Women, the workforce, and the household

This topic of the gender divide in housework and childcare is extremely interesting to me since my parents do not conform to “typical” or “traditional” gender roles.  In my family, it was my dad who took the lower paying job with shorter, flexible hours in order to be at the bus stop when the kids got home from school.  He was the one to drive us to all of our lessons, make our snacks, cook dinner, usually do the dishes, and pay all the bills.  My mom, on the other hand, was in charge of the morning routine before going to her higher paying corporate job.  When she got home everyday, dinner was usually already on the table.  She would help with the dishes, but her main responsibilities were taking care of the cats, doing the laundry, and tucking the kids in to bed each night.  If a kid got sick, it was my dad that came home.  If a kid needed help on homework, it was my dad again.  But when it came to the fun things – those almost always fell to my mom.  This is how the work has always been divided in my house.  For the most part it has been successful in that we turned out alright, but it has been a struggle for my parents. My mom is unhappy in her job.  She doesn’t like the long hours, being away from the family, or doing work that is uninteresting to her.  But she does it because she feels like she has to make sacrifices to provided for her family.  My dad sometimes feels resentful that his career has been put on the back-burner.  Often he feels like the division of labor is unequal and places more of a burden on him.  Although my parents try to work towards a more equal division of labor, they clearly haven’t achieved it yet – which has led to to many arguments over the children and housework (just like Belkin mentions in her article). I consider this division by no means equal- rather it’s the reverse of what is typical of most other middle-class households.  It was surprising to me then, when my parents started advocating more traditional household roles to my brother and me.  My mom has advised me to look for careers with flexible schedules so I can stay home with the kids… my dad justifies my brother’s stereotypically male aversion to cooking and cleaning by claiming “it’s okay, he’s just a boy.”  Although my parents’ lifestyle is very untraditional, they seem to be instilling traditional household gender roles on their children.  Why is it expected that should be the parent who has to have a more flexible job? Why do I have to make that decision now? Why do I need to sacrifice my hopes of a powerful, successful career now? Because I’m a woman? Because I may have children some day? Because it’s expected of me to plan for my future family life?  I don’t think my parents have told my brother to pick a career with flexible hours… It would seem ridiculous if they did.  They have allowed him to shirk his household duties though.  Does he know how to make lunch or do the laundry? No.  My parents don’t expect him to do those things because he is younger than me and a boy, so I can take care of him.  It’s surprising to me that while they assume non-traditional household gender roles, they don’t advocate the same things to my brother or me.  I always thought I could have it all: a successful career, a husband, children, a happy life – because I saw that my mom had somehow made it work.  But I never thought that I’d have to start thinking about those things now.  It scares me that I’m expected to consider my future family life now and make decisions accordingly.  I think this is something more applicable to women though – the “work-life” balance usually always refers to a woman’s “work-life” balance.  It’s assumed that the woman will have to make sacrifices and change her lifestyle to accommodate her family.  But because I saw that my mom had somehow navigated this “work-life” division successfully, I just assumed that I would be able to do the same.  I’m not so sure now.

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2 Responses to Women, the workforce, and the household

  1. While the gender divide in my household was not identical to the one that you describe in your home, I can certainly relate to the nontraditional gender roles that your parents played. My mother, an attorney, and my father, an accountant, both have corporate jobs and thus have very busy schedules. Due to the demands in their respective offices, I had a babysitter all throughout my childhood. However, when my parents were home, it was my dad who cooked dinner and tidied up the house, while my mom took care of the dogs (similar to how your mother took care of your cats) and paid the bills. I also empathize with having a mother who is unhappy with her long hours and feels somewhat unsatisfied with her corporate position. Moreover, I can certainly relate to your own concerns as a female college undergrad, who already feels that she needs to compromise her work and personal life choices. While my mother encourages me to succeed to my utmost potential in my academics, she never fails to remind me about getting my “MRS” in addition to my BA. I know that these remarks are said jokingly, but I also know that there’s a thick layer of truth within her reminders. Why should I feel pressure to find a husband while still in college? Because I am a woman and I need to find a man to protect me? Why can’t I protect myself? I certainly agree with you that the “work-life” balance is not as easy to achieve as we hoped, but I do think it is tangible and can, in fact, be achieved. Despite the setbacks and oppositional perspectives, we can find that division between work and life that will grant us the satisfaction and happiness we deserve.

  2. gabriellaym says:

    Sheila, I completely understand where you’re coming from and there’s a similar dynamic in my house. Both of my parents own their own businesses and also try to be present for me and my sister. Recently, as my sister and I have become older and more independent, my parents are each pursuing their professional goals to a much greater extent, which I feel has strongly highlighted the tension of gender roles in terms of work to be done around the house. For the past two years, my mom has started up a new business that requires her to constantly be on the phone and travel in order to get investors to tag on — a process that has been very stressful. In the meantime, my dad is trying to expand his business. While he feels a lot of pressure and pride to bring in a constant source of income for the family while trying to help out around the house, my mom still faces the burden of remembering to do all the “woman’s work” such as laundry, making dinner, paying the bills, and running errands for all of us. It has been so interesting to grow up in a house with two ambitious parents, each of whom have enormous professional and personal commitments to each other and our family. I find it amazing that they are able to find balance and teach my sister and I to be determined and driven to have our own careers and still want to have loving marriages and strong relationships with our children.

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