Is running the house still 'women's work'? These tips could help balance the load

The planning, preparation and work involved in managing a household is a never-ending,  laborious and largely an invisible load.
The planning, preparation and work involved in managing a household is a never-ending, laborious and largely an invisible load.

A University of Michigan study of housework trends revealed husbands create an extra seven hours a week of housework for their wives, but wives save husbands from about an hour of housework a week.

The study was part of the University Panel Study on Income Dynamics, the world's longest running study of it's kind, conducted since 1968, that collects data on the economic, health and social behavior of the same nearly 8 000 U.S. families year after year.

The planning, preparation and work involved in managing a household is a never-ending, laborious and largely invisible load.

Historically, women have taken the lead as the ‘project manager’ or leader in this regard, with men usually passively following instructions to ‘assist’.

In many respects, we’re born into a society where girl children are given mini vacuum cleaners, dolls, mini ovens and food sets while boy children are dubbed ‘girly’ if they choose to vacuum the carpet or push a pram.

Many people grew up in households where their mothers took on the mental load of household management – and so the cycle continues to repeat itself.

It’s all most of us know. 

However in 2019, the make-up of households in South Africa is very different to that of 50 years ago.

Men and women hold equal roles in the workplace and financially they both contribute more equally. The task list for household management and the responsibility for raising children are now shared far more equally.

Some still feel that it is still the responsibility of the female members of the house to take the lead on this – but these days, it shouldn't necessarily always the mother, wife or granny who does all the thinking. 

According Pew Research an unequal distribution of chores contributes to 30% of divorces. To help you avoid this outcome, we've gathered some advice to help you better balance the load:

Divide the list and stick to it

In a household where there are two adults, there isn’t any reason why both brains should be needed on a simple task. Whether it’s keeping track of groceries in the fridge or keeping on top of clearing the kitchen and washing dishes, you each have your task and responsibilities – and you stick to them.

If it’s easier to download the mental list, make use of an app like Our Home to detail responsibilities in the early days, leaving no grey areas of confusion.

Also read: 'Don't let your child become a puppet to other people’s profits': How to protect your child's online identity

The children are a shared load

In the business of raising humans, the load can be all-consuming for one parent. Between hair washing, nail-cutting, homework, nutrition and school reminders and responsibility, there needs to a line which is permeable – and dually shared by both parties.

You can certainly make your life easier with apps and schedules which are useful to both parties.

Make use of shared Google calendars and app’s like Karri that help to significantly reduce the mental load when it comes to school communications and handling of payments like civvies day and the termly bake sale.

Remove the resentfulness

No one person can truly understand the mental load of their partner.

With the constant struggle to manage work and personal loads and added to the fact that every person deals with stress and anxiety completely differently, the dividing and managing of the mental load needs to be an inclusive, caring process where any tit-for-tat is removed.

One partner might be naturally more organised, and as such, certain tasks will be more suited. Use your knowledge of your significant other to carefully divvy up the responsibilities in a way that will promote the most harmony in the home.

Also see: Printable: Emergency contact information

Critical to the process is that the strategy will never be perfect. It’s a plan and agreement that might need constant adjustment and testing. Nothing is set in stone and permanent, bar the need to get through the list. Try, try and try again. 

Additionally, provides these practical tips:

Go For A Team Approach

Couples with kids are the best at teamwork because each parent knows the big picture and the overall needs of the household. Make a list of regular chores and frequent activities that need to happen in the house. This might include cooking, cleaning, washing the car, etc.

Teenagers especially should have their own cleaning responsibilities. Assign who will clean the table, do the dishes for the night and who takes out the trash. These simple household chores will teach them how to be responsible and how to help each other.

Gender Has Nothing To Do With Chores

Your kids will likely say that this task is just for girls and this task is just for boys. Everyone needs to learn something new or a variety of skills. Teach your kids how to do these skills and how to be responsible and they will know the value of equality and fair work.

Keep It Fair

The goal of dividing each chore between family members is to be fair and to make it feel like they are being supported by the other family members. Make a list of the division of chores (we’ll show you how to do this below) and take a look. Give feedback and talk about any unfair chore distribution.

Most importantly, ask for help

Lastly, a word from Parent24 editor Elizabeth Mamacos. This working mom of two says the best thing to do is to just ask for help. 

"The household responsibilities belong to everyone who live in the home. I think we can agree that cooking, cleaning and managing a home are basic life skills, not gender roles."

"There's no shame in asking for help. No one can read your mind, and silently bearing the load doesn't do anyone any favours. When you need something done, delegate to the nearest, most responsible, person."

This includes the kids, she says. "You'll be surprised at how well a toddler can stuff a washing machine, and a preschooler should be able to pack away toys and shoes with ease."

Take a look at our age-appropriate chores list here.

Do you have any tips that works in your household? Share them with us.

Compiled for Parent24 by Anneline Hlangani.

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