Sharing the load

Dust. Vacuum. Sweep. Put a load of washing through. Mop. Clean the bath. Clean the shower. Put another load of washing through. Clean the basins. Clean the toilet. Clean the bloody stove. Wash the dishes. Clean the windows. Put another load of washing through. Change the sheets on the beds. Do the supermarket shopping. Cook dinner. Put yet another load of washing through. Do the dishes. Unstack the dishwasher. Supervise the children’s bathtime. Get the children settled into bed. Fold all the washing. Put the clothes away.

All this while making school lunches, taking the children to school, collecting them from school, hearing reading and spelling, helping with homework, or while caring for tiny children and babies. And yes, some days you won’t be vacuuming and sweeping and mopping, but that’s okay, because you can go to the supermarket instead (my mother’s favourite fear is that in her next lfe, she will be reincarnated as a supermarket trolley).

It’s mindnumbingly dull. It’s scut work. And tomorrow, you get to do it all again. Sisyphus had it easy!

Sure, none of it is difficult. It’s not exactly high finance, or rocket science, but the sheer tedium of the tasks makes housework onerous. You can always put some music on, or take a break to sit in the sun for a while, and of course there can be great satisfaction in lookimg after your partner and children, and creating an environment where they are happy and secure. But the work itself is dreary, and there is scant recognition for it.

So no wonder that sharing doing the chores might be important in relationships.

This study (downloadable from UMR Research as a PDF: 236kb – here) or see this story in the NZ Herald reports that about 92% of people rate fidelity as very important in relationships, and about 67% rate a good sexual relationship as very important, but the next ranked item is sharing chores (about 62% of people rate this as very important, with barely any difference between men and women on this response).

Fidelity likewise has virtually the same response from both men and women, but when it comes to a happy sexual relationship, 69% of men thought it was very important, in comparison to 65% of women. However, about the same numbers of men and women thought it was either very important or important. Alas, I have virtually no statistical training, so I can’t tell you whether there is anything to be read into these responses.

I wonder if what’s going on is that people see sharing the deadly dull chores as a sign of commitment to each other. A man (or a woman) who comes in at the end of the day and demands that all the housework be done and a meal served, and then neglects to help with the evening rush or even just the simple tasks of getting the dinner dishes done and the children settled, expects his (or her) spouse to be a servant, not a partner in life.

That revamped lifestyle magazine, The Listener, ran a story on housework recently. It turns out that in NZ, men do far more housework that their counterparts in other countries. For example, in Ireland, two-thirds of men do no cooking whatsoever, and in Spain, 40% of men do no housework, at all. However, New Zealand men don’t do half of all housework, even when their partners are in paid employment. Be that as it may, most New Zealand women are happy with what their partners do. But…

She [Janeen Baxter – researcher] says it’s important to remember that her research covers only couples who are living together. It may be that housework is a major cause of dissatisfaction for couples who separate. “Saying you’re dissatisfied with the housework is like saying you’re dissatisfied with the relationship.”

According to Auckland relationship psychologist Verity Thom, that is often the case. She says housework can be a huge issue for couples having counselling. “It’s vomited forth with vehemence,” says Thom. “It’s seethed through gritted teeth. It can become an entrenched battleground that they beat each other over the head with.”

So, to subvert what the pope, and my old parish priest used to say.. a couple that prays cleans together stays together?

(This doesn’t apply to my own beloved partner, who is highly educated, professionally successful, a third dan black belt, cooks, cleans, does the supermarket shopping, and cares for the children. He doesn’t sew or mow the lawns, but I don’t iron or paint. Things seem to be about right around our place.)

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2 responses to “Sharing the load

  1. Well, I am married to a Kiwi and I never had less help around the house. He doesn’t want to put himself out bringing bacon home either. In fact, he’s the Prince of Passive-Aggressive and has made an art and science out of fudging as much down-time for himself as possible at my expense. I am living in NZ now and have seen 2 marriage counselors and they all say that housework is a huge problem in the couples they counsel here as well. The few American partners I lived with were much more help around the house than this guy.

  2. Pingback: A dusty hearth « Harvest Bird