Because it’s not my job.
Every time we use language like “Can you please help me unpack the dishwasher?” “Can you give me a hand to hang out the washing?” or "Can you do x, y, or z for me?" we’re sending a message that it’s our job, but it would be ever so kind of you to help us get it done.
It’s not my job to manage the house. It’s our collective job.
Whenever my 5-year old says “I don’t want to unpack the dishwasher.” I say “Neither do I. But it’s one of the jobs that our team has to do so we have clean plates to eat off.” If there’s still resistance (come on, of course, there is) there is the reminder that he can choose not to, but there might be things later that I choose not to do, that may affect him.
It goes something like this:
“Dad and I don’t always WANT to spend our Saturday at a 5-year-old friend’s birthday party. We don’t always WANT to make your delicious (ok, pretty good most days) school lunches every day, we don’t WANT to wash and iron you sports gear, we don’t WANT to loan you our iPad, buy apps, spend money on the things you love to do, or do the grocery shopping including all the things you love on the list, but we do.
That’s how team’s work. We all do things we don’t want to do so everyone else gets things they do want.
You can choose not to do the things you don’t want to do as part of this team. However, you make that choice knowing that I might choose not to do the things that I don’t want do as part of this team, and you’ll have to accept those consequences.”
This is more effective when there is clear currency involved. Eg that friend’s birthday party. But a fallback that is ever present for cleaning the playroom is that there are lots of other kids out there who don’t have many toys, and if I have to clean the toy room they’ll go straight in a donations box (fine, ok, do it then I don’t care!) with the iPad and your AFL ball sitting on the top (alright! I’ll clean the playroom!) Currency, friends. Currency.
When it comes to my husband, this isn’t even a conversation. We have always had equal value of each other’s time, and we’ve naturally (bahaha, ok not naturally, through trial and error and a series of uncomfortable and sometimes challenging conversations on both sides over many years) fallen into a split of blue jobs and pink jobs that are not as you might expect.
He manages our household without question on a daily basis. He does most of the washing and ironing, all of the grocery shopping, most of the cooking and lunch prep (although we tend to cycle through this), most of the unpacking the dishwasher and cleaning the kitchen multiple times during the day, most of the money management, the rough play with the kids, the sporty stuff, the bike rides and trips to the park.
I do all of the school planning and communications, the homework, the show and teach preparation (and other de-fricken-lights like the Easter hats etc) and most of the bath time, bedtime, teeth brushing, reading and creating. I 'coordinate' (lol) the deeper cleans like dusting, showers, toilets, and floors. I have the confronting conversations with service provider’s, and do most of the medical stuff.
Then there’s stuff we share largely 50/50. The psychological and emotional support, the sleep support (honestly the sleep deprivation is next level), the pickups and dropoffs, the childcare in general, the planning for the type of child raising we want to do, the impact of the choices we make and the skills or qualities we’re trying to instill in our children, the business side of things, our own personal and professional development, holiday planning and management of the remote control (lol).
However, this is not about your choice of parenting, communication or discipline style. It’s about building the narrative and the mutual awareness that managing the household and taking primary responsibility as caregiver to your children is not your primary role if you don’t want it to be. I repeat, if you don't want it to be.
If you’re trying to build your own life, career or business outside of your roles as a wife and mother it’s not fair that you’re expected to be a master multi-tasker and your husband gets to fully focus on higher level (or income earning) tasks.
If you're feeling crushed under the weight (or boredom) or your responsibilities, like you've lost who you are, like you're being pulled from all directions and everyone wants something from you to the point that it is silencing that inner voice that there must be more to life and there's so much that you'd like to be able to do at this time in your life, maybe you can start to make a change, just by changing the narrative that you use and putting some boundaries in place.
It is not easy to find a balance. Especially when bills need to be paid. But it is important to draw boundaries. To communicate your needs really consistently so that all sides are having their needs (and wants) met. If you don't know your worth, how can you expect anyone else to?
What my husband and I have found is that from a career perspective, we can’t (within our values system) both be ON at the same time. If we’re both in a growth phase, which we’ve tried, it’s obvious that something has to give, and it’s usually our children. So one of us pulls back. This can happen week-to-week, month to month or year to year. Essentially we commit to one person going into their growth phase, while the other increases their support role, or ‘holding down the fort’ until one person is feeling the strain of that responsibility and a different set of boundaries are put in place. There is always the psychological safety in place that you can say how you feel, and it will be heard and taken seriously by the other person.
I’d love to hear what you do. Do you find yourself using language like “Can you please help me…” with home tasks? Do you have a natural division of blue jobs and pink jobs in your house? Do you feel like managing the home is a team effort and you both have the support you need to grow personally and professionally? Tell me in the comments here.
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