d had a stage five meltdown about how “Everyone in our house is a slob and I can’t take it anymore!”
The way it worked was this: After Dan was home, he would need to relax, so I would cook dinner, clean up dinner, take care of the kids, help with schoolwork, break up fights, bathe children, read to children, and put them to bed to ensure everything was done.
Dan always helped if I asked him to, but I felt guilty asking, because I knew he’d had a long day at work and was tired. But after I started working, I’d come home, and everything was still on my plate. Again, I felt guilty asking for help because the house was my responsibility? But why?
I realized that there was no reason other than traditional culture that says the house is a woman’s responsibility, especially when she’s making an income. This made me take a step back, because if it wasn’t my sole responsibility than I was doing a lot more than my fair share.
Why did I have so much guilt over asking for help from those (my kids included) who were perfectly capable of helping around the house? And even more disturbing, why didn’t anyone feel guilty that I was doing ALL the work? Didn’t my need to relax matter? Didn’t they care about me?
Then I remembered the first visit to my mother’s house after getting married. For the first time in my life, I was compelled to clean up after myself without being asked, and to offer to help her out in the kitchen. Why? Because having those responsibilities at home made me aware of how much work each one required, and I didn’t want my mom to have to work so hard.
Never before had I truly realized what my mother did. Things appeared on the table at dinner. The house was always tidy (except my room), and the groceries were in the fridge. Sure, I knew she cooked, and cleaned, and grocery shopped, but I never registered the impact those individual actions had on my mother. How much energy they took, or that my mother might ever be tired. It also never occurred to me that she might not like doing those things. After all, isn’t that what mothers are supposed to do?
Remembering this helped me to see that Dan and my kids were just unaware of my burden, so felt no need to alleviate it. Whereas I knew how much of a pain it was to take out the trash, and so hated asking someone to do it. This meant I needed to educate them, and I’ve set out to do just that since then.
This hasn’t been easy. No one wants to be forced into more chores, and I’ve had to talk myself out of my guilt constantly.
Dan and I have talked a lot about sexism in the past few years. How women are treated like house elves, and expected to serve without question. When I listed everything that I did and mentioned that I made just as much money as he did, I asked, “Why am I still responsible for everything else?” Seeing this opened his eyes, and he agreed to split up the tasks.
But I also pointed out that even stay-at-home moms shouldn’t have to do everything in the evenings. It’s not like they’ve been napping all day while their husband is working hard. They’ve been working hard all day too, and they need to relax as well. So if we’re making everything equal, splitting the night chores so that the mom gets a half load and the dad takes on a half load, is what we need to do regardless of the working status of the mom.
Even writing this I feel compelled to feel sorry for the husband in this situation. After all, he’s being given so much more to do now. It’s a sad impulse because it means I have been trained to value a man’s comfort more than a woman’s, and she shouldn’t have to work that hard either.
Something I tell my kids when they complain about a chore is, “This is ONE of the things on my long list of chores I have to do that I’m asking you to do. If you think doing just this ONE thing is so horrible, imagine how I feel when I have to do that ONE horrible thing in ADDITION to everything else I’m doing? You are part of this family, and we work together.”
This helps them to understand that I feel just as miserable doing these things as they do. Not that they hop off cheerily to do them every time, but I believe it has started to shape their thinking, while helping me to remember that I have nothing to feel guilty about for asking them to help.
But it’s not just doing the chores that needs to be divided, it’s taking the responsibility as well. Something I find frustrating, is that taking care of a household is not just about checking off a list, but it’s about making that list in the first place. Moms tend to look around and see everything that needs to be done, and the rest of the family doesn’t seem to pick up on that. They just do what they’re told and nothing else. Like washing the dishes, but not rinsing the sink out afterward. Or letting the bathroom trash overflow and not stopping to think, “Wow, I should take that out.”It's time to redefine household roles and make it 50/50. Click To Tweet
Bearing the responsibility of delegating the tasks is a stressful thing, and it shouldn’t solely fall on the woman. It’s a mentality that stems from the mother being the one responsible for the care of the house, instead of being responsible as a collective whole. But how do we change that?
It needs to start with discussions about how you’re feeling and the new mindset you’d like to impart. That you are not solely responsible, as it’s a family home. Then follow this up by pointing out when things are being unfairly dumped in your lap. An example of this was when Dan complained to me the other night, “I’ve put him to bed every day this week.” And I replied, “And I’ve made dinner every day this week. Do you want to trade?” He got my point, apologized, and put G to bed. Again, he’s not uncaring, just unaware.
In the end, it begins with you valuing your time and effort, and realizing that you’re important too. If you feel bad making someone do something, remember that they don’t feel bad you’re doing it, so you need to be responsible for making sure you’re spoken for.
A 50/50 household is a mindset. It’s about seeing that everyone in the family is equally valuable, and this only comes with effort. You will have to overcome generations of cultural thinking about traditional roles, but it can definitely be done. Stand up for yourself in a calm way, and use comparisons to help them see your point of view.
Because of my effort in this area, I never changed G’s diapers when he was a baby, and my workload in the house was decreased drastically, because Dan took on so many of the household responsibilities, especially when I was super busy with work.
It will definitely take two willing parties, but raising awareness of your desire to create a 50/50 household is the first purposeful step towards giving yourself permission to do so.