A few weeks ago I decided I’d had enough of doing the washing. It’s one of those jobs that has just become mine over the years, like Mr A loading the dishwasher. It was prompted by people sharing that viral washing powder advert where the Dad suddenly realises his daughter is doing everything and his son in law is a lazy oaf. Our life is nothing like that ad, we both contribute pretty evenly, but some jobs are still a little gendered in the A Residence.
According to a 2015 study by PriceWaterHouseCoopers and the Families and Work Institute, only 31% of hetrosexual couples share the laundry fairly, whereas 44% do in same sex couples. And my hat goes off to single parents juggling it all, so many single parents I know set a much better example to their kids in getting them on board with chores early. If they can work an iPad they can also work a washing machine!
We talked about sharing the washing load, I could sense Mr A trying to think which jobs from his list he could give me, chief lightbulb changer or bin emptier perhaps. He argued the dishwasher was ‘best for him’ because it was obvious when it needed doing. This was my chance to share how I feel about the kind of jobs that occupy my brain space, like judging when different members of the family are going to need something that is lying at the bottom of the washing basket. Emotional labour is a massive part of many women’s lives, is often very gendered, e.g. juggling kid’s social and school lives, remembering special occasions, caring for wider family.
But the more I think about it, I’m pretty sure Mr A does his fair share of emotional labour too, and when pressed he soon let me know about how much securing the house at night, budgeting, the kids’ internet safety and making sure the dog doesn’t have accidents in the house occupies his mind. I full admit, when he is at home I always leave him to let the dog out and lock up, and after managing our budget for years, I now bury my head in the sand and let him number crunch, if the kids have an iPad issue, although we both work with computers, I send them to him.
I remember similar ebbs and flows as I grew up too, my Mum started to work, including nights in a children’s centre and my Dad took over more of the cooking and the housework. Seeing Dad do this was a powerful signal to both me and my brother that jobs can be shared.
I look back at days visiting my grandparents, gardening followed by a mammoth feast baked and prepared by my Grandmother. This Sunday Mr A played Grandma, he’s not a keen gardener, so instead he did several loads of washing, sorted the washing, made cups of tea, lunch and dinner. As we sat down after a whole day gardening on Sunday, Mr A in the pinney, proclaiming himself a ‘laydeee’, and chastising my Dad and I for our dirt engrained hands, I realised how much things have changed. There is still so much room for change though, the fact that we were still joking about the role reversal says so.
Back to the weekend I went on strike about the washing. After letting the resentment build, muttering lots and getting grumpy, I threw a pile of washing at the machine. My daughter immediately offered to help me sort it, while my son ran off and Mr A grumpily loaded the dishwasher. My daughter following my footsteps is exactly the outcome I was seeking to avoid, although I think her helpful nature is wonderful. I still remember cursing my Dad’s socks as a kid and wondering why Mum, my brother and I were sorting them. It’s probably why I resent the washing so much today. It feels like a job that became engendered and engrained.
The rage built up from watching a washing powder advert about sexism had got me nowhere, but it was an article I had saved months ago on chore challenges that paved the way for real change.
After a bit of sulking, we thrashed the idea about again in a more grown up fashion, questioned how we could make a difference, for the sake of setting a better gender example to our kids. I also admitted there are some bits of doing the washing I much prefer to other chores, I would rather be in the garden pegging out washing than emptying the bins for example. But sitting sorting the washing pile takes me back to sorting my Dad’s socks and makes me cross. Slowly, the idea of a ‘chore challenge’ started to happen.
Later that day my son helped me take things to the tip, while Mr A showed Miss L how to use the drill to put up a cabinet. We came up with some other simple ways to change the chores too. I would do the washing, Mr A would sort it. Mr A would load the dishwasher and I would empty it more (I am yet to pass the loading test). But we both have different work weeks and ultimately we both pitch in where it is needed.
Last night, as I walked the dog last thing at night, I realised the logic behind Mr A always doing this was about me not being a lone woman out at night. But it was wonderful to be out at night under the stars with the dog and my thoughts. The bins were lining up outside other houses, so when I came back I put ours out too. Mr A was confused when he came to do it this morning.
Little by little, things are changing. You have to be the change to make a change I think.
Ways to easily gender swap the chores
You could audit all the chores, list them under each other’s names and no doubt have the biggest argument you have ever had, or you can start simple and change one or two things at a time…
I read that Melissa Gates simply has a rule “No one leaves the kitchen until Mom does” I like the emphasis on everyone tidying up together, although I would argue it really doesn’t have to have Mom in the sentence. ‘No one leaves until the kitchen is tidy’.
Family Cook Off – once a month we all batch cook some freezer meals together, which takes a big strain off the meal planning head space. It’s social and a great chance to teach each other recipes and cooking skills.
Meal plan together – apart from taking the emphasis off one person, it is a great way to make everyone aware of the thought that goes into planning meals and to ensure everyone gets to pick something they will enjoy eating. Some great family rituals have come out of this, like Saturday night hotdogs and Friday night home made pizza nights.
Swap a chore Take one chore that feels gendered and swap it.
Teach someone a skill – It is easy to rely on someone else for tech support, power tool jobs, budgeting, birthday present buying but just as great to learn a new skill. Make a date to learn how to master a skill you always leave to someone else.
Have a rota – rather than always doing the same chores, share them across different days so everyone knows what they are doing.
Make it desirable – apparently Bill Gates started a playground trend when he took his kids to school. ‘If Bill Gates has time, surely you do?’ We share the school run and it turns out Mr A has more friends in the playground than me these days. Just waiting for pictures of celebrity ladies taking out the trash now…
Hack the chores – sometimes sharing a chore introduces new shortcuts you would never have thought of. Like folding the washing while listening to the kids read on a Sunday night. We’ve become a little obsessed with meal plan hacks too.
Delegate/Outsource – there are always going to be some chores couples are never going to agree on, in that situation it makes sense to delegate them to the kids, or outsource them to a professional if you can afford it.
Image credit: Shutterstock Couple with a washing machine