Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The housework blues

I have been getting the serious housework blues of late. There are weeks where I feel I work, I hang out with my kids, I clean, I clean, I clean... and that is the substance of my life.

My partner 'helps out' and feels I don't recognise all he does. Perhaps that's true. But maybe that's because no matter what he does, I seem to do so much more!

He will certainly do the jobs that I ask him to do, but once that's finished, he goes back to what he'd prefer to be doing, while I seem to just find more and more chores to deal with until I basically drop from exhaustion--emotional exhaustion, largely, as I find myself in a state of constant suppressed rage.

As a friend of mine said to me the other day, if she has a spare 10 minutes she will use it to clean, while her partner will pick up his guitar.

It feels like a trap: to be forced into becoming the kind of nag no-one chooses to be, and then punished for it by the very person we feel has pushed us into this role.

I put off raising the issue for as long as I can stand, because I can hardly bear finding myself back in that all-too-familiar, intractable and horribly mundane debate that never seems to go anywhere.

Why can't men see that the fact this issue is so common might mean it's not just his partner's particular uptight neuroses he's dealing with?

It's a terrible thought, because I love my partner so much, but sometimes I even think it would be easier to be a single mother, because then at least there would be no-one else to blame or resent, and life would have a clearer order. But I know that's just bullshit, too.

Sadly I feel like I've been facing the choice of maintaining the house, or maintaining a writing life. Again and again, I seem to be coming up against this struggle to give myself permission to write; to just drop the other responsibilities and make writing a priority. I am sucked back into this working mother/housewife vortex that seems to have a stronger and more forceful pull than the delicate thread of creativity which, for me, is so easily broken.

Is there a solution to this problem? Have any of you found some harmony in your households when it comes to this matter? I would love to hear about it...


Miscellaneous-Mum said...

I am a slattern, there are no two ways about it. It's taken over 10 years for husband to deal with it as he, you can see this coming, is on the 'neat freak' side.

And lately I have dropped the ball housework wise, for writing 'stuff', and he is not happy about it - but then, he's happier I'm happier and so that's a bit of mollification for him.

I hope all this makes sense. It is hard, though :(

innercitygarden said...

Make a time to talk about it, give him a heads up about what you want to sort out so he can think it about it first. Then write a list of all the jobs that need to happen to keep the show on the road, how often they need to be done and roughly how long they take. Make sure that stuff he does is on the list, acknowledge anything he does without being told, and then make up a weekly planner with the predictable jobs on it (vacuuming, picking kids up from school, cooking dinner, shopping) and come to an agreement about who is doing what. You can include your kids in that process if you think they're old enough to put dishes away or feed pets or whatever.

Then you don't have to ask all the time, he can just take responsibility for doing the stuff he said he'd do. You may need to make it clear that feeling taken for granted is the stuff that makes women stop loving their partners, because you don't want it to come to that.

gretchenmist said...

hi racheal,
phew! it's no fun at all being so domestic all the time. i'm lucky that my husband does lots {cooking, shopping, kids stuff and some cleaning} and while i do most of the cleaning i seem to be able to switch off to the mess in order to get my work-at-home hours in. if i worried about the state of the house instead of working, i'd never work. we live in an unrenovated house and even when it's clean it doesn't look so clean :(
anyway, my current routine is to clean in the hour and a half after i pick up my oldest son from 4yo kinder at 3, before we head back to pick up our youngest at around 5, 2 days per week. i work from 9.30-2.30 these 2 days while they are in kinder/care. then i mop on sunday morning while the little one sleeps and the older one plays with lego at the table {hubby out exercising}!
so i guess it's a timetable thing and being able to let go of the rest.
hope you get to the half~half point :)

innercitygarden said...

I eventually got it through to my partner by explaining that if he didn't want to live with his mother he shouldn't act like his father. I also pointed out that when he lived alone and worked fulltime he managed to shop, cook and even occasionally to clean, and that living with me didn't change how often he needed to do that stuff. On the contrary, having kids means doing most of that stuff more.

The difficult bit to get through to blokes is that being a mother doesn't make housework your job that he helps with. In my experience blokes tend to get that in principle, when it's an intellectual discussion about some neutral John & Betty, but fail to notice how it applies to their own household (because they do more than their dad did).

Housework is the job of everyone who lives in the house, according to their ability. To that end, adults are resonponsible for looking around and seeing what needs to be done. Being nagged is the preserve of teenagers. If you act like a teenager you get treated like one, and it's very unattractive all round. It's important, I think, to deal with this stuff when there are kids watching who does what. I don't want my son to go through all this crap with his partner when he grows up, I want him to assume he is responsible for the dishes. To that end, I make sure our conversations and negotiations of who does what don't place me in the role of House Captain, or the Bloke in the role of recalcitrant teen.

(Yes, we've thought and argued and negotiated our way through these issues at great length - Good luck!)

Nikkers said...

I am hopeful there is a solution but I am yet to find if in my household.

I have tried the roster-type solution. It was is fine until something more important -read almost anything - happens which gets in the way of enacting the roster. He just can't think of more than one thing at a time.

I liked how innercitygarden broke through the XY mental barrier by `explaining that if he didn't want to live with his mother he shouldn't act like his father'. He likes his mother less than I do so I see potential in this for my household.

To be honest while some women seem to have brokered a workable solution in their household, I have to ask why? Why is it the woman who has to `manage' how the household duties are done? Where is the equality? If you live in a house, cook and eat food, wear clothes and sleep in a bed doesn't that mean that you need to clean the house, shop for food, wash and iron clothes and make the bed? It's just pure logic to women everywhere so why isn't it to men?

And if you are one of two adults in a househould, doesn't that mean you should share that responsibility??

I am sure this is the reason many parnerships end. Give and take should be a two-way street not one way.

You can probably tell this is a really raw nerve with me. I will make myself stop now.

Sally Rippin said...

Rach, this post alternately infuriates me and breaks my heart. It's crazy that we should be still talking about this kind of inequality in this day and age. I have to say that in all honesty I don't think it is a 'male' thing at all, I think it is a selfish thing. There is absolutely no reason why men can't do housework - they are just allowed to get away with it. This can begin with their mothers, then gets passed on to their wives. Imagine if your partner was living in a share household, or in a gay relationship. Do you think he would be allowed to get away with the same behaviour? You do really need to address this Rach or it will erode your love for him. There is nothing more relationship-destroying than resentment.
I think innercitygarden's suggestions are excellent. I would just like to add that the responsibility for dividing up the housework doesn't need to be taken on by you. Like icg suggests, make the time, at least an hour with no kids around, to work this out. If it needs to happen in a professional counselling session - so be it. Tell him that you are unhappy with the way that the housework is divided and as you haven't managed to find a solution yourself can he come up with something? Put it back on him. Ask him to write down everything that needs to get done in the week and then ask him how he thinks it could be fairly divided. This way the emphasis falls on him to keep this schedule in place - not you, or you will feel like you are falling back into the role of nagger. Let him take on that role for a while and - very importantly - don't do any of the jobs that are allocated to him, unless of course he asks you to help him out. Then he has to feel like he is asking you for a favour not vice versa. This is SO important, Rach, there is nothing trivial or mundane about it. It is making you angry and resentful and, more importantly, taking away your writing time. Remember, you cut down on your paid work to do more writing - not more housework. You have written the book on this whole goddamn thing Rach - now you need to make it work for you.
Lastly, you have a son. He will grow up seeing how you and your partner deal with these things and this will be his role-modelling for the way he approaches his future relationships. You can get him to help around the house as much as you can (which you should) but unless his father is pulling his weight, all this will go to waste. Also, do you want your daughter to grow up thinking that this is a woman's lot? If you need an excuse to change this unacceptable rut that you have found yourselves in, let it be for them.
PS I am teaching my sixteen year old son to cook these holidays. Every day a little thing...

katiecrackernuts said...

You know what, while the problem is real, it is us.
So you know my partner is a woman - so no blaming chromosones, but this debate comes up in our household all the time. I am the cleaner. She can just turn a blind eye and get stuck into study, which she started this year (along with fulltime work and us still with kids at home). So, gals, it's not a men/women issue, it's a personality issue. Like you Rachel, I can boil with resentment and become so worn down. I am busy at the moment with work commitments, a Girl Guide camp and then weekend of training looming, and the pushed back desire to be writing a personal project. The garden is a mess, the house is a mess and I am doing well just to keep on top of washing and ironing. We share mealtimes. We both work so I do three and she does three and we have a "free night". We do share other necessary jobs, but it's the little irritations like the fact the bin is still overflowing, the toilet paper ran out in the second loo two days ago, the uneaten dog food is still stuck to the bowl, the barbecue wasn't cleaned off from the last time it was used - even though she said she'd do that. Argggggh. I do sympathise, but also know that all these things won't change the course of any of our lives and I'll just have to let it go until the end of September. Then I will deal with it all, myself. Because, let's face it, no one does the job as well as I do. And that's that.

Emma said...

Oh meu deus! I hear you Rachel, in fact I hear all of you. Not sure I even want to open the floodgates on this one, I might explode!

I had thought of getting a cleaner, but then I'd have to clean up before they arrived because I'd be too embarrassed, plus we don't have the spare $$.

I've made an informal pact with some regular friends that we don't expect too much when we visit each others' houses. If ever I visit your place I'll apply the same principle!

Rebecca said...

Ha! This is all very familiar.

I've learned to relax a bit into the chaos.....and when it gets too bad I start freaking and screeching and frighten everyone into helping me get things back into some sort of order again.

susan said...

All such great comments. When I complained about all of this to a friend years ago, she replied, "anyone can do laundry but only you can paint that painting." It pays to have shrinks for friends!

Ruth Quibell said...

Our solution is to do the essential jobs we like, and put the rest off as long as possible. Of course, it's much harder since having kids because there is so much more work to do.

Our basic housework split is this: my husband shops for food and does all the cooking, which he finds creative and really enjoys. And I do the occasional shop, washing-up and clothes-washing (except his clothes, which he still does). I find washing to be a completely mindless task but I enjoy the time to just stand at the sink and think!

Despite this pretty equal arrangement, there are times when 'housework' still really overwhelms me. And that's when my work isn't going well. I focus on the housework, in part, because it's something that I know I can do, whereas I can be less confident about my work. And it's precisely at these times that I find myself haunted by the 'perfect housekeeper/mother/wife'. For me, being aware of this vulnerability is pretty helpful...Whereas, when things are going well, I can let the dishes pile up!

Ariel said...

I actually started a blog post months ago, 'Confessions of a domestic slattern', inspired by your book and the constant thread of women who said, basically, fuck the housework, as a soltuion to combining work, creativity and family.

That's what I do ... I am a domestic slattern ... but I often feel guilty about it. It's not nice to live in a house that's always a mess, or for your kids to live in one. But I guess that other things are my priority and the housework just comes last. It's not conscious really; it's the way it works out. Your book made me feel a bit more okay about it.

As for dividing the housework with male partners and the fact they always think they do more than they do - that's an issue too. I spent a lot of time resenting mine last year, and just kept on raising it, because my mother didn't, she did everything (housework, child-rearing, breadwinning) and my dad left her five years ago anyway. Luckily, though it's not perfect, there's some progress - most successfully, an agreement about rotating cooking responsiblities on a daily basis (mine, his, mine, etc.) To be honest, I sometimes do it on his nights, but at least he acknowledges that I'm doing something that's his job that way. And if we get takeaway or go out, that doesn't count as a night for either of us (otherwise he kept getting take-out on his nights).

Try not to give in to it. It's hard sometimes though, because who wants to spend their life fighting or being their mother?

I like innercitygarden's:

'if he didn't want to live with his mother he shouldn't act like his father'.


Good luck with it, Rachel!

cristy said...

I've been thinking about this issue ever since I first read your post and I have struggled with a response.

The thing is that currently my partner is brilliant. He completely gets that I have enough on my plate without being responsible for all of the housework and does at least half of it without question - just as part of his daily routine.

However, we have been through a time (pre-children, interestingly, and not immediately after living together - it came out of the blue) when this didn't happen and my attempts to deal with it were a complete disaster. He was so defensive that I actually... well let's just so that the 'negotiations' were fraught. Very fraught.

It seems to me as though the hurdle is to create the habit - the routine - and that once that happens, well they start to see it as normal and you don't have to point out what needs to be done anymore...

But the problem is that I really have no idea how the mind shift came in our household, because my attempts at rational discussion ended in complete disaster.

Home Girl said...

such a juicy topic! sadly a very familiar one, know that 'supressed rage' feeling well. i have no helpful suggestions to make about getting co-operation (my husband works in the evenings on his laptop - far more importatnt to be earning money than doing housework ofcourse) but one tool i have up my sleeve for when i'm really low about these isses is meditating. 'buddism for mothers' is such a fantastic book. have taken many great survival tips from it like meditating whilst doing ritual housework tasks. i concentrate on grounding myself in the moment, feet on the ground, i am alive, my children etc are alive, i feel the hot water through the gloves, breathe etc!!not always easy to do in reality - would be much better to organise some equality!
i remember back in my feminist theory days reading something about how the state of the house is seen by the world as a reflection of the woman - often her state of mind, but we don't see the untidiness or otherwise as being reflective of the bloke - we judge the woman not the man when we enter their shared house. i can feel this pressure and to me it feels like the state of the house is tied up with control, i worry people will judge me and whether my life is in control or not by the state of domestic disorder they encounter! btw my house is ALWAYS a mess, creativity is my priority but i would much prefer to have a lovely environment around me. really love susan's comment about anyone being able to do the laundry but only you can do the painting - i remind myself there is no sustaining glory associated with maintaing a clean house all year but we still have to keep the place sanitary - if i don't no one will! such a big topic am going to step back from the laptop now! x

Nikkers said...

Yes, katiecrackernuts, you are right. Blaming this domestic divide on gender is a mistake. It isn't a gender issue. I have lived with a woman and had the same issues with her about the sharing of household duties. I am by no means a domestic goddess or clean freak, but certain things need to be done around the house so, hey, just get in and do your share!

little red hen said...

Actually you are quite right about it being easier in some ways to be a single mum because it is true you are not expecting someone else to actively participate in the caring for children and household chores - that is until the kids get big enough to help out then you nag them instead! What gets me is their need (I'm referring to both men and children in this instance)for a round of applause or constant recognition for jobs that if you did them would go completely unnoticed or unremarked!

babythree said...

I know I'm coming into this discussion a bit late (and that you've posted more on the topic which I have yet to read), but... I am in the domestic slattern camp. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending how you look at it), my partner & I have about the same level of laziness re housework, a similar level of tolerance for mess.

We both work part time so we roughly share the essential work and to be honest he probably does more than me, although I am still the one who does more of the 'management' style work. At the moment, b/c I am pregnant & was pathetic with nausea for a while there, he actually does quite a bit more than me, but it's evening out again now that I feel better. But I emphasize - our house is almost always a horrid mess. Not generally dirty, but a long way from tidy.

The main problems with this are that sometimes the clutter really gets to me, and I do wish I was bringing my children up to be tidier - how can I expect them to be when I'm not? So we're still working on those issues...

On the upside, we actually have improved a lot since having children. Of course, there are toys now, & waaaay more washing, so the improvement hasn't really gotten us very far!

Good luck figuring it out Rachel.