Lucky Lady

Originally published at Two Women Blogging

“Aren’t you lucky! He helps around the house!”

Yup. He helps. Because picking up his laundry, cooking his meals, paying his bills, and raising his child is by rights my job. Of course, my laundry and bills and meals are my job, too. Along with the playdates and the grocery shopping and scheduling babysitters. But he helps! Wow!

“You must have trained him well”.

That’s it. Exactly. I held a chocolate chip cookie in front of his nose, and every time he washed a dish or put away a T-shirt I gave him the cookie, patted him on the head and said “good husband! Good boy!” until he wagged his, um, tail.

“I don’t how he can work and be ritual chair for the synagogue and still manage to come to PTA meetings and do the school drop-off and pick-up”.

Gosh, I wonder if it’s the same way I manage to work, be president of the synagogue, volunteer for a national professional organization and teach one night a month, and still do as many school drop-offs and pick-ups as he does. Oh, no, I don’t go to PTA meetings, it’s true – because they are always scheduled when I have evening office hours. Which means, of course, that I “must really miss being involved in your child’s life”. Right, because I never see her and have no idea what’s she’s doing, since I’ve already betrayed her by allowing her to be raised by strangers. Bad mommy. No cookie for you.

“You make more money than he does and it doesn’t bother him? He’s really supportive”.

Gosh, and I would have said I was the one doing the supporting the year he was unemployed, and the years he was in graduate school earning less than $10,000 per. But Sam was really open to sharing my salary, and bravely accepted the fact that he didn’t have to take an adjunct teaching job in South Nowhere just to pay the rent. He was incredibly understanding when I gave up my job and friends and moved across the country so he could take the job he finally did get. Yup, it’s amazing he could put aside his male ego enough to tolerate all that.

If Sam were writing this, he’d rant about the people who think he’s “babysitting” when he takes care of his own child. He’d tell you that men who can’t be left alone with their infants should be ashamed of their incompetence. He’d repeat the story about our first post-adoption visit with the social worker, the one who asked him what parts of parenting he didn’t participate in. He always says that at first he didn’t even understand the question, and then he got angry at the suggestion that he wouldn’t be a full part of parenting our child. And he’s sincere about all of it. He accepts housework as part of his responsibility, just like it’s part of mine, and he loves to cook as much as he enjoys building fences. He’d also point out the flip side of this assumption – that he’s somehow less a man because he “helps”.

But all of that serious talk might make male privilege visible. It might make women actually think that they don’t have to do all the housework, that their male partners could participate and the world wouldn’t come to an end. And we can’t have that. No making the patriarchy uncomfortable; wouldn’t be prudent. Besides, I have to go do the dishes now. Sam made dinner, and emptied the dishwasher, and fed the dogs while I was writing this. I am lucky; he’s kind and generous and he’s a damn good cook. But don’t tell me he’s helping.

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30 Responses

  1. Lauren
    Lauren August 3, 2010 at 9:26 pm | *

    When I decided to get married, I told Chef that this would be the number one argument we would have unless we had an agreement that we were both responsible and accountable for how our household was run.

  2. Becca
    Becca August 3, 2010 at 10:05 pm |

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

    Just the other day on a conference call, a male colleague apologized for being in and out of the call because he was “babysitting,” referring to taking care of his own child. I had never heard someone call it babysitting when it’s your own baby, I couldn’t believe it!!! It’s funny because the idea of “helping” is something people often use as like a very positive thing, like its an indication of gender equality, but it’s like – wait, do you ever stop to question that “helping” implies that he is doing something out of just kindness, and that really the job is of the woman and he’s just being so generous to “help out?” Ridiculous!

    I really love your posts, I’m totally gonna follow your blog now :-)

  3. Clarissa
    Clarissa August 3, 2010 at 10:26 pm |

    I so know what you are saying!

    My mother calls me on the phone and asks: “So what’s your husband doing?” “He’s doing the dishes,” I say. “Oh, my God!,” my mother responds. ” How can you allow that? Is this why he got a PhD?? To waste his time doing dishes?” “Well, Mom,” I say, “You forget that I also have a PhD. Is it less of a waste of time if I do dishes?”

    She keeps warning me that he will dump me if I “keep making him” do stuff around the house. I still haven’t been able to convince her that he does 50% of housework because he considers that to be the only normal thing to do.

  4. Alice
    Alice August 3, 2010 at 11:14 pm |

    I remember mentioning to my mum that I’d never considered anything “women’s” or “men’s” work, as she & Dad had always split everything pretty evenly at home, and had both done the same job outside of home (both teachers). She then revealed that they’d consciously made that decision before I was born – everything would be split on the basis of skill & time availability, not gender. Dad was a better cook, so he did a lot of that; Mum was better with money, so she managed that. They split the gardening, house maintenance, cleaning & childcare evenly.

    They made this decision in 1982.

  5. Barb
    Barb August 3, 2010 at 11:53 pm |

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! While we don’t have kids yet we both have agreed to shared duties around the household. We’re still figuring out what the ‘balance’ is but it’s a full fledged ongoing dialogue. And yes it changes depending on our schedules (classes, working OT, having fun…).

    The funny thing is while in many ways things may look traditionalish but only because there are things each of us are better at/enjoy or we lost the rock/paper/scissors match. I can’t count the number of times people (usually my family or business associates) are surprised by our dynamic.

  6. SBE
    SBE August 4, 2010 at 1:08 am |

    Um, just wanted to say that I love, love, loved your posts today. Thanks Jay!

  7. Aydan
    Aydan August 4, 2010 at 5:58 am |

    This is a great post. Thank you!

  8. S
    S August 4, 2010 at 7:03 am |

    My husband is a stay-at-home parent right now, and he’s also working on his degree part-time at nights. Since he’s at home most of the time, he also does most of the housework. One of his biggest gripes is how he inevitably gets called “Mr. Mom”, and both of us are frustrated at how he gets lauded for taking care of the children AND taking evening classes (wow! amazing!).

    Of course, when I was at home sans car parenting our eldest while he worked full-time (we couldn’t afford childcare), while taking a full load in law school, and at the same time working two part-time jobs…no cookie for me!

    Silly me, though. What did I expect? Childcare and household chores are only “work” when men do them.

  9. Moja
    Moja August 4, 2010 at 7:05 am |

    Great post.

    When I was a kid my dad always called taking care of us babysitting. Even if he just had one or two kids with him and my mom had the others. He used to get mad at my mom all the time for keeping a messy house (four home schooled kids, obviously the house was messy!) but when she would get home from a tennis tournament with my oldest sister and the house was a mess he’s complain that he hadn’t had time to do anything because he had to babysit the whole time. But we loved it when my mom was away for a few days because we only ate pizza and Chinese food and we watched tv for hours, and my dad usually neglected to make sure we stuck to bed time. Looking back, I can’t understand how my mom managed to cook and clean and homeschool four children while she managed the finances of the household and my dads practice, not to mention consulting on about 90% of my dads cases and writing all the briefs for his office (they are both lawyers.) I also can’t understand why my mom accepted it. Her biggest role model is Gloria Steinem, before I was born she was the president of the local women lawyers association, and she identifies herself as a feminist. She taught me to be a feminist.

    Anyway, the whole idea of fathers babysitting their own children was what set me off about this. It’s the same as this idea of “Mr. Mom.” I hate it.

  10. Atheistchick
    Atheistchick August 4, 2010 at 5:27 pm |

    There’s a really good book by Donald Unger called “Men Can: the changing image and reality of fatherhood in America” that deals with issues like men “babysitting” their own children or being portrayed as/expected to be incompetent with regards to parenting.

    When my partner and I have children, we have agreed that he is to do most of the childcare, as a mostly-stay-at-home parent, even immediately following the birth (I’m not a huge fan of babies or breastfeeding or bonding with infants or any of that stuff), and I primarily will be the one to work and support us in the early years after the baby. I appreciate the fact that social norms have relaxed enough to let me pursue a career and to let him pursue being a daddy in the same way that girls were supposed to pursue being mommies in the 1950s!

    Great post–I hear a lot of these phrases often, as I, too, am involved in an egalitarian relationship. It’s annoying as hell, but at least it has surfaced that sexism hurts everybody, including men.

  11. Ian Welsh
    Ian Welsh August 4, 2010 at 5:46 pm |

    It all varies. My last live-in hated cooking and was bad at it, but liked cleaning (which I hate). So I did the cooking, she did the cleaning and it worked well.

    OTOH, my mother really came to resent my father in the last years of her life, because she did the cleaning and cooking and he did almost nothing.

  12. Andrea
    Andrea August 4, 2010 at 5:47 pm |

    This reminds me of that Target Women episode where Sarah Haskins is looking at cleaning product ads and asks something like “Is your family unable to clean up after themselves? Is your husband too incompetent to use a blender?” Love that one.

  13. Heather
    Heather August 4, 2010 at 5:52 pm |

    Excellent post!
    I am so tired of hearing that my boyfriend is “so sweet” for moving with me to law school. No one talks about how sweet it is that several men in my class have wives and children who moved for their continued education. It’s so frustrating.

  14. Maria
    Maria August 4, 2010 at 6:59 pm |

    This article came at just the right time.

    Last night my grandmother-in-law said several of these phrases and it was all I could do not to chew her out (which would have made me feel terrible as she is a generally sweet 92 year old lady). I’m glad that other people hear the same stuff too.

    I am currently in grad school (and still making more money than my husband since he is an undergrad who went back to school after some years having menial jobs) and am amazed at how many of my peers make comments like these. A few ‘feminists’ who can’t imagine being a ‘wife’ ask me all the time about how it feels to do all the laundry/cooking/etc. They just assume that I do! It drives me crazy. I have had to calmly explain that we share the household chores and they still don’t believe it. Hopefully I won’t get too tired of explaining because I have had this discussion with 1 girl 3 times in the last 3 months.

    Thanks to all you feisty ‘lucky’ ladies for making me feel less alone.

  15. Serene
    Serene August 4, 2010 at 8:50 pm |

    I realized that my thinking on this was really broken one day when I thanked my (male) partner for “helping” with the housework and he looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. It had never occurred to him that it wasn’t as much his job as mine, it really hadn’t, but he’d been the main housekeeper in his former live-in situation, and had never lived with a woman who picked up after him.

    (It’s not entirely a defer-to-men thing with me, either. The programming was, it’s clear to me now in hindsight, as broken in my brain when I was married to a woman as it is now. Just she liked when I picked up after her, and would’ve liked it even more if I’d done it even more.

  16. Stephanie - Green SAHM
    Stephanie - Green SAHM August 5, 2010 at 12:31 pm |

    This made me remember a recent post by a Facebook friend of mine making reference to “babysitting” his kids. By the time I saw it, several others had already chewed him out for using that word in reference to taking care of his own children. It was beautiful.

    I think my kids will be lucky in that they have two uncles who are stay at home dads. I work at home, so they see that anyone can do the parenting duties and take care of the house. That I sometimes outearn my husband sets a pretty good example too.

    And if someone asked my husband what parenting duties he doesn’t participate in, I suppose he could always say “breastfeeding.” He’s pretty good about all the parts that he’s biologically capable of.

  17. Jadey
    Jadey August 5, 2010 at 12:50 pm |

    Not only did my mum do all the cleaning of our house (cooking was different because my dad liked cooking, but he cooked so that he could make fun things and try out new kitchen gadgets – mum took care of practical stuff, like packed lunches or dinners when he was busy), but when mum and I moved out when I was 13, my 15-year-old sister became the default house cleaner/chore do-er for him. He didn’t ask her or thank her (or pay back the money she spent on groceries except as special *gifts* that she was supposed to be grateful for) – he just assumed that was her job. Within a couple of years she was so overworked and stressed (combined with school as well as the stress of living with him), she left to come live with our mother and me, at which point he blamed her for necessitating child support from him. He also continues to think of her as lazy and flighty, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

    That being said, living with my mother alone, she still did the majority of the housework. As a teen and then an adult before I moved out, I started to do more (usually just my own stuff, rather than the full household stuff), but I still had the notion that mums clean and she was a “lucky lady” if I helped out.

  18. Nikki
    Nikki August 8, 2010 at 6:37 pm |

    Great post. I can’t believe in this day and age the old stereotypes still exist. It does a disservice to men as well. How often do we see men on TV shows that can’t be left alone with their own children or be trusted to do a load of laundry. It’s insulting. All we see are the bumbling men and they there long-suffering nagging wives.

  19. John
    John August 8, 2010 at 8:02 pm |

    I find this incredibly offensive and completely off the mark! I’m appalled that this article even received support! Yes, the guy in the article sounds like a real jerk but the role of men is changing.
    see for yourself.
    http://www.askmen.com/entertainment/austin_500/510_the-new-masculinity.html

  20. N Hall
    N Hall August 10, 2010 at 12:05 am |

    Clarissa: I so know what you are saying!My mother calls me on the phone and asks: “So what’s your husband doing?” “He’s doing the dishes,” I say. “Oh, my God!,” my mother responds. ” How can you allow that? Is this why he got a PhD?? To waste his time doing dishes?” “Well, Mom,” I say, “You forget that I also have a PhD. Is it less of a waste of time if I do dishes?”She keeps warning me that he will dump me if I “keep making him” do stuff around the house. I still haven’t been able to convince her that he does 50% of housework because he considers that to be the only normal thing to do.  

    I know it wasn’t the real point of your message, which was a good one. Nonetheless, it’s likely a waste of your time as well from an economic standpoint. If you can make more money in the time it takes to do the dishes than it would cost to pay someone else to do it, it’s a waste of time “technically.” That’s not factoring in whether or not you like or dislike the task.

  21. Emi
    Emi August 11, 2010 at 9:23 am |

    John you smell of billygoats. Go have a shower and get out your mum’s basement.

  22. Pela
    Pela August 11, 2010 at 4:59 pm |

    Emi: John you smell of billygoats. Go have a shower and get out your mum’s basement.  

    Er…I think he was referring to the article he linked to, rather than this one.

  23. Alex@LateEnough
    Alex@LateEnough August 13, 2010 at 8:44 pm |

    Whenever someone “compliments” my husband on how involved he is with his family, I often remark, “It’s only because the bar for men is so very low. He’s actually just where he should be. Wonderful. But not impressive.”

  24. sura
    sura August 16, 2010 at 10:42 am |

    When I could see the relationship was moving to serious, I grabbed the tag on the back of my teeshirt and said; “Attention…this woman does not cook, clean, wash or iron.”

    He cooked, he cleaned, he washed, he ironed. I did make some attempts to cook, but it wasn’t much appreciated..(I could read the recipe, tho).

    I have never washed a man’s clothing.

    It comes down to exactly what and who you are before you live with another person. Too many women wind up doing the dog’s body work because they do it. They ‘can’t leave a dirty dish in the sink’. They’re doing the laundry anyway. On and on, until he’s sitting in front of the the T.V. shouting; “Baby’s crying,” as she runs from the stove to the washing machine.

  25. Sprite
    Sprite August 17, 2010 at 10:56 pm |

    This was a fantastic post!!!

    While I’m not married yet (engaged), I do live with my wonderful fiance who is also unemployed. True, he has been ardently searching for work for the last year (he puts in about 5 applications a week but no one has had an opening so far), I have been the sole provider of income (covering rent, bills, food and other necessities) since he lost his unemployment about two months ago. Even after he finds work, however, I will still be the primary provider of income; I decided to become an Air Force officer as soon as I graduate in December.

    Honestly, I worry that jibes from other parents, co-workers, friends and family will push him into being uncomfortable with being a stay-at-home husband (he will be finishing his degree as soon as I get into the service). He doesn’t seem to be too put-off by the idea as he does most of the housework and cooking as it is (I make eggs and bake occasionally- beyond that, it’s best if I stay out of the kitchen as I tend to burn/blow things up), but I still worry.

    This post, however, helped me to broach the subject with him and, hopefully, we’ll be alright in a world which still accepts and promotes outdated gender stereotypes.

    Thank you.

  26. The Bido
    The Bido August 18, 2010 at 2:28 pm |

    She thought that this is quite possibly one of the most wonderful posts on being married ever.

    As to John (who posted about new masculinity) your reading comprehension appears to be rather weak since you seemed to completely miss the point of both the blog post and the article you linked to.

  27. Martha
    Martha August 19, 2010 at 11:03 am |

    John: I find this incredibly offensive and completely off the mark! I’m appalled that this article even received support! Yes, the guy in the article sounds like a real jerk but the role of men is changing.
    see for yourself.
    http://www.askmen.com/entertainment/austin_500/510_the-new-masculinity.html  

    Are you serious? The article isn’t about the man in it but people’s opinions about what he does. Maybe you should take a break from grown-up discussions & learn to read.

  28. OjnoTheRed
    OjnoTheRed August 24, 2010 at 7:07 am |

    Agree, agree. I get praise and the “your a supportive husband” line all the time just because I try and do my share. One of the things I do consistently is make the lunches – but I even had a work colleague remark “gee, your wife makes good sandwiches” (I just smiled and said thanks, but I make them, my colleague had the good grace to blush). It’s just amazing how ingrained the assumptions are about gender-roles and this was a great post reflecting that.

  29. Avie
    Avie August 28, 2010 at 2:26 pm |

    My mother was all up in arms at my sister in law the other day because she said my sister in law ‘makes my brother do the laundry’. She had raised her sons to be the ‘man of the house’ and have no idea why her beloved eldest son is so whipped.
    Me – I’m just glad my eldest brother defied a lifetime of brainwashing to realize that his wife who also works a fulltime job is as tired as he is after they return from the office, and that home is a place you take care of together.

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