Something that has always fascinated me is the concept of ‘Wifework’. I know it’s quite a buzzword lately, and it’s a topic that’s very relevant in this house at the moment. I was thinking about it earlier as I was blitzing the kitchen.
As I’m sure you already know, Wifework is a term for all the shitwork that tends to fall to the woman of the house in a heterosexual relationship. Not just the shopping, cooking and cleaning, but the thinking and organising and generally being everyone’s PA and life coach. It’s also to do with the fact that some (most?) women put more into the marriage, emotionally: boosting their husbands’ egos; enabling their careers; protecting the illusion of equality, but I don’t think that has ever applied to us. So, this is really just about the ‘keeping the house and family clean and fed and organised’ part.
It’s a Patriarchal phenomenon and it seems to happen in almost every household. Over the last few years Rob and I have worked pretty hard to buck this trend, as it has always been important to us to be equal, but ultimately until very recently we failed miserably at it. I did the bulk of, well, everything (we rationalised this as being because I was here more) including the invisible jobs, and Rob’s role was more supportive than proactive. It fell to me to do the thinking and organising, which I have always found the most stressful part of running the house.
Those of you who know me will know that I am no domestic goddess. I know my way around a kitchen, yes, but I’m pretty dreadful at knowing what’s in my cupboards or cleaning the tops of them. My technique for washing clothes is waiting until the basket overflows and then doing as many loads as possible in a day. And then the dry folded washing lives on my bed for a few days, is plonked on the floor at night and then gets folded back out onto the bed again every morning in a pitiful show of good intentions unrealised.
About six months ago though we had a complete turnaround in lifestyle. I now leave the house at 8am and come back at 6pm. Rob has an earlier start meaning he gets home in time for school pick up. Which means the bulk of the ‘Wifework’ now actually falls to him, or at least in theory. Because he’s around more.
It wasn’t an immediate handing over of the reins, but I think we are climbing out of the readjustment period now. Rob does all the food shopping and has a much better grip on our cupboard stocks than I ever did. He meal plans (and sticks to it) and cooks amazing dinners from scratch. He does most of the washing, which involves him thinking ahead to what we need and actually washing it. No more panicking over school uniforms on a Sunday night. It’s a revolutionary way of doing things. He organises homework and music practice and clubs and gymnastics, and does all the baths and bedtimes.
We aren’t quite there with the tidying, but it’s no worse than it’s ever been. And we do blitz it all at the weekend which keeps us ticking over. We now have a notepad on the fridge for a shopping list, and a calendar filled in with dates and appointments. We haven’t run out of loo roll or washing powder for months.
It’s not perfect here but actually my husband does a far better job with the housework than I ever did. And I feel relieved and unburdened that it’s not just my responsibility any more.
But do you know what else I feel? Guilt. Isn’t that bizarre? I feel guilty because he now does ‘more’ around the house than me. It seems that the concept of ‘doing it all’ is so ingrained in my psyche that it pains me to hand the reins over. And the really stupid thing is that I still do a whole heap of thinking and organising. I deal with all the finances for example, and any admin-y stuff. I’m still the only one who ever cleans the bathroom or properly cleans the kitchen. Any decluttering has to be organised by me, although Rob will happily pitch in and put stuff where I ask him to. He really isn’t doing it all, in fact we think we have as close to a 50/50 split as possible, but still my brain chunters at me that I need to pull my weight more because, well, Poor Rob.
Other people’s perceptions don’t help, either. My mother still asks, often, how Rob is coping with doing all the cooking, or if he’s alright at home with the Chums. My occasional lighthearted announcement at work that I’m off home because my dinner is ready is ALWAYS met with a raised eyebrow and mock horror. We get teased and ribbed for ‘swapping roles’. Or I am reminded by well meaning friends how very very lucky I am.
I just can’t win. And I think the same is true for many women. We either do it all and feel resentful, or we shoulder the feelings of guilt and failure for not doing everything. So, as I can’t win, I will aim for a peaceful acceptance. We may never live in perfect domestic harmony but what we do works for us. I need to stop thinking that my husband makes a better wife than I do and start accepting that we are two adults raising a family together. And then maybe, finally, I can enjoy not doing all the Wifework on my own.