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Stress-Free Zone | Simplify Your Life

Women: Let Men Help Ease Household Duties

June 22, 1998|ELAINE ST. JAMES

Close to 70% of mothers are now working outside the home, in addition to working in the home. And while it's true that more men than ever are helping out, in most families women are still 90% responsible for running the household and for taking care of the kids.

I've finally figured out why men don't do more: Women don't let them. We're afraid they won't do it right, by which we mean they won't do it our way.

My friend Bill recently helped me understand this. I was talking with him about simplifying the holidays. I suggested that one way women could do that was to let men do Christmas. He thought about this for a moment, then shook his head vehemently. It would never work, he said. It's not that men aren't willing to help out; most are. It's just that their wives would be so stressed out thinking about all the ways their husbands would do it "wrong" that they wouldn't be able to enjoy the season. So, Bill said, it's easier for men to simply make the appropriate sympathetic noises when their wives complain about how much there is to do--during the holidays or at any other time--or to hide behind their own busy schedules.

I wanted to deny that women are still tied into the belief that we're the only ones who can do the household stuff the right way. Then I remembered that over Easter my husband, Gibbs, and I had been invited to a small neighborhood brunch. I was working on a deadline, so Gibbs offered to prepare the deviled eggs we'd been asked to bring. I did manage to keep quiet when I saw he was putting far more mustard in the eggs than I would have done, but when we arrived, tray of eggs in hand, I delicately let people know Gibbs had done the eggs. I didn't want anyone to think I would have shorted the mayo.

But I've finally let go of the idea that Gibbs will ever wipe the kitchen counters down "properly" when he does the dishes; I quietly redo it the "right" way when he has left the kitchen. And though I haven't been able to stop grousing when he comes in from doing the grocery shopping and I find that the grapes he so carefully selected are past their prime, I am working on it.

Wait a minute. Gibbs is doing the eggs? Washing the dishes? Taking care of the grocery shopping? I have made some progress here, Bill. There was a time when I did everything. But since we managed to eliminate a four-hour-a-day commute for Gibbs when we simplified our lives, he now has the time to do these and many of the other daily routines. And, yes, I'm lucky that Gibbs has been willing, for the most part, to either adapt to my expectations that he do things the "right" way or to quietly ignore them. But as Bill pointed out, most men would adapt given half a chance, and if their wives learned to be patient with them. And I believe that's true. After all, women know how to do household things "right" because our mothers taught us. Male children, even today, are seldom included in that learning loop.

So, women, give the guys a chance. There are at least two approaches you could take. Make a list of all the household chores, then together decide how you want to divide them between the two of you. Or assign a specific chore, and when he's accomplished that to your satisfaction, add another one to his list. In either case, resist the temptation to complain when he doesn't get it "right" the first time or even the 10th time. And whatever you do, avoid the martyr role that says, "Oh, never mind! It's easier to do it myself!" Force yourself to be as patient with him as your mother was with you. Or better yet, be open to the possibility that he might actually have a better way of doing it.

And, Gibbs, I promise that next Easter I won't say a word about the eggs.

*

Elaine St. James is the author of "Simplify Your Life"and "Simplify Your Life With Kids." For questions or comments, write to her in care of Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111.

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