I was a feminist at birth. As a child, I pointed out, what I perceived to be, gender inequality in my home. My parents had a patriarchal marriage; my dad led, and we (my mom included) followed.
My dad, the breadwinner, came home, ate dinner, and relaxed after long days at work. My mom stayed home, and cooked, cleaned, and cared for the children from the time she woke up until she went to bed; she had no respite. She felt it was her responsibility as a wife and mom to ensure that everything within the four walls of our home was taken care of, and I watched as she tirelessly did it without complaint. Many nights she did not sit down to eat until everyone’s plate was fixed, and even then she continued to serve us in between bites of her meal.
I resented the lack of household assistance my mom received from my dad. I thought he should help more around the house and often asked her why she didn’t insist that he do so. Her response was always the same-my dad was good to her, she loved him, and it was a joy doing things for him. I inwardly grimaced.
I vowed that I would not be like my mom. I would not stay home, and I would demand that my husband do his fair share in the house. He would fix my plate!
And then life happened: I started a career, married, and had children. In spite of my career and lofty aspirations, I found myself doing the laundry, washing dishes, preparing dinner, dressing and bathing the kids, afterschool pickup, arranging for childcare, and shuttling kids to extracurricular activities. I work from the time I wake up until I lie down and spend my weekends preparing to do it all over again on Monday. I have become my mom. I yearn for the same respite that eluded her.
I don’t do these tasks because my husband insists on it. I do them because if I don’t, I worry they won’t get done. He and I are wired differently; He does not see dirt, baskets of laundry, or dirty dishes. I can’t imagine leaving laundry unfolded for weeks-he can and will. When I complain he temporarily assists but gradually his eyesight begins to fail again.
Our marriage is give and take. I clean the house-he mows the lawn; I dress the kids-he fixes broken fixtures; I sweep –he takes out the garbage. He does the tasks he enjoys and I…do tasks that have to be done so the house doesn’t look like a pigsty (I hate housework). It amazes me how stereotypical our roles are. There are days I want to scream, “I didn’t sign up for this!” Then I calm down and resume washing dishes.
I am still a feminist and believe in equal rights and opportunities for women. I also like peace and don’t want to continuously argue about who should do what so I found a happy medium- a cleaning service. The cleaning service is not with us every day so we still have to negotiate responsibilities, but it has led to a decrease in the frequency and intensity of our disagreements.
I want Max and Myles to master all household chores. I don’t want them to have preconceived notions about who has to do what. I want them to have partnerships with their spouses and equally share in outside and inside household tasks. In an ideal world everything would run smoothly, they and their significant others would take turns doing dishes, childcare, and laundry. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and relationships are made of two people, from different backgrounds with different expectations, so perhaps the best I can hope for is that they hire amazing help.
What compromises have you made in your relationships that have come as a surprise?