This strikes me as a twist on my post yesterday on the topic of “me” time – a New York Times feature on Monday about no one having time for anything, essentially. The article talks about women not only (still!) bearing most of the domestic responsibilities – or at least the worry about what’s not getting done – even if they work outside the home, but research that shows this “second shift” holds them back career-wise.
I really don’t think any of this is “new” news, but it’s certainly still a struggle. Domestic tasks may take up less time overall than they did in our parents’ and grandparents’ day, but the time available to get them done has shrunk even more, especially in single-person, single-parent, and two-earner families, which covers a lot of territory. And when there are family responsibilities that may conflict with work, they do tend to land more heavily on the mom/wife, and husbands have been known to take that for granted. (My husband’s first wife was a SAHM, and there are some things he’ll still comment that he never knew much about during their marriage, because she “just took care of them.” And in my own first marriage, the divisions were pretty clear even though we both worked. Things are different now.) Couples therapists state that this is a very real equality issue.
Tracy Clark-Flory comments in Broadsheet that this “wife envy” is sparked by “working under a corporate model that relies on a vision of domestic life that plain doesn’t exist for most people anymore.” I think there’s something to that, but I’m personally acquainted with quite a few people that actually do have some version of this domestic life. I agree with Susan’s comment on the Working Moms Against Guilt blog that referring to someone to handle the home front as a “wife” is rather sexist. I know that during my single years, there were plenty of times I wished there were someone else around to hand things off to, but I wouldn’t have framed it that way, and I think Mojo Mom’s post about this article makes a great point about how belittling these tasks as “women’s work” ignores its benefits in home and career success. But it also strikes me that women who want “wives” to do these things may be devaluing them just as much as men are.
Basically, there are things that everyone needs to have done, one way or another, in order to keep our homes and lives running smoothly. We have trouble making the time to do these things ourselves, and we may be unable or unwilling to pay someone to do them for us, so we may wish for another family member – a true “helpmeet” – to take that job. We’re all stressed and overextended, and there aren’t any ideal solutions that don’t involve major life changes and compromises – so much for “having it all.”
UPDATED to add this sort-of-related link to Thursday’s On Balance posting on the “fringe benefits of housework” for both wives and husbands. It’s a chuckle, but I agree with “Rebeldad” Brian Reid that “(d)oing your fair share around the house is as much a sign of love and caring as a bunch of roses. And — let’s face facts — a marriage where the floor-mopping, pan-scrubbing and kid-chasing is spread evenly is probably more likely to be a marriage where both spouses have the energy at the end of the day to, ahem…”