On average, men do 16 hours a week of unpaid work (chores, childcare), while women do 26 – with mothers on maternity leave doing the most. So why is it that we bow down to domesticated men, rather than recognising what all these women are doing behind the scenes?
Like most mothers, I began taking on the majority of the housework and childcare while on maternity leave. It made sense to do it this way; I was at home with the baby all day, while my husband was out at work. The hoover and hob were in my ‘workplace’, not his.
I would do my (writing/editing) work during the baby’s nap times and then rush around manically to make sure that by the time he got home each night the house was in order, and dinner was ready. All other chores and duties for the rest of the evening (bath, cleaning up dinner, bedtime stories) were divided evenly. They still are.
In fact, having two children makes the divide much simpler: in the evenings, we take responsibility for one child each. For us, this means I take the baby – who is breastfed – and get him ready for bed, while my husband baths, reads with and puts to bed our three-year-old.
But one commonly overlooked aspect of being a full-time parent is that it does not just entail completing physical tasks. There is also the mental burden of arranging the home and kids: thinking ahead, planning, arranging, sorting, paying for things; as this illustration – You Should’ve Asked – perfectly captures.
The domestic and ‘planning’ duties become the mother’s domain during the maternity period but with pressure to find work outside of the home; to bring in an income – she will often return to the workplace. And yet the duties do not return to the pre-children equal distribution.
So what happens? As mothers, we never rest.
We work outside of the home, we work within it, we spend all our time ‘switched on’. And this then negatively impacts our time with the kids; we actually enjoy parenting less because all the ‘work’ – domestic, childcare, career – has exhausted us.
There was recently a viral post on Facebook that looked into domestic and childcare duties, focusing on the issue of gratitude.
Two men were having a conversation about housework and childcare. Let’s call them Peter and Bob. The conversation goes something like this…
Bob: “I cleaned the whole house recently and my wife didn’t even thank me.”
Peter: “Do you thank her when she does it?”
Bob: “No. But it’s her domain; she does it all the time – it would be ridiculous if I thanked her every time. I go out to earn money, she keeps the house clean and tidy”
Peter: “Well, in my view, I share a house with my wife and kids and we all like/need it to be clean and tidy. So I share that duty with her. Sometimes she cleans, sometimes I do. And when I do it, I don’t expect thanks. Likewise, when I look after my children I’m not ‘babysitting’ them. When we’re together, I’m simply being their father.”
What Peter was highlighting is that men shouldn’t be congratulated for carrying out stereotypically feminine roles. For anyone who believes in sexual equality, it should be normal for men to clean and look after their own kids.
But also, there needs to be as much value seen in childcare and housework as there is in work outside of the home. The work that brings in an income. All of it needs to be done; all of it matters. How couples choose to divide it is up to them, but gratitude should be reciprocal – and cover all ‘work’.
Most parents are working non-stop. My husband certainly isn’t kicking back with a lager on returning from work. He grafts all day, splits morning and bedtime duties with me and fits any ‘me-time’ into the same tiny pockets of the time that I do – once the kids are in bed. Only, the work he does during the day is valued by society.
What I mostly do during the day – cleaning, tidying, cooking, planning, mothering – is not valued by society.
So, should women be overly thankful when their male partners carry out domestic or childcare duties? In my opinion: no.
While gratitude is important, these menial daily tasks should be undertaken by whoever has more time. Showering your partner with thanks for mopping the floor is patronising; it’s treating him like a child who needs praise and encouragement in order to realise that what they’ve done is good, or ‘right’ or helpful.
We are all working hard and trying to do our best. Gratitude needs to go both ways. And keeping the house and kids in order ought to be recognised as the worthwhile, important tasks that they are. This is imperative, if we want to raise our daughters and sons believing that women and men can be equal.
What do the childcare and domestic duties look like in your house? Do the daily parental tasks feel equal? And do you think your partner should be thanked for doing the cleaning and childcare?