Last night, I picked up the iron from the counter to put it away, but then realised that I don’t know where we keep it. My husband does all the ironing, and always has done. The last time I ironed anything was 2001, when I burned the dress I was about to wear to my work Christmas party. My then boyfriend, now husband, took the iron from me, and hasn’t given it back since. Which is absolutely fine with me. There are lots of other things I do that he doesn’t, like making meal plans and shopping lists. And we muddle along quite nicely.
Men don’t take on as much of the house and childrearing responsibility as women – so says an article in the Guardian a few weeks ago. And last week, the Daily Mail published a study showing the 59 tasks the average working mother does on any given day. These are just two of dozens of similar articles I’ve read over the years, and while I don’t doubt the veracity of the studies, they always make me feel a bit defensive about my husband. “He does his fair share!” I want to shout at the lap top screen, as I wonder what’s happening in all the other houses.
Are the women who are surveyed at home more than their partners, in which case, it’s logical that they’re doing more of the housework?
What I mean is, my husband and I both work mornings, and during that time, zero housework gets done. He works afternoons too, whereas I don’t, and during that time, 100% of any housework is done by me. Of course it is – he’s 15km away, sitting at his office desk.
Or is it the case that the women surveyed spend their evenings cleaning while their partners sit down to read the paper? I imagine this Mad Men-esque scene plays out in some households but it’s surely not the norm.
Perhaps the women surveyed are referring to that grey and frustrating area of having to ask. If you always have to ask your partner to clean the bathroom or mop the floors, it can feel like a chore in itself. Yes the work gets done, but it would be all the nicer if no asking was necessary.
And for sure, speaking for my own house, we operate slightly differently. My husband does well with tasks that have a beginning and an end – if he sees a full dishwasher or a full bin or a full washing machine, he empties it. I’m more of an always-on person – picking up and tidying up and clearing up as I go. As for walking from one from to another without bringing something to put away – who does that? (my husband)
I suspect a lot of what any of us do is about routine and schedules and family dynamic and sometimes simply who does what best.
For example, in the study published this week, mothers say they get up before everyone else, and go downstairs to empty the dishwasher, make tea, pack lunches and fill water-bottles. In my house, my husband does exactly that every single morning. I catch five more minutes of sleep, then when I hear his footsteps on the stairs, I jump up and become incredibly busy making the bed. Maybe I’m in the lucky minority, or maybe they did the survey in the morning time and only the early-bird mothers were up and answering.
On the flip side, this week I worked Monday afternoon and my husband was home with the kids. When I arrived into the kitchen at 6 o’clock, it looked as though the dishwasher, the fridge and all the toy boxes had spontaneously combusted and splattered their contents over every available surface.
Although happily, there was a chicken in the oven. “Did you do potatoes and veg?” I asked. “Oh, do we need potatoes and veg?” he replied – this is the guy who cooks Sunday roast every single week. But busy supervising unfamiliar homework and breaking up quite familiar fights – out of his routine – it just didn’t happen.
Anyway, we both chipped in and got dinner sorted, before I went to a PA meeting and he got the kids to bed. “Would you like to take a day off every week?” I asked as I left for the school. He just smiled, dreaming, I suspect, of being 15km away, sitting safely at his office desk. Now if I could just get him to put away the iron when he’s done.