Monday, March 24, 2008

Who cleans the poo off the nappies in your house?

I'm reading The Post-Baby Conversation: What New Parents Need to Say to Each Other by Alison Osborne. Given the title, I thought it might kickstart some post-baby conversations of our own, but it turns out there's a huge chasm between my lesbian parenting experience and the author's representation of heterosexual parenting. The book is completely heterosexual and completely eye-opening. I mean, is this true? Or is it really out of date?

(Just checking the publication date: Nope, it's 2006)

0sborne says that in her experience, the working partners (i.e. men) come home from work and put their feet up while the mother continues to run around getting dinner on, putting the kids to bed, folding washing and so on. And on weekends the man expects to have the weekend off, because he's worked hard all week, while she continues to take main responsibility for the children. And that the male partners only do jobs around the house if they are specifically asked. And that she has to ask for money for everything (scatter cushions, a pot plant, presents for the kids).

The underlying problem, in her view, is that the men don't see staying home with the children as work. That, like the columnist who caught my attention recently, their impression is that someone needs to be home to keep an eye on the kids, but that as long as you are keeping them away from electrical sockets, it's pretty much all about traipsing around shopping malls and catching up with girlfriends for coffee.

(I can't even have coffee, I'm breastfeeding)

The three main areas of inequality she identifies are childrearing, housework and finances. In both childrearing and housework, all the women interviewed for this book commented how they need to ask their male partners to do everything. 'Honey the baby is crying can you pick her up?' 'Honey could you empty the dishwasher?' and so on.

I'm suspecting that Osborne came up with a thesis and then searched for people to interview who would confirm her hypothesis. Although as I was pondering this, I bumped into someone from my prenatal yoga class and she started talking about exactly this; how her partner comes home from a 'hard day' at work and asks why the house is messy.

What I'm curious about is differences between lesbian and straight relationships. Maybe there aren't so many differences pre-babies - that, regardless of gender, we can be fairly independent in partnerships, livin' our lives, doin' our thing. After babies arrive though, we revert to gender stereotypes for lack of alternative models. Luckily for me, two women reverting to stereotypes means the work gets evenly shared. When we're with the babies, we're both working all the time. It's hard to see how it would be possible otherwise.

Sunday as we were getting ready for the family Easter lunch, I was breastfeeding the babies and Lovergirl disappeared. I could hear her in the bathroom.

'The bugger,' I thought sourly. 'I bet she's putting on makeup. It's alright for some. I never get to put makeup on anymore.'

She emerged, sans makeup.

'What have you been doing?' I ask in a catty fashion.

'I just thought I'd quickly clean the bathroom while I was waiting for you all,' she said.



Susoz said...

Interesting about that book, which I've seen around. This is a very interesting subject. I'm very curious to see how our boys turn out, having been raised by women who have to do all household/garden/car tasks.
I think I live in a slightly unusual setting where many men are highly involved in their kids' lives (several househusbands at our school, for example.) I've been told by friends elsewhere that that's not the case at their schools. I'd guess, however, that most women still take overall responsibility for *remembering* - dental appointments, buying presents for kids parties, etc etc, plus taking charge of the housework (even if they don't actually do most of it).
In my relationship, we have both equality and a divide, which stems partly from the differences between us before we became parents - she's more untidy and less organised, I do the filing/archiving and keep the calendar and always have. We share the big household tasks and cooking, but I'm the one who is on top of details about school projects, music practice, haircuts etc, and partly that's because she works fulltime and I don't.

Flutta said...

First things first your twins are gorgeous!

Your latest post is an interesting question. I suspect there are patterns but I think ultimately it depends more on the couple in question than their gender. If he was home at the time they needed changing, my father changed most of the nappies for we three children back in the 70s and 80s even when my mother was on maternity leave (well, I'm told he did for me and I know he did for my younger siblings!) and I don't think my mother took me to the doctor once. On the other hand a close friend of mine recently had exactly the same complaints you mention about her female partner coming home and wondering why the house is dirty and dinner not cooked. I guess as women we hope other women have this better, more understanding outlook but not all do! I also think it's changing for men - my Dad was weird in the 70s and probably wouldn't be now - but I gather in some places the change is slow.

You should probably just thank your lucky stars to have such a wonderful partner to support you.

Anonymous said...

If your partner comes home and asks why the house is dirty, the answer is, 'because it is.'

E, M, and the Little Man said...

Sounds like a crap book to me. Our experience is that my partner works outside the home full-time, I work outside the home part-time and we both work AT HOME full-time. Sometimes I feel guilty that the house gets messy when I'm home with Mateo by myself just because my partner is a neat-freak, but she never makes me feel bad about it. If it bothers her that badly, she will clean it. I do have a few friends who say that their husband doesn't do much in the way of help around the house, and I wonder why it's still that way in 2008. But, most of my friends are liberal and have husbands who do their share of everything.

Mikhela said...

I also posted a comment about this book on the multiple birth website and got this response:

'Um that sounds like my house, my girlfriends from mothers group and I'd say most of us in a heterosexual relationship on here! Sad but true, times haven't changed that much in hetro relationships. [banghead] It seems s/s relationships have moved with the times, maybe those in s/s relationships should host "how to live in a harmonious and equal relationship" seminars!!'

Mikhela said...

Maybe what happens, as I was saying to Katya, is we hang around with people like us so we assume everybody is. I assume most of my friends have reasonable equal divisions of labour. However the HILDA survey (I think it was HILDA-no time to google right now) found that women were still doing the lion's share of household tasks, even when they work fulltime.

As my sister-in-law said to me about my brother, 'He's really good, he'll hold the baby while I go and have a shower and stuff.'

Kirsten said...

Oh, that was a lovely story at the end, and did make me laugh. (Hi, by the way, I just popped over from Personal Political).

As for the book - I've read lots of stuff like that in my time as a parent, and always been a bit mystified - it does read like something out of the 50s doesn't it?

I would say that Chris (husband) and I have reverted to gender sterotypes more and more since we - well, not had children specifically, but got more and more busy. There's just not time for both of us to learn how to do everything, so we automatically tend to increase our existing skills - and yes, he grew up learning (slightly) more about things that involve drills (for instance) than me, so now he knows even more about them, despite my constant efforts to break down these stereotypes.

BUT, as far as the rest of it goes, no that has not been my experience of parenting, and in general I don't think it's that of the people I know, although it's getting close for some of them. I think it makes a huge difference that Chris and I have both 'worked' (for money) part-time, and both stayed home part-time since our son was a year old, we're each experienced both sides of the equation. On the other hand, this didn't happen when he was under a year either. If anything it was the other way around - I figured he'd had the easy job all day/week, so he could pull his finger out when he got home!

Sorry, this went on a bit didn't it? Well, hello, anyway. Cute babies you've got there!

Kirsten said...

As far as Susoz's comment - it is certainly true that I tend to do most of the remembering detail - birthdays and so on - and am more likely to take charge of the housework (for instance I never vacuum and I rarely do the laundry, but I might 'instruct' him that it needs to be done)(then again, he might just say that's because I'm a control freak). But then again, my best friend, who's a stay-at-home mom in a s/s relationship with two children, does absolutely all the remembering work in their household, even for her partner's family birthdays.

I think you are right though, that we do tend to hang out with people of like minds, and that can confuse us about what is 'normal'.

Lynnie said...

Erg, I do think when I look around I see that division of labor based on gender going on.

We have a small farm so my husband and I are both working all the time. I have never seen him come home and put his feet up. Instead he comes home, rakes the barn, feeds the goats, etc.

It's true that I do more indoor work. I wish that I worked on our farm more, but the truth is, it is REALLY hard to catch a loose pig, climb over fences, and rake out the barn with a fussy baby on your back. It is somewhat easier to fold laundry on the kitchen table while jiggling that fussy baby on your back. But still, I want to present my idea of the "correct reality" to my daughters.

My husband has never once, no not once, complained about the house being a mess, which it often is. I can't imagine being in a relationship like that.

I'll never forget the time my toddler suddenly threw up all over me and my nursing baby, the floor and the couch. I opened my mouth in shock and didn't move for a whole minute. Out of nowhere my husband pulled up in his truck and came inside. He surveyed the scene and simply said, "You clean up the kids and I'll get the steam cleaner."