The balance of chores and family responsibilities in our household seems to be getting more and more unbalanced and I’ve been reflecting on how we ended up here. You see, it certainly wasn’t always the case.
When my husband and I first started dating (a long long time ago), we both still lived at home. My husband’s mother was an amazing wonderwoman. I don’t think i ever saw her sitting. Not only did she work full time, but she put 150% into caring for her house and family. I remember being in awe of her, but also thinking “I’m never going to be like that” (you know, those kinds of judgements we make, and then realise later in the life, that we have landed exactly where we never thought we would!).
I was, after all, a new age university graduate who thought she was going to conquer the world. I specifically made a point of saying to my husband (then boyfriend), that I would not be an amazeballs wife like his mother. That I expected us to share things equally and he totally agreed. I remember one incident on our first holiday together, when he asked me how to do the laundry. I was annoyed that he “presumed” I knew how to use the washing machine when he didn’t. So even though I did actually know how to use it (!), I pretended not to know and told him to do it. And when he produced an entire wash load of newly dyed hot pink clothes, I didn’t rant and rave and call him an idiot…i simply sigh and said “Oh no, how did that happen”…and through his own incredible investigation skills, he suggested perhaps he should not have washed the clothes with his brand new red t-shirt. Lesson learnt the hard way.
And so, when we moved in together, the chores were split pretty evenly. There was even a time when he injured himself on the job and had to take 6mths off work. He became a real househusband, cooking and cleaning while I went to work.
Our first baby came along and I took 6mths off work to care for him. My husband also took 6 weeks off work because our son started his little life in special care and I needed extra help. So, together, we figured out how to look after this new little person and manage the house. When I went back to work full time, my husband arranged his shifts so he could look after our son one day a week, my parents looked after him another day and thus he only needed to be a childcare three days a week…which was an arrangement we were all comfortable with. And our household continued to be quite balanced, each of us of taking on the household chores and parenting in equal parts.
I suppose it was the arrival of baby number 2 when things started to shift. Our daughters arrival coincided with my husband moving into a new role at his work, a male dominated alpha environment where long hours, being “on call” and regular trips away were part of the package. Our daughter was a challenging baby, 3 mths of crying nearly threw us both over the edge. I couldn’t bare the thought of going back to work after 6mths this time, I was exhausted. So I used all my long service leave in order to stay off for 9mths. And then when I returned to work, this time we agreed it may be better for me to work part time in order to juggle our now bulging priorities.
And so the gradual shift of power began.
In “Overwhelmed” by Bridget Schultz, she talks about the power of underlying pre-conceptions we all still have about what it means to be the “ideal worker”, the “ideal mother” and “the provider father”. That despite all our best intentions (like in our case), the power of these ideals drives our behaviour, often without us even noticing.
Gosh, this is all starting to sound incredibly familiar…and kinda scary.
Somehow, we have come to a place where I do 90% of the household chores, I am “in charge” of the family and house as well as working four days a week at a demanding corporate job. Because I work from home, it seems to make sense for me to throw some washing in the machine between meetings, and take the dog for a walk at lunch time. My husband has to start work early so I do the morning ritual, getting kids ready and to school. Cleaning up the kitchen. When my husband goes away (which he did for 3mths last year), I have learnt how to do everything on my own.
My husband is incredibly appreciative and grateful. He tells me I am amazing and he doesn’t know how I do it all. Which only serves to fuel my fire and pushes me further. I find myself scurring around the house trying to vaccum and clean before he gets home, because he is always notices and is pleased. I know he is often stressed (physically and mentally) after work, so I don’t want to throw the kids at him the moment he walks in the door. So even though I have also been at work all day, I throw myself into cooking the dinner and watching the kids, whilst he has a bit of chill time to watch the news or catch up on facebook.
I have become what I always said I wouldn’t. I have unconsciously been being driven by the need to demonstrate that I can be both the ideal mother and the ideal worker.
At one point I remember my husband suggesting maybe he should consider going part time. I didn’t give his suggestion any thought before shooting it down (I love having that one day per week where I can really pretend to be the ideal mother, walk the kids to school and bake cookies…he couldn’t take that from me). I know he wants to spend more time with our kids. He tried to coach the football team last year but the drag of the “provider father” and “ideal worker” on his conscious, keeps him committed to work whenever they need him. I’m immensely proud of the work he does and I’m always encouraging him…even when it may be to detriment of our family.
Now…don’t get me wrong in all of this. We are both incredibly grateful for everything we have. We have discussions about our future goals and where we are heading. We both love our jobs and we love our children. But I’ve suddenly realised that I am responsible for taking on more than I should have and now I’m finding it hard to give it back.
And as I sit here and contemplate how I got here…I realise that is exactly the point. I don’t know because it was never intentional. Back in the “good old days”, I knew what I wanted and I was pretty clear about it. So it was far easier for us to work with that. But since then, I haven’t re-established what exactly my goal is, I haven’t asked for what I want (quite frankly because I haven’t stopped to think about it). And when we don’t stop and think, act with intention, those slippery old traditional models start to mould their way back into our lives.
So just like I have with my work, and with other areas of my life. It’s time for paper and a pen (Ooo…an opportunity for list writing…woohoo)… what does my “ideal” household look like, how does it feel. And when I have my husband stuck in the car on our next trip (I love driving holidays because we always have the best conversations when we are trapped together for hours), I can ask what his ideal household looks like too. And together, we can set some strategies to get us there.
Let’s start with unpacking the dishwasher shall we?