I confessed to my husband the other day that I sometimes feel a little inadequate as a housewife. And let's face it, I am inadequate, by any traditional measure (come look at my house when I'm not expecting you, if you don't believe me).
But that's not really what the conversation was about. It started because a very good friend of mine recently called Chris a saint. And no, she didn't mean because he puts up with me, not really (she loves me, I swear), and yes, she was getting a slightly warped view because we were on holidays and on holidays I do admit that I expect Chris to change most of the pooey nappies (in addition to sharing the rest of the parenting), not only because in a normal week I change the vast majority, as well as doing the vast majority of the rest of the child care (just by virtue of being there), but because quite frankly, I'm up with Elli at night, more often than ever when we're away, so I figure I deserve a break from something! Do I sound a little defensive? Let's move on then...
Where was I? Oh yes, so my friend kept calling Chris a saint, which isn't all that unusual actually, and why? Because, look I'm sorry everyone, but from what y'all tell me, most husbands/fathers simply don't pull their weight. But wait, I didn't even need you to tell me that - the research very clearly shows that it is still the case that most women in heterosexual marriages do the lion's share if the housework, whether or not they also work outside of the home, and regardless of how much they work outside of the home. And this is especially the case if there are also children living in that home. In other words, on average, in a household with a man, a woman and some child or children, if both parents work outside the home, on average the woman will do X hours of domestic work and the man will do significantly less than X. (See here and here and here for some actual stats and studies to back that up. Edited to add: and most recently here. Hat Tip to blue milk for the link.)
And guess what? That's not the case for us. Chris pulls his weight with house work, including parenting. Not only that, he can't understand how it's possible that other men don't see that their wife is working all day (whether or not she gets paid for it), and often again much of the night, especially if they have young kids. And, weekends too! And holidays!
Okay, Chris pulls his weight, people call him a saint, and I cannot deny that he is a stellar husband. So why does that make me feel less than? Chris pointed out that I am seeing it as though it's a zero sum game - that is, if he is better, I must be worse. I know, rationally, that that's not what anyone's implying. Well, not most people.
Actually, do you know what I just realised? I don't know that at all. I actually do think they think I am worse. Oh not this particular friend. Maybe not even most, but some? Absolutely. And it's not just because Chris hangs out that washing at night while he's watching television (after I've gone to bed, because I will more than likely be up by 5 with Eliane), and cleans up the dinner dishes while I'm getting Elli down or later when I'm working (writing, mostly, which I may love to do, but which I am still doing to try to earn an income), and gets up in the night with the big kids, while most of the other mothers I know do most if not all of that themselves - no, it's not just that stuff. It's because I do not keep a tidy house. I mean, Chris does all that stuff and more besides, and what do I do? I don't keep the house basically tidy, and I certainly don't keep the oven scrubbed or the windows clean or the bathroom completely free if mould, or even the toys picked up off the floor.
So why don't I? How is it that so many other women manage to keep their homes beautiful (or at least relatively tidy), while their partners work all day to earn a crust and then watch tv every night?* Is it because I spend my days playing with my children, doing craft activities, helping my eldest with homework, or otherwise having quality time with them? No it is not. Oh sure, I do those things, but no more than most, and certainly less than some.
No, the reason is—
Well. I'm tempted to say the reason is that I hate housework, but that - while partly true - would play right into my image problem. I really should stop telling people our house us perennially messy because we both hate housework and are basically lazy. The fact that is there are two reasons our house us perenially messy. Okay, three.
1. Yes I do hate housework, particularly the kind that involves picking things up and finding them a home. Cleaning I actually don't hate - cleaning the toilet or the bathroom? No problem. It's just a matter or finding the time. That, I find tricky. I've got the time, there are just other things I'd rather use it for. And Chris doesn't love it either.
2. I work from home. Yes, I'm on (unpaid) maternity leave right now, but at the same time I have been working very hard at trying to build an online business for over a year now, since Eliane was about 8 months old. It started out with just looking for a few places to get paid for some very basic web content writing. But it quickly morphed into me starting my own website (SustainableSuburbia.net), and trying to stay true to the principles and values the name of the site implies (and which I hold dear), while at the same time writing to address keywords & phrases that people are actually searching on (in search engines), and create an income from it.** I am still writing a bit for other sites as well (and as discussed here previously have now added narrating kayoz goes travelling to my suite of blogs, partly in order to profit from our recent rather expensive holiday abroad, which is itself not a little work), and I also started kayoz talks books, mostly to have a .au site to use to link to books on fishpond.com.au, on which I suddenly realised I was making some money as result of some posts on this site that rank well in search engines for certain books, so I wanted to leverage that without turning this blog into a sales pitch.
Okay, so the fact is that for the past year - pretty much as soon as I had started to regain some energy and got it together to cope with having three children - I have been working at home during the day whenever Eliane sleeps, plus quite a bit of her awake time, especially when both other kids were at school, as well as most nights after they were in bed. So while she's messing up the house, I am not walking around behind her cleaning up. Much less getting to the oven. Now that we're back from our trip I need to come up with a schedule with better balance, but which still gets the work done. But it will probably have a better balance with sleep, not with housework. So that's reason number two.***
3. Clutter. Oh yes, the Clutter. And now we come to something I can do something about. I hope. But even that takes more time.
Wait, did you notice what just happened? I've just derailed this post to rationalise, to justify my deficiencies. When what I really wanted to do was to talk about why I feel inadequate in the first place.
I asked Chris how he feels about the fact that our house is a perennial mess, and he said he'd prefer it to be tidy. But that obviously he - and we - don't value that enough to actually "make it so". I said, how does it make you feel about yourself? Or about how other people may see you? He couldn't answer. I don't know, he eventually said.
Of course, we are just two people, and you really can't generalise from the personal. I will say, I think it's telling that it makes me feel inadquate and it makes him feel - nothing. We both would like to live in a tidy house, but only I allow my identity to be tied up in it. Admittedly, I've been the stay-at-home-mum for a while now, but even when we've both been doing moreorless equal paid work, I've still felt this pressure.
This is nothing new, I know, but it's interesting for me to see it in myself. So feminism has done its job? Hardly. And as long as we are still seeing the inequalities in this generation of parents, how can we possibly think the current generation of children will grow up without a similarly gendered view of the world?
Now, here are a few stellar posts you should go read next, if feminism and mothering and housework is of even passing interest to you. I'd love to write more myself, but for reasons outlined in that first post below, I can't focus anymore. It's taken me about three hours to get this far (and note, the bulk of this post was written months ago), and I can't cope with the interruptions anymore.
*I don't count the ones where both partners work all day, because if both adults are at work all day then generally there are no kids at home making a mess, and no one home using dishes and so on. At least when the kids are the ages of mine. So while I know that the average woman in that situation still does more housework than the average man, I also assume that there is less to do each day.
** I haven't talked about this much here mostly because that income depends on people either clicking on ads or buying products, either of which could be seen to be counter to the concept of sustainable/anti-consumer living that the website embodies, and I while I have mostly reconciled that in my own mind, I am still a little uncomfortable about it. More thinking to come.
*** and of course previously chris and I both worked part time - mostly - and I was mostly studying as well, enough said I hope.