Dear exhausted women – stop asking for help(!!)

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I know this is the exact opposite of how I normally speak but here’s the thing: when it comes to parenting and housework,  I’d really love women to stop asking for help!

Whaaaaat!!!???! Isn’t this the best way to lose one’s mind and a totally assured path to mental breakdown and burn out?

        Painting by Beata Dagiel
If you're a woman and feeling like you do more than your fair share of housework, then this piece might just be for you. #putthekettleon #relationships #boundaries #teachpeoplehowtotreatyou #housework share with a fellow housework-hater

Well, yes, it is. Normally. So allow me to explain my mad utterings:

Every week,  I sit and bear witness to women (yes, not exclusively women!) who are exhausted, hurt, overwhelmed.  “Why?!” they ask  – why don’t their partners help out at home more?

Don’t they care?

Don’t they see??

“They should ask for more help!” you might say. But you see, they’ve asked and asked for help. Maybe you can relate? They’ve told them calmly and reasonably that they need help. They’ve broken down dramatically, raging, exhausted, told them they might leave, asked them are they f&*%$ing blind?? (That’s flipping – note the amount or characters, I wouldn’t curse here…)

And no, their partners are not blind. They’re not deaf either – and here’s what they hear – loud and clear:

“This house stuff? It’s all my job. I’m in charge, I do it right. I’ll take care of it ultimately, but I’d like occasional help. Underneath it all I don’t believe it’s your responsibility, I don’t even believe it’s our responsibility, I believe it’s mine. My job, with which I’d like a little help every now and then. So if you could offer it without being asked that would be just awesome and lovely.”

Housework, parenting, domestic chores, sheer drudgery – call it what you will – is something that triggers a lot of arguments in couples. But are the arguments really about housework? Or might they be about what that housework represents?

We know that women, even women in full time work still do more housework than men. We know that both men and women overestimate how much time they spend on housework. We know that men who do more housework than their male peers enjoy healthier sex lives.

I searched for a photo of “man doing housework” but couldn’t find any free ones – they were all of women…

Isn’t that interesting? Tabloid reaction to that research posited of course that these men were rewarded for doing the housework with a dose of sex.

#rollseyes

But that’s still tabloids for you – they live in a dichotomous world where sex is something that women give to men and withdraw from their child-husbands if they are “bold”. It’s an outdated, sexist but sadly a lingering position…

But really, it’s far more likely that those men are in relationships where there is less of an assumption that “housework = women’s work”.

Those men believe in responsibility and equality. And that’s sexy. Very, very sexy.

This is a random photo of how happy Gabriel was while offering to do his share of the toilet cleaning in my house. (Credit unknown)

But seriously, how do we change?

Here’s one of my favourite phrases and I use it a lot – “everything we do and say teaches those around us how to treat us”.

By being aware of the language we use around housework we will likely find clues that will explain why we are doing too much, more than feels fair.

So if we say – “Can you help me clean this room?” they hear “Cleaning this room is my job, can you lend me some assistance with my job? But I will do most of it even though I’ve been at work all day and I have my period and I really just want to lie down and die while my insides pour out in an agonising pool of pain? Because I am super capable and I’ve got this.”

Instead we could lose the word “help”.

Have you found yourself saying “He/she’s great to help with the kids/around the house/ with the shopping”? Is your co-parent a co-parent or a babysitter? What are you inadvertently teaching them by speaking about them this way?

Might they even find it hurtful, dismissive or offensive?

So I’m thinking about a conversation that goes something like – “From now on, I’m not going to ask you to help with the house because it’s your house too. You eat too, you use the dishes and they are our kids, not my kids. And they need and love us both equally.” Changing the vocabulary we use has real effects. When we consistently use words like “turn” or “share” or “half”, we are teaching the people (and kids) around us that we perceive this “chore” from now on as a “shared responsibility”. We are teaching that what we want, expect and deserve is a partner, not a helper.

And incidentally, this is when sex gets better, because connection improves, because both parties feel valued.  Research proves it! All good.

Warning!

Health warnings:

1 – This might mean that things may not get done the way you would do them. That presents us with an interesting choice: which is preferable – having a super shiny floor that’s been done with the “correct” cleaner? Or having a clean enough floor and ten minutes of feet up with a coffee?

Your choice. Sharing responsibility means sharing control.

2 – And this might also mean a renegotiation. Chores might be traded. There may be some things you actually enjoy doing and so you can both figure out what jobs are liked and what jobs that are hated. Every couple is different.

3 – And this might, initially probably will, mean mess. If you give in, take over and groan that if you don’t do it no-one will, then you will end up doing it.

FOR SURE. And forEVER.

So there may be a period where things don’t get done. And that lesson will be taught and learned through natural consequences (like no clean clothes for work, no dinner, no clean dishes). They are not disasters and unless you live with someone who is completely unreasonable things will change for the better.

If they don’t, then there may be other issues. Please know that even if you’ve been avoiding these issues for years there is still help available. Help to keep you in there, or help to get you out.

But that’s for another day.

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