Here’s a hat tip to blue milk, who clued me into a great discussion regarding the nuances of husbands “helping” with the housework, versus just plain owning it. My Hubby owns a few chores around the house, because there is no way I’m touching: his bathroom, the vacuuming, ironing, cleaning the outside windows. They are his. He can keep them. Go ahead, have fun and do them whenever you feel like it.
When I ask for help though with the ambiguous chores (not the ones that I own like laundry, dusting or cooking, or baby related chores, because he’s really good at that bit), we both get grumpy and argue until we’re blue in the face. Said chore is FINALLY done with some tantrumming thrown in for good measure.
But I’ve been thinking recently about housework as a source of power.
My ire goes straight through the roof when Hubby touches the laundry. It’s mine. You’re going to mess it up. You’re going to ruin my clothes or shrink the baby’s clothes. Please… put the detergent down.
But what does that say about my role in the gender politics of housework? We’re equal partners in this, and yet I have difficulty letting go of my control and feel like I’ve lost power within our dynamic as a working couple when Hubby does the bloody laundry.
I’ve learned to let go of the same power struggle when my mom comes over to care for Eryn. At first I’d hover over each diaper change and bath. She was doing it wrong, too slow, without gusto, too much gusto, too much overstimulation, not enough Vaseline. But once when I budged her out of the way to finish a change when Eryn was having a complete meltdown, I recognized that I was being an overprotective, controlling mom and that I should let Omi have her share of poopy.
Recently, my family’s house maid has asked me to stop helping her.
At first I thought she was just being all, “oh K, you’re on vaccation. Relax. I can do that for you.” But now I realize it’s more, “no really. Stop it. This is MY JOB and I own it. I actually enjoy doing it. I like the family I’m with and don’t want to mess that up. You might do it wrong, which will be noticed and blammed on me. Your help might illustrate that I’m really not needed, which will screw me out of a job, and I NEED to send this money home to my mother and my 9 year old son. Your help is not helping. Leave it.”
She didn’t quite say that, as there’s a language barrier. It was more like, “K! No. I do. Leave it.” Said again, and again. Once intensely with a hushed voice and piercing eyes.
I got the message.
I’m just not used to being waited upon hand and foot, and now that Eryn is here with us, tearing the house apart that wouldn’t normally be destroyed and throwing food that wouldn’t normally be thrown and peeing on beds that aren’t normally peed upon, I just thought it was nice for me to clean up a bit after my 10 month old.
It’s no big deal for me to make the bed (it actually makes me feel complete in the morning. Like brushing teeth. Teeth are clean, bed is made, all is well in the world even if Cheerios exploded in the kitchen), it’s no big deal to rinse out Eryn’s jammies, it’s no big deal to wipe the floor after a meal.
Perhaps in some first world misappropriation of a third world reality, she doesn’t need my help and my help hinders. This is a paid task. She has been hired to own the housework. Her duties have been laid out by the family and according to their tastes and expectations.
But at the same time, her power and territory is IN the housework. It’s knowing the dirty laundry of the family (literally). If there were something going on, she’d be the first to know about it. Her power is in preparring the food and sir’s tea, perhaps better than madam can prepare it. Her power is expressed by how she has organized the house and in anticipating the needs of her family. Her power is in knowing that she is needed by this family and when she goes home for a month, it all falls apart. Her power is illustrated when madam cannot run the house without her. Her power has made her a valued member of this family, even if she is simply hired to do the housework.