Monday, 27 September 2010

Equality in the home

When I was little my dad used to help my mum round the house. My dad worked full time and my mum dabbled in a few things but was essentially a full time house wife. I assumed that was how things were in everyone's house. I took for granted that my dad got involved with the cooking and that he would clean the fridge out now and again. He washed the car and mowed the lawn until I was big enough to help with it. We children took on age appropriate chores without question - even if we needed a bit of nagging to get on and do it!

My house isn't like that. I work full time. My husband works too. I can't stand mess and clutter but I have had to learn to live with it in times of stress and pressure. I hate crumbs and dirt. I am able to go to bed knowing there are dirty dishes in the sink but I know I'll cringe next time I walk into the kitchen. The main issue is that, without fail, I will crack before my husband when the housework needs doing. He doesn't notice or always has something of a higher priority to do. This has led to a complete imbalance of housework in our home.

When I left home for college in 1998 I decided I would not let my new flatmates take me for granted and that I would do my share of housework but no more. Largely I was successful in this. Until 2004. When I moved into the same house as my husband I knew he was self-sufficient (something I had had grave concerns about with a previous boyfriend) so I assumed he would do his share of the housework. We didn't discuss it or make any verbal agreements.

Over the past few years it has been a source of great tension. I did more when I was on maternity leave because I felt I ought to since I wasn't tired from work. During a few weeks off for illness I also expected to do more. When my husband has had periods off work he makes more mess because he's at home to make mess but he doesn't do much to sort it out. It feels like I go to work and then come home to a heap more work.

We had a cleaner for a couple of years - this was a double-edged sword: on the one hand it was lovely to come home to a sparkling house knowing I hadn't spent a minute on it. On the other hand I felt like my husband didn't care at all about supporting me with the housework because he still made no effort with it. He felt no need to lift a finger because it could all be left to the cleaner. He didn't notice how much work I was still doing on the days the cleaner wasn't there.

Sometimes I have just got on with it all, after all it is impossible to live in conflict with someone all the time. We all need a break from it now and again. I have left sticky notes all over the place, sent reminders texts and e-mails. This works some of the time. We've had so many conversations about it that I think I have finally got to the bottom of why I am doing the majority of our housework. My husband is not a lazy person but he doesn't feel the housework is as important as any of the other things he does. When I am not under pressure to clean the house in record time I can find housework therapeutic, my husband doesn't get any satisfaction from it at all. He doesn't get irritated by untidiness or uncleanliness as quickly as I do. I have tried leaving bits of the house in a state for ages - occasionally it has become too much for him and he has given in and sorted it (or, in his words, something among that mess became a high priority). I can rationalise until the cows come home - the work still needs to be done!

Have I created a rod for my own back? By having high standards and refusing to leave stuff building up for other people to complete I think people around me have become complacent. When I find it too much noone steps in to breach the gap I leave. By spending only my time on our housework I am freeing up other people's. I don't notice anyone else in our house worrying that they won't have time to clear up before the weekend's over or that they're out too many nights a week to complete the basics.

My housemates know I am a mother and I feel like they presume I will clear up after them. Prior to moving into our current house I was not a mother so I think people's perception of me was not the same.

My son is getting old enough to do some jobs around the house so I do ask him to do things and make sure he is involved with the routines we have. I also talk with him about respecting other people, acknowledging their feelings and treating people in the way you would like to be treated. I hope he will respect people he lives with in future but also that he manages to find a happy balance with housework in his subsequent households.

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