Confessions of a Former Spider Killer

28 Aug

There is no question that the issue of gender roles was much simpler when I was a single mom.  There was no issue.  I did everything.  And whatever little bit of everything I didn’t get to, it just didn’t get done.  Period.  I hated the system that relieved men of their fatherly duties.  But my hands were tied … or were doing the tying – of shoes, of hair ribbons – or were doing the wringing – of dishtowels, of little necks, over worry … you get the picture.  My disdain for the status quo aside, my household was lacking one strife that I could see plaguing dual parent families.  I never had to argue with anyone over who did dishes, dinner, girl scout duty, or who took out the trash or fixed the car.

I think I heard one of those silly statistics lately that said something like family stress is on the rise over gender roles and household chores.  How much more can it rise?  I thought this was just a kind of constant state of affairs.  Women, generally, are expected to do more than their share.  We work on the job, and we work in the job of mommy.  We’re not allowed to slack on the duties of one for the other.  I don’t know that it will ever change.  Perhaps because I spent twenty years as a single mom, now that I’m in a dual-parent household and find myself in full charge of the laundry and a multitude of other small duties that I don’t know whether my husband notices, I’m not a good spokesperson to lead the charge for change.  I wouldn’t be a good spokesperson anyway, since I picked my husband carefully.  I suspect that, compared to most men, he takes on more than his share too.  He cooks, he does diaper duty, he wakes up early with the little one on weekends and lets me sleep in.  He’s there for us, as much as any mommy would be.

Although I may not launch a campaign anytime soon for equal work for, well, equal parents, I do stop and wonder sometimes whether our comfortable division of labor nonetheless is problematic.  Wordlessly, I took on laundry duties when we were married, and protested that I don’t like other people doing my laundry when he offered to lend a hand.  My squeamishness about bugs has not waned with age, and, when confronted with one, I still yell for my better half to come fulfill his husbandly duties.  I don’t even offer anymore to set the garbage bins on the sidewalk and – bless his heart – he doesn’t ask me.  Division of labor: case in point – I just accidentally deleted everything I wrote but the first two words of this post.  I was on the horn in an instant, calling my hubby at work to see if he could help.  Oh dear God, thank you for the fact that I picked the right man.  And, thank you, whatever thoughtful programmer invented Ctrl Z!

So I’ve wondered – even if we’re cozy with the status quo – am I sending the wrong message to my daughter every time I call for DH to come kill another spider, or when I rush to comfort her after she’s fallen and is already in daddy’s arms?  Is there anything innately wrong with us stepping into these roles, or is there something innate about them?  Is it maybe that I don’t care to challenge these roles because I went twenty years filling both of them, and now I’m happy to take on just one?

I sometimes comfort myself that my husband and I are doing enough to dispel gender stereotypes because there are “certain” things that he does non-traditionally, as do I.  He cooks.  I make good money.  He helps clean.  I … garden.  He barbeques, and mows the lawn.  I paint the basement.  I sweep the front stoop.  I’m finding I have to think about what is traditionally a male task and traditionally female, even as I write this.  Maybe that’s a sign that the lines are beginning to blur.  Or maybe they’re just blurring in my household.

Either way, I’m not sure my theory that doing some non-traditional tasks makes up for the roles that are unchanging (DH as the eternal spider killer, and DW forever snapping clean clothes into place).  It’s not like we’re countries buying energy credits to make up for all the ecological screwing up we do.  I’m not a fan of that approach either.

I don’t know what the answer is, and whether there’s really even any question.  In our fast-paced world that’s a mishmash of bringing home the bacon, putting it on the table, squeezing in some laundry and housecleaning and electronics fixing and gardening and drying tears and changing diapers and bedtime stories and occasional sleep, I think this issue will just have to remain a non-issue for now.

How about your family?  Does DH do enough?  Are duties split down the gender lines?  Is that okay?  Do moms/dads set a bad example if they don’t make an effort to cross gender lines when it comes to household chores?  Is there anything you do to change it?

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