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July 18, 2011

What You Probably Didn't Mean when You Said "I Do"

Maybe it's because I'm the youngest in my family that the institution of marriage in the way I've observed it seems a little over-rated especially when it comes to the amount of work that gets divided up between men and women. As the baby, I didn't have to do too much in the way of making meals or looking after anyone else. As a result, (and I acknowledge that this is both good and bad) being responsible for others definitely hasn't been one of my life's issues.

It does surprise me a little when I hear stories or see women who continue to do it all, still!  And, yes, I realize that there are men who find themselves in this situation, but there are a lot fewer of them.

Getting back to the mom-slaves, they typically have a full-time job. They do the cooking. They do the grocery shopping. They load the dishwasher.  They empty the dishwasher. They raise the kids. They taxi the kids. They talk to the teacher at parent/teacher meetings. They clean the bathroom. They decorate (or not) the house. They are the ones to handle the emotional melt downs. And, most significantly, they are basically "on top" of things and pay attention in ways that their husbands do not.

I've always wondered why one would sign up for that? I mean just imagine if someone handed you a contract  before you took a job and they said, You won't mind doing 80% of the work for less pay than the rest of us do you? Just sign here. Right here! Oh, and did we mention that you're also on call 24/7? In 20 years or so you could take a break every now and then.

Have you ever wondered what it might be like if the tables were turned? What if, as a female, when your husband/partner was off on a business trip for a few days, you just left all the dishes you'd ever used in that time on the counter and in the sink and when he returned and he had a little melt down, you'd turn to him and say, "What's with you?" I'll do them!

Imagine having to figure out what to feed people every single night and then clean up as well when you've got 2-4 other able bodied people in the house?

Or, maybe you'd like to try this out.  When you're about to go on a trip wait for your husband to pack everything, the night before, and as he tries to remember everything in a last minute packing frenzy and starts frantically firing questions at you, you don't bother to get up from your chair in the other room. You just half listen and then respond indignantly because hey, offense is the best defence, by saying, "I don't know where my jeans are? Why don't you know? You just washed them didn't you?"

 Imagine if when your mother came to visit, you just made yourself as scarce as possible so that your husband would be left to entertain her and listen to her while you just kept on about your week as if she wasn't visiting at all.

I grew up in an ultra traditional family and I have a fraternal twin brother. I set the table and did the dishes. He cut the grass, sometimes and with a lot of nagging, he took out the garbage. But, that was 40 years ago.

I honestly believe that there is no greater way to turn girls off marriage than to have them grow up witnessing the division of labour in a traditional marriage.

My father worked as an electrician and  I know he worked hard. But, I think my mother worked a lot harder. She did everything else, including dealing or not dealing with all the emotional crap that hits the fan in your average family. At a certain point, she even added a part-time job and I remember how we all hated that at first. How dare she work for someone else taking precious time away from our needs?  The moral of this story is that it's best to start being less competent as a mother when your charges are young before they are lulled into a delusional sense of being princesses or prodigal sons.

I'm not saying that marriage or any other relationship is ever going to be 50/50. It doesn't work that way and it shouldn't and when you get to a point of observing in detail what you aren't getting then things aren't working in a much bigger way.

On Saturday, I had this refreshing conversation with a male acquaintance. He had his sister's 9 month old baby in a snuggly against him. She was visiting him from the Lower Mainland where she had left a second toddler at home with her husband. This acquaintance was saying how he didn't have much use for his sister's husband because he didn't really do anything in the house or much with the kids and as a brotherly observer it was really bugging him.

"But what would make that change?" I asked, knowing that nagging doesn't work and the only thing she can do is change her own behaviour or figure out a way to map out duties in a very literal and directed manner.

I don't necessarily agree with his answer but I liked it. It was so exquisitely simplistic in the way that men often think.

"You punch him," he said. "That's what you do." "You punch him."

He was only partly joking!

(PS: Don't try this at home. I do not condone domestic violence. I do condone people recognizing that the person whose behaviour they must change to see change is their own.)

If you've got any tips for ensuring you don't become the overachieving headmistress of everyone's domain, maybe you'd like to share them here by leaving a comment.


cb55 said...

Hey Gayle...great thoughts!!

Life.....on Friday as I struggled to pack EVERYONE's crap for our trip to Whistler...at the last minute.....all set to go..I dropped a coke can on the tile and it exploded! An hour later I was on my way...:-(

This is what happens when I rush...it causes other problems...along with a bit of resentment!!

Gayle Mavor said...

Well, Alice, hope you had a great time once you finally arrived in Whistler. Have a good summer. Take it easy!