Sunday, September 20, 2009

The neverending housework debate...

So much juicy stuff in those housework comments. My partner and I went out last night and your feedback gave me the strength to wade in to this thorny territory and try to decide on some solution.

I have wondered whether if I didn’t work, I would feel clearer about this. Would it be a case of, ‘OK, he works to bring in the money; so this is my job.’ But that ignores the fact that being home with kids is as much of a full-time job.

My feeling has always been that if there is still work to do in the evenings (as there always is), then let’s just get in there and do it. Together. It’s not like as a mother at home, you’ve been slack all day and just haven’t completed your jobs in some allotted work hours. Household chores can roll on and on without end most of the time.

What intrigues me is all the underlying, unconscious assumption at play. I know my partner considers us equal in his conscious mind, but how hard is it for us all to really get out from under the backlog of history that has shaped us and our in-built cultural assumptions?

A writer friend of mine was saying the other day that it’s kind of sad this situation where we know that in many ways that traditional division of roles worked for a good reason. But at what cost?

The problem is our economy still relies on having someone looking after the house, but women now have different expectations for their lives — that they will be able to fulfil all those needs and desires that once had to be suppressed.

You just should never have taken “that bite of the apple”, another (male) friend said. There is no turning back now.

So why are we stuck half way? We have (tacitly?) agreed that it is not fair for either gender to be stuck in those old-fashioned roles without choice, but somehow that full exchange just doesn’t seem to have occurred, especially domestically.

Home Girl’s comments about feeling that the domestic space will be seen as a reflection of her state of mind really resonated with me. So much about having children is surrendering to a lack of control. But this is something I struggle with every day.

As for Susan's comment that anyone can do the laundry but no-one can paint that picture is so true, but always comes with a big 'but' for me (unless you can pay someone else to do your laundry)...

So many times people have told me to ditch the housework in favour of creativity. But how long can that go on before everything just starts falling apart? And at what point is that just not conducive to anything?

I have spoken to other writers who say they have come to terms with the fact that the house has to be clean before they can settle down to writing — and that’s just the way it is.

When I am completely bogged down in housework, though, and can see the creative work retreating further and further from my grasp, the thought that really gets me down is that, at the end of the day, no-one will congratulate me for this. Have you ever heard at a funeral the line: ‘She kept a beautiful house.’ Well, maybe that happens.

But you are far more likely to be remembered for the grand-scale, publically recognised work that you did. Doesn’t this just sum up history for women?

Oh, God, I could just go on and on...

But thank you all so much for your inspiring comments. Women never cease to amaze me with their wisdom and insight!

Anyway, this is the way the conversation went: ‘Can we agree that we put the kids to bed at 8. We decide what jobs have to be done tonight and what can be left for later (i.e. the weekend). We go hell-for-leather getting them done, with the pact that we will aim to have them done by 9 or 9.30. Then we both stop and get on with what we want to be doing. Full stop.’

How does that sound?

He agreed. Will keep you posted...


Damon Young said...

Good luck, Rachel. Goodwill goes a long way (but not always far enough).

Here's our solution: we each have our housework jobs, but these are guidelines, not rules. If things change, we can swap.

So we both look after the kids, work, write, garden, sweep, dust and so on. I shop and cook, Ruth does dishes and washing. But in a pinch, Ruth can cook, and I can wash.

This isn't always perfect. I don't always want to cook dinner at 8pm, and Ruth isn't always sanguine about the dishes I leave afterwards.

But we muddle along. Maybe it helps that I work from home, part-time. If I were full-time, perhaps domestic rhythms would be foreign to me.

Anonymous said...

Plus, I have recently been thinking that it gets more complicated when one or other of you works from home.

Damon Young said...

While you're being 'complicated', adelaidefromadelaide, your tea's getting cold...

Anonymous said...

Also, I am a goose. I didn't mean 'plus' I meant 'although'.

Damon Young said...

We both work from home. And we don't have a study. And we have two kids under five. And we don't use child care.

What mean you 'complicated'?

Shannon Garson said...

We've just changed from me working at home to both of us working from home It has bought up a whole new set of problems. When two are working from home the mess is INCREDIBLE! Also I've lost the last vestige of my precious time alone. This has led to me feeling very stressed and ...same old story, trying not to be a nag (and failing). I could see this picture of life with children all around me before I had my own so I made sure to have a lot of very serious discussion about our house being equal. Still, I have to fight my corner, our house is nearly equal. But I wonder if the bit where I do most of the work, the planning, meals, birthday parties, lunch for guests, holidays, is biological. T. doesn't care if the guests just have cheese sandwiches because he hasn't gone shopping. I feel embarassed and un-generous. It's really the thought that counts in every way. Having to spend too much time thinking of others in the house just blocks your own work. I think you have to just factor in discussing this same issue on a regular basis and stick to your guns.

Anonymous said...

Working from home can work brilliantly for some households and really appallingly for others. I think if I worked from home fulltime I would have a lot of trouble switching off the home stuff. I really need that walking out the door and going to work feeling, even if it's into my "knitting bedroom" as my son calls it. That feeling enables me to feel justified in leaving the dishes/laundry/whatever, that feeling and the money. My partner likes having that feeling too, the separation of home and work, but he's much better at heading up to his office before doing the dishes than I am. When my partner heads to his office he is getting paid, pretty much directly based on the hours he works. When I head to my room for creative work I'm not getting paid.

When he had a year or so of working out of the house my partner became much more detached from the household rhythms, less conscious of how long the dishes had been sitting there, less likely to notice we needed milk, yada yada. He works at home again now and we're all happy.

I think many women working from home find they end up with the assumption (from themselves, their partners and everyone else) that they are available to be fulltime housewives as well. They end up doing all the errands, dropping off and picking the kids up from school, getting the dinner on etc.

Kate Moore said...

I like it. Hope that works out.
PS: I camped with Girl Guides all weekend. Came home, collapsed into bed, went to work at 7.30am, juggling a few household things, came home, washed the dishes (my partner cooked - yeeha) did three loads of washing, one load of ironing, cleaned one room in the house and then collapsed into bed again. Will do the same today - after returning camping gear to the Guide Hall and the respective nooks and crannies around my house, cooking dinner, washing up dinner ... you get the drift.

Anthony & Rochelle said...

How's this for a variation on the theme. My partner loves a tidy house and thinks the majority of the weekend should be spent on household tasks and projects.

On the other hand, I can cope with a fairly grimy house (as long as it's not chaotically messy) and would rather be going to films and reading books.

He longs for the days before children when I used to 'potter' and cook elaborate recipes. This makes me angry. It's just bloody hard work living with another human being. YOu constantly come up against each other's differing ideas of what a 'good life' is.

Miranda said...

On the topic of needing the house to be clean before being able to write--I am of that camp as well, but find it to be a slippery slope of procrastination. I had to find a baseline that I could be happy with: a tidy kitchen and living area(s). Maybe throw in a load of laundry. But no more than that. If I don't set limits, I'll find myself doing silly things like sorting single socks or scrubbing the tile grout and then naptime is over and I never showed up at the page.

Red Hen (dette) said...

I just had a completely different thought. It is not just that women want to or expect to be doing work of whatever ever sort and being a debate between men and women.We also parent differently. I spent time as a young child in a play pen and my mother insisted that I should have one so that I could contain my son and get on with tidying the house.
I got one but it contained my husband and the nintendo because the son kept interrupting his game (you can begin to see why I'm a single mum!)The expectations of how we raise our children is far different than those of our parents generation- I'm 44 and my mum 64. I used to feel a huge sense of failure as a mother and housewife because my mother was one of those pioneering super women of the early 70's she worked full time and kept an immaculate house. Then I thought she had her mother and my dad's mother available for child care and help with cooking and house work as well. They were of a generation where most didn't work. She also had a husband who was unusually nurturing for a man of his generation- he would have loved the way fathers are allowed/expected to be fully involved today without their masculinity being questioned. I remember her cleaning, I remember her working, I remember cleaning and cooking dinner in primary school...but I don't remember any cuddles. We raise our children so differently now and without the support of a community of stay at home housewives with or without children. You have touched on a HUGE topic!