I am not a happy homemaker. Remember Betty White in that role on the Mary Tyler Moore Show in the seventies? She could cook, and clean, and smile prettily all at the same time. She made homemaking sexy, supposedly. Well, I’m no Sue Ann Nivens, that’s for sure.
|Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show|
And I’m certainly no June Cleaver from Leave It To Beaver. June was the epitome of the multi-tasking fifties housewife, wasn’t she? Nope. That’s not me. Not even close. For one thing Hubby and I don’t have any children. And for another, I can’t imagine myself in nylons, a dress, pearls, and a paring knife, effortlessly counselling Beaver while preparing dinner for four, in my spotless kitchen.
|June Cleaver in her pearls, in an episode of Leave It To Beaver|
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like cooking, I do. It’s the spotless kitchen part that always gets me. I mean… I love a spotless kitchen. In fact, I love a well organized, spotless house. It’s just that I hate making it spotless. Really, really hate it.
We all laugh at the unrealistic images of women portrayed on television way back when. Cooking in pearls. Ha. Imagine. But I’ll bet that it’s not just me who sometimes still feels inadequate about my lack of housekeeping skill. Okay, maybe ‘skill’ is not the word I’m going for. It’s not skill I lack; it’s motivation. I’d rather be reading, or drawing, or blogging, or working out, or pretty much anything at all rather than cleaning my house. Which is problematic because, like I mentioned above, I like a clean house.
In my thirties, once I started working full time as a teacher and could afford it, I started to pay someone to clean our house. It was well worth the money to me, to come home one day every two weeks to a clean house. In the off week, I’d clean the bathroom, maybe dust a bit. Obviously I’d change the sheets, do the laundry and tidy up. But coming home after work to the sight and smell of a clean house… when I didn’t have to clean it myself… was… well… wonderful. And lest you think that Hubby was sitting with a beer in his hand watching football while I was doing chores, let me make it clear that he does plenty around our home.
For one thing we have a large vegetable garden every year. He does all of that. He plants, weeds, harvests, freezes… and usually cooks… everything that comes out of the garden. He does all the grass cutting, and snow plowing, and wood splitting (we have a wood stove in our living room.) Once he retired and I took on more responsibility at work, he took over all the grocery shopping, and much of the cooking. The other women at work were green with envy when they found out that Hubby made my lunch each day. So the housecleaning, laundry etc has always been my territory. And I’m okay with that. I mean I hate cleaning, but I’m fine with it being part of my share of the work.
Hubby and I have never had much of a problem over the division of household chores; he’s never looked at household chores as being linked to gender. That’s probably because his mum, my mother-in-law, always worked outside the home, and his dad helped around the house. I remember my mother-in-law, Milly, telling me about one evening in the fifties when she was having coffee at the kitchen table with a neighbour. Ed, Hubby’s dad, came through the kitchen with an armload of laundry he’d just finished doing, and the neighbour lady couldn’t stop giggling at the sight of a man doing housework.
|Desi does housework, in an old episode of I Love Lucy|
I wasn’t surprised when I read a 2013 article in The Atlantic, that says “The difference between a happy marriage and a miserable one is… chores.” Or more specifically how a couple approaches the division of labour in and around their home. Apparently a 2007 Pew Research Poll said the division of labour in the home is “one of the top three issues associated with a successful marriage.” And as much as things have changed in recent years, it also doesn’t surprise me that women still perform twice the number of tasks around the home, and in most homes “assume the burden of ‘mental labour,’ or the planning and co-ordination of tasks.” You can read the Atlantic article here if you’re interested.
I say it doesn’t surprise me because, when I was working, I was constantly amazed and sometimes appalled at how many women who were much younger than me were married to men who did nothing to help with household tasks. Nothing. One colleague laughed at lunch one day about her plan to send her husband a message, to try to get him to pick up his dirty laundry and place it in the laundry basket. She purchased several extra plastic laundry baskets, and placed them all around their bed, so he couldn’t help but notice they were there. The next morning she found his dirty underwear lying between two of the baskets. I can’t remember what she did after that. Probably gave up.
Or the story of another colleague who complained one day that she and her husband and two kids were off to his parents’ cottage the day after Commencement in June. And in the next few days, she’d have to finish her marking, do her report cards, attend commencement and then go home to pack for herself, the two kids, and her husband. And when she suggested that he at least pack for himself, he replied that she should “just throw him in a few shirts.” Of course we all encouraged her to do just that. To throw a few shirts still on their hangers in the trunk of the car and say… “Here’s your stuff, honey.” But I know she didn’t.
I’ll never understand why two intelligent adults can’t come to a fair and equitable arrangement about workload around the home. But apparently, according to the article 36 Household Chores Men Don’t Bother To Do in The Telegraph… they can’t. The article goes on to say that a 2014 survey of 1,000 working mothers in the UK, conducted by “Mumsnet,” shows that only 5% of men “take primary responsibility for giving the house a weekly clean,” compared to 71% of women. That leaves 26% of couples who share the tasks equally. And apparently this problem is not all down to the men. Interestingly, of the women surveyed 66% do not want their partners to do more. Really? And why is that? Well, they are either happy with the division of labour or… the men don’t complete the tasks to their exacting standards.
I guess I would say to those women that men can learn, too. You know, Hubby wasn’t always the domestic god he is now. He’s always done whatever task around the house needed doing. But his cooking skills back in the day stretched to spaghetti sauce and steaks on the barbeque. Unless we were camping; in the bush he’s always been the main cook. I remember one night shortly after he retired, when supper was boiled potatoes, grilled pork chops, and steamed cauliflower. Nutritious? Yep. But a tad monochromatic. Now he excels at Asian food, complicated stir-frys, soups of every description, and fish. He’s very good with fish. As he said to me once… “I can read a cookbook… therefore… I can learn to cook.”
But I want to get back to what I started talking about at the beginning of this post… my domestic skills. And my lack of motivation to do housework. It’s become more of an issue for me lately, since I retired. How could I justify the expense of paying a cleaning person, if I had time to do the cleaning myself? And since I was no longer working all day, five days a week, marking in the evenings, and prepping lessons one day on the weekend, how could I justify not doing it? It’s not as if I am burdened with more than my share of the household chores. I can’t use that excuse for whining. It’s just that I hate cleaning. Period. And sometimes I feel a bit inadequate that I’m not measuring up on the domestic front. I guess it’s the “I’m-not-June-Cleaver” guilt complex. Silly isn’t it?
So what do I do? Well, first I don’t do housework unless I’m listening to a book on my i-pod. I can clean like the dickens if I’ve a good P.D. James novel on the go. And I try really hard to not procrastinate about cleaning. But I also have decided not to attempt to clean the house any more than it was cleaned when I was working. So every two weeks, a full clean. And in the off weeks, I clean the bathroom, do a touch up, and all the weekly stuff like changing beds, laundry etc. That’s it. I didn’t retire so I could clean my house more. And I’m trying to do one special thingie every couple of weeks… you know those drawers that never get sorted, or the cupboard that has everything but the kitchen sink in it and needs to be reorganized, or the kitchen blinds that need washing. I will admit that this part of the plan has fallen a bit behind schedule. Okay. A lot behind schedule.
But… I never claimed to be a domestic goddess, did I? There are just too many other interesting things to do and see that are not cleaning my house. Like blogging, or drawing, or working out… or reading.
Ooh, look. There’s my new Ann Cleeves mystery. Surely those kitchen drawers can wait another week.
So dear readers, how does it work at your house? Do you divide the domestic chores equitably? And what do you do to make your share of the household tasks more palatable? Are you a natural domestic goddess, able to flick that ‘swiffer’ and smile at the same time? Or are you, like me, tempted by the demon book to neglect your domestic duties?