Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Perspective on Chores

Well, I would like to say that the results of a study surprised me but, alas, I am a married woman in possession of a great deal of anecdotal evidence regarding men and chores; and, according to the study data, the man at my home is far below average in the housework-help department. Quoting from an article on Fox News:
Overall, men averaged 9.41 hours of housework per week and women 21.13 hours.
[The study] found that the higher the marriage rate in each country, the higher the proportion of housework carried out by women.

British men come in 10th place, performing 35 percent of chores, well below the most egalitarian countries of Denmark, Finland and Norway. The Scandinavian countries, as well as splitting housework more evenly, also have the highest cohabitation rates.
Ah, ha! There it is…the crux of the study: cohabiting couples are more likely to split housework evenly than those who are married. Apparently, after marriage, both sexes revert to stereotypical roles: women give up “fighting for their rights;” men get out of housework. Again, quoting from the article:
“Marriage is generally accompanied by expectations of permanence that may not be the case in a cohabiting relationship,” says the research by American academics to be published in the Journal of Family Issues. “Cohabitors, therefore, may be more prone to aggressive bargaining when it comes to exchanges of time and effort in the household, and less willing to do more than what they perceive as their fair share.”
Farther along in the report:
Frank Hanna, co-founder of the Mediation Agency and author of a book on conflict resolution, said, “With cohabitation, to put it bluntly, there [is] no contract and the likelihood of a more peaceful relationship is higher than in a marriage. When marriage takes place, the race is over. Men see the requirement to behave as starting to diminish.”
So, this is what I am hearing, correctly or not: cohabitation is better than marriage because the uncertainty that comes with a lack of commitment keeps both parties in the relationship “on their toes,” so to speak, because both parties understand they could be replaced (or either party could abandon the relationship), unless:

- each examines the relationship on a routine basis to ensure equality of roles and tasks within the partnership at all times, with no one being responsible for “more than their fair share” at any moment

- each actively and aggressively negotiates for this aforementioned equality

- each strives for peace within the relationship at all times (although I am not sure how tranquility is achieved through active, aggressive bargaining but, again, I am an old married woman who long ago gave up her “right” to a housework-free life)

- each “behaves themselves,” avoiding at all costs the stereotypical roles assigned to men and women within a relationship

With standards like these as a requirement to maintain a relationship, it is a wonder anyone ever gets married, or even remains in a cohabiting relationship. I would think the items listed above would lead to fewer couple relationships in general because each standard lends itself to a “when the going gets tough, everyone bails” mentality. Commitment in a relationship should work as an incentive to stay and work through relationship difficulties (even arguments over the equality of chores), not as a carrot to “keep the edge in a relationship,” as if both parties were operating in the free market of coupling where the competition is fierce and either party can move on to greener pastures at any time. Maybe that is a more accurate description of the coupling landscape these days; in which case, I thank the Lord that I am married because I don’t need that kind of stress in my life.

My experience: everyone hates chores. Yet, if men refuse to do them because “it isn’t their job” and women spurn them to “stick up for their rights,” the consequences get ugly pretty fast --- the home becomes a pigsty, the children do not learn to take care of themselves or to help others, and life becomes an endless series of ‘action items” stretching out before the family like some torturous obstacle course because no one has mastered the mundane to make time for the extraordinary.

Admittedly, I have a less-than-perfect household where I do more chores than the other members of my family, but my husband labors 60-75 hours per week in a job that often requires weekend work and intermittent travel; and my daughter is in her last few years of high school with a rigorous course of study and college admissions looming on the horizon. At this point in my life, being a wife and a mother are more about support of others than about equality for myself.

No, in the end, I believe that concern over the equality of tasks in a relationship, and cohabiting for that matter, are both inherently self-centered. Instead, I prefer this maxim:

Sitting down, He [Jesus] called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” --- Mark 9:35 NASB

1 comment:

Janet Rubin said...

Michelle, this post was at first interesting, then fascinating, a little funny, partly tiring, and finally convicting. I even cried. Thanks so much for posting it. We'll be rewarded one day, won't we?