Housework: It’s Not Your Job
Jenn reviewed a book last week over on Fit Bottomed Girls that really got me thinking. Like Jenn, I’m guilty of watching mindless TV that only serves to shrink my brain cells (Real Housewives, anyone?). While sometimes the fluffy stuff is a break from thinking and going all day, the message of Lisa Bloom’s Think: Straight Talk For Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World should be taken to heart by the women of the world. The title really says it all: Think.
This book excerpt from Lisa Bloom is an interesting read and should help those frazzled moms who are trying to do it all. I know it helped me gain a little bit of a new perspective when it comes to the house. I’ve already accepted that my house will no longer be perfectly cleaned without paid, outside help because I just can’t do it, but now I don’t feel as guilty about it! More on this topic tomorrow, but until then, enjoy the read. —Erin
Housework Is Not Your Job!
By Lisa Bloom
In the twenty-first century there are still commercials featuring women delightedly dancing around their bathrooms with their new soap-scum products, singing along with animated characters. In real life, we’d call these women deranged.
Any magazine that tries to sell you on the idea that scrubbing toilets makes you burst into song or that trying a new mop is a blast, or that you’ll be giddy when you get your kids’ pants whiter than their friends’ clothing should be lit on fire and hurled into the street. We are the first generation of girls that beat the boys in school so soundly that they need affirmative action to compete with us! Hello! So how are we still swallowing the message that it is our job to polish and dust and vacuum?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, when both a working wife and a working husband come home from their full-time jobs—that’s jobs, plural—the wife does an average of one hour more of housework per day than the husband. And according to time-diary data from the federally funded Panel Study of Income Dynamics, when a single woman gets married, she shoulders an extra seven hours per week of housework while her new husband does an hour a week less than he did as a bachelor.2
This makes me want to hurt someone.
Why, oh why, is this still the case? There is only one explanation: because we women have deeply internalized the message from the days of pointy bras and thick girdles that housework is our job. Maybe the mindset came from your eternally dusting and sweeping mother, bless her. But she came from another era and didn’t know any better, so I forgive her.
You, I don’t excuse. Have you watched nothing but Leave It to Beaver for the last forty years? Are you enjoying being a martyr? Because it’s not working for you.
I am here to deprogram you—because we are not passing this down to the next generation. It has got to stop with us. Your sons and daughters are watching you. You are not going to raise them to expect that men sit back and watch the game while the women scrub out bath rings.
Housework is not your job. It is not women’s work. Let’s call it what it is: repetitive, mind-numbing drudgery. Why should that job fall to the adult with the vagina? There is no logical reason whatsoever. None. If you really enjoy doing it, fine. If you have a spouse/partner who really enjoys doing it and does his/her fair share, fine. For the other 99.9 percent of us: You must look at it as not your job. This is an essential mindset. You don’t fix your own car. Why not? You could. You could learn. Most women don’t even change the oil in their cars. Why not? That’s an easy job, actually. We don’t because we don’t think of that as our job. We have to put housework in the same mental category.
It is a job, but it is not your job. Say it loud, say it proud.
Many women change careers or jobs to get better, more “family friendly” hours. We’ll go through all that trouble and then come home and slave away like automatons. Why do we fight for better hours and working conditions from our employers but not from our families?
Look at it another way. Why do men in our culture still not do their fair share of housework? Because they don’t consider it to be their job. That’s why they don’t see the dirty socks and you do.
Men finish college and then get their first low-paying job and their first dinky little apartment. What do they do right away to fire up that bachelor pad? They call to set up their utilities—check. Cable—check. Hire a housekeeper to come bimonthly—check. Why? (Recite it with me.) Because they do not see housework as their job. How many single ladies do this? Very few.
This is the mindset we need to adopt.
I am not talking about child care here, only cleaning. There’s a world of difference between time with the kids and time doing housework. Your kids will grow up fondly remembering the times you threw a ball with them, played Monopoly with them, and chatted around the dinner table with them. Your oven will not fondly remember any of the times you scoured it. The less time you spend doing housework, the more time you’ll have with your kids—or for yourself, to read, to dream, to strategize, to think.
Housework is a job that, ideally, you are going to farm out. That is more doable than you may think. And if you are so strapped that you can’t pay for a little help, then you are going to make sure that everyone in your home who sullies the kitchen and fouls the toilets shares that job equally.
I know women who can easily afford a housekeeper but do all the housework themselves. My friend Joni founded her own small business, a dance school, which grew by leaps and bounds to become the leading dance school in her state, with thousands of students and scores of recitals and performances every year. Her company earns several million dollars annually in revenue, enough to help pay for her beautiful large home as well as a lakefront vacation house. A working mom, she raised her son and daughter to be two of the loveliest people you could ever hope to know.
Joni always insisted on personally cleaning both homes herself. And they are spotless. And I am depressed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Joni sitting down. While her husband and kids kick back, watch movies, and catch up, she’s off tidying up somewhere, missing out. What happened here? She feels that maintaining her homes is her job, and anyway, housekeepers don’t do as good a job, she says. They don’t clean as well as she does.
But guess what, Joni? You can train housekeepers. You can tell them how, exactly, you want the table dusted or the baseboards wiped, if that’s important to you. (In my case, I wouldn’t notice dust until it morphed into a troglodyte and started growling at me. But I understand other people have slightly more exacting housekeeping standards.) The housekeeper works for you. You can specify how you want everything, and she will do it your way.
Then there is my friend Susan, working mom of three school-age daughters who are rambunctious and sassy and cute as puppies. She is a leftist type who is uncomfortable with the idea of hiring someone to clean up after her family, though she too could afford it. But doing so would make her feel elitist. Hey Susan! What do you think happens when you leave your office at night? People come and clean, that’s what. Do you feel guilty about that? What’s the difference between a professional cleaning your office and a professional cleaning your home?
Susan is always strung out, sleep deprived, and dog tired.
To my beloved pinko liberal friends: Don’t you want to help out a female small business owner? Because that’s what most house cleaners are. Don’t condescend. She is an independent contractor looking for accounts. Pay her a fair wage, give her referrals to your friends and a nice holiday bonus, and feel good about helping a sister grow her business.
Maybe you are like my friend Janice, a working mother of two toddlers who feels so financially strapped she doesn’t feel she can justify paying a housekeeper out of her tight budget. Yet Janice often comes home so bleary-eyed that she can’t face making dinner, so they eat out frequently. That’s the catch-22: The more wiped out you are, the more frequently you spend extra bucks at restaurants, and the less you feel you can afford help.
Look, you really only need someone to come and clean every two weeks. If you skip eating out two or three times a month, you can pay for it. Eat peanut butter and jelly now and then if necessary—the kids prefer that anyway—and relish that shiny kitchen floor that someone else mopped to perfection. In my case, I’d skip eating altogether twice a month if necessary to avoid doing my laundry, much less the reeking piles of teenaged boys’ socks.
And don’t you dare clean before the housekeeper comes. Do you shave before a bikini wax?
In between housekeeper visits, of course, light housework will need to happen. Although I’ve considered it, you really can’t let dishes pile up for two weeks. When the baby throws up in the vestibule, you can’t always count on the dog to lap it up.
This is why you put your family on a schedule. You sit all the humans over age two around the table. Everyone contributes to the schedule, and everyone adheres to it. Children like clarity, men like charts with vertical and horizontal lines, and you like eight hours of sleep at night. When it’s all in print, everyone understands their part, the rooms and jobs they’re responsible for, and the fundamental fairness of not working Mom to weepy delirium.
The chart is important because traditionally male jobs, like taking out the trash and doing home repairs, take nanoseconds compared to the hours of daily drudgery that traditionally women’s chores like child care, grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning suck out of our lives. The chart makes this clear without having to nag about it. The chart rules.
You and any other adults in the house then need only to enforce the chart. Once they are walking and speaking in sentences (“Mommy, don’t!” is a complete sentence), children are old enough to clean up after themselves. If they can expand photos on an iPhone, they can do chores.
Here’s how it went down in the Bloom household:
“Mom, can I go over to Hannah’s?”
“So your room is clean?”
“Uh . . .”
I go back to my book. Damn, but that Elizabeth Strout sure can write. What a pleasure it is to have my feet up on the coffee table, reading her short stories. Should I have a cup of tea? Well, I did have one about an hour ago . . .
Half an hour passes, marked by muffled thumping sounds in the kid’s bedroom.
“Mom, can I go over to Hannah’s?”
“So you took the trash out and fed the dogs?”
Sound of garbage being pulled out of can, tied, taken out. Door slams. Kibble plinking into metal bowls.
“Mom . . .”
“Hi honey! Sure, have fun! Call me when you get there!”
See how pleasant that was for Mom?
And kids are not allowed to kvetch about chores because that does not add to Mommy’s bliss. And no whining or begging on your end. If they don’t do their job, they don’t get to have their fun. Here’s a great speech to have ready when they try that standard adolescent mope:
“I have to do everything around here.”
I smile. “Sit down, sweetheart.”
Kid gets nervous. Sits.
“Here was my day. Got up at five to go to work so I could support you. Took a quick shower, got dressed, without anyone telling me to. Brushed my teeth without being asked. Took out the trash. Made coffee, emptied dishwasher. Walked the dogs. Went to work. Went to your parent-teacher conference to learn that you’re not turning in all of your homework. [Dramatic pregnant pause, meaningful mom-stare into fidgeting kid's eyes.] Went to grocery store. Carried heavy bags of groceries all the way home by myself. Dragged them into the apartment and made us all a nice dinner. After dinner, went online and signed you up for summer camp and paid the deposit out of money I made working all day.
“Boy, there isn’t room enough for all that on the chart, is there? Maybe we need a bigger one! Maybe we need to adjust everyone else’s chores to catch up to mine!
“Now, what was that you said about having to do everything? Because you did what . . . one load of dishes?”
They will never, ever say it again.
Here’s the corollary to housework is not your job.
2. Ibid., xxi.
The above is an excerpt from the book Think: Straight Talk For Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World by Lisa Bloom. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy. Copyright © 2011 Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk For Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World