Archive for Monday, July 17, 2006

Sharing the burden

Tact, organization help couples split chores effectively

July 17, 2006


Susan Heiss was so fed up with her husband not helping around the house that she signed on with the reality television show "Wife Swap" to give him a reality check.

For two weeks last fall, Susan traded her place as wife and mother in a spoiled family and cushy home in Warwick, R.I., with that of a hippie wife in Virginia, who lived in a ramshackle house where cleaning chemicals weren't allowed and the family's meals consisted of scraps plucked out of garbage bins.

Meanwhile, the mom from Virginia moved into the Heiss's house and was clearly distressed to find that Susan's husband and three teenage children expected her to work like a slave, spending her days cooking, cleaning and catering to each of them.

The swap had the effect Susan desired: By the end of the show, Susan's husband and kids finally realized how much she did for each of them - and how little they did in return. When she came home, her husband did something about it.

"It's a miracle," Susan said. "I tell you, the guy's a changed man."

Edward Heiss agrees, saying he now does chores he wouldn't have dreamed of - such as grocery shopping. "I never thought I'd see myself going to Shaw's or Dave's or Stop and Shop with a list, walking up and down the aisles with a carriage like a housewife."

While few women - or men - would resort to appearing on national television to get their spouses more involved in housework and child rearing, it's an issue that affects many relationships.

Nearly two-thirds of all women would like men to do more, especially when it comes to cooking and cleaning, according to a recent survey by

The survey found that 68 percent of women respondents said they were primarily responsible for the housework in their home, while only 9 percent of men said they were the primary homemakers. In addition, 69 percent of women said they were primarily responsible for cooking meals in their households, as compared with 22 percent of men. It also found that more than half of the men questioned - 55 percent - were satisfied with the balance of house-related duties. But only 34 percent of women were satisfied.

That's no surprise to Josh Coleman, author of the book "The Lazy Husband: How To Get Men To Do More Parenting and Housework."

"In truth, women do do more," Coleman said. "And most men either don't see it or don't realize it or don't value it."

Some guys still believe in the old stereotypes - that housework and child care are still a woman's responsibility and they have all kinds of excuses for not helping out, Coleman said. He even has names for them:

¢ The "boy-husband" who is needy and pretends to be incompetent around the house.

¢ The "perfectionist husband" who wants the house and kids to look perfect, but doesn't want to do the work himself.

¢ The "status seeker husband" who puts his career before his family and spends little time at home.

¢ The "I get no respect husband" who doesn't want to look weak, so he makes excuses and avoids helping out because he believes his wife won't respect him if he does more housework and parenting.

Others have no idea that their wives are doing so much, Coleman said. But the reality, he said, is that "their wives are typically doing much more than their mothers did."

And it's even tougher on women who work outside the house, Coleman said. "Men don't appreciate working moms - they don't appreciate the amount of guilt and worry they feel" as they try to juggle work while keeping house and raising a family.

On the other hand, he said, more men are helping out than ever before - especially those in their 20s, who probably do more than those in any other age group. "Most guys feel, 'Gee, I'm doing so much more than my dad ever did, and even than my guy friends do, so why doesn't she just see that and give me a break?'" Coleman said.

But it's still not enough, he said. One recent study showed that women spend an average of 11 more hours a week on housework than men.

Scott Haltzman, a Brown University professor and marriage therapist who recently published a book called "Secrets of a Happily Married Man," agrees that women tend to do more. But on the flip side, he said, "I think women underestimate what men do."

First, most men have a longer commute and put in more hours at work than women do so they don't have as much time to work around the home, Haltzman said. And, he contends, most men would willingly give up the responsibility of being the prime bread-winner in the family. "But until our wives tell us we don't have to worry so much about paying for college and making the mortgage, we're going to take on those roles."

In addition, he said, much of what men do in and around the home is taken for granted. For example, he said, "If on the way in, I happen to notice that the fender is off the kids' bicycle, I might fix it. I might pump up the kids' tires with air, or the kids' basketballs with air, but she might not notice these things that I do because they're not on her list. But we're recognizing these need to get done and we take care of it."

The same stereotypes also apply to women, Coleman noted. "In general, if someone comes over to the house and the house is a mess, they're not going to say, 'This guy is a slacker.' We still pin it on the woman. The same with if little Johnny shows up with torn jeans and peanut butter on his pants - 'What was mom thinking?' There's still a lot of prejudice that women should be responsible for the house and kids.The women have more pressure."

Fairness is the key, Coleman said. He notes in his book that women who do an unfair amount of housework and parenting are more likely to get divorced and to suffer from depression and anxiety.

When men help out, the children are happier and their wives are happier. In fact, he says, a marital researcher found that women are more interested in having sex when they're married to men who are more willing to do housework.

Coleman said he believes the happier the couple is with their relationship, the more likely they are to share chores. "In those households where men feel liked or appreciated by their wives or their partners, they tend to do more housework. It isn't because housework is important to them. It's because they know it's important to their wife or their girlfriend and they want to make them happy."


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