Just earlier this week, after it took everything in me to send my supervisor the “I’m not feeling too well. Going to need to take a day,” text. I found myself not thinking about the 12-hour allergy pill I was due for the clear my sinuses so I could function for at least a part of the day, but the fact that I finally had time to sweep all of the toys, dust and junk from underneath my sectional. There were at least a dozen tasks like this including emails that needed responses, windows that had a whole layer of summer dirt on them and folding Sunday’s laundry that I needed to complete, but never had the time or energy to in between work, taking care of a toddler and the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But this time was different, I resisted the urge to clock in to my domestic duties on what was technically a sick day and sit my behind down and rest. I took the best two hour nap ever with my daughter, played blocks with her in the afternoon, and ended the night watching Beauty and the Beast. But why is it such a struggle for most moms like myself to get the break we need and deserve? A study shows we may have only ourselves to blame.
The study published in the journal Sex Roles revealed that moms were more likely to spend their days off catching up on housework, where dads were most likely to relax. I witnessed this live and in person when my husband strolled in that same day at 7:30 pm and proceeded to eat crab legs and play Grand Theft Auto on Playstation. He casually walked by a sink full of dishes and toddler in a diaper anticipating bath time and relaxed and after a 10-hour work day and I couldn’t really blame him. Although studies show time and time again that when it comes to the housework, there’s clearly an uneven distribution among couples who both work outside of the home and those that include a stay-at-home parent, the truth is for many women, relaxing isn’t a priority. That’s a problem. And I’m completely guilty of stressing unnecessarily over a sink full of dirty dishes left overnight.
Essence reports the study included 52 heterosexual couples living in Ohio, most of whom were white and well educated. Claire Kamp Dush, PhD, lead author of the study and associate professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University states she was surprised that even in middle- to upper-class families, the division of housework and childcare was significantly unbalanced:
“I didn’t really see that coming.”
“We expected these couples have pretty egalitarian ideals about the way the division of labor should go, but those beliefs really aren’t being practiced.”
Participants were asked to keep detailed accounts of what they were doing at different points of the day and how long they spent on each activity both on a work-day and non-work day. Accounts were kept before the arrival of the first child and afterwards.
Essence reports that Kush and her team discovered that for the most part women are diapering, dish washing and tackling other domestic duties while their husbands generally had more time to get lost elbows deep in YouTube research on muscle car engines (much like my partner):
“Kamp Dush and her colleagues found that, three months after their babies were born, men spent about 101 minutes relaxing on their days off while their wives did some kind of childcare or housework. Women, on the other hand, logged only half that time—46 to 49 minutes—in leisure while their husbands had their hands full.”
The amount of time women and men spent doing housework and childcare was more equal on work days, although women still got slightly less time to relax. On days off, though—Saturday and Sundays in many families—traditional gender inequalities emerged, the authors say: Women continued toiling away while men took the opportunity to kick back.”
Dush expressed that she doesn’t believe men were phoning in their domestic duties deliberately and is curious about their perception of their share of household chores. She suspects men may believe they’re doing a larger portion of housework than they actually are. In my household, I’m honest about the fact that most days, I’m volunteering to take on the burden of keeping up the home. Raise your hand if you were raised by a mother who constantly reminded your father, “I’ll do it my damn self,” if a task wasn’t completed to her liking. No, I can’t wait until morning to address the situation of spaghetti grease and wet food in our kitchen sink. And if it still looks like someone is laying in the bed after you made it, you did a sucky job and I’m just going to do it over anyway. I’m well aware of the fact that if the housework seems unbalanced it’s only because I want things done my way, even though my husband is ready and waiting with the Palmolive and scouring pad. Dush emphasizes my situation is common:
“During some of these times, women may be hovering over their spouses and making sure they’re doing things the quote-unquote right way.”
“One piece of advice I have for women is to actually let him get in there and do the childcare and the housework.”
“There are lots of ways to dress a baby and change a diaper and fold laundry, and if it’s not exactly your way, that’s okay.”
At the end of the day, what seems to be most important is that everyone in the household is meeting in the middle, compromising and communicating when anyone is feeling resentful or unappreciated. Although I’m comfortable with taking on certain tasks like bathing our daughter or vacuuming the floors regularly, it doesn’t hurt when my husband offers to do so or just plain does it unexpectedly. Kush says it’s important to check in regularly, not just with your partner, but yourself as well:
“I know for me, it’s really irritating to do housework when my husband is playing on his phone, and I know it’s equally irritating for him when I do it.
“When you see your partner is really working hard, make sure you’re really doing your part, too.”