metro mama

Monday, September 25, 2006

Woman's Work

I recently listened to the bloggers’ Gloria Steinem interview—you can download it here. It was all very interesting, but the one question I just can't get out of my head was posed by Kristen from Motherhood Uncensored (see her recap here).

Here’s her question: “Until men are stuck with infants, then we've got our work cut out for us. We've been adapting to a man's world for years and proving that we can do just what they can. Problem is, they're not coming into ours. And perhaps, we're not letting them.”

Gloria responded that we need our children to see loving, nurturing dads. If they’re not doing their part, perhaps we should leave our children with them and disappear for a few days. Gloria also warned against the “get out of my kitchen” mindset, and said we have to just let them do it—if it’s not done our way, we need to get over it.

Feminism has made huge strides for women outside of the home, though there is still so much work to do. Make no mistake, we have a long way to go for equality in terms of political representation, equal pay, etc. However, I think women should focus equally on the issue of equality in the domestic sphere.

Now I don’t want to generalize, and I recognize there are many men who do their share, and more--my husband is one of them. But I think many, many, fathers are not doing their share. Lots of women are working outside of the home, and coming to another day of work inside the home.

I’ve mentioned a few times how much my husband does, but sometimes I catch myself about to downplay it. I’m embarrassed, because I know so many people who aren’t as fortunate. People have actually told me how lucky I am. Now that’s ridiculous--if you say that to me in front of my daughter, I will slap you. The fact that my husband does his share around the house should not be considered exceptional. What century are we living in?

I agree with Gloria; we need to accept some responsibility. We shouldn’t insist that things be done our way. This is something I need to work on--I catch myself being critical often.

Big Papa: I pledge to you, from this day forward, not to criticize your work.

Her suggestion of simply leaving the child with the father, a sink or swim scenario--is this feasible? I don’t know. It sounds like some women have very little faith in their husband’s ability to cope with this situation. I don’t think I’d want to leave my baby with someone who is incompetent.

What else can we do? I don’t pretend to have the answers. Personally, I would bitch, moan, complain and threaten until he did do his share, but perhaps I’m simplifying things. Am I? Do we just need to speak up more? Put our foot down?

What do you think?



Anonymous ali said...

he. i totally pick and choose what parts of motherhood i'll allow my husband to take part in...

diapers? 100% he can change any single diaper he wants. bathing? anytime he wants. plugging the paci in at 2 am? sure, honey, it's my pleasure to allow you to do that! (and imagine...these are the EXACT things that he doesn't want to do...which leads me to say, "you could help me with her a little bit!")

but there are so many things that i just know i'll do better, quicker, and more efficiently myself - dressing the children, feeding them, cleaning them, packing the diaper bag....these are things that the husband doesn't do - but it's mostly my fault because i don't LET him do them!

12:27 PM  
Blogger cinnamon gurl said...

I don't think it's about bitching and moaning; although I certainly do my share of that, I don't think it's very effective.

I think it's about confidence. I know several women who don't really let their partners, the fathers of their children, in. I don't want to be like this but it happens in my home too. Because I have a lot of time alone with our son and my husband doesn't. We were fortunate (in a way but mostly not really) because I had a c-section my husband did everything but nurse our baby in the early weeks. But his confidence didn't last once he went back to work. Not to say he has no confidence but yesterday he asked me what to dress Ezra in -- and he asks this a lot. I don't care what he wears as long as it's weather appropriate, and I get tired of trying to figure out what that means. But I think it's symptomatic of what you're posting about. Maybe it's related to mat leave? Maybe parents shouldn't have to split the leave but should both get their own year?

I fear I'm hijacking your blog; sorry, I'll stop. Very interesting, problematic topic. Good post.

1:18 PM  
Blogger penelopeto said...

I think what Ali said is true - he is capable of doing everything shy of breastfeeding; I just do a lot of it quicker/better so he's often off the hook.

However, I think that women are just as much to blame as men for the domestic inequality. Yes, society has historically allowed men to f-off in the domestic areas, blah, blah, blah. But really – we chose ‘em, we married ‘em, we had kids with ‘em. Yes, I am one of those control-freaky women who thinks that if I’m not doing it, it’s not getting done right – but even if I think it, I keep my big mouth shut and let Chris dress his daughter in whatever mis-matched outfit he wants.
And if there is something that I absolutely must say, I’ll make a joke (like when he gave her waffles with JAM on them for dinner the night I worked late, or when he was trying to get the raincover on the stroller backwards).

To sum up: Yeah, many men don't pull their weight. Many women let them. If the woman is not happy with this arrangement, then it's time to start communicating.

But if I hear one more father say that they can't do something because they are babysitting their kids, I'll punch them in the mouth.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Mary-LUE said...

I was confronted on the need to let my husband do things and do them his way when my son was a baby. My friend called it gatekeeping. Now, first that brings to mind Ghostbusters. Anyway, my friend encouraged me not to be the gatekeeper of all that is the RIGHT WAY for the baby. She was right and it is important that we allow the fathers to try and sometimes fail at taking care of their kids. If they forget to feed them once or don't get them to bed exactly on time, they will suffer the consequences and learn from them. And, really important here, we need to accept that sometimes their way of doing isn't wrong, it just isn't what we want.

My husband has been left with the kids so I can go away with my friends or go to conferences. I do call and check in and make suggestions. But honestly, he can handle it. All by himself.

1:25 PM  
Blogger tania (urban_mommy) said...

Point #1. In general: I don't think equality, or lack thereof, changes once you have a baby. I think couples make deals with one another early on. I've observed lots of couples where they seemed to really enjoy out-of-date roles. He gets praised for his income and muscle, She likes his compliments on her figure, He's 'allowed' to play golf with the 'boys', She's 'allowed' to choose a 'chick flick' for movie night once in a while. Personally, I don't get it, but I'm not surprised (as She sometimes seems to be) that when baby comes along, She, all of a sudden, is stuck at home, while He contuinues to make the money and go play golf. For these couples, She has a tough fight on her hands, to try and change the agreement at this late date. They were never equal to begin with.
I guess what I am trying to say (warn), is that cooperation and equality should be established right from the get go or I think you're kinda screwed.

Point #2, to you MetroMama: Don't be embarassed about, or downplay how great you and your husband work together. It is validating. Many women feel it should belike that, but aren't sure it can be. Set an example. My husband does his fair share around here. He cleans the kitchen every morning before he goes to work, changes all the diapers when he is home, and puts the boy to bed every night. We bath the boy as a family, grocery shop together and feed (dinner) together. I handle the day shift and night feeding when neccessary. We are not identical people, that is for sure, but we are equal.

2:37 PM  
Blogger sunshine scribe said...

This post really spoke to me. I respectfully disagree wtih Tania - I've seen more often than not that equality (or lack thereof) does change quite dramatically with a new baby.

But I think that your excellent point about our responsibility in that is so true. I am a control freak and know I am partially to blame for our load not being equally shared.

3:23 PM  
Blogger jen said...

I think to allow others to have control, we need to be ready to relinquish ours. I think we hold onto our labels often as vigilant martyrs...we are the only ones who can do it right, so therefore the brunt of it all falls to us.

I think if we sat back (not disappeared or revolted...) and allowed for another way that we will probably disagree with at least at first, we'd be allowing our men to dig deep into their own fatherhoods, and by trial and error, learn a new way too.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Lisa b said...

It is great that there is a fair division of labour in your house. It is important for cakes to see that.
Tania and Sunshine its interesting you bring up how the balance can change when the baby comes along. I thought things would be pretty equal in my home but how could they be with my husband at work 12 hrs a day and me breastfeeding through the night.
I took a little of the criticism that I should not demand things be done my way but now I just say shut up and do it the right way. Or as you put it I've been bitching. No it has not been pretty but things are better.

4:34 PM  
Blogger bubandpie said...

Leave a helpless baby in the hands of somebody totally incompetent, who may or may not have an even temper? Sure - that's what the nurses did when they sent the baby home from the hospital with ME.

There's only one way to learn with babies and that's by diving in and doing it.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Mamalooper said...

I was horrified to hear this from a friend: She had a couple over for dinner. The husbands took the kids to the park nearby. Her husband was shocked to find out that this other dad had NEVER been on his own with his two year old child, let alone at a park. He had NO idea how to play with his child at the park. And this is a guy who is in his early 30's.

Monkeydad and I talked a lot about what life would be like with Monkeygirl. Neither of us had any experience with babies so it was easy (and important for me) to not claim any expertise - we both were 100% green. He took 6 weeks off when she was born which was great. And now that I think about it, me having supply issues and trouble getting sorted out with breastfeeding was a blessing in disguise - we both worked damn hard to get the breastfeeding going. And he did his own research on the web.

He still does his own research as issues arise (colds, etc.) and talks to other dads. I have no worries with him being with Monkeygirl one on one. None whatsoever.

Overall, this division of duties so to speak, along with others pre baby, has been easier because we met and courted and married as adults who had both been married before and lived on our own for years. We both could feed, bathe, clothe ourselves along with working in our careers. So there were no assumptions that once we got together that I would become "mommy" of the relationship.

I DO get that this is hard. We are the first generation to question these roles. And some of the duties that are more along traditional gender lines make sense. I love to cook as he does but I have more time since I am home with Monkeygirl so I take the lead.

I think the key is not necessarily one way for all but keeping the lines of communication open and doing what feels right and fair in that moment. One of the big challenges is that it ain't always "fair" moment to moment.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Haley-O said...

I would say I do a lot of the "housework," the so-called "woman's work." But, I do it because the hubby works all day, and then comes home to more work at night. So, I do my share. He can't cook, and he's unbelievably annoying in the kitchen (I know, you're saying I need to stop criticizing, but, you don't understand!!! It's painful!) But, I ask him to do other things around the house, and he doesn't complain. I also make sure the monkey sees me doing so-called "man's work" -- using a screwdriver, for example..., working on my own business. I try to be as well-rounded a role-model as possible.

And, I'm with Ali, I do most of the "baby stuff" because I'm just plain better and faster at it. And...because I totally enjoy it. I don't want Josh waking up at night because he's working as hard as I am on his (our) stuff. This "division of labour," as old fashioned as it is works for us. It doesn't gender or determine us (in general and in front of our daughter), though.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Penny said...

My significant other, just today, sprinkled lemon pepper into my chicken batter. I stopped and looked at him, "Are you doing the cooking?"

And then, I shooed him.. yes, I literally shooed him, out of the kitchen with aggravation all over my face.

I don't like my tasks to be mishandled and in that, I take them on completely.

I realized this at school the other day, when an option for our group assignments was to go solo. Solo for sure, I thought, no one can mess it up.

Ah well.. I let him clean the tub. He's got more scrubbing power than me. But, I am sure that he resents my picking and choosing his chores, as limited as they are.

Good post.

9:09 PM  
Anonymous MetroDad said...

You and your husband definitely sound like my kind of people. As for having men do more than their fair share? I think it's not always as easy as it seems. I've seen plenty of mothers become total gatekeepers when it comes to parenting duties. Then, when the husband DOES help, he gets criticized for not doing something right. I think we all need to find the right balance. These are new times we're living in. It might take us all a little time to figure it all out.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

This is difficult. I'm torn. If I start to feel like I'm doing all of the work, I get pissy. And finally, I leave for an hour so my hubby has to take care of our son. There are many times, when I get back, I see that neither one has changed their position from on the couch. And then I get even pissier when I realize my hubby just let our son watch Law & Order and didn't interact with him at all during that time I was away.

If I wait until my hubby puts our son to bed, (a chore, he's supposed to be doing each night but doesn't) my hubby will literally put our son in his bed and walk away. No pj's, no brushing teeth, no story, no water, no hug. And then since our son is wide awake without a proper, calming ritual, he bugs me. And then its 11:30 at night (because my hubby doesn't want to stop watching some favorite show just to put the child to bed.)and our son is still running around. And when he gets to bed that late, it leads to several night wakings. And who gets that duty? Me. So if I want a child to sleep well, who goes to bed at a decent hour and doesn't wake up with nightmares from watching whatever my hubby was watching, and won't end up with a mouthful of cavities, then I have to do it myself.

So Gloria's advice of just letting them figure it out is sort of a joke for someone who has to deal with the aftermath and consequences of the lazy, thoughtless father. (And I NEVER thought my husband would be this kind of father.)

1:11 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish my husband did more. I'm not a control freak. Believe me.

This is an issue in how he was raised more than anything (and his mother has apologized to me for it :-) ). He's an only child and was doted on.

Little by little this is getting better. He is finally taking initiative and taking the kids to the park/bike riding, etc by himself. Before, he always insisted that I come too. It drove me mad.

5:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post leaves me quivering because I am disappearing for a few days. I feel for my husband. I know that he will manage but I know how hard it is to do everything by yourself. He has taken a similar trip away but for a shorter period of time and I almost didn't make it alone.

We are very much a team. That said I know that my bond with our daughters is stronger. I hope this time alone with them will give him some quality bonding time. (And that he doesn't pull out all his hair!)

8:33 AM  
Anonymous krista said...

I don't know, I don't want to simplify either- I know things are more complicated that this- but I can't help but think I would leave a man if he wasn't doing his share.

It's about respect, equality... etc.

It is OK to have role division whitin the family that is traditional, as long as the division of duties is FAIR.

Right now I work full time and so does my husband. There is NO WAY that I would ever do all the domestic and baby raising stuff on my own. We split it. Period.

I couldn't live with it any other way.

8:58 PM  
Blogger crazymumma said...

What do I think? First off, great freakin' post!
We certainly had our struggles in that dept. I was as much of an enabler as he was sometimes oblivious.

I think if I had let go of control (sorta an issue of mine), and been able to accept another way of doing things (his), then our path may have been simpler.

Many of us are very lucky indeed. I am reminded of that every time I speak at length with my single parent friends. Their challenges are huge....

9:36 PM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Crazymumma - good point. I'm lucky in that regard. I don't know how they do it. What really bothers me, is that it sounds like there are many women with perfectly good partners who are in the same shoes as a single parent.

Krista - I agree. I just don't think I could do it. But the alternative is brutal too.

Lisa - thanks for your comment. This is what I suspected - it saddens me to have it confirmed. I hope things are different for the next generation.

One thing I might add, for those who said it's just easier to do it themselves, or they prefer it be done thier way, what about the message that sends to the kids? If we want things to be different for the next generation, shouldn't we set the example?

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. I came over from Jen's link, where I think Sunshine summed my feelings up very well when she said that she is a control freak who is desperate for help she cannot accept. I am "lucky" in that my husband and I really are a team and he does as much as he can possibly do for our kids but I have to stop trying to control everything.

I cant believe you feel pressured or embarassed by the fact that your husband shares the burden, as he should. The ones who should feel embarassed are the men who dont. Please continue to say how much help he is because that should be the expectation of all fathers. It should be the norm.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Lady M said...

Great post.

I think that the only way you can be "fast or good" at dressing the child, changing diapers, packing the diaper bag, and feeding is to do it a lot. If the dad doesn't get or take the opportunity to do it a lot, he'll never be good at it. I'm speaking from experience, because my husband is the alpha parent between us, and I've gain confidence in my ability to take care of our son ever time we do a solo outing.

Ok, maybe "every" time is an exaggeration. Sometimes we have a joint meltdown, but more often, we learn a lot and have fun.

1:06 AM  
Blogger cinnamon gurl said...

I had to read your post again. It's so concise; I have responded on my own blog, but it ended up being long and blatherly and probably not making much a point. This is really a great post, eloquent and focused. Thanks.

10:30 AM  
Blogger cinnamon gurl said...

I had to read your post again. It's so concise; I have responded on my own blog, but it ended up being long and blatherly and probably not making much a point. This is really a great post, eloquent and focused. Thanks.

10:30 AM  
Blogger cinnamon gurl said...

I had to read your post again. It's so concise; I have responded on my own blog, but it ended up being long and blatherly and probably not making much a point. This is really a great post, eloquent and focused. Thanks.

10:32 AM  
Blogger scarbie doll said...

I think it's tough, because biologically there is only so much they can do. The baby ultimately wants mommy and mommy's boobs if they are breastfeeding. That sets the situation up to be unequal from the get-go. I struggle with this debate internally all the time. There's no perfect answer.

2:43 PM  
Blogger em v said...

Hello Metro Mama... I see you at the park every now + again (I'm the girl with the bum-scootcher who was taking turns with Jane admiring that tricycle yesterday) -- and I keep meaning to introduce myself properly and confess to being a reader (have felt kind of an awkward imbalance knowing about you because I've read your blog but you don't know it)-- hopefully will get a better chance to chat next time.

And also, my comment to your Women's Work post last week:

My husband does more of the cooking, and these days, more dishes, even. (And he bakes bread and biscotti on a regular basis! :) I know how you feel re: the slight embarrassment, but it really just works out well that way in the overall division of labour. (I'm Laundry Girl, we have a cleaning lady once a month, we split the in-between-her-visits cleaning and both buy groceries as needed.

I think what is tough is when housework is lumped together with childcare (if you're home), because they really are separate jobs. (yes, the age-old feminist issue)

I'm at home full time with my thirteen-month old, and certainly I am the "manager" of his care: I am racking up way more day-to-day experience with him, I read the parenting books and keep track of/buy all the baby-related stuff (clothes, diapes, books, toys etc)...

In one way it would be more efficient to not have to interrupt myself to share info with (in a way "teach") my husband when he's home, and just do it all myself, but if I do that, he loses the opportunity to learn. And I have found the first year of parenthood to be one big crazy steep learning curve and the only way I went from feeling like a complete spaz when he was a newborn to having it (somewhat, I'm still a bit of a spaz) together now, is through experience. So I think that the only way for The Men to learn how to do things "right" (in their own, um, interesting, way) is through experience.

Plus, so much of my relationship with my son has developed out of all our interactions around his "care"-- chatting/singing/observing while I'm getting him diapered, dressed, fed, bathed, etc., -- and so, I think it is an essential part of my husband's developing HIS relationship with our son, to do this stuff too, when he can (weekends, before/after work). I guess I'm lucky too (and re: "lucky" -- you're right, what century are we living in?), in that my husband is game to try.

BTW, I definitely find it difficult to curb my criticism and to try and turn that around into a "suggestion" or positive sharing of knowledge or whatever, but I also find that if I micro-manage him on ANYTHING, he tends to defer to me all the time rather than think for himself, which is the opposite of the intended effect.

Good pledge: I'll take it too. (And your Wednesday manditory sex plan is also a pledge I'm thinking of adopting :)

2:51 PM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Hi Em V!

That is so cool you recognized us. Let's chat next we're there. Oh, but if I'm with my mom or mother-in-law, please don't mention the blog (they still don't know).

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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8:17 PM  

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