women's unpaid household labor

The Guarantor of Toilet Paper

When I was a kid, my mom made sure our house was stocked with toilet paper. She was, as it were, the guarantor of toilet paper. My father knew we needed toilet paper, he used his fair share. He owned a car, had access to money…why wasn’t it his job to make sure there was enough toilet paper in the house at all times? My dad worked full time and so did my mom. As you might guess, women’s unpaid household labor was a huge issue in our house.

I loved my mother dearly and she made herself and the rest of us crazy with her full time job, combined with her other full time job, which was attempting to keep our house from descending into chaos. My dad helped more than other fathers, but he wasn’t in charge of making sure the house had all the supplies it needed to run efficiently. Here’s a fun fact, when he was in the Navy, his job was in supply. Yes, you read that correctly. His career for Uncle Sam was, in part, making sure people had all the stuff they needed to live a clean, efficient life. Well, efficient for the Navy.  Haha dad, just joking.

Whaaaat?! Why didn’t my dad do all that for OUR house? He is not now, nor has he ever been, an idiot. My mom trusted that he would drive the car without running it into trees and mow the lawn without running over the dog and keep an eye on us kids when we were in the pool (which may have been a mistake since I think the second he took up residence on the inflatable raft he instantly fell asleep). So, why wasn’t he allowed to keep the house supplied?

It was his job. The American taxpayer paid him to do it.

I asked him a few weeks ago and do you know what he said? “That was just your mother.” And then he smiled and went back to watching Matlock.

And he was right. My dad was perfectly capable of keeping our house stocked with everything we needed, but my mom wouldn’t let him.

Why? I can’t ask her since she passed away a few years ago, but I can imagine. She wanted most things done just so. And so she slowly but surely got into the habit of doing everything herself.

I learned a very important lesson watching my mother live her life. I learned that I did not want to be in charge. It looked not only difficult, but like absolutely no fun at all. Everyone was always getting everything wrong, but there seemed to be very little joy in having everything done right. She was usually too tired to enjoy it.

My younger son is only 6, but he is already helping wash dishes and I can tell you, he is doing a terrible job. Sometimes the dishes are dirtier after he gets done with them. There is water all over him and the floor. I have to wait until after he falls asleep to go back in the kitchen and rewash them. It’s a huge hassle. But he’ll never learn to do it right if he doesn’t go through a phase of doing it wrong.

I like to think of it as similar to when kids learn to write. While learning to print, my older son’s writing looked like he was being attacked by an angry badger. Not anymore. It now appears as if he is being attacked by a cheeky squirrel. Progress!  

He is also a pretty good dishwasher. He can wash his own clothes. He knows how to keep a house clean and organized. Whether he actually keeps his house clean and organized on a regular basis, that is something I do not know. He can keep to a budget when buying groceries and, as far as I know, he hasn’t poisoned himself or anyone else with his cooking. He didn’t figure all that out on his own. I am the one who taught him.

I did not want to nag him to do a hundred small chores (put your clothes in the hamper, put your clean clothes away, clean up your room so I can vacuum, get all the crap off your bed so I can change your sheets) I wanted to nag him to do a few big ones (do your laundry, clean your room, go in your room and shut the door because everything about you is smelly). Okay, I never said that last one but there were a few occasions when I thought it.

The only piece of parenting advice I ever got that was worth the breath it took to share was from my cousin. She drove herself nearly insane when her kids were little.  Full time job, went to school full time and had 80% custody of her two young children. She said she never asked them to help because it took so long for them to do anything and that it was just quicker to do it herself. “It was a mistake. I should have let them help when they were little, so that they were trained to help when they were older.”

Also, I taught my older son to bake and it turns out he is a waaaay better baker than me. When I finally got serious about finishing my college degree, he used to make me cookies while I cried my way through my algebra homework.

He did make me clean up the kitchen, but I still consider it a parenting victory.  

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