Some of us are lucky enough to have full-time or live in domestic help – considered more precious than gold by many today – while others have to make do without. I know what I am talking about because since my domestic help left for the holidays and never came back, I am doing what has to be done in the home – the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, the works. I’m lucky enough to have a husband who helps but not many, I know, do.
As always, the burden of housework – unpaid, as Melinda Gates puts it – falls mostly on the woman. And that’s ok with me – after all, the mother is still the central figure in a household and will always be when it comes to domestic matters although fathers do an admirable job of helping out. House husbands too. But like it or not, CEO or stay-at-home mom, mothers find themselves dealing with those seemingly irrelevant- yet- hugely- crucial- in -the -household decisions of ‘what’s for dinner?’ and ‘where did you put my socks?’
In Gates Foundation annual letter, Melinda Gates stressed on the ‘unpaid housework and childcare’ women across the world engage in. She said that unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys because society assumes it is their responsibility. She adds that housework robs females of their ‘potential’.
Soon, there will be those saying that childbirth robs women of their potential too. Such is the power of appealing to the politically correct crowd today.
Although her statement is what you might call a loaded one, it resonates with the kind of popular but awfully wrong thoughts about gender stereotyping. As mothers, some of us choose to engage in household interactions even though we may have help. If you share cooking as a family chore with your husband and the children, then it becomes more than a chore. It is a family activity that often gives time to discuss, have conversation and learn about each one’s day.
Cleaning the house and doing laundry are excellent chores for kids to help out with – they can learn important values of sharing work, helping out and learn how to live in a house without making it a mess. They can learn – my 18-year-old son is learning and applying too – that towels must be washed at least weekly and that bed sheets need changing weekly. And that learning can start often when as a mother, you choose to involve them in such tasks. Taking children to school is not a chore – if you look at it with the right mindset. Even the most absent-minded teenager with ear phones glued, which seems like forever, will respond to conversation about school, peers and school work. The school run can be just the place to make a start at the kind of parent-child conversations that are so important and critical to both parties.
We know how easy it is for a man to stay late at work, go late to work or go out to a business meeting all day. He can walk out through the door and walk back as late as he wants to. The chores would be done. Whether there is domestic help or not, it is not easy for a woman to do that – even if she maybe the most powerful CEO on the planet. She would still have to call and co-ordinate the classes run, the chores, the meals to be cooked, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that – and certainly no gender misbalance. There are some roles that the mother can and must play – and some roles the father can and must. The blur between these defined roles can send dangerous signals to the next generation growing up inside the house. But then again, with the current discourse on gender roles bordering on lunacy at its best, very soon, there may be some rooting for men to have babies and breastfeed because it might seem unfair for the women to bear children on their own.
In the same vein, not all women relish housework – nor would they have time for it. Yet, it depends a lot on availability and choosing to approach household chores and just about any other chores we have to do – with the right perspective.
Professor of Psychology Richie Zweighenhaft of Guilford College North Carolina, who’s done studies on the subject, says that when women become CEOs they can afford nannies and help so that household work can be managed even when they are busy. He also says that high-powered female CEOs often have a husband who helps out. Both are true but what seems to be missing is that some of that housework may also be opportunities to strengthen relationships, form new bonds and keep the dialogue alive in the family and also in the marriage.
There was a reason why the older generation insisted on some activities that must be done as a family – such as being there for the family dinner every night. If we choose not to keep those values and traditions alive in the family and get into a free for all agenda in which anyone does not have to do any specific roles, we are giving dangerous signals to the children who need defined borders and specific roles.
“Everybody wants to save the Earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.” —P.J. O’Rourke
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)