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Middling about gender roles...

It's snowing today (fluffy flakes, despite the chilly temps), and the kids were hoping for a snow day -- but really? Not three days before Christmas break. And despite the snow and cold, my neighbor B and I went for our regular walk (with her dog) around the loop below our park. These walks are not only a blessing for the exercise but for the conversation.

Today, we talked a bit about gender roles and marriage. *sigh* Any SAHM can probably guess the gist of our conversation -- but even working moms and wives probably have dealt with similar issues. Regardless of how far our society has come, there's still something of an impasse with the role of wife and mother.

B is a full-time SAHM. Her house always looks immaculate when I'm over there (which isn't that often, granted, but it still has made me feel inadequate at times) -- but she says that she struggles to keep up with house-keeping responsibilities. And this time of year, everything is exaggerated in terms of stress and needs.

I'm also a full-time SAHM -- but I work (for actual money) from home, as well. And part of why I do that involves one of the issues B and I were discussing: that strange inequality of time spent 'working' and money earned. It seems to be hard for many men and husbands to understand the value of the work their wives do. Because some of these women (like B and me) either make no money or very little in comparison to their husbands, some men feel that they are in charge of the purse strings -- that they have the right to determine how the household money will be spent. And that makes the women feel small and unequal.

But even in households with two working spouses there can be inequality and struggle over this issue. All too often, the woman is assumed to care for the house -- the cleaning, the laundry, the cooking, etc. If there are kids involved, it's even worse -- then the kids' care is added to everything else. Our other neighbors are two working parents, and the husband (who is a sweet guy) still assumes that his wife will take care of the house. They work the same amount of hours outside the home, yet he comes home and relaxes while she tends to the kids, dinner, tidying up, etc. And one of my best friends actually makes quite a bit more money than her husband, yet he still assumes she will take on all the household (and childcare) duties.

B and I were speculating that part of this comes from the women, themselves. We do tend to take on some of those roles automatically -- because that's what we grew up with (in most cases). My mom was very much the one in charge of ALL household needs, along with childcare. She worked part-time through most of my childhood (because we were broke and they needed every cent they could get), but everything else was still her responsibility. B said she saw the same thing in her home.

So I have to wonder, will this change for my kiddos? Will E have the freedom to be equal with her husband, both of them finding ways to split the responsibilities, without society's historical expectations weighing on her? I know D has commented a few times that he's glad he'll never be a mom: "You do so much," he's said. "Too much." :) It's nice to be appreciated, I will admit. And I'm glad that he's aware of the work required to keep a house running. At the same time, I want DH to also be appreciated, because he does work hard. I sometimes feel like I work harder -- but there are also times when the responsibilities which lie on our shoulders is not equal (and he often has more -- like it or not, the bulk of the financial security of our family falls to him).

It's not easy...perhaps it's one of those underlying human struggles which will always exist. What do you think?



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 19th, 2012 05:50 pm (UTC)
Managing household finances should be a joint responsibility regardless of the source of funds.

Household tasks should be fairly apportioned. SAHM's may end up with more tasks based on time available.
Dec. 19th, 2012 06:22 pm (UTC)
It seems so logical, doesn't it? And yet, in practice, it's so hard to make this work (for some reason)...
Dec. 19th, 2012 06:48 pm (UTC)
Heh - my theory is WTTM* :o)

* (Women think too much)

Dec. 19th, 2012 08:25 pm (UTC)
Sadly, that's probably true ;)
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 19th, 2012 11:22 pm (UTC)
I wonder if it's easier without kids? Maybe not -- but you do seem to handle this well. :) Even though my DH says he'd love to retire (um, when I strike it big as a writer, ha), I don't see him doing the household chores. He'd enjoy the kiddos, but I also can't see him buying their clothes and taking them to the doctor, etc.
Dec. 20th, 2012 05:05 am (UTC)
Try the book _Mother Reader_... It's a collection of essays by mothers who are also writers.

Doesn't offer any solutions, but does help you feel like you aren't alone. *Sigh*

I am lucky that my husband does help out but it's largely, I believe, thanks to my brother who advised me to set expectations early on. So, from the beginning of our dating relationship, I asked him to help with dishes, etc... This is not to say we have the ideal balance, but I do get more help than a lot of my peers. Of course, I work full time and we only have one child.

Edited at 2012-12-20 05:11 am (UTC)
Dec. 20th, 2012 03:05 pm (UTC)
It's interesting -- my dad now does the dishes for every meal that my mom cooks. When we were growing up, however, that *never* happened. So I do think things can change, even within an established relationship. I'll look for the book -- thanks, Liz :)
Dec. 20th, 2012 05:59 am (UTC)
My best friend and her husband seem to have mastered this. They both work at demanding fulltime jobs and, he has always been a great father and does his share of housework. Their two kids are grown up and recently both left home; but when they were young he did much of the childcare.

Dec. 20th, 2012 03:07 pm (UTC)
Wow -- it's interesting when you see that. DH does a lot with entertainment and discipline (when he's around to see the issues); it's more the minute stuff that he leaves to me. And honestly, I don't mind that. The challenges come when he wants to go do something fun (like skiing or biking) and just *assumes* that I have nowhere I'd like to go (so I'll stay with the kiddos). Now that they're older, this isn't as much of an issue (as I can leave them home for short periods of time to run errands and such), but when they were younger, it was very frustrating. Even without kids, however, I suspect some of these same issues might occur...
Dec. 20th, 2012 09:52 pm (UTC)
Well, THIS is timely. I just had this discussion (again) recently. One thing that occurred to me tangential to the "what we grew up with" argument is that the boys grow up fully expecting that Mom will take care of it while little girls grow up watching Mom and knowing that *they* will be taking care of the same things one day. (Cultural expectations for the win...sorta.) If you have very efficient/independent mommies, sons often do less because it's been done for them for so long they never developed the habit to, say, wash the dishes, wash the clothes, fold clothes, vacuum the floor, clean the bathrooms, make the beds, clean up after yourself, etc. etc. If it's not grocery shopping, playing with kids, or paying bills, it's done "invisibly" so I don't think many realize that doing the small maintenance, every-day sort of work is part of the puzzle and only until it gets truly out of hand do I see men throw down the proverbial paper and announce that today is a Cleaning Day and join in the fray. (Again, their expectations of being the one to call the shots.) When, actually, if everyone got into the habit of putting dishes in the sink (or washing dishes themselves), putting dirty laundry in the hamper (or the washing machine), cleaning off the table before they go to bed, etc. then this would be a more shared experience and one which both genders might share more equally.

It's not that my husband (or anyone) is "bad" it's just that his mom was so big on cleaning and doing everything herself that he's surprised when his house isn't automatically the same way since there's a competent mom (me) in it most of the time. ;-)
Dec. 26th, 2012 04:29 am (UTC)
LOL -- my DH actually had to do a lot of cleaning as a teen -- and his expectations aren't as much that 'mom' does the work but that kids do...which I'm also opposed to. I feel like it's *our* house, and we *all* should be chipping in to take care of it. But since DH isn't of the same mind, it tends to be me and the kiddos. Funny how our family experiences play into it!
Dec. 24th, 2012 07:19 am (UTC)
So I have to wonder, will this change for my kiddos? Will E have the freedom to be equal with her husband, both of them finding ways to split the responsibilities, without society's historical expectations weighing on her?

If you want it to change, it will. We have all that here in Norway. Mothers and fathers are expected to be equals in terms of caring for their children (including the house work). When people divorce the parents are expected to have the kids half of the time each. This years Christmas show and party for our eight year old was arranged mostly by the fathers. I could go on with examples.

Mothers must let go a little. That is the big clue really. They must let go of having the total overview and of defining how everything is going to be done. Even if you have sorted the washing in a particular way for all your life, you have to let your husband sort it differently if he's the one responsible. For example.

And you have to delegate. No one says that they will take over a responsibility for a boring task, if someone else is doing it without complaint and without asking for help. If you want someone else to do it, tell them.

Change doesn't come over night, but no man alive will volunteer to take over the time consuming and often boring tasks around the house if you don't let him know that you expect him to. Why would he if he can get away with leaving it to you?

Equality doesn't just happen because it is fair and the right thing to do. If you want it, you have to make it happen.

Oh, and "you" here doesn't really refer to you personally. Just to be clear on that.
Dec. 26th, 2012 04:30 am (UTC)
I can see how many women don't want to lose the control but still want their husbands to chip in. I have a good friend who's very much like that, and she will actually give her husband a 'to-do' list (and then wonders why he's a little resentful). It's hard to find that balance between equality and shared responsibility and one person acting like the parent to their spouse *and* the kiddos.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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