I had a fascinating discussion with a friend recently about an article she reposted. While it purports to be about how men and women are still not doing the same amount of housework, etc., the part that really stood out to me was this:
A dad in San Francisco said that many of the tasks of parenting weren’t important enough to remember: “I just don’t think these things are worth attending to. A certain percentage of parental involvement that my wife does, I would see as valuable but unnecessary. A lot of disparity in our participation is that.”
It caught my eye because it immediately made me think of another quote that I had on my fridge for the longest time:
There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.
That quote is by Peter Drucker, a well-known author and educator on the subject of time and energy management in professional spheres. Now, this is not to say that mainstream management philosophies necessarily apply when creating a happy home life, but also don’t necessarily not apply. Plenty of the strategies we use to combat overwhelm and focus on the key tasks/priorities at work can be equally valuable at home.
In this specific case, I feel like these two quotes beg some fascinating questions.
- What kinds of work/tasks are women doing and men avoiding because they have different ideas about the value associated with it/them?
- Where do the differences in perspective come from? Are they personality-based? Are they societally-based? (e.g.
“you’re a bad wife/mother if x isn’t happening in your house” where no similar judgement sits on men)
- How many couples experiencing these disparities have ever sat down and talked through them? Not argued or thrown blame, but genuinely discussed what matters to them and why a given task doesn’t matter equally.
I’d love to know more about this because I suspect that there’s a lot of blame being tossed around for what really comes down to:
- Spouses being raised with different expectations that they’ve never really sat down and made their own decisions about
- Spouses simply having different personal priorities (such as the fact that my husband is very diligent about dusting and, while I have no problem cleaning in general, dusting simply doesn’t occur to me)
- Men and women being held to different societal standards without any real understanding of how those standards differ and the lived experience of shouldering those expectations
It makes me infinitely sad that most mainstream media discussions of this topic default to casting blame and wailing about inequality instead of prompting people to ask these kinds of questions and have these discussions within their marriages.
How much good could we accomplish and how much quality of life could we gain if, instead of casting blame and teaching people to expect strife around division of labor, we taught them to make informed, cohesive decisions about what matters to them? How much stronger would marriages be if we taught people to expect these kinds of situations and how to productively address them?
At base, the important point every time we see an article like this is to take what we read with a bucket or so of salt and try to ask useful, productive questions of ourselves and within our own relationships — because that is where real and valuable change happens, when it needs to.