I was commenting on this post about introducing boys to the concept of housework without nagging or bribery when I realised that my comment was longer than the post so I brought it over here. Do go there (when you’ve read this) – it’s a site I really like.
Our children have had chores to do since they were old enough to do them – washing up, laying and clearing tables, nothing extreme. My daughter does the ironing for a bit of extra pocket money. My son has been known to clean shoes. It sometimes feels a bit Dickensian round here, with one covered in boot polish and the other up to her elbows in suds, but at least they appreciate that the house doesn’t run itself, even though they complain bitterly about tidying their rooms. I wish my parents had done the same, then perhaps I wouldn’t be so domestically useless. Thank god I married a man who can cook.
I was struck by the fact that there’s little mention of fathers in the original post, other than a comment from another reader that men won’t help because they don’t see housework as their responsibility. (So, shrug, what can you do?) The idea that boys’ attitudes to women and housework are up to us and we can’t expect any help from our partners is incredibly depressing. It infantilises men and dooms us to a role as perpetual mummies. More importantly it means nothing ever changes.
I met up with a friend the other day who’s just finished one contract and is stitching together bits of work to make ends meet while he looks for the next one. His wife works full-time so he’s in charge of housework and childcare. He’s developed a better relationship with their son, a mother-in-law-approved technique for cleaning the loo and a local network of other fathers picking up children at the school gate, presumably there for the same reason that he is. He may have a stereotypically male attitude to housework – best gadgets researched, new products scientifically compared, time and motion studies on the optimum time to Hoover the stairs – but he’s getting it done and his son is watching…
Maybe this could be a welcome spin-off from new ways of working – or an unexpected silver lining to the recession. When the norm is either parent at home for part or all of the week – unemployed, self-employed, flexibly working in virtual offices – while the other is at work, perhaps cleaning the bath will cease to be a gender issue and start being something that just gets done. To speed the revolution along in the meantime, teach your sons to wash their own clothes. Their future girlfriends will thank you. They might too.