One sure fire way to make the environment in my household ice cold is for me to lecture my wife after she has completed a household chore by earnestly asking her why she didn’t just ask me to help her?
Most women would not be surprised that in almost six years of living together that my wife has never actually responded to that question. Most men would be perplexed as to why she just didn’t answer the question.
Instead I spent over half a decade wondering why my wife rolled her eyes at me and gave me a look of disappointment and perplexment.
I always thought it was a reasonable thing to ask. After all, I am offering to help aren’t I? As a husband I should be congratulated and commended for assisting my wife with her household duties.
One day I was sitting on the couch and I asked her again why she never asked for help and after she almost vacuumed my legs into the Dyson she finally responded. “IT’S NOT ABOUT HELPING ME,” she said. “Helping me makes it sound like it’s my responsibility and you’re helping out. We help each other and if we are not helping each other then you just don’t get it. Until each party fundamentally gets that, it will always be uneven and it will fester. That is the real work in progress. It’s about sharing the s**t that needs to get done.”
This admission really opened my eyes. She’s right, it’s not her job to do the household chores it’s our job. Here I was thinking that I was a work in progress when in-fact I was a piece of work as I still harboured the same outdated views that my father and his father held.
This realisation gave me an even greater perspective about why the mental load on women is such a major discussion in many households around the world.
This realisation gave me an even greater perspective about why the mental load on women is such a major discussion in many households around the world. In fact a recent study showed that Australian women do over five hours of unpaid work a day (including housework, shopping, care for household members, childcare, volunteering and other unpaid work) compared to Australian men who do less than half. In terms of the global gender gap in unpaid work, Australia is fourth on the list, lagging behind countries like Greece and China and Sweden - the country which has the smallest gap between men and women.
I wondered what other males in my circle thought. If they too believed that waiting to be asked to help was asking for trouble. My brother in-law Nick explained how he follows one simple rule when it comes to housework.
“Never say to your wife, ‘why didn’t you just ask me',” he said. “It’s a trap for young players. It’s always better to state what you are about to do. For example, you should say, ‘Honey, I am going to do the windows or mow the lawn.’ She will either let you carry on or redirect you by saying: ‘No, can you do the washing up instead?’ More times than not she will leave you alone. But what has worked out better for both of us is that we have split the housework into ones we prefer or are good at.”
So from then on I didn’t wait to be asked to help out with the housework, I just did it.
So from then on I didn’t wait to be asked to help out with the housework, I just did it. However, it wouldn’t be too long before I would become slack again and it would get me into trouble. This led to me often trying to find new ways to redeem myself, especially after the flowers trick became old.
I asked Steve, the godfather to my daughter Sia, for advice. He seemed to be a new-age type of fellow. However when I pushed for him to divulge how he redeems himself and how he picks up the slack, he only offered this response, “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that my answer may or may not incriminate me.”
So I turned to another member of the male fraternity to find how he deals with being called out due to his slackness and how he responds. “I’m constantly lapsing and thinking I’ve gotta pick up my game,” my friend Dave said. “To pick up the slack I do traditionally macho things like fixing taps and cupboards. This doesn’t work. So I do try to do more cleaning up, especially after cooking, and I try to cook at least one meal a week. I always make coffee and breakfast on the weekends.”
The truth is, right now I’m still a work in progress. My wife and I are working on finding a system and we have figured out that my wife prefers to watch me do the housework that I have neglected for all these years. The only thing I lecture her on now is to not have these discussions about household chores around Sia because when she gets older she will be the one doing my share. But honestly, all I hope is that by the time Sia is old enough and out on her own, that in her household the females won’t still be left carrying all the burden of the mental load.
Con Stamocostas is a freelance writer.