Moms Talk Q&A: Household Chores
How do you manage the division of basic household labor in your family?
On Monday mornings, my kids go off to school, my hubby leaves for work, and I head out to Boot Camp. When I get home, I fold the week’s laundry. To pass the time while performing this mundane task, I watch a recording of the previous night’s Desperate Housewives show. My motivation is singular: I want to see what outrageousness Eva Langoria’s character is getting away with next. Gabi’s selfish antics are always good for a few laughs. As I conquer the queue of baskets, I seldom feel that I can relate to any of the housewives’ lives.
Last week, though, the show had a serious (if exaggerated) story line going that had me thinking long after the clothes were put away. Lynette and Tom’s twin boys, now eighteen year-olds, were out partying. In the middle of the night, they brought home two girls, offering to cook them breakfast. Their parents discovered this when Parker and Preston woke them up to ask, of all things, where to find eggs. Later it was discovered that the boys had no idea how to make the omelettes they promised these “dates.” This helplessness prompted Lynette to convince Tom to kick the boys out of the nest so they would learn to take care of themselves.
Just last week, my husband quizzed me about whether our older daughter, a senior in high school, has the practical skills to live away at college. Can she do laundry? Does she know how to clean a bathroom? Can she cook more than macaroni and cheese from a box? The answer to all of these questions is Yes! She can. However, the point is that he doesn’t see her doing these things on a regular basis. Our daughter’s schedule is such that she’s out of the house most of the day and evening hours, and when she’s home, she’s studying or sleeping. This has been the case for several years, and her younger sister and brother appear to be following the same pattern.
Thinking back, my kids took an early interest in cooking and cleaning. My younger daughter was always with me in the kitchen as I prepared dinner. She never wanted to play with toy pots and pans; she wanted to cook with real ones. She was slicing vegetables for stir-fry at three years old, much to my husband’s chagrin. (She never cut herself). Vacuuming was a fun exercise to be fought over, as was any cleaning chore involving a spray bottle. We have pictures of family car washes in the driveway and fond memories of the five of us cleaning out the garage together, music blaring. Our kids all lobbied to use the lawnmower; it was a sought-after rite of passage.
Somehow this attitude toward chores has shifted. The kids are not volunteering to do unassigned tasks (although they will if asked.) In theory, they do have regular responsibilities. But they can’t set the table and do the dishes if they’re at softball practice, marching band rehearsal, and Boy Scouts.
My son is home more than his sisters are. He often points out that he is doing an awful lot of dog walking and trash-hauling in comparison to the girls. I usually respond with some situation-specific, loose translation of the communist doctrine, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” It goes something like this: “You’re home, they’re not, and the poor dog needs a walk. Just do it!” He does, but it has me wondering what will happen when he gets busier and my husband and I are the ones left to do it all.
My sister-in-law, whose daughters are now married, believes that teens’ family obligations need to come before socializing. She had the girls clean the house from top to bottom each Saturday morning before they could use the car or go anywhere. These days, families can hire house cleaners, landscapers, personal chefs, car detailers….even dog poop scooping services! And many do. I wonder if this is a by-product of our overscheduled culture. I wonder if it’s progress.
Is the division of labor in your house equitable? Do your kids possess basic skills? Are your teenagers crazy busy? Does helping out at home take a back seat to everything else? Is that okay? If you’ve got advice to give, please let us know. No one wants to be the parent of the kid who leaves home and becomes the roommate that can’t whip up omelettes for the cute girls.