I used to get a bit nervous when a date asked me, “Can you cook?” I would pause for a moment and respond with a grin, ““Hmm I cook to survive…” I was honest with my answer, but secretly worrying about whether they would judge me for not knowing how to cook, particularly as a woman. Worse, if they went on to talk about how they were raised in a family where their moms were great cooks and took care of most household tasks, I would feel a bit uneasy.
Okay…What did this traditional division of labor teach them about gender expectations regarding gender roles in a relationship?
Because the truth is, I can cook if I want to, but I don’t really enjoy it.
I am not particularly skilled at it either.
I was hoping my partner could be a better cook than me!
The good news is, as more and more people realize, support, and try to incorporate gender equality into their everyday lives, the expectation of women being the primary homemakers is no longer the norm. It has become more common for families to have two full-time careers now. So, does this mean that I have a better chance than my mom of finding a partner who is happy to share the responsibilities of cooking and doing dishes with me?
Out of curiosity, I did a bit research. The results were…interesting.
Two studies have revealed that, even in contemporary times, most women continue to perceive their household duties as heavier than those of men, even when they are engaged in full-time or part-time employment. These studies shed light on the need to further define the scope of “household responsibilities,” as it has a direct impact on the actual workload women consistently shoulder. For instance, should household responsibilities include childcare in addition to tasks like cleaning and laundry? This is pertinent since women are more likely the ones to manage all of these on a daily and weekly basis, whereas tasks such as mowing the lawn, handling plumbing issues, and shoveling snow are typically undertaken by men, but only when necessary (I. Öun, 2013; M. Nordenmark, & C. Nyman, 2003). What’s more, a blog article argues that the “mental work of keeping a household running” should also be considered as part of the household duties such as “remembering to stop for a gallon of milk on the way home or keeping track of the registration deadline for a kid’s activity.” These mental tasks are still primarily carried out by women (The Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, 2021).
Remember that saying “women are the ones who always remember everything?”
So, what is happening here? I thought that we made more progress compared to our parents’ generation?
Dr. Mangino’s article suggests that we may still have unchecked gender bias and assumptions. For example, just because one partner (typically the male) earns more and works longer hours, does not excuse them from doing household chores. Likewise, just because the female partner bears more expectations as a mother despite working full time, does not automatically designate them as the sole responsible parent for all the childcare matters (K. Mangino, 2023).
Therefore, when one partner carries, or even just perceives to carry more household duties than the other one, feelings of unfairness and resentment may slowly creep in…and then it is no surprise that household responsibilities often become another common source of conflicts for couples.
What can we do then, to prevent our learned gender expectations from undermining the potential for a healthy balance of household work with our partners?
A clear division of household responsibilities is undeniably crucial. Achieving this requires us to engage in thorough examinations and discussions about the tasks necessary to maintain a home and a family.
It is worth noting, though, that while committing to sharing the household chores is one of the nutrients for healthy and sustainable relationships, it is also valuable to adapt to the flow of life.
There may be times when one person contributes more due to certain circumstances, and this imbalance can be managed through mutual agreement, adjusting to changing needs and situations. Being honest about our gender assumptions, biases, and prejudices with our partners is of utmost importance.
Remember to stay connected with each other, especially during those hectic times in life because we’re a team – now and always. Take some time to discuss our current tasks and see if there is any way we can support each other. If household chores are piling up for one of us, how can the other step in to help?
Practice gratitude and appreciation for each other’s hard work in maintaining the family and ensuring a smoothly functioning household. It doesn’t cost much to acknowledge the duties and tasks our partner is taking care of, no matter how ordinary or trivial they may seem.
Take Leisure Turns
When we check in with each other, if one is taking on more workloads, consider encouraging them to take a break and have some personal time. We in return, can take charge of the childcare, cleaning, laundry, meals, etc. Or we can have fun together! Shift the household routines, perhaps by hiring a babysitter for temporary childcare or cleaning the house together. It can be a great bonding experience.
Try not to measure our relationship against others. It is a common human tendency, but every relationship is unique. Each couple has their own ways of maintaining their relationship. What matters most is how we feel. If we feel overwhelmed, bitter, or unfair, we need to be open about it, and ask for support. Both our wellbeing and the wellbeing of our relationship are on us.