It’s now a statistically proven as well as intuitively obvious fact: women spend more time taking care of home and family than their husbands, often regardless of which spouse works more outside the home. I think this is a societal injustice that can even out only with deliberate effort on a generational time scale. But we’re going in the right direction: men are spending more time on domestic labor than their fathers, and they seem happier for it. For me personally, it wasn't so much the inequality of time that grated as a newlywed, it was the inequality of energy.
Things that are obvious to me (the not-white tinge on the shower means it needs to be cleaned; there’s only enough cereal left for one bowl thus it’s time to put it on the grocery list) just simply don’t penetrate my husband’s consciousness. It’s not that he realized the bathroom was dirty and just decided not to do anything about it. He honestly didn’t notice. He wasn’t passive aggressively playing a game of chicken with me over breakfast O’s. He honestly didn’t think of it. I however, have played a game of chicken regarding the pink mold in the bathroom: if I can just tough it out one more day, he’ll have to give in and clean it this time. I caved and cleaned first; I’m not sure he even noticed a difference. I fumed silently, expending energy.
My husband is a truly brilliant man, capable of great feats of observation - he can tell you the type of aircraft flying overhead with a casual upward glance, or the make and model of any number of cars on the freeway - so why can’t he see dirt? My answer: because he’s not a housework chicken sexer. Maybe you’ve heard of these people: they get paid to look up the back end of baby chickens to tell if they are boys or girls at the rate of about 700 chicks an hour. They get 98% of them right and it takes at least 3 years of full time training. In other words, he just hasn’t had the training. I can spot dust bunnies at a glance, but there’s no way I could tell you if any given chick needed a pink or blue bow, never mind in five seconds.
I’m an only child, so I can’t say if my parents would have trained a son to spot and eviscerate dirt, but my mother certainly trained me. And my husband’s parents, as wonderful as they are, didn’t train him to pay attention to housework. So, if I want the kind of help around the house that will really make a difference in my daily life, I have to be willing to ask for what I want. Instead of waiting for the dust bunnies to start unionizing, I can now just ask: “Honey, please vacuum the rug.” Even for things that are “his” job, like dishes: “The sink is full: please do the dishes before you go to bed tonight.”
This used to infuriate me. “I shouldn’t have to ask!” I kept insisting to both of us. He was supposed to just know. But how? If I am to assume that I didn’t marry a manipulative lazy bastard (which I didn’t), then he simply doesn’t see the same things or have the same expectations as I do around the house. There’s not a single other area of life that I can think of where I would expect to get what I want from someone who doesn’t have the same information I do without saying anything to them. Is my server at a restaurant supposed to just know what I want for dinner without my placing an order? Is the taxi driver supposed to just start driving without my telling him where to go? Maybe with enough time and familiarity, yes, habits can get established (and they have around the house too), but that’s a happy consequence of years of relationship building that has to be consistently reaffirmed and nurtured, not a reasonable day-to-day expectation.
The thing that surprised me the most? When I re-set expectations and started just asking for help when I thought of something, instead of adding it to my un-communicated mental honey-do list, the energy drain went away. I was no longer trying to telepathically micromanage another grown human being: I was delegating in a way that set us both up for success and catered to each of our skill sets. I could spot what needed to be done when, and he could do it. And sometimes, the process of verbalizing a chore made it seem less important that either of us do it right then - does that bookshelf really need dusting on what is otherwise a glorious afternoon for a walk together as a family? Et voilà: time drain reduced as well.
If I have a son, my husband and I will do our best to teach him how to sex chickens (metaphorically speaking of course) around the house. Hopefully he’ll learn to see the things that keep a house a clean, functioning home, and have the skills and initiative to do something about it. And I’ll be teaching my daughter how to speak up in the face of (albeit unintentional) injustice and apathy, how to ask for what she needs from a place of compassion and self-respect, and how to prioritize what matters most in life. Which, in the end, is way more important than whether the shower turns pink.