The Household Chores Debate: Don’t Keep Score

Having kids will automatically lower your cleanliness standards.

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.


You could WIN!

This week, 4Mothers will discuss gender and housework and how things look to us.  We love it when you join in, whether to offer your own perspective or to simply say that you enjoyed a read.  Don’t be shy; drop us a line.  Leave a comment on one or more posts this week and you could WIN a home detox kit from Seventh Generation valued at $50!  (Canadian residents only)


Sharing the Load with Kids: A list of chores by age

clothes-line-615962_640Back when we were deciding where to send our boys to pre-school I spent a considerable amount of time researching the several in our area – a stark contrast to how I chose their paediatrician.  I chose the paediatrician based on geographical proximity.  I chose the pre-school based on similar ideology.  The paediatrician and I broke up years ago but I am still going steady with the pre-school.  My youngest is in his final year and I am heartbroken at the thought of moving on for so many reasons but what I am going to miss most is the support they provide the parents.

The school is based in Adlerian psychology and I have raved about here and Nathalie reviewed a book on the subject here.

At the start of the school year they distributed a list of ways that children can participate and contribute to the family and in doing so, they feel Connected, Capable and Confident (pillars of the Adlerian approach).

Moms have a tendency to play the martyr (guilty!) and the busyness of the holidays just adds to already overwhelming to-do lists.  Don’t forget to include the little people of your family!  They can make a meaningful contribution.  “Take time for training” is what the teachers at the school recommend and remember it might not be perfect, but it will be done, leaving you more time to spend together, having fun!

Home Responsibilities for a 2 and 3 year old

1)   Tidy up the toys on the floor and return to the right bins.

2)   Put books/magazines on tables, shelves or racks.

3)   Sweep the floor.

4)   Place napkins, silverware and plates on the table.

5)   Tidy up place setting after eating.  Take dishes to the counter.

6)   Tidy up the floor after eating a meal.

7)   Make a choice between two things for breakfast. (This is empowering and encourages your child to make simple decisions.)

8)   Undress and dress with a little bit of help.

9)   Help to put away groceries (boxed, canned items on lower shelves), put away the grocery bags.

Home Responsibilities for a 4 year old

1)   Set the table.

2)   Put the groceries away.

3)   Help with the grocery shopping and compiling a grocery list.

4)   Follow a schedule for feeding pets.

5)   Help with yard and garden work.

6)   Help make the beds and vacuum.

7)   Help to do the dishes or fill dishwasher.

8)   Spreading butter on toast, making simple sandwiches.

9)   Pouring cereal (perhaps put it in a small container so they can pour more easily) and the milk (from a smaller pitcher).

10)  Help prepare the family meal – wash veggies, tear lettuce, etc.

11)  Help bake simple desserts (it’s okay if there’s a spill).

12) Getting the mail.

13) Allow them to play without constant supervision.

14) Sort laundry (with help) and match the clean socks.

15)  Put away own clean clothes.  Put dirty clothes in hamper for washing.

Home Responsibilities for a 5 and 6 year old

1)   Help with meal planning and grocery shopping (i.e. write list, retrieve items from the shelves).

2)   Make own simple sandwiches and breakfast.

3)   Clean up after meals.

4)   Pour own beverages from the fridge.

5)   Take a more active role in cooking and adding to the recipes.

6)   Make own bed and clean own room.

7)   Dress independently.

8)   Clean the bathroom sink (with child-safe products).

9)   Spray and clean mirrors and windows (at least the bottom half!)

10)   Separate their own laundry on laundry day.

11)   Fold clothes and put them away.

12)   Answer the phone and dial when making calls to family/friends.

13)   Yard work.

14)   Paying for small purchases at the check out.

15)   Taking out the garbage and bringing back the bins.

16)   Cleaning up after pets.

Home Responsibilities for a 7 year old

1)   Answer the phone and write down messages.

2)   Run basic errands for parents (i.e. take something to the next door neighbour)

3)   Water the lawn and shovel the snow.

4)   Train pets.

5)   Carry in the grocery bags.

6)   Get ready for school and bed with little involvement from parent.

7)   Take notes to and from the school.

8)   Leave the bathroom in neat order (hang up towels, change toilet paper roll, etc.)

Home Responsibilities for 8-11 year old

1)   Set the table completely and properly.

2)   Mop the floor.

3)   Responsible for own bathing and showering.

4)   Straighten out closet and store seasonal clothing.

5)   Shop for and select own clothing with the help (and money) of parents.

6)   Cook for the family once a month.

7)   Change sheets on the bed.

8)   Operate the washing machine and dryer (measure out the detergent).

9)   Help neighbours with their chores.