Teaching Men about Women’s Issues: Home Edition

1950’s paradigm: Man goes off and earns the paycheck; woman stays at home and does the child-rearing and housework.

200X paradigm: Man goes off and earns a paycheck; woman goes off and earns a paycheck. oh btw…woman gets to do the child-rearing and housework too…

M and I don’t consider ourselves awfully progressive. In fact, on a lot of things, we’re quite conservative. When we got married, though, we discussed that we saw ourselves as part of a team and that household chores should be split in ways that make sense. I’ve always tried to be an active dad, and when G was little stayed home and watched her mornings and worked in the evenings. Furthermore we worked on the input-output rule: M breastfed so I changed all the diapers. I still change a lot even though the breastfeeding days are long over and H’s diaper days are drawing to a happy end.

With M going to work, I’m the at-home parent since my commute is to my office in the basement. Since our schedule is currently arranged so that M works out in the mornings before work I’m:

  • waking the girls
  • making four breakfasts
  • packing three lunches
  • dressing 2 girls
  • taking 1 girl (G) to the bus stop
  • cleaning the  kitchen.

Then my “real” day starts with spreadsheets, coding etc…
[Insert laundry here as I work near the washer & dryer]
Come lunch-time…

  • sneak in a run
  • plan dinner
  • start dinner prep

Then it’s back to the spreadsheets until:

  • pick up G from bus
  • finish cooking dinner

sometimes in the midst of spreadsheets. I was dicing onions during a conference call the other day…

Then after dinner it’s:

  • clean kitchen
  • help G with homework
  • put girls to bed.

Is this lifestyle what they had in mind with “women’s liberation”?!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining; this is just what we have to do to make sure everything moves steady. Nor am I listing all of the stuff that M is doing—so please don’t think for a minute that she’s slacking or that I’m accusing her of it. Far from it!

Rather, it’s opening my eyes to the assumptions that we men tend to make about who does what and how we contribute to the household. And, it’s making me realize that M has been doing far more than I’d ever guess while I work away.

So—thank you, M!! And the rest of you guys with households–get off your butts and lend a hand… ;-)

 FYI, today’s run will become a literal run to the grocery store to pick up a couple of missing ingredients for dinner. I’m shooting for butternut squash risotto with balsamic marinated chicken and brocolli. Feel free to stop by—and bring a fork… :-)

11 thoughts on “Teaching Men about Women’s Issues: Home Edition

  1. Chris

    Good post. My day and life is much the same these days . . . Perhaps I’ll write a post on the same topic soon. It’s been in my mind for quite some time.

  2. Chris Donato

    Right now, we’re blessed to be able to do the single-income thing — but just barely. That means my house kinda looks like c. 1950s.

    Still, to be fair, it wasn’t only the 1950s that saw Dad leave the home to provide food and shelter for the family while the children were largely reared by Mom as she managed the house and its long list of duties.

    Agrarian societies, hunter-gatherer socities, etc., all bear (bore) this similiarity. There’s nothing particularly sacrosanct about it, of course. But it has been the way the world has turned for quite some time…

  3. John-Julian, OJN

    Makes me smile — from here within our mixed-gender monastery.

    It’s one of our fascinating unintended outcomes to discover that “work” get assigned with no consideration of gender. In some areas, some have strengths, others have weaknesses; some have certain talents, others have different talents; some have some physical limitations, others have different limitations.

    And I’ve always thought that monastics have something to teach the rest of humanity about gender-assignments (or gender-less assignments) – and about who can be ordained……

    And it is also fascinating to remember that in the earlier mixed-gender monastic communities, the superior was almost inevitably an abbess! (and often mitered, at that!).

    Admittedly, we don’t have to deal with breast-feeding or diaper-changing (although I’m approaching the age when the latter may yet come into play!).

  4. Jessicah

    Such a great post Derek and so much better coming from you actually than from a woman/mother. Chris is in the exact same boat these days, only add in all the household shopping. I haven’t been to the grocery store in months. So thanks are due to both you and Chris!

    I have been meaning to blog on this issue for a long time. I believe the 1950s paradigm (whether it was real or not) is bankrupt. I find it troubling that working women who have children are working mothers, but working men who have children are not working fathers. This assumes that the working man does not self identify as a parent and thus gets excused from basic responsibility around the house (except for the traditional roles of trash, finances and maintenance). But the working woman is (and has to be) completely identified as a parent because she holds a job while simultaneously maintaining the general responsibility for the household. On my worst days I find the “traditional” household that allows fathers to have fun with their kids on their own terms and dabble in housework when they are doing their wife a favor or when they feel like it beyond ridiculous. On my better days I find it troubling.

    Well maybe I’ll continue this as a blog post…

    P.S. I just noticed that Chris commented above…and that he was planning to blog on this. Too funny. ;) Hope you and M and the girls are well!

  5. Christopher

    My mom once pointed out that had men really appreciated the work as actual and real work women did at home, perhaps Women’s Lib as we know it wouldn’t have been necessary. The fact is many men did not and do not think of the work women do at home as actual work, and today, that often means women hold down two and a half jobs–the one outside the home and the one and a half at home. So, good on you for your appreciation and pitching in.

    I would add that in farming families of days old, women were heavily involved in the full work of the farm, and not just inside the house. The assumptions around what is women’s and men’s work have shifted over time. For many younger households, it seems that who has a gift for what is often how assignment occurs.

  6. Erika

    One thing I think the 50s had right was the emphasis on 40 hours a week, or so, of outside-the-home work for pay per family. When couples don’t multiply that number by 1.5 or 2 or 2.5, everyone ends up with a lot more leisure time and a lot less frantic “second shift” work–it’s basic math.

    My family “gets by” (basically scrambles each month) on one full-time income right now because it is more important to us to be with our own children and to have a slower pace of life than to buy a house or afford organic food. And we live perhaps more like a 50s family did–one car, two bedrooms with two kids, no vacations, no television, lots of Kraft dinner. It’s possible to live on one income much of the time, it just means you don’t live like the typical “middle class” American of today (whose standard of living keeps going up and up and up while they complain that they can’t possibly make ends meet on one salary). My grandparents–who only ever had one full-time salary–also only ever had one car, one bathroom, never owned a washer and dryer, and never took a European vacation, yet by all accounts, they were considered middle class in their day.

    We make other sacrifices, too. When my husband was home full-time with the baby, no, he didn’t have the kind of “intellectual fulfillment” he gets now from doing work for pay that he loves; now that I’m home full-time, neither do I. But what we get in return is amazing time with our children and time for each other, and that’s the choice we’ve made.

    As a 30-something woman who has become disillusioned with much of the rhetoric of the second wave, I believe that part of why women end up doing everything is not always because of oppression, but because, often, they expect they can have everything. And it’s not true. Nobody can. The “traditional” fathers of the 50s, whether they realized it or not, sacrificed real relationships with their children to have the 9-5 life they led (plus all household and auto maintenance and all family finances, which, by the way, are not negligible responsibilities).

    Many women of today don’t want to make that sacrifice (and neither do many men), but they often want 30- or 40-year, full-time, fulfilling careers, too. If one chooses to take on two “jobs” at once (for whatever reason), well, then it’s going to feel like it–whether you’re a man or a woman.

  7. Derek the Ænglican

    A lot of great comments–thanks, all!

    As for the one-income family,…we’ve tried it and for us it has not been possible. Due to some spectacular misfortunes (long-time readers have heard about these in course) and student loan debt, what I can pull in on one salary hasn’t cut it–and not due to our extravagant lifestyle either. We too only have one car, our one yearly vacation is with and subsidized by family, and we’ve got a ton of medical bills and other wonderful things to pay off as well…

    I see the key here as understanding the family as a team in balance. Sacrifice is necessary–and must be equally shared. Too often one partner sacrifices lots, the other little. In the first days of our marriage M sacrificed much and I little; that breeds resentment rather than love. Things are more balanced once we identified that, discussed it, and rectified it and our relationship is stronger and happier for it.

    One reason I could never do the classic ’50s TV model–Christopher’s right, this was the mass media version marketed to all rather than the reality of all–is because cooking is one of my passions. I’d miss it if I couldn’t get in the kitchen several times a week!

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  9. Erika

    Certainly didn’t mean to imply that your situation, specifically, implied a lack of moderation in lifestyle, etc.! So sorry if it came across that way. But if we’re talking about current “middle class” American culture in general, I think there’s something to be said of people believing they need more and so have to work more and so feel overloaded. Women can blame sexism for the “second shift,” and everyone can blame technology and “today’s fast-paced society” for this hectic, overwhelmed feeling, but I think more often than we like to admit (not always), we are just experiencing the consequences of choices we have made about how to arrange our lives. We think we’re not giving anything up, but what we’re giving up is leisure and peace.

    About gender, I guess I’m lucky–in my marriage it has always gone without saying that we split up responsibilities according to our gifts, interests, and needs (or just plain boring efficiency) rather than our gender. I have never experienced the “200X paradigm,” thank goodness! Sure, sometimes one of us goes through a season where we’re sacrificing more than the other. Then it tends to switch. When we’re happiest and healthiest is when we are each acting as an advocate for the other–looking out for the other’s needs before our own and putting ourselves in the other’s hands. Wish we could live like this every moment–not there yet! But those times when we’ve done it have been graced.

  10. Derek the Ænglican

    I think you’re quite right, Erika. The *doing* gets in the way of the *being*… I love your advocate model–that’s a great way to think about it and a great model to strive for!

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