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Chore Wars: The great marital divide
Before having children, most couples find it easier to maintain a neat house and to keep the bickering about unmade beds at bay. But having kids means more clutter to clear, more loads of laundry to do, and more meals to make.
And let's face it: Moms bear most of the burden. Working women spend almost twice as much time as working men on household chores and caring for children, according to a recent time-use survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Not surprisingly, the housework gender gap is a common source of friction: A our site survey of more than 12,000 readers revealed that 63 percent of couples with children at home argue over cleaning. And nearly half of respondents say they resent having to do more housework, cooking, and laundry than their mates.
Not only do dust bunnies lead to marital dustups, but the responsibility for housework can also have harmful effects on women's health. A study by sociologist Chloe E. Bird published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that women who do twice as much housework as their spouses have greater anxiety, depression, and worry. The least depressed people in Bird's study, both male and female, were those who split household duties down the middle.
Are men slackers?
If women are doing more around the house, what are men doing? Guys don't appear to be totally slacking: American men in dual-income families handle a third of shopping and meal preparation. Men do roughly 20 percent of household chores like laundry and cleaning. Although that may not entitle them to bragging rights, it's an improvement over the measly 2 to 5 percent men did back in 1970.
Also, men today are more involved parents and spend about an hour and a half a day tending to their children. While it's true that men spend less time caring for kids than women, they spend more time working.
When you combine the amount of time spent working in and outside the home, all things are equal: Women work more in the home and less outside it, while the opposite is true for men. For employed men and women, both genders spend eight hours a day working in the house and earning a paycheck outside it, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"In general, men try to compare their contributions to their fathers, and compared they look very good," says sociologist Scott Coltrane, author of Family Man: Fatherhood, Housework, and Gender Equity.
According to several studies, men with a higher education are more likely to pick up and pitch in. Coltrane suggests that more educated men may put women on equal footing and assume a balanced role in the household.
Interestingly, research also shows men who delay fathering children until their late 20s or early 30s, move away from the neighborhood they grew up in, and have less frequent contact with their parents, or who have been divorced and remarried, are more likely to do housework. Coltrane points out that these men have had to fend for themselves, so it makes sense that they'd continue to help out.
Still, around the house men generally do less, says Coltrane. He points to a range of explanations for the battle of the sexes on the chore front – from cultural expectations about gender roles, to a greater emphasis on a man's career if he's the primary breadwinner, and some women's difficulty delegating work. Practically speaking, though, the broom stops with whomever spends more time at home, says Coltrane, and that's often Mom.
Psychologist Joshua Coleman, author of The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework, suggests that men's resistance to housework may start in childhood. From an early age, men are preoccupied with power and status (just watch any boy playing with an action figure), and they may assert their independence by refusing to do something they've been asked to do. And while men feel they look pretty good compared with their fathers, they fail to factor in that their wives are also doing a lot more than their own mothers did, notes Coleman.
Men who do dishes do better in the bedroom
If only men knew what they were missing: Men who do more housework have better sex lives and happier marriages, according to a study by John Gottman, a psychologist who for more than three decades has been researching why relationships succeed or fail.
Further research by Gottman suggests that harmony over housework may also yield happier children. His findings reveal that men who do housework frequently have kids who do better socially and academically.
Nine ways to get your partner to do his fair share
Talk to him. While you may find it hard to believe that he can't see anything amiss with the layer of dust covering your furniture or the mildew growing on the shower curtain, the truth is if your partner's not complaining, he's probably fine living that way. "The average guy feels like if it ain't broke, don't fix it," says psychologist Coleman, a self-described lazy husband in recovery. Take the time to let him know what you mean by a "clean" house.
Instead of quietly stewing with resentment or complaining to your girlfriends, tell your partner you need more help keeping your place (relatively) clean. Be firm, but resist nagging. "Nagging isn't very assertive – it's humiliating to the person doing the nagging and annoying to the person being nagged," says Coleman.
Coleman suggests a friendly approach: Tell your partner that you've been feeling overwhelmed and that you really need and appreciate his help. Start by creating a short to-do list for him, suggests Coleman, and pick the tasks that have been bugging you the most. You might specify jobs such as cleaning up after dinner, making the bed on the weekends, and being solely responsible for the baby at least one weekend morning so you can sleep in.
Teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. This old adage can hold true for household chores too. "While some men feign incompetence, some genuinely have never learned how to do housework," notes sociologist Coltrane. Before your mate takes on a chore, demonstrate it for him, talking him through it as you go.
Don't be a control freak! One of the reasons men don't help around the house as much as their partners might like is that women sometimes make them feel like they can't do anything right. So once you've shown him how to separate whites and colors, and to dust before running the vacuum, consider that his standards may never meet yours.
Decide what you can live with: If the choice is to do every task yourself, or to live with his less-than-perfect housekeeping skills, you may more readily settle for adequate. A little restraint and a heaping of praise can go a long way in his wanting to be involved and useful.
Choose chores he'll want to do. It's much easier to motivate someone to do something he likes, so if your mate's more inclined to cook than to clean up, ask him if he'll prepare more meals during the week. Of the "big five" household tasks – cooking preparation, meal cleanup, shopping, laundry, and housework – men are more likely to do the first three and least likely to do the last two, says sociologist Scott Coltrane.
So strike some new deals with your partner. If you've been doing all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning, let him troll the market aisles, cut up the vegetables, and toss the salad for dinner. He may even enjoy it. While it may seem unfair that he gets to choose which jobs he wants to do, consider that it's better than the alternative – doing everything yourself!
Do a little at a time. Splitting chores between you and your partner over several days will keep weekends from turning into nonstop drudgery. "We used to jam all of the housework into Saturdays, but now my husband and I have designated weekdays for certain cleaning jobs," says Kate Richardson, mother of a 2-year-old. "By spreading chores out across the week, keeping a (fairly) clean house seems less overwhelming – plus we've freed up more weekend time for family fun," she says.
Appeal to his charitable side. Show your mate that getting rid of the toys collecting cobwebs in your living room and the forgotten clothes in your closets is a great way to help a good cause and save your family money. Ask him to oversee a "giveaway box" to which he and the kids can contribute, and then put yourself on a calling list for a couple of charities and thrift stores.
"They call every other month to see if we have anything to donate, and we gather up books we've finished, clothes and shoes the kids have outgrown, and toys they're bored with," says Ann Struckman, mother of three children, ages 13, 9, and 2. "The charity picks up the items and leaves a donation slip for tax write-off purposes."
Outsource! If you can, make some cuts in your budget, and use the money to hire cleaning help. (Cost will vary depending on where you live and the size of your house, but house cleaning costs $75 to $100 or so per visit.) "We hired a housecleaning team after our daughter was born, and it's worth every penny, not just in time, but also arguments avoided," says Catherine Holecko, mother to a 3-year-old and a newborn.
"Cleaning ranks way below family, work, and personal time in my order of priorities. Also, having cleaners come every two weeks forces us to do a round of picking up and decluttering on the day before they come."
And if he still doesn't pitch in... "If you're still being ignored, it may be time to play hardball and say, 'I'm not going to keep doing all the things I'm doing,'" suggests psychologist Coleman.
Take something off your plate that you know your mate relies on you to get done. For instance, if you usually pay the bills and your partner can't stand it if they're late, tell him you're no longer paying the bills. Coleman points out that tough-love should be your last resort, but it can be surprisingly effective.
Take time to reconnect. Finally, if you've been more irritated than usual by dishes collecting in the sink, consider whether it's merely the grimy plates that need attention. "In all my years of working with couples there seems to be this pattern: When men aren't paying attention to their wives, the housework issue becomes more of an issue," says marital therapist Michele Weiner-Davis, author of The Sex-Starved Marriage: Boosting Your Marriage Libido. "It becomes less of an issue if men are making an effort to be closer emotionally."
Weiner-Davis frequently sees a vicious cycle: When women aren't getting help, they become less physically affectionate with their partners, who in turn withdraw more emotionally. "It would ease tension if couples took the time to reconnect on a regular basis," says Weiner-Davis.
So at least once a month, do the things you used to enjoy together before you had children (and a messy house). Send the kids to Grandma's overnight so you can have a romantic evening. Or hire a babysitter and go out for a relaxing dinner. Besides remembering what made you a good couple, the next-best part is that neither of you has to clean up the dishes afterward.
Now that you've learned how to get your mate to help out on the home front, get advice from other parents about getting your child to pitch in.