Thursday, October 18, 2007

the WSJ has offended me. Oh, my working sisters, resist!

In today's Wall St. Journal, columnist Sue Shellenbarger writes about "family coaches", self-proclaimed experts who teach busy mothers housework and decluttering routines.

Why is this offensive to me? Because Sue Shellenberger, a working mother herself who should certainly know better, portrays this as exclusively the problem of mothers, who need to hire experts and learn how to guilt trip their children. Fathers evidently have no responsibilities in the home.

Shellenberger opens with the heartrending story of Vicki Ryan, whose husband stopped wanting to come home after work because Vicki, an accountant and mother of four, kept such a messy home. So why the hell didn't Derek Ryan start doing some frigging housework himself? Instead, he made his wife feel terrible until she hired a family coach. Now Vicki fines her children for not putting their laundry into baskets, locks up their possessions in "Clutter Jail", and has a "command center" for filing her calendars and bills. There is no mention of any steps taken by Derek to improve the running of the home.

Another mother was taught by her family coach to emotionally manipulate her sons into doing chores by whining about how she hates feeling like their maid. "Since she began making the changes several years ago, her sons have shown more empathy in general." Again, no mention of the husband's role. (I also wonder about these sons, who are perhaps now being programmed to marry whiny, passive-aggressive women).

A third mother, Laura Simon, a full-time worker and mother of four, also turned to a parenting coach in desperation, who talked Ms. Simon into reducing her work schedule to part-time so she could start cooking family dinners. (Shellenbarger seemed rather judgmental of Ms. Simon, noting that family coaches can only help the motivated after astringently observing that Ms. Simon eventually gave up getting up at dawn for an early morning work out, as prescribed by the family couch.)

The only mention of a husband doing anything about the home in Shellenbarger's column is participating in a "7 minute sprint", which is evidently a beloved tool of the family coaches. Mothers set timers for seven minutes, and the entire family must dash about madly picking up toys and clutter. This puts the husband/father on the same level as a toddler, required only to pick up the most egregious clutter briefly.

Why is keeping the home the province of the women, rather than a joint responsibility with their husbands? This is especially annoying given that most of the women used as examples worked full-time when their homes were falling apart.

Indeed, the very phrase "working mother" offends me. Why doesn't anyone talk about "working fathers"?

When two people live together, they should make a mutually suitable agreement about the division of labor. When there are children in the picture, it is much easier all around if one person doesn't go to an office, but that person should not automatically be the woman (I am happy to see stay-at-home fathers increasing). In our case, I'm the parent who is with the children in the days, but it's not because I'm the genetic female. It's because I was so burnt out and over-stressed as a litigator (although being at home with a colicky baby was not exactly peaceful, it was a change of pace). When both people work full-time and there are children, of course it's most likely things will be crazy and stressful (unless the family is able to retain a variety of hired help). But it seems so wrongheaded to make this the woman's responsibility to keep the home lovely.

My own husband does not get off scot-free with the housework, despite the fact that I am not working full-time. And here I'll give you a tip, which has worked very well for us since I invented it, and unlike a "family coach", I won't charge you for it. We often hold an "hour of power" on the weekend, where we set the timer for 1 hour and we both work like demons. There are two virtues to this. First, it avoids the resentment created whenever there is one person doing housework alone, bitter, bitter resentment. Secondly and more practically, it is amazing how much two energetic people can accomplish in one hour.

My sisters, especially the working ones, do not accept the sexist status quo! If your able-bodied husband bitches about the state of the house, arch a sarcastic eyebrow at him over your cocktail and inquire what he intends to do about it.

35 comments:

hughman said...

the WSJ seems like an odd place for an article aimed to "stay at home moms". i'm surprised it didn't come with instructions to "cut this out and leave it on the stove where the little woman can find it".

Chuck Sigars said...

As a guy who has worked at home for most of my married life, I always view this gender-boxing shit as offensive, on a personal, male-type level. Maybe it's just me, but logic seems to imply that I'm not capable of doing things based on my gender.

And what's with the clutter bias? Didn't seem to bother Einstein (or Edison). My kids learned to walk by sidestepping piles of books and laundry (and once a broken water heater, for a while). I straighten up when I'm bored (often) or seriously thinking (heh), my wife only when company is coming. We manage. And you read the WSJ because why? (OK, I do too, but I have a masochistic side.)

Melissa said...

Good points about the absence of the father's responsibility. I remember the shock of my colleagues when I said my husband made the children's school lunches daily. "Why shouldn't he? We both work!" Apparently, their husbands sailed out the door to their jobs, and the wives were left all morning child care duties and house chores including cooking breakfast. Even more disgusting, the men worked in education as well and had the same short commute down the road! It was disgusting.

I have seen too many women burn out to crispy blackened fritters because they go along with this crap.

hokgardner said...

Amen and hallelujah. My husband complained just once about the cost of the housekeeper, who comes every other week. I told him that as long as I was working part-time - in addition to raising three heathens, I mean children - I was hiring someone to help with the housekeeping. If he didn't like it, he could do all the cleaning. He wisely shut up.

The Woman of Science said...

Amen to all of that!

I believe that some letters to the editor are called for...

Freckleye said...

I whole heartedly agree with you on the stay at home father issue.

My father was a stay at home dad in the 80's. A real life Mr. Mom! Except he was way better than Michael Keaton. My dad drove me and my two siblings to school, after school activities ect, made our lunches, patched our boo boo's, and was proud of it. I still remember when I was living at home for the first year of college he still made me a lunch!

I think when someone hears "stay at home dad" they envision this emasculated man in an apron. Some times people can be so ridiculous!

Karen in Portland said...

Like you, I am always offended when such topics fail to present fathers as having equal responsibility when it comes to household management and parenting. The tenor of Sue Shellenbarger's columns often irritate me to the point that I sometimes have to stop reading mid-column so that I don't get myself too wound up. And don't even get me started on the lack of recognition that parents are comprised of more than a mother and a father! (By way of qualification, I'm a straight woman who has been married for close to 25 years.)

By the way, your blog is at the top of the list of 4,635 relevant blog links related to Sue's column. (And shame on the WSJ for not allowing readers to post comments in response to their articles.)

the Drunken Housewife said...

Hugh, I think it was aimed at working mothers: another product they can consume (hours of family coaching) so they can get their house whipped into 1950's style! I love your suggestion about leaving it on the stove.

Chuck, I like your way of thinking. Incidentally I read the WSJ because it does have such great investigative reporting. The subscription has paid for itself so far because I got a new credit card from a "Green Thumb" column (it was ranked then as one of the 2 best credit card deals, with the most generous paybacks). I do stay away from the editorial page. There is no point in making my blood boil at the breakfast table.

Missy, good on you guys that your husband made the lunches. It's pathetic that your colleagues were so shocked. It doesn't take a uterus to make a sandwich and insert it into a lunchbox.

Hokgardner, I have an every-other-week cleaner, and pathetically enough I don't work outside the home. It really has made such a difference in how we live. We're able to keep up much better when someone comes in periodically and gives everything a good, thorough, workover.

Freckleye, your dad sounds great! I agree about the emasculated stereotype. The stay-at-home dads I meet tend to be pretty hunky.

Karen, you have such a good point about the heterosexism that I am ashamed I didn't mention it in my post. I have noticed that as well. I know quite a few gay families with children (not to mention single moms), and it's so 1950's to pretend families come with a mommy, daddy. Not to mention all the divorced, remarried, "blended" families...

Finn said...

You've now driven to me stop lurking!

We, as women, have to stop buying into this crap. So the house isn't a showplace. Big deal. And the "little woman" isn't the only one making the mess, so why does she have to clean it all up? I thought the point of marrying was teaming up against life, supporting and helping each other. You know, a partnership.

We must teach our children that everyone must do his/her share. When I moved in with my husband, I told him this: "I am not your mother. You make half the mess, you clean it too." And I never, never tell people that he "helps" around the house. Because that makes it sound optional. It is not. He does his share.

Freewheel said...

Great post, great comments. Chuck Sigars even made me feel better about the disaster area I call home.

2amsomewhere said...

Solidarity, Sister!

(returns to washing several days of unwashed dishes and folding the three loads of laundry left on the bed while wife skipped out of town for a few days to get job training and some girl time)

--
2amsomewhere

radical mama said...

Yup, and that's why I unsubscribed to FlyLady. Seriously, I have to do ALL the laundry? For five people? Screw that nonsense. 5 people live here. 5 people will clean.

snowqueen said...

What a great post! One of the issues that really pisses me off is that when women return to work childcare is usually paid for out of their wages and not the husband's. I've heard women say 'it was hardly worth going back to work, once I paid the childcare I only had £xx left.' You what?

When my first child was born I told my (then) husband that I didn't need any help with the baby - the baby just needed looking after by 2 parents. 'Don't look to me to tell you the baby's nappy needs changing'.

hokgardner said...

I don't work "outside" the home. I freelance from my kitchen in my pjs. But I would NEVER say that a woman needed to justify a housekeeper by working herself. I'd still have the housekeeper even if I didn't do any freelancing. I need the help.

hokgardner said...

And my 2nd comment may have sounded defensive, but it wasn't meant to be. I'm just saying that I work from home and I still need all the help I can get. And I've got a great husband who does more than his fair share.

OK. I'm tired and sick and I need to stop fretting about readers misconstruing what I'm trying to say.

hughman said...

dear hokgardner -

i can say as an esteemed and frequent "reader" that we hold you in no judgement whatever. indeed, in my experience, this is a judgement free zone. another of the magical experiences the drunken housewife has given to us.

x - hughman

the Drunken Housewife said...

Radical Mama, you go girl! I could never stomach the Flylady stuff myself (the no wearing shoes in the house rules me out right away. I like to run a shoe-free home). Also, I am lazy.

Snowqueen, I so agree with you. Incidentally whenever anyone has asked me whether my husband is "babysitting" for me, I make a point to say that since he is the parent, he cannot babysit. Instead, he is caring for his own children.

Finn, thanks for commenting and coming out to play!

Hokgardner, I am somewhat ashamed of the fact that I am not really employed (I do work a shift a week at Lola's preschool, but not for pay, and I do bits of odds and ends here and there, but I don't generally work for pay), but we have a housekeeper in every other week. When we have budget crunches, we cut out all sorts of things, but we try our best to preserve the cleaners. (For example, we don't have cable, and in prior budgetary measures, we cancelled the Wall St. Journal for a while, I stopped taking dance lessons, etc.., etc...). We do well with the cleaners, but not so well when it's just us.

the Drunken Housewife said...

p.s. Feel better soon, Hokgardner! And NO SHAME! Hughman is right; it's a no shame zone.

the Drunken Housewife said...

pps. Except on the page where I criticize Elizabeth Wurtzel; I tend to get judged a lot myself on that page. Heh.

Anonymous said...

Amen and hallelujah, sister!!
Mich

hokgardner said...

Thank you. You all are so nice!

OnlinePharmacy said...

uUt1TI Your blog is great. Articles is interesting!

tramadol for dogs said...

Pd9cQP Please write anything else!

loss medication meridia weight said...

Magnific!

cartoon motel clipart said...

Good job!

name said...

Wonderful blog.

canada backpacker tours said...

Hello all!

anaheim tour said...

actually, that's brilliant. Thank you. I'm going to pass that on to a couple of people.

The Woman of Science said...

hehe... did you catch the spamtacular?

insurance and pregnancy said...

Wonderful blog.

ringtones said...

Thanks to author.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Oh, yes, and I'm being lazy about it. I am contemplating turning on the word verification thing, but I fucking hate that thing. A lesser known fact about the Drunken Housewife is that she is painfully nearsighted and astigmatic, and although my ever-present contacts or glasses nearly bring me to normal, I have trouble with the word verification feature. it often takes me 3 or more tries to get it right. I had it on this blog before for spam issues, and I turned it off because it made it onerous for me to add my own comments. If the spam comments get off this post (they kind of amuse me concentrated here), I'll turn it back on.

said...

Thanks to author.

fioricet intrackback said...

THgBf6 Nice Article.

absolutly free ringtones said...

actually, that's brilliant. Thank you. I'm going to pass that on to a couple of people.