Household perfection: Don’t try this at home

MPR’s Midmorning focused today on a common complaint: Men aren’t doing their share of the chores around the house.

But before we jump into that, let me point out a Facebook post from Mrs. NewsCut:


But not everyone lives in the heaven-on-earth world that she does, according to today’s program, the genesis of which appears to be last month’s Time Magazine article, “Why Men and Women Should End The Chore Wars.” Trust me, the irony of the title isn’t lost on me.

The article isn’t available online, but a capsule says men and women now have roughly a similar workload, and women should stop pointing fingers at men:

Though it’s still true that women with young children do put in more hours around the house and with the kids, at the same time their husbands are putting more time in at the office (where cutting back hours as a new dad isn’t typically an option). According to the most recent data by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on hours worked by women and men who are married, employed and have kids, the ladies are actually only putting in about 20 minutes more work (paid and unpaid) per day than their husbands. Sure, they’re working more, but it’s not the 15 hours a week difference made famous by The Second Shift, the hugely influential book by Arlie Russell Hochschild.

But a listen to today’s show reveals that the term “household chores” reveals three things: Cleaning, cooking and kids. But is that all there is to running a house?

Last fall, a company released a “Chore Wars study” that might’ve started this latest round of fingerpointing. The company makes cleaning products. The study appeared to define “chores” as “cleaning.” As MSNBC reported:

In fact, 69% of women felt they did most of the work around the house, while 53% of the men disagreed, feeling they worked just as hard as the women when it came to cleaning up.

What about “mowing up?” Or “fixing the car up?” Or “painting the house up?” Or “fixing the snowblower when it’s -10 in the garage up?”

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As long as the list of what makes a household run is skewed, the results are going to be skewed, too. Unquestionably, there is a culture divide in the home that’s at the heart of this, not a helping/not helping divide. Viewed through that prism, men come out looking like uncaring, lazy ooofs. The number of comments to Mrs NewsCut’s Facebook post reminding her how incredibly lucky she is is proof of that.

Curiously, though, when the subject comes up in public discussions like this morning, men are fairly silent.

Check today’s mailbag reacting to the show:

A woman in Owatonna:

Amongst myself and my peers, we still find that between working professionally, raising children and managing a household that we women put in more time. My husband has the best of intentions for equality in cleaning, but just doesn’t enjoy it and its not important to him to have a clean house. I think expectations are important when it comes to the roles of careers, child rearing and chores in the house. We have found that if I leave him a short “honey to do” list and my scaling back on how clean our home has to be that we free up our time to enjoy our life and there is more equality in our relationship.

A woman in Minnetonka:

I think the real challenge is when both spouses work full time. Both my husband and I work at least 50 hours per week. We try to share the home , kid responsibilities but it seems that I am the person responsible for keeping track of what needs to be done (signing up kids for camp, school shopping along with house chores for example) and I have to take the initiative to ask my husband to help. He is great and very willing, but if I don’t ask, he won’t take charge. It can be a source of conflict at times.

A woman in Woodbury:

I am 41, have owned my own business and am now back in corporate America. While owning my own business, I did the bulk of the house work and child care while still working. Since going back into the corporate work force, I continue to do more of the paperwork portion, but my spouse has picked up and is doing more of the laundry, child care(albeit directed by me schedule-wise- I tell him when to pick up kids, and when their appointments are if I am working), and will make simple meals. Again, it’s up to me to get the groceries, etc.

  • Pat McGee

    Where is it written that men do the outside chores? The chore wars will end in my house when hubby decides to do any chores. I do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work, etc.

  • Bob Collins

    And what does he say when you remind him of that?

  • David

    I think we know who works harder at complaining. Just kidding.

    I’m lucky, my wife recognizes the all of the external/outside housework that I do in a week. Also, it helps the we hire a housecleaner to come in once a week and give the house a deep clean.

    It’s costs $45 for three hours and is worth every single penny and maybe more if you count the household harmony that it helps keep.

    I suspect that if two people are both working full time at 50 hours a week and they cannot spare $45 bucks for a housecleaner then they may have bigger issues than who does what chore.

  • Bob Collins

    The guest this morning had an interesting suggestion: Stop with the unreasonable expectations of a clean house. Maybe the vacuuming gets done every two weeks instead of every week, for example.

    Personally, I find Saturday mornings like painting a bridge. It’s starting all over again for no apparent reason. It’s just going to get dirty again, and the only people who are going to see it are me and my wife.

    So why is it important to me? That’s an entirely different show.

  • lucy

    //Personally, I find Saturday mornings like painting a bridge. It’s starting all over again for no apparent reason. It’s just going to get dirty again, and the only people who are going to see it are me and my wife.

    …unless you leave the blinds up and your next-door neighbor is somewhat of a Gladys Krabbitz,

    then everyone knows you haven’t scrubbed your floors and dusted the furniture.

    Or how about that visiting relative who spits up the word- perfect -in every other sentence and insists on literally,photographing the imperfections (things that need to be fixed) on your house. Who is obsessive with countertop wiping. Truly a visit from hell on earth.

    Do people get married so that they have someone to share in the chores? Split the bills? Have children that they spend no time with?

  • jon

    I’m waiting for my roomba to get delivered.

  • Cara

    Is the difference between daily tasks (dishes, cleaning up the kitchen), weekly tasks (laundry, lawn mowing) and occasional or it can be done whenever’ tasks important to this discussion?

  • Bob Collins

    Wait! What? You people clean the dishes and pick up the kitchen… EVERY DAY?

  • Erica

    LOL Bob…WE surely don’t get all the dishes clean and the house spotless everyday around our house! We don’t live in FILTH, but I assure you everything does NOT get back ‘in its place’ near as often as it used to, or maybe as much as I would like.

    I am with the caller who talked about reasonable expectations…I have found that for the sake of my sanity and my marriage, I have had to adjust my expectations in regard to cleaning the house since we had our children (they are young – 2 and 4). And I have found that the sky has not fallen, and that really no one notices the difference between how my house is kept now to how is was kept before children. I have found that there are more important things in life to spend my precious time on than worrying about ALWAYS having a spotless house.

    As to the original issue – I would say I definitely still handle more of the ‘household maintenance’ than my husband, even taking into consideration what he does outside. We both work full time. He is another of those guys that is willing enough to help if I leave him a honey do list, but doesn’t appear to ‘notice’ when things need to be done and just do them. I really wish he would, though!

  • Rick

    The problem of the chore war comes when you look at things as a 50-50 split. What should be done is to look at your household as a business. In my house, both my wife and I work equal amounts of hours at our professional jobs with a salary difference between the two. We look at that as a wash because both work hard during the day.

    From there, the rest of the jobs are broken up as whoever is best suited to do the jobs. I do some of the jobs around the house exclusively because I am better/faster at them and my wife does some of them because she is better/faster at them (most of what I do, she hates doing).

    When you define and make points, there is a winner and a loser, stop keeping track and you will be much happier.

  • Cara

    Rick, you’ve hit the nail on the head. When my now ex-husband and I moved in together I thought everything should be split, carefully, in half. I do dishes even days, he does them odd days etc. Which worked sort of ok until he needed reminding. And needed coaxing. And finally he stopped doing them on *his* days because there were so few, or whatever.

    So I went on strike -two weeks before we moved into our new home. The moving van moved boxes of dirty dishes. Did I say I’m a little stubborn?

    We decided after the move that I could be responsible for the dishes and he could be responsible for the cat box. That sounded like a fair trade at the time, and still does to this day.

    Now that I’m divorced I have to wash the dishes and clean the cat box!

  • Al

    Bob, you set a high bar for us mere mortals! Now my wife is going to realize I could do more. There goes my free time to read your blog. If you’re wondering where I went, check the laundry room.

  • Bob Collins

    OH, great! You just reminded me I need to clean the laundry room and replace the furnace filter. thanks, Al. Thanks a lot, man.