Your mommy hates housework and your daddy hates housework

Last week, Cynical Mom wrote about a conversation she once had with the wife of a SAHD.  In response to a comment about how cool their arrangement was, the wife responded:

"Yeah well it’s great, except when I get home the house is still a mess. What is he doing all day that he can’t clean up a little?"

She’s right that the "what is he doing all day" line is pretty disrespectful of at-home parents and the work that’s involved in keeping everyone alive and sane.  At the same time, I commented that housekeeping standards are probably the single biggest subject of controversy on the email list that I’m on for working wives of SAHDs.

There’s a fair amount of resentment about (some) SAHDs who don’t clean and feel like their day is over when the mom comes home, so that she comes home from a day at work and is immediately juggling needy kids and trying to get dinner made, the house cleaned, etc. We realize that they need a break after a day of at-home (or on the run) parenting, but when’s our break?

Via RebelDad, I read these interviews with Full Time Father Mike Paranzino, who’s quoted as saying: "I signed on to do the kids — not to do the house."   Ok, that’s one thing if you’ve got the money to afford a housecleaner (and many upper-income families do hire housecleaners whether or not they have a stay-at-home parent — of either gender).  And I have no problem with lowering your standards as long as the Department of Health doesn’t need to get involved.  But, in most families, someone’s got to do the chores that keep the family running. 

On his blog, Paranzino writes: "Bottom line: our focus should be on our children, not the dust under our beds."  I agree with that totally.  But food to eat, clean dishes to eat it on, and clean clothes don’t come out of thin air.  The difference between being a parent and being a nanny is that you don’t get to say "that’s not in my job description."

I don’t think the reason housework is such a sore topic among reverse traditional families is that all SAHDs are slugs or slobs — that’s far from the truth.  I think it’s a subject of controversy because two basic cultural assumptions — that housework is the responsibility of the SAH parent, and that housework is the women’s responsibility — conflict.  So there’s no default position about who does what, and everything is up for negotiation.

And no, I’m not writing this because I’m trying to get my husband to do more.  Our house is actually cleaner than it’s been for months.  After the maggot incident, I think both of us realized that we needed to make more of an effort than we had been.  And, having put a lot of energy into cleaning, we’re both more motivated to maintain it rather than have that work be wasted.

Oh, and guess what?  D loves to vacuum with the little dustbuster.  I knew there was a reason we had kids.

22 Responses to “Your mommy hates housework and your daddy hates housework”

  1. landismom Says:

    Yeah, everyone here hates housework too. I occasionally can motivate myself to get into the cleaning for 1/2 hour a night thing, but usually I’m just ready to collapse & zone out with a book or something after working all day and then parenting all evening. My house has to get pretty gross before I will spend serious time cleaning it.

  2. Andrea Says:

    I have to say, though, that when I was home with Frances for a year, that’s *exactly* what I said about it: I’m a SAHM, not a housekeeper. And I meant it.
    In our case, it meant that when Erik got home we both started pitching in. When he was at work, staying sane and keeping Frances entertained were my priorities. Housework was something we did together on weekends or in the evenings.
    The way I saw it was: He worked all day at work, I worked all day at home; we both had one job each for those 40 hours. The rest of the week we split the other job half and half. It worked well for us.
    Mind you, I also found being a SAHM much harder than working. I have a lot more energy now that I’m “working” than when I wasn’t, and being here all day, then going home to the needy kid and the messy house is not such a big deal. This is just my experience, of course, but I think it might be a bit premature to write this off as sexism. A lot of my SAHM friends feel the same way about what they do–childcare, not housework.

  3. Wayne Says:

    I come home from work and things are messy sometimes. It doesn’t occur to me to ask what my wife’s been doing all day. It does occur to me to pick up a broom and sweep up the Cheerios or whatever, if it bothers me so much. Because why not? It’s not like I’ve been working in a coal mine all day, and it’s not like my wife’s been watching soaps all day.
    I guess that sounds a tad self-righteous, but I cringe when other men say stuff like Paranzino did. Because, well, get over it, dude.

  4. Elizabeth Says:

    Ok, maybe this is my prejudice showing, but I have the sense that when SAHMs say “I’m a SAHM not a housekeeper” they generally mean “I’m not responsible for all the cleaning,” but when SAHDs say “I’m a SAHD not a housekeeper,” they’re more likely to mean “I’m not responsible for ANY of the cleaning.”
    This is of course a generalization, and thus inaccurate — there’s one woman on the MAWDAH list who when the topic comes up always points out that her husband is a neat freak and she wishes he spent more time playing with the kids and less time cleaning.
    But I do think women are socialized to a) have higher standards for cleanliness and b) to feel personally responsible if their house isn’t up to them. When someone comes over to our house, if it’s a mess, I feel judged — T. doesn’t.

  5. Russell Says:

    Amen, to the idea of “get over it dude”. There is a lot to be said about the psychological effect of being home and “on” as a parent all day and night – and being able to engage your brain and your focus in a different way by going out to a job. I know what it is like when I spend a whole day parenting alone – just one day. It is physically exhausting and mentally taxing (It’s fun and a great experience to be with my son, too – but I’m focusing on the “work” aspect). My outside job is stressful and exhausting, but I get to take a lunch when I want. I get to engage parts of my brain in a different way everyday I work. My wife (a SAHM) has to work to find time and experiences to engage the non-parenting part of her brain.
    We split the house-chores.

  6. Elizabeth Says:

    Wayne, Russell — I’m confused by your comments. Paranzino is a stay-at-home parent (although he doesn’t like the phrase because, as he says, he’s never *home* with the kids).

  7. Ayala Says:

    Well, as a SAHM for the last 6 yrs I feel the same way. I signed up to be the primary caretaker of the kids — not to be the housekeeper. We have always divided household chores and we continue to do so on the same basis as before. The only thing that has shifted with me being home is I do all the laundry. And before when we both worked DH did the cooking. Now his request is that even if I don’t cook dinner during the day could I at least defrost, buy, plan whatever so that when he gets home we can get the cooking underway.
    Being home with young kids is the most exhausted I’ve ever been — in can be mind numbingly boring at times and when I have the time not to be dealing with little ones during the day I need to be doing something with my brain [reading, writing, etc…] NOT vacuuming…

  8. CGG Says:

    I think household chores can be a big issue no matter what your family situation. They really can become overwhelming, especially when there are more than three people living in a household. In the past three years my SO and I have both worked outside the home, then he worked from home and I commuted, and now we both work from home. Each new situation required adjustment in who did what chores. Housecleaning seems to be a hurdle no matter what your family structure it. It’s universal.

  9. jen Says:

    By saying “I signed on to do the kids, not the house”, you’re automatically assuming someone else will do all the house stuff. If you have no cleaning service, you just dumped it all on your spouse. This to me is no more acceptable than a working parent assuming their at-home spouse will do every bit of housework. Get over it, indeed.

  10. Wayne Says:

    Happy to clarify — what I mean is, the idea that EITHER working OR staying at home exempts you from housework is something men (those who happen to be socialized toward this idea) should get over already. Is there really a meaningful difference between “I work hard all day and when I get home I don’t want to do any housework” and “I spent all day doing stuff with the kids and don’t want to do any housework”? Either way, you’re boasting that the things you do are more legitimate than the scut work that comes with being an adult.
    Housework isn’t a gendered thing, whether you work or watch the kids or whatever. If I happened to be the stay at home parent (or the “leave my home and do stuff with the kids elsewhere and then come back to my home later parent”?), I don’t see how I’d logically be exempted from my share of taking care of the house.

  11. Wayne Says:

    By the way, I’m sure Paranzino is a good father and all that. It’s just that I can’t adopt this kind of philosophy (taken from his website) as a way of dodging the removal of scum on the toilet seat:
    “Every minute spent cleaning a toilet is a minute NOT spent with your children and a minute NOT spent trying to get laws passed to protect innocent people from violent crime or getting funds directed to finding a cure for psoriasis.”
    So if I stay with the kids instead of work, and ALSO clean my toilet, I’m contributing to a more violent society?
    “And how many parents do you know who plop the kids in front of the boob tube so they can make dinner?”
    This is the kind of rhetoric, I suspect, that vilifies the nameless and numerous “other parents” who don’t parent the Right Way, which is how you happen to parent yourself.
    “My only complaint with CBS is that they opted not to pursue their original plan, which was a live debate between me and one or more at home parents who believe that toilet cleaning is an integral part of raising children.”
    Is there a single parent who believes that toilet cleaning is integral to raising children? Or might there just be parents who prefer to clean the toilet, period, because they hate dirty toilets, regardless of whether they have jobs or not? This sort of deliberate mischaracterization is always annoying, no matter what side of the “debate” you’re on.
    Of course, Paranzino is essentially saying that “the one who is raising the children” shouldn’t have to automatically be the one cleaning the toilet. Now, does this meaning that a working parent isn’t ALSO raising the children? Am I NOT raising my daughter, too, because I work so many hours a week? Am I a less legitimate parent than my wife?
    If Paranzino had said that chores are something that should be equitably negotiated between spouses, I could have agreed with him. But I can’t agree with yet another parenting paradigm that marginalizes either a mother or a father.

  12. Cecily Says:

    Wow, this is fascinating.
    I agree that housework should be split between the parents, regardless of where they are working. In my house, my husband can’t vacuum successfully to save his life. So I vaccum. But, thankfully, he’s wonderful at cat litter. I can’t imagine that changing if we ever actually get to have a child, even though my husband plans to be a SAHD. It’s not like having a baby is going to make him good at vacuuming.

  13. Maura in VA Says:

    I think I saw that SAHD this morning on CBS Early Morning news. I completely agree with the idea that the stay-at-home-parent shouldn’t be the person who is completely responsible for housekeeping, but his position was much creepier than that.
    First of all, he said he spends 10 hours a day trying to keep his son (who looks about 3-4) busy with entertaining and “original” activities. He stressed that they need to be original – it’s a real stress for him to keep finding new and exciting things for his son. Then he has a baby as well – looked like a girl around 6 months old.
    He said that the yellow pages is full of people who want to clean your house and do your laundry, so why do that yourself? It’s more important to keep your child stimulated with original activities…
    I guess the attitude that “Why should I clean up after myself…there are all of these people in the phone book who really want to do it for me” seemed really classist and creepy to me.
    I’m not a parent yet and know it’s not all idyllic, but I think there can be a lot of value in having one of the “stimulating and original” activities that you do with your child be things like laundry sorting, cleaning up toys, and, yes, even cleaning up the bathroom. Most importantly, it teaches a child that there aren’t faceless people chasing after him all the time who will clean up every mess he ever makes. Unless there are, of course. Which would be disturbing, IMO!

  14. Jennifer Says:

    I think Wayne summarized all this quite well. I just want to add: right on, Maura! As a SAHM I also try to do fun and educational things with my children, but not every second of the day! My kids sometimes play by themselves, and that’s when I “get things done” — whether that’s cleaning the toilet or shopping or blogging or whatever. Also, I think it’s useful for a child to see a parent working & to help as much as possible (I mean age-appropriate) — and cleaning is work, too.
    It sounds like Paranzino is insisting that child-rearing is much more important than “just cleaning” in order to justify being a SAHD. I mean, in order to make it seem less demeaning to a public who might find it so.

  15. Mrs. Coulter Says:

    Mmm…Ayala is right on about how exhausting it is to care for a child all day long. It is absolutely the most tiring and draining thing I have ever done. And it’s hard to clean around an active toddler, who wants to be *in* everything. If I fold laundry, she unfolds it. I can only unload the dishwasher up until the point she climbs into it.
    Sure there’s naptime, but anyone who tells you that you should be using naptime do to housework every day has never spent an entire day home alone with a toddler. Naptime is recuperation time. Time to eat lunch, time to rest, time to think.
    We try to share the housework (one person cleans while the other supervises Lyra). Sometimes that means that things aren’t as clean as I would like. We survive (though I flipped out a couple weeks ago when she was picking cat hair dust bunnies off the floor and handing them to me).
    I know that soon she will start helping me with housework–already, she’s interested in putting things away in drawers (though just as often she takes them out again). I remember thinking it was fun to help my mom clean the bathroom; my mom in turn remembers begging her mother to let her iron. I want Lyra to learn how to do all these chores not because she’s a girl, but so that she knows how to be a self-sufficient human being capable of caring for herself when there’s no one else to take care of her. I had to show my husband how to clean a toilet and how to mop a floor (I kid you not–three Ivy League degrees and he tells me he doesn’t know how to mop). No child should grow to adulthood without this kind of basic knowledge.

  16. flagrantdisregard Says:

    No house work?

    I’m sure you’ve read the story. Mike made some final points which Rebel Dad summarized. It’s unfortunate that Mike’s message of “spending more time with your kids is Good” got mixed up with “never cook or cl…

  17. Jennifer Says:

    I agree with philosophy that whatever housework is left after the day of work (looking after the kids for the SAH parent, work out of the home for the other) should be shared. And that’s pretty much how we do it. But from observation, there is a large range of housework that can be done during a typical SAH day, depending on where your priorities are.
    We’re lucky. I’m not a fussy person about mess or dirt, and my SAHD husband is not either, but is marginally fussier than me. So I get to do the few things he hates (cleaning up after dinner, taking the garbage out, and our tax returns and other financial stuff) and we live in a dirtier and messier house than we would if we had a cleaner (which we did when we were DINKs).
    As an aside, I think my husband is unique among all stay at home parents I know in that he loves grocery shopping with the kids (now 2 and 3.5). It’s one of his fun activities in the week.

  18. Elizabeth Says:

    Jennifer, I don’t know if I’d say that T. “loves” grocery shopping with the kids, but he doesn’t mind it, and so he does the vast majority of it in the household. He definitely uses it as an activity on oppressively hot or rainy days. He goes slowly and lets the boys explore a lot.

  19. mythago Says:

    Is there really a meaningful difference between “I work hard all day and when I get home I don’t want to do any housework” and “I spent all day doing stuff with the kids and don’t want to do any housework”? Either way, you’re boasting that the things you do are more legitimate than the scut work that comes with being an adult.
    Exactly. The stuff about how he could be working to end violent crime instead of scrubbing the toilet is particularly lame–will the toilet by so inspired by his heroics that it will get up and scrub itself?
    It’s perfectly understandable for a SAH parent to say “My full-time job is rearing the children; that doesn’t mean I am also responsible for all the housework.” The SAHDs mentioned in this thread seem to be really saying “Hey, I’ve gone as far as taking care of my kids, but doing women’s work like scrubbing toilets? I’m drawin’ the line!”

  20. Daddy Types Says:

    Brit Dad Stays Home A Week, Survives To Write About It

    Columnist Damian Whitworth turns in a level-headed report of what would otherwise be the premise of an eye-rolling reality tv show: he stayed home for a week with his 2-year-old son. Some things that jump out: So ‘new dads’ are an annoying media-fabric…

  21. Half Changed World Says:

    The domestic glass ceiling

    I see that Bitch PhD thought much more highly of the Hirshman article than I did. In particular, she picked up on Hirshman’s statement that:The answer I discovered — an answer neither feminist leaders nor women themselves want to face

  22. kathe Says:

    This whole discusion is interesting to me because I was a single parent through four kids. If it got done at all, I did it, except during that wonderful period when I had a babysitter who organized the kids to do some of it. Then I married a guy, who, because I was at the top of my earning cycle and he wasn’t, became the “mom” and did everything. Or again, maybe the kids did it, or the housework fairy, but I didn’t have to.

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