Who’s In Charge of the Home?

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When I sit down to write, I have to make myself ignore all the things that need to be done around the house. It’s not hard. I have an amazing capacity for tuning out housework. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on the way you look at it, so does my husband. The upshot is, our house is badly in need of TLC, because neither of us puts a priority on chores. The good thing, for me, is I don’t have a husband who expects me to take care of everything that has to do with our home.

It hasn’t always been that way. My first husband reasoned that since he was out earning a living and I was staying home with the kids, the housework was all my responsibility. Of course he didn’t value it as highly as his job. No matter how much I did, it was never enough to make us even. Because as long as one thing was out-of-place or unfinished, my job was never done. And when you have four kids under the age of six, believe me, there is always something out-of-place or unfinished.

I started to work outside of the home during my second marriage. I even did the same kind of work and worked the same number of hours that my husband did. But when we came home from work, he vegged out and I got dinner. I also did the grocery shopping, the cleaning, the laundry and general pickup. When I pointed out that he wasn’t helping me with any of the chores (he did cut the grass), he pointed out that I had four daughters who needed to be doing “that stuff,” effectively letting himself off the hook.

Is my story unusual? Of course not. So why do women put up with it? Because we don’t like to argue? Because we’re afraid that our husbands and boyfriends will leave us? Or is it because we know it won’t do a damn bit of good? No matter how you cut it, the men who don’t do housework don’t do it because they just don’t want to.

If you use the logic that men are so fond of, it doesn’t make sense, nor is it fair, to expect the woman to do all or most of the housework when both the man and the woman are working outside of the home. Some men use the excuse that it’s “traditional” for women to do the housework. But that was when it was also traditional for a woman’s only job to be within the confines of her home.

It’s been a while now since work was divided up as “women’s work” or “men’s work.” Women truly have come a long way–except for in the home. They do almost as much of the housework as they did when all they did was housework, even when they’re holding down full-time jobs. And I haven’t even brought up child-rearing. How many men take equal responsibility for that?

Younger men are a little more open to “helping” their women around the house, but they still see it as “helping.” It’s not something for which they’re equally responsible.

Some women have convinced themselves that they like being in charge of the home. Men wouldn’t keep the house up to their standards, they tell themselves. And because men don’t want to have to do the dirty work anyway, they “let” their women take over. They let them decorate the way they want to (as long as they get their big-screen TVs, that is), they allow them to pick out the appliances (after all, those are women’s  “tools”), they give the women the walk-in closets (to hold all the clothes they let them buy).  But is this bribery enough to compensate for having to do all the housework, day in and day out, for the rest of our lives?

I finally got a break. My husband does more around the house than I do. I’m more than happy to give up full jurisdiction in order to share the responsibilities. And the nice part is:  now the home truly feels like it belongs to both of us.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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