Why I refuse to help my wife
by Jan Niemand
I have to confess. I hate helping my wife at home (and in general). In fact, I want to go a bit further. I don’t hate helping her. I refuse to help her. There. I said it.
But what do I mean with that one confession? That she doesn’t need my help? That she is fully capable of getting along without my interfering? That she is able to handle the stresses and strain of life without my involvement? Yes, surely all these. But that’s not why I refuse to help. You see, the problem is not with the “helping” part. Helping someone can be a noble thing. It is the “roles” implied by that word that really get under my skin. Let me explain:
- The division of labour and the roles we play
One of the unique traits of human societies is the sociological concept of “division of labour.” Check more out here if you want to learn more. The division of labour generally means that each person within a group has assigned “tasks” that they specialise in to the benefit of the whole group. Division of labour is what enables artists in society to be artists. It is what enables CEOs to become CEOs. In short, the concept, “division of labour” is brilliant and is the reason why societies can be societies.
- Traditional division of labour vs. intentional division of labour
The problem comes in when we follow division of labour patterns without thinking about them and evaluating them critically.
Traditionally, women are the homemakers. Traditionally, men are not. Traditionally, women do the washing. Traditionally, men do repairs around the home. Traditionally, men see to the finances of the home, and women spend them (it’s a joke!).
But all jokes aside. Traditional labour division roles CAN be good if they serve your family! But here’s the catch… Did you divide the roles INTENTIONALLY? Did you think about the many roles the modern woman has to fulfill which previous generations did not (have to)? Is it really the best option to assign the repairs to the husband, even though the wife might be a lot more practically minded and skilled (if you can read between the lines, you may at this point…)?
- Dividing labour intelligently
The moment our two kids came into our lives, I was struck by the realisation that if we ever need to think about our roles and workload, now is that time. My wife has her own career working for an international company, and I had had been busy with a career transition when my son arrived on the scene. We COULD not assume traditional labour division roles, because the integrity of our family’s functioning (read: our sanity) would not allow it. I could not expect of my wife to cook, clean and iron all by herself with the two little ones in the picture all by herself. Why? Because she simply could not get everything done juggling everything on her plate. Does this mean that I was NOT busy? Nope. I was metaphorically “snowed under” with responsibilities. The only choice we had was thinking about our responsibilities intelligently (and realistically).
- A few guidelines of the division of labour
What I am not calling for, is pulling apart the traditional roles of labour without insight. What I am calling for, is the critically evaluate each person’s role in light of the realities of each person’s responsibilities. A few guidelines might help:
- Is the role supported by the person’s strengths, skills, and talents?
- Are the role and labour distribution fair?
- Have you taken into account the job stresses of each person?
- Are there opportunities for serving the other person which you are missing?
- What labour distribution system will serve your family the best for the following season?
- How much of ego, selfishness and, yes, even laziness is evident in the current labour distribution?
To conclude. So when my wife and I went to hang the washing this one morning, it was a bright sunny day. The washing was quite a large bundle, but at least the sun would dry it quickly. After about 20 minutes of hanging, my wife replied: “Thanks for helping me with the washing. It really saved a lot of time.” I was offended by her thanks. Really offended.
At that moment I realised we needed to think about our distribution of labour a bit…
So I replied: “I did not help you. This is our washing. We did this together.” Slightly taken aback, she replied: “That’s not what I meant…” “I know. And I love you for it. But let’s talk about expectations and roles so we can find a solution which helps us both get the housework done while supporting each other’s careers.”
We’re still working it out. But that’s OK. Because kids add a dynamic quality to life in any case. But I still refuse to help my wife. Because it’s our washing, our kids and our home. Let us find a way to tackle the workload in the most intelligent and energy efficient way.