My husband and I share the domestic workload pretty well. Sometimes, he shoulders a lot more of the work than I do- the joys of living with a shift worker who might be home but is in no fit state to hang out washing or operate machinery.

Compared to some I’ve met, he does an awful lot of the unpaid work that many men still expect of their female partners. Not too shabby in the equitable household stakes at all. But still, there are some small things I feel like I’m always left with.

The Experiment.

The thing I loathe most is vacuuming. It’s heavy work and my back protests quite loudly whenever I attempt it. The ground floor of my house is mostly tiled but even sweeping is a pain. Literally. So I decided I would just stop. No sweeping and certainly no mopping. I wondered how long it would take for someone else to do it. Not only is there a grown man in my house, but there are 3 teenage children.

Surely someone would notice the appalling state of the floor and do something about it? I even bought a new mop and displayed it in a prominent position. Enticing, no?

woman flipping hair saying no- you should have asked

Apparently not.

The Outcome.

The floor was fucking filthy. Fluff, crumbs, errant Cheerios, dried drips of beverages and sauces I could no longer identify. A CSI team would have been horrified to learn they’d have been able to identify every meal and snack prepared in my kitchen over a two week period. The splatters had crumbs dried into them. A small colony of ants took it as an open invitation and moved on in. I cracked.  There was furious sweeping followed by a bucket with hot water and the most toxic floor cleaning crap I could find to kill all the germs. I scrubbed that cess-pit of a floor with my new mop so hard that I almost bent the handle.

cartoon woman mopping furiously- you should have asked

The love of my life walked in and saw me. He asked what I was doing, because apparently it wasn’t blindingly obvious.

The Response.

“Mopping the fucking floor because no one else will do it!” was my reply. He obligingly got out of my way. His sense of self-preservation is beyond reproach. I then explained my experiment and, rather than taking offense or worse, attempting to defend himself, he said this:

“Why didn’t you just say so?”

screensot of article giving 5 reasons why men should help wives at housework- you should have asked

Apply this to older kids regarding their mums, as well. Source: Dum Spiro Spero/ Tumblr

This is where my draft ended on April 23rd, 2017.

I couldn’t put my finger on the problem or the solution. It was a problem, but one I couldn’t articulate. So I stopped writing, in favour of pondering.

You should have asked.

Then I read the viral comic called “You Should Have Asked” and saw the responses from women I know and women they know. The social media pages that shared it and the resulting comments from total strangers who so strongly identified with it. I trawled various forums to see other responses. 

What I read made my thoughts about my floor experiment fall into place, however uncomfortably. To an extent, I manage a lot of the household. We have 3 teenage kids who will happily ignore their set chores unless nagged repeatedly reminded (constantly), often by me.

Other women shoulder much more, if not all, of the mental and physical burden of household management.

Women who have asked for help, to no avail. Even in homes where both of them work, some men refuse to share the load. There are men who still cling to the ideology that women are meant to cook, clean and care for the family. Who believe it’s not their responsibility, either mentally or physically, to contribute

I have known grown men with families who have never changed a nappy or cleaned a shower in their lives. These men are not as uncommon as I’d have thought, judging by the accounts I have read.

We shouldn’t have to ask.

The management of a household shouldn’t fall to one person in the family or relationship, regardless of gender or upbringing. It’s true that many people grew up in homes where Mum shouldered that burden, but does that mean we have to continue it? It’s not like gender inequalities aren’t spoken about in the media or anywhere else. There is probably more awareness around these issues than ever. The work associated with running a home and caring for a family is not only grossly undervalued but also still viewed as the domain of women. And that contribution to our society is barely valued at all.

When women stay at home to care for children, they often take on even more of the management and physical work in the home. They may return to paid employment and find that that burden never shifts back to where it was, let alone to somewhere approaching fair or equal. “You Should Have Asked” highlights the problem, but what can we do about it?

A conversation.

So, what do you do? Sometimes, we aren’t fully conscious of our behaviour or the benefits we reap from our culture until we are made aware of it. I think this is no exception and why there is room for a conversation to be had. If you are shouldering the mental load, as well as the physical, for the management of your household, you can say something. There’s nothing wrong with an agreement on the division of labour. You could sit down together and make a list of what you actually take responsibility for. I mean everything, from mopping to paying bills.

man in suit saying this conversation has taken an unfortunate turn- you should have asked

“Honey, I’d like you to know exactly what I do in terms of managing the house and then to share that burden, ok?” *lists all the things*

This may well be eye-opening for your partner. From there you can divide it up. Include kids when they are old enough to take on some chores- they’re part of the family, too and they need to know how to run a home.  They don’t have to plan things or pay bills but will it hurt them to do the dishes or fold laundry? No! In fact, they (and their future partners) will thank you for not sending them out into the world with no skills to look after themselves.

The problem.

I can imagine a lot of rolled eyes and thoughts of “yeah, right, like that will work!” How many of us are thinking their partner and/or kids might even agree and stick to it… for a week or two? How many think they wouldn’t even get that far? 

woman rolling her eyes in disbelief - you should have asked

If you tell your partner that the burden is stressful, that you are managing more than your share and that you need them to co-manage with you, in theory, they should listen. Disregarding what you are telling them you need is kind of awful.

A solution?

I asked around, to see if I could find someone that didn’t strongly identify with the comic “You Should Have Asked”. I wanted to see how they’d achieved a good balance or whether labour had always been equally divided in their relationships. Most of the responses I got were from women who said they didn’t actually know anyone in that boat. Very few said otherwise, though one friend remarked that dividing it up equally just makes sense. And it does. But as we can see from the world around us, making sense often isn’t enough and can be subjective.

There isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all solution for each unique set of circumstances. I found this suggestion on Reddit and I like it a lot. It’s close to what we already do in my home. In a nutshell, it’s achievable for us. I know other households where things are less balanced and I think it would need a firm commitment from both parties to put this into practice. If it’s one-sided, you end up back where you started from.

Both parties need to be aware of what needs to be done and able to communicate well. By good communication, I don’t mean going back to the constant asking, but more like the example given in the Reddit post. If you’re really over doing something, let your partner know. Listen when they do the same. It requires both partners to be empathetic and committed to the happiness of the other partner. To be considerate, thoughtful and mindful.

Do you shoulder most of the mental and/or physical load in your family? Or have you got a good balance? 

Like it? Share it!
  • Sigh…this was one of our problems. Just one though among others. He would do the cleaning but I always had to ask. Or remind. Or set up a roster. And while cleanliness standards were different, it was still frustrating. I loved the comic when I read it last week and identified really well with it.

  • Yep! My hubby will do things if I ask, but I usually have to ask. Not sure how he’d go with “anticipating each other’s needs”. He’s not good a subtlety – you have to speak up and hit him right between the eyes, then he just says, “OK” !! #TeamLovinLife

  • LydiaCLee

    We have a cleaner because I’m not good at the cleaning part. However, I do all the mental stuff, all the kid stuff, and most of the dog stuff (which as I didn’t want the dog is totally pissing me off). Partner is beginning to pick up the dog stuff (literally – bahahaha) and I think he misses a lot of what’s going on with the kids, and then complains about it when I tell him. Like a kid is going to stroll in and tell you their inner stuff at a convenient time??? I’ve spent years trying to drum this in…you have to make shared experience, spend time one on one in the car, make those moments count!

    • LydiaCLee

      That said, he does all the money stuff – the money earning stuff. I pay most of the bills and do the books. If we lived off my income, we would have died a long time ago….

  • Kathy Marris

    Oh yeah! “You should have asked” definitely applies in our household. We are a semi-retired couple with kids not living at home and I still do the majority of housework and cooking even though we both work similar hours. I doubt whether my husband has ever cleaned a bathroom or toilet in his life! He does however clean floors, but only when asked to do so. It is so frustrating! When our kids lived at home we tried the sharing chores thing for a while and it lasted 2 weeks max. It’s a generational thing I believe. We are baby boomers and accordingly that is what women did – take on all of the household chores, cooking, shopping and childminding. I believe the next generation are a lot better thank God! #TeamLovinLife

  • I’m in the it’s even camp. But this has been a really good discussion because I did struggle to understand how it was for others at first.

  • Love the floor experiment. I am constantly asking my husband “Did you even see/notice that!?” In reference to mess around the house!

  • I live alone so don’t have to worry about it, but really like LeafyQ’s approach re anticipating each other’s needs. I suspect you can over-compensate or try to over-please but I think doing something that others will appreciate is certainly something I can do more of!

  • We have a pretty good balance on the housework load of things (in fact, my husband is bloody awesome at doing his share!) but the mental load falls on my shoulders just through my being the responsible organised one! If I died my husband would (quite literally!) be completely screwed. In fact, I don’t think he even knows who we use for our utilities and he has no idea how to sign into online banking!

  • I probably do more than the hubster, purely because I am here more. However, he does take the responsibility for the grocery shopping and the vacuuming as I hate the shopping, and can’t do the vacuuming because it really upsets the bursitis in my shoulder. I do get tired of the constant and often thankless task of kitchen clean up though!

  • My husband has an amazing work ethic – not so much a 9-5 day job type work ethic (he marches to the beat of a different drum) But he is amazing around the house – as time’s gone on he has taken over more and more of the day to day stuff. We’ve always balanced the workload by who had the most free time tending to do more of the chores. Our kids also had set chores that got done or no pocket money. I’m so fortunate to not have married a slob – but I also still thank him as often as possible for making my life easier.

  • Being a single mum leaves me with the whole damn list to tackle, but if I ask my daughter does help and sometimes surprises me like just today she vacuumed the whole house.

  • writeofthemiddle

    No balance in this household but I guess I’m used to it. He does the pool, the rubbish, the lawns. He will vacuum inside for me, even without being asked! The rest i do. Anything else – I would have to ask. It would be great if they noticed all that we notice that needs to be done but I think that would be a bit of a miracle! 🙂 #TeamLovinLife

  • At the moment in our house he does more than me – mainly because I’m working & he isn’t. Normally though it’s pretty even – although he won’t clean bathrooms. I do the bills etc because I have this fear of not knowing what is happening with money. He lets me because quite frankly at heart he is lazy. I have a bad back, so my 19 year old does most of the vacuuming. Weirdly, it’s a conversation that we’ve never needed to have – despite both coming from homes where the woman shouldered it all & the man looked after the money. I do have to ask both of them to get off their butts at times – not because they expect me to do it, but because they either don’t notice, or don’t care about the hair bunnies in the corners. #Teamlovinlife

  • My answer to that question will depend on my resilience and energy levels at the time I’m being asked. Because my perception and perspective plays a big part in the answer. Right now I would say we are balanced. But some weeks I will stomp around the house very loudly huffing and puffing believing I am the only one who does anything around this place. I don’t know if I actually am the only one doing anything about the house stuff or whether some weeks it just FEELS like it.
    How’s that for a non-answer.
    You shouldn’t have asked …
    #teamlovinlife

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  • Housework and child-care are even in our family but I am the owner of the calendar, the keeper of the birthdays and the only way we would have a social life. However, my husband does notice and does do things when needed – without any prompting. I actually think it’s because he was raised by a single mother and two strong sisters.

  • jess

    I loved the mental load article and shared it with several friends, and it has triggered serious conversations with all of our partners. Overall, we found that it keeps coming back to wanting our partners to CONSIDER us. So much of the mental load is taking the time and effort to consider other people, which women are typically more prone to do. So if my husband could take more time out of his day to think “What would make Jess happy/make things easier/lighten her load”, this would make a huge difference!

  • Dianne Childs

    I do 95% of the housework unfortunately! All hubby does is put the rubbish in the bins and put the bins out weekly. I do all the cleaning, vacuuming, tidying, dishes etc. He does do his own clothes washing though!

    Di from Max The Unicorn

  • I do 99.5% of the housework – literally all I ask my husband to do is take out the bins. My husband works two jobs in two different states and so I don’t know how to share the workload more – because he just isn’t around to do it. This is the sacrifice we have chosen to make right now, so that hopefully we can get ahead and have more time together in the future.

  • I could totally identify with this. I do do most of the domestic stuff, but then I’m only working part time so that seems totally fair. I think the mental stuff we divide equally, although I do most of the day to day stuff, he takes care of the bigger picture. I remember my psychologist once told me never to thank my husband for “helping” me but by telling him how much I love it when he “does his share.” I love the comic and the frank discussions that it’s opened up here, on Facebook and I imagine, behind closed doors all around the country!

  • michelle barrington

    We just ended up doing what our strengths are. I am better at doing the remembering and organising. He lets me sleep in on a Saturday and wakes up to do the full grocery shop before I wake for breakfast. We balance each other out. We stopped worrying what other do, what we should do and just settled with what works for us.

  • You know what? I think they are blind? Seriously just came home from holidays and our fly screens were thick with dust… so I’m vaccuming and wiping them and he’s telling me to chill out…