The Household Chores Debate: Don’t Keep Score

Having kids will automatically lower your cleanliness standards.

In his op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Case for Filth, Stephen Marche suggests the solution to the division of household chores is to simply do less and be happier.  Jessica Grose responded with the argument that men shouldn’t get to “punk out” when it comes to housework.

Oh, the housework debate.  For me, this is filed alongside the breastfeeding debate in the “Who Gives a Shit?” folder.

What do I mean by that?  It’s simple.  Whenever these studies come out about what our neighbours are doing, whether it’s how much sex they are having or how the chores are divided, we start to question our normal.  Is it normal that I do the majority of the day-to-day housekeeping and my husband does more of the “labor” jobs around the house?  Does that make me: subservient, a fool or a doormat? Is he boorish, a stereotype or a misogynist?

Questioning what’s normal is not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s often the impetus for change – and in this case Grose wants us to challenge what’s normal and put a broom in the hands of more men – but a quick informal survey of my friends reveals that “normal” varies from household to household.  Anything goes from dads doing laundry to moms cleaning out the eaves troughs.  Even the idea of cleanliness differs from household to household and so long as everyone’s on board, who cares what other people think?

Marches writes about the intimate drudgery that is housekeeping and marriage.  So true.  On my worst days, I will always make the bed.  Everything is right with the world when I can pull back the covers and get inside.  My husband has made the bed about the same number of times he has ironed a shirt – less than 10.  But don’t ask me to change the furnace filter.

Marche recalls that steamy scene in Mad Men when Meghan and Don pull off to the side of the road to have sex after leaving a dinner party gone awry where Don stripped off his shirt to fix a leaky sink.

I am reminded of the time we visited friends at their rental cottage.  While toasting another picture-perfect summer evening and waiting for dinner to be served, it was discovered that there was no longer running water indoors.  A small group of us stood around puzzled, not sure how to solve this problem, but my husband disappeared only to return wearing his bathing suit and with some tools he’d rummaged up.  Within minutes he was submerged in the lake affixing some thing-a-ma-jiggy pipe to some sort of doohickey.

While there was no Meghan Draper moment on the way home, I admit to feeling turned on and not because it was all macho-like, “Me man.  Me fix water pipe.  You woman.  You do the dishes.”

It was more a feeling of gratitude, or phew! someone on my team can fix water pipes!

The same way that I hope he feels about being married to someone who gets her thrills from organizing the mudroom.

Housekeeping can be a metaphor for marriage.  It’s messy, hard work, and everyone has their own way of doing it.

I beg to differ with both Marche and Grose.  It’s not about doing less or doing more, it’s about not keeping score.

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7 thoughts

  1. I wish I had something empowering to add, but here is the truth: I do it all, and I enjoy it! I do the cooking, garbage duty, the mowing, the trimming, the house cleaning (yup, I don’t have a cleaner), the light bulb changing, the bill paying, the laundry and today, I am cleaning my poor son’s vomit from the backseat of the car. My house is my office, and I want to take care of it. My hubby has his office, and I have mine. Sure, there are times when I drop F-bombs on the vacuum or insist on feeding my kids cereal because I just cleaned the oven. This might be old fashioned, but it works for us, and we’re happy!

  2. I like how you compare this to the breastfeeding debate and how it all fits into a kind of surveillance. You are so right about how corrosive studies can be to your sense of self.

  3. “Keeping score” great way to put it. I can’t imagine how anything positive comes from that in a marriage. Great post Beth.

  4. My husband requires a list, prepared by yours truly to be reminded of the things that need to be addressed in our house. I list everything on a weekly basis including chores, errands and tasks. The kicker which never ceases to amaze me is that he picks the easiest tasks, the ones that take the least amount of time and require the least amount of effort. He’s tickled with himself that he has emptied the garbage while I fold and put away 64 baskets of laundry. Division of labour…what a fabulous topic!

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