Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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Here's where we keep you updated on news about parenting as it relates to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions, work/life balance, and legislative and grass-roots movements toward equality or better choices for families. We'll also throw in our opinions of life as equal parents in a nonequal world, regardless of what's in the news.

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Equality Blog

Thursday, January 10, 2008

How NOT to Get Your Husband to 'Help' Around the House

Cross-posted at FamiliesRising.org - a primer on housework equality...

The American public, at least the part consisting of parents, is obsessed with measuring how much housework is done by women versus men. Statistics about men's increasing involvement at home clog the blogosphere and newspaper columns - followed by discussion of how much MORE women still do. Many women would love to find a way to get more help from their husbands to even the load.

What would it take to get men to truly pull their weight? Here's our recipe:

1. Stop asking men to "help." Asking a man for help with housework is akin to asking him to babysit his own kids. In other words, it implies that women are still in charge and men are apprentices. Manager and subordinate. Chef and sous chef. Senior and junior. All in all, not good for getting full buy-in on housework. Promote your husband to partner - in your thoughts, words and deeds.

2. Approach chores from the team standard. As partners, you and your spouse are equals. That means the how/what/when of household chores should be decided by the team of both of you, not by one of you who then dictates the rules to the other. Take a good look at the household tasks you both do now and decide which ones are causing friction for you (or your spouse). Then, sit down together and nail down some standards for how often these problem chores should be done, to what level of cleanliness, etc. Make sure that you BOTH agree on the standards you set.

3. Divide up the chores. Estimate how long it takes to do each household task, and then divide them up together. There are so many ways to divide chores - alternating by day or week, by interest level, dividing right down the middle, each does his/her own, etc. You choose! In the end, make sure you both feel the final division is equitable.

4. Let go. Now you are both free to do your assigned tasks, but you are truly free only if neither of you is scrutinizing the process. No nagging, no reminding, no criticizing. Just let the natural consequences of a job well done or a job botched fall onto the partner who did (or didn't do) it.

5. Re-evaluate together. How did your team standards hold up in real life? How was the division of labor? Check in with each other often, and revise your plans as a team.

Becoming equals in the home runs counter to our culture. But the rewards are great - not only for women who are able to let go and embrace a partnership of equals, but for men who become equals in their own homes. A man who shares the housework participates fully in his home life - his home really is his own castle rather than a dwelling that functions by his partner's rules. A woman who shares the housework lives in a place of peace - her sanctuary rather than her demanding and lonely second job. Together, life is good.


Blogger Ethel said...

What I hear from so many women struggling with this issue is that their husband is not interested in participating in steps (2) or (3). This is my own experience, and my DH stays home and should be keenly interested. I've also heard the same complaint from one man trying to solve the same issues with his SAH wife.

In our situation, I've tried many approaches, and talking when one partner doesn't want a discussion is worse than nagging. He never buys off on any plans and ends up trying to make me just assign work to him without his input. Polite nagging via IM ("Could you please do that load of laundry I set outside the bedroom door?") on a daily basis ends up being far more effective and creates no negative feelings for him . . . but I'm left wondering, with frustration, "Why is the WOH parent managing the work of the SAH from the office?".

I would love to hear any suggestions you have for encouraging a partner who doesn't want equal responsibility to step up to the plate and join in these kinds of discussions. I suspect that getting both partners to buy-off on equal responsibility in all areas is probably one of the biggest blockers to ESP.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Marc and I both believe that it is next to impossible to create equality if one partner is not willing. Both have to adopt the ESP mindset before these discussions about joint standards and task division can take hold. We agree with you that such conversations with an unwilling partner are worse than nagging!

Dividing things up equally has a lot of powerful benefits to both partners (the list is worth a separate blog post - we'll do that soon). But a guy (or woman) who isn't ready to hear them won't open his/her mind to embrace them.

I would suggest you start small - very small. Have a short and innocuous discussion about one task. If he's amenable, do steps 2 and 3 with him for just this one task. Appeal to his sense of logic, and pick a task that makes perfect sense to divide between two capable adults. Just for example, let's pick taking out the garbage (which may or may not make sense to divide in your house). Say you two do have the conversation about garbage, and decide that 'taking out the garbage' means putting out the contents of your home's trash cans on the curb anytime prior to 8am on garbage day, and that you'll alternate who takes out the garbage each week. Then, completely let go of the result. Do NOT remind him or do it yourself on his week. Don't complain if the garbage piles up, stinks, overflows or the dog drags it all over the house. Don't mention anything if he takes out only half of the garbage by mistake. Don't fix the problem the first day it comes to your week. Just calmly take it out the night before garbage day on your week. Repeat this for weeks and weeks. Chances are, he will eventually start to own it and will probably even remember to do it. He may even begin to feel some of the rewards of garbage equality, such as never, ever being asked by you to take out the garbage and only having to do it 50% of the time. If he doesn't step up, renegotiate the rules so that you are less affected if he doesn't do his part - by dividing the chore differently (e.g., you take out the kitchen garbage every week, he takes out all the other garbage every week - this way, his will pile up indefinitely and be completely in his control, not just every other week).

This sounds so petty, doesn't it? Or mean. But if done in the spirit of equality rather than "I'm going to get you" it isn't mean at all. It is treating him like a full partner, fully capable of everything you're capable of.

Anyway, every situation is different, and my suggestions may be completely inapplicable to your relationship. If he really isn't willing to have a conversation about one task, step back even further. And if polite nagging - aka the Honey-Do list - works for you and your husband, then perhaps equality should not be your goal. Happiness is the real goal anyway!

9:00 PM  

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