My Rant of the Day: Please Stop Complaining About Not Having a 50/50 Split on Housework with Your Husband!
There's an article in the New York Times that talks about the agony of the "The Opt Out Generation Who Wants Back In." The Opt-Out Generation, (of which I'm apart) are women who left high status careers in the 1990s and 2000s to opt into full time stay at home motherhood. The feminists non-affectionally call me "a traitor" so I wasn't surprised that the unspoken lesson from writer Judith Warner's article was "you're going to regret it!" What surprised me was the paragraph after paragraph about wives complaining that a major source of stress in their marriages was that their husbands don't do 50% of the housework. One lady said she didn't mind doing child care because "that was a labor of love" but she really minded "sweeping the floor."
That quote sounds so familiar because that's how I felt until last summer. It's like there was this massive collective brain-washing exercise for young women. I left college thinking "I'm smart, creative and funny. But man, if I do one more janitorial job than my husband I'm a loser, a doormat, and it's a quick slippery slope until the man thinks its okay to beat me with a stick smaller than his thumb. I've got to hold my ground on this 50/50 housework thing."
The housework issue was ridiculously emotionally intense for me.
I can only improve on the deep core issues with God's help. Last summer, my husband went on a retreat for a weekend. I spent days alone with a colicky six month old and four other kids. I expected our house to fall apart in Jon's absence--because he's such a hands on guy with both parenting and housework. I was shocked to find that the kids were great and 100% of the housework was no problem. The decision making was so clear. Either I got a chore done, or I went to bed with it undone. I didn't have this angst about "Oh, I should stay up and finish a task." I was shocked at how much more could get done more easily when I wasn't playing the mental angst game of "What jobs should I leave for Jon to do so that life is fair?"
When Jon came home from a retreat, I asked him if we could keep the experiment going for 2 more weeks. He was pretty resistant because his self esteem came from being a "helping husband". But I told him, I really think this idea came from God. I need two weeks of doing all the housework. I've got a mental block and I need to work over it. I fully expected to go back to the 50/50 housework split in our marriage after 2 weeks (which to be honest was more like Jon does 70 percent, Abigail does 30). It's been 14 months now, and we still haven't switched back. Here are some notes from my journey.
1. Getting mad about housework for me was a distraction from deeper issues. I actually started to have more meaningful fights with my husband about real issues, once the time worn "I'm not appreciated because you didn't stack the dishwasher tonight" fight was off the table. It was a little scary at first to fight about the deeper issues, but healthier for our marriage.
2. When I stopped asking Jon to help with "my work", I started noticing how much my husband does for me around the house. His brain works totally different from mine. The stuff that bothers him around our house--the gutters, the different things that need wood glue, etc--are all things that would never cross my mind.
3. Having to do all the housework alone made me figure out a realistic standard of clean for a house filled with small children. When I could still count on the labor of two, I could occasionally get to "Better Homes and Garden" clean. It would last two hours, then I'd be totally depressed and irritated for the rest of the week.
4. When I can't get the housework done alone now, I verbally ask for help. I've got morning sickness. I've got a teething baby. There are days that I can't get something basic finished like making dinner. When my husband comes home, I tell him clearly what chores need to be finished. The difference is that I have to nakedly ask for help.
5. It's just housework. At the end of the day, it's a blessing to do it. Mother Teresa put herself on the rotation to scrub the toilets in her convent. St. Francis Xavier turned down free laundry service in Japan by saying "The greatest protection of a man's dignity is to wash his own clothes." St Teresa of Avila said "God exists among the pots and pans." Author Louisa May Alcott says in Little Women "People who hire all these things done for them never know what they lose; for the homeliest tasks get beautified if loving hands do them."