Tag Archives: chores

Domestic Labour 101 for Kids

As a feminist parent, I’ve thought a lot about gendered role models, what I’m teaching my boys about women, the effect of the current political climate on gender issues, and domestic labour issues. Recently, I had an interaction with my barely-four-year-old that smacked me in the face with the need to start re-framing the way we do domestic labour in our house – and it’s not, I was surprised to realize, through hammering in explicit ideas of equality.

I asked A a simple question: “Can you pick up your toothbrush?” It was on the floor of the bathroom.

He responded equally as simply: “Oh, no, Mommy – Daddy actually knocked that over. And you always say, ‘If you make the mess, you clean it up,’ right?”

I paused. I do always say that – when I want him to clean up a mess instead of expecting me or his dad to do it for him. I don’t want to raise no boys to men who don’t understand that they are responsible for their own actions!

At the same time, I realized instantly that I’m contributing to a very patriarchal ideology here: every-man-for-himself, avoidance-based individuality.

In this very small pause, I understood intuitively that if I really want to raise my boys to be equal partners with another human someday, I need to teach them not just equality, but community and nurturance. I need to teach them not just accountability, but helpfulness and generosity of spirit.

“You’re right,” I said. “I do say that. And now I think you’re old enough for me to explain to you that three different things are all true at the same time in our house,” and I explained to him the following rules, which my beloved and I have since talked about and agree that we want our kids to internalize as part of the fabric of our family:

of earth

So much of what I’ve seen of domestic labour organization and rules, both in my own life and in the stories I’ve heard from others over the years, comes from such a place of negativity or avoidance. We emphasize personal accountability for one’s own things in order to avoid someone else having more than ‘their share’ to do. We emphasize cleaning up a mess you made to reinforce warnings about undesirable behaviour and instill a sense that you are ultimately responsible for your own actions. We focus on division of tasks in an effort to make things ‘fair’, only to find that people become attuned to doing the bare minimum required. We use rewards and allowances with kids to inject some positivity into ‘chores,’ unintentionally perpetuating the dichotomy that work/helping = necessary evil, leisure/no responsibility = ideal end.

What bothers me most is that using these methods operates from an assumption that in our families and close communities, we will be taken advantage of, and we will be unfairly burdened with ‘someone else’s’ mess or consequences if labour is left unchecked; and that the ultimate goal of human life is to avoid effort and work – especially work we don’t deserve.

I’m trying to start from scratch. I’m hoping I can begin instead from a place where we’re all in it together, where we’ll all help whenever someone else is working on something, and where we understand that together, our efforts knit the beautiful fabric of our home and our life. If each member of our family follows all three rules, there will be less work and stress for all of us, and we’ll all feel supported.

If someone’s going to be a jerk about it, take advantage of others, or shirk responsibility, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, and my attention to that will, likely, be swift and relentless (I have zero patience for that shit!). But in the meantime, I’m going to assume the best, and try to teach my boys a way of life that I hope will serve us all well.

Since I’m new to this, anyone else have some strategies, framings, or words you use with your kiddos in this light? I’d love to hear them!

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Everyone Needs a Little F*** Off Time

We’re trying something new in our house: Fuck Off Time. (Granted, we have to avoid saying its name it front of our toddler, who has dropped a couple of proper-context F-bombs in the last week or so. Oops. Cue the judgment here, I guess).

I mentioned in a recent post that my partner and I both feel every day like we’re “on duty” from the minute we wake up until the minute the kids are in bed. Yes, he gets the ride to and from work by himself, plus his break at work, and I get the time when our baby is napping ‘to myself’. But we both know, as workers, that a commute doesn’t really count as “off” time, and we know as parents that neither does a child’s nap, since it can end at any moment and you’re still “on duty.” No, we were both craving some true off duty time. Time when we were not in charge of anyone and had no obligations. In short, time when we could Fuck Off and do what we wanted. Essentially, the kind of time we used to have in abundance (but which we never truly appreciated!) before we had kids.

Sounds glorious, doesn’t it?

We took a look at our daily routine and determined there was only one time where it would really even be possible for one of us to Fuck Off: dinner prep time. This would mean that one person would have to handle double-kid-duty and dinner prep each night so the other person could Fuck Off, and we would alternate. As parents who had fallen generally into a 1:1 parent-to-kid system of childcare since our second son was born, this seemed pretty ambitious. I should mention that of late, dinner prep time often coincides with a feeding for R and whining/tantrumming from A. We decided to try it for a week and see if it was possible, or if it was just too much.

The rules of Fuck Off Time are simple:

  • One person makes dinner and cares for both kids at the same time.
  • The other person Fucks Off and has zero obligation to get anything productive done, but they can if they want to (like actually want to – note the italicized, bolded bits there).
  • If someone (ie: me) has to feed R during her Fuck Off time, she can do so in the basement watching something on Netflix, and then return R to Dad.
  • If we eat somewhere else or if Fuck Off time is not possible on a given day, we simply pause the alternating and pick up the next day where we left off.

I’m happy to report it has been two weeks and so far it is the Best. Thing. We. Have. Done. At least in a while. Here are a few reasons why it is awesome:

1. It teaches our kids about daily life and getting things done.

With our usual 1:1 approach, there’s almost always a parent available to play. With Fuck Off Time, our kiddos have to entertain themselves a bit more. Our toddler, A, can choose to play by himself or help with dinner. I’ve been impressed with how helpful a two-year-old can be in the kitchen, and when he plays by himself, I love listening to his dramatically narrated stories about train crashes and “Who can help?!”, especially when he makes the trains say “Thank you” to each other (I’m hoping this unprompted politeness balances out those F-bombs?). 20170116_172726-1

9-month-old R is making friends with his pack ‘n play (I only recently discovered that parents of yore used this invention for, you know, PLAY, and not just sleeping away from home). He simultaneously learns to be okay with being alone for a short time, and also gets an opportunity to play with his toys without A taking them away when they look like too much fun.

I want my kids to learn that everyone – even mom and dad! – needs time to do what they like, and that sometimes, they have to be okay with not being the centre of attention because shit just needs to get done. I feel like Fuck Off Time gives them a little, manageable dose of that every day.

2. My on-duty time gets a fresh sense of purpose.

Dinner prep used to be one of my least favourite times of day. I’d procrastinate, avoid thinking about it, and way too often, I’d get to 5pm and go, “oh, crap! what’s for dinner?” It was rushed, haphazard, and just generally sucked. Now I know when “my day” is on, and I get kind of pumped about planning what we’ll have (with a picky eater, a toddler, a vegetarian, and allergies to nuts, dairy, and various fruits/veggies at our table, it’s sometimes a fair challenge to be varied enough for interest and make sure there’s something on the table everyone can/will eat). Sometimes I do some prep in the afternoon, and I try to think of a fun activity A hasn’t gotten out in awhile to suggest for him for while I’m cooking.

I get to feel a bit like super-mom every other day for successfully taking care of two kids and cooking at the same time (I know, I don’t have super high standards, but the kitchen isn’t my forte, okay?).

3. My partner and I each get to give each other a much-needed gift a few times a week.

The On Duty person gets to give their partner the gift of the ultimate luxury: saying,”I got this; you can go Fuck Off,” with a big smile. Fuck Off Time all to oneself… seriously, is there anything more romantic one parent can give the other? The lucky parent then gets to return from this blissful time to a thoughtfully-made meal (and some days, copious amounts of hummus, cheese, fresh veggies, and bread totally counts as a meal, by the way, at least in my house).

The Fucking Off partner gets to give the gift of true appreciation for what their co-parent is doing. It’s harder to see the work your partner’s doing when you both feel like it’s all-hands-on-deck and you’re both run down. The sincerely grateful “thanks for making dinner, honey; this looks great!” that now gets offered on a daily basis in our house is completely lovely.

4. I sometimes CHOOSE productivity, and am TRULY happy about it!

In the last two weeks, I finally bought clear plastic bins to put excess toys in, I reorganized our toy room and reduced the number of toys that are out at a time, decluttered our bathroom, stacked firewood in our backyard, and drove around delivering some things we’re done with to friends who want them next.

The biggest difference in how I felt during these tasks was that I didn’t feel rushed or tense through them: the time was actually MINE, and I didn’t have any of my usual mom-guilt about not being “on duty,” because I wasn’t supposed to be. Fuck Off Time = relaxing, even if I’m doing something productive.

5. I get to feel glamourous and/or lazy in the middle of the day!

Watching Netflix and browsing rugs on Pinterest while someone else makes my dinner? Reading my book and drinking hot chocolate while someone else handles that whining? Showering at my own pace AND drying my hair right afterward? Luxury, I tell you! There are all sorts of possibilities for this time… colouring, yoga, working out, writing… and when the weather gets nice again??? A short bike ride, a walk, napping in my backyard under the leafy maples, going to my friend’s house for a quick dip in her new pool (*wink wink, you know who you are, nudge nudge*)… My dreams are endless and the future is bright.

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6. Fucking Off makes us better parents when we come back.

Instead of being simply worn down by the time we get to bath/bed, at least one of us is always a little refreshed. We have a renewed patience, interest, and calm to share with our kids as we play, sing, read stories, and get ready for sleep, and I think they can sense the reduced stress in the air at this time, which makes everyone happier.

An important note on comparison: Don’t! I believe this is absolutely essential for Fuck Off Time. And it’s pretty easy to be tempted. Like on Friday, when I’d spent the day with little R and some fellow mom friends while my husband had a grinding day at work, but it was my turn to Fuck Off (yes, it was the BEST day). Or on Saturday when I’d been woken up by babes many times the night before, but my husband got to go for a relaxing RMT appointment in the afternoon, and it was still my night on duty. The Fuck Off time can’t be in any way conditional on “who got what” already today, or yesterday, or last week. It’s either a free gift to each other or it isn’t. If it comes with strings attached or any guilt at all, it’s no good.

I also have to make a huge disclaimer and acknowledgment here that I know I am supremely lucky. My partner and I are in a position right now where we’re both usually home before dinner prep time even starts; I know many parents don’t have this luxury. People work night shifts or irregular shifts or long hours. They have other commitments that keep them busy or away from the home. They have kids with unique needs or situations where independent play without adult assistance is much harder to achieve. And I know that my own luck won’t last forever. Pretty soon, I’ll be heading back to work and things will change in a big way. R might not tolerate being away from me for even a second when I get home from work at, the earliest, 5pm. I simply won’t be able to do any prep for dinner in the afternoons, and will have to think of things further in advance. There will certainly be a lot of house tasks that just haven’t gotten done during the day, which will be nagging for my attention and pushing my buttons. As our kids get older, there will be after-school lessons, carpooling, and homework to juggle, too.

But I hope knowing how good this has been, we’ll continue to find space somewhere in our lives for Fucking Off. Even if it’s only once a week, or a few times a month. Because it’s just too good to not try for.

With Love & Respect, “Get That Shit Out of My Way,” She Said

This morning a dear friend shared this article by Scary Mommy with me, called “Why I’m Done Asking My Husband To Help Me Out.” As I read it, internal bells ringing Yeah! and Exactly! went off more than a few times. This is something I’ve discussed with my mom, my sister, my husband and I’m pretty sure more than one girlfriend, but Scary Mommy sums it up well, with excellent reasons why specifically not to ask your partner to “help you out” or “do you a favour” when what you’re really looking is for some good-new-fashioned partnership participation. She explains that by taking the asking-a-favour route, a woman a) diminishes her partner’s value, b) puts undue responsibility on herself, c) sets an unwanted example for her kids, and d) diminishes the partnership itself. If you’re like me (female in a hetero relationship), I’d wager there’s a fairly good chance it might resonate with you, too – so give it a read!

equal housework
Should she have needed to ask for ‘help’ to make this happen? (Source: healthland.time.com)

(I should note first that there is a time when I think the asking for ‘help’ approach is apt – namely, when my partner and I have clearly determined that x job is mine or his, and we want help with that particular job. So in our house, if he asks for help with gathering garbage for collection day, or if I ask for help with folding laundry, for example.)

I’m always interested in the “why do we do this?” part of any social question, so naturally, my brain went to, “Why the hell am I still doing this?” I’ve thought about this for years. I often correct myself in the moment when speaking to my husband – “Can you do me a – actually, no, wait, not a favour, can you just do this?” Yet I still find myself phrasing requests for him to do his share as requests for ‘help,’ I think for two main reasons:

1. I’ve internalized the overwhelming fear of being a ‘nag.’ 

Among the things our culture encourages women to stress about in their domestic life, fear of being a ‘nag’ is pretty high on that list. So no wonder we ask for ‘help’ instead of reminding our partner that they didn’t clean up their own coat/socks/papers/plate again. Asking for ‘help’ lets me seem more sweet, feminine, and likable – definitely the opposite of a nag – and increases the likelihood of a positive response, because my partner gets to feel like he’s doing something great and gets a gold star for going above and beyond, so everybody’s happy… right? Except… not. Because I’m still left holding the bag of responsibility for all things domestic, and I never really get to respect myself as a feminist who asserts her desire for equality in household management. I end up catering to fear and shame instead of self-respect, when I really dig down to the heart of it. Which brings me to reason #2:

2. On some level, I’ve internalized the idea that domestic work really is my responsibility as the woman in the partnership.

As much as I try to deny it, I think this nugget is still there. Sure, I’ve attempted to justify and couch it in enlightened, post-feminism rhetoric about how my partner and I simply have different personalities, and I simply care more about cleanliness/organization, so it’s not a sexist thing, it makes sense that I’m inclined to do more, and yadda yadda yadda. And there may be some truth to that – some. But it’s also very likely that we’ve each been, at least to some extent, socialized to have these personalities and tendencies to care more or less about domestic tasks/management. So am I happy to just accept that the socialization has happened and live out my life that way? Not really. Do I want to contribute to socializing my kids according to this status quo? Not if I can help it. These are not glamorous labours, nor ones that society really places a lot of value on, and I think if I was a man, I certainly wouldn’t be motivated to learn to take more initiative on these things. But at the end of the day, clothes need picked up because we each eventually need clean clothes to wear, so whose job should it be to make sure each item of clothing ends up in the laundry bin? Probably the person who was wearing that item of clothing. At the end of the day, dinner needs cleaned up because eventually we’ll need clean dishes to use, and we want to avoid bug infestations or health hazards of rotting food all over house, so whose job should it be to make sure that dishes get picked up and leftover food goes in the garbage or back in the fridge? Probably anyone who ever needs dishes or dislikes bug infestations. Again, asking for ‘help’ with these tasks reinforces a socialization I don’t like, instead of presenting myself as an equal partner in my home.

I want to act out of love and respect for the equal partnership my beloved and I have been building for fourteen years. So if love and respect means creating an environment where it’s sometimes okay to say, to borrow Scary Mommy’s words, “Get your shit out of my way,” well then, I guess that’s what we’ll do.

 

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