How to Make a Dude Sweep the Kitchen Floor (Correctly), Without You Even Having to Tell Him


In the annals of Shit We Still Haven’t Figured Out Yet, it is always a major bummerino metropolis to learn that dudes, who now do more housework and childcare than ever, are apparently still not pulling their equal share without having to be nagged, threatened, or bribed. Doesn’t this burn you to the utter core of your lady hearth, the one that’s always burnin’ because you literally can’t shut it off if dudes won’t do their part? This is one subject for which I will not be a dude apologist (in addition to all the others).

Most of us know what this disparity amounts to in an actual woman’s life: You work a full day in the office and then come home to a second shift, where you are still primarily in charge of cooking, cleaning, childcare, and most importantly, all the so-called invisible labor it takes to manage a family existence, which has been defined as the planning and coordinating of tasks. It’s not just that you’re tired and pissed, it’s that you never get the feeling of having your own life, or free time, or time to recharge, if you feel like you are the only person overseeing the household’s concerns and making sure they are handled, or worse, if you are re-doing the work your husband or partner did poorly.

In real-life arguments with actual men, you hear any number of reasons for why dudes don’t or won’t do their equal part. The Atlantic has some fancy sociological theories for this well-documented disparity as to why humans with peens can’t scrub a bathroom right without a lot of rigmarole:

They’re Blind (The Epistemic Hypothesis)

They can’t “see” what needs to be done around the house, either because they have an entirely different “cognitive architecture,” or because no one ever pointed out all the work that a household needs before, and it just got magically done. Either way, they live in a “different reality.” This, of course, is often laid at the very tidy doorstep of the dude in question’s mother, who likely cleaned for him, laundered for him, handled all the work of her own household as traditional gender roles once dictated, and didn’t complain about it enough (or at all) to warrant any shift in his understanding of his own role in the house outside of earner, newspaper reader, child-on-knee bouncer.

They Can’t Be Bothered (Motivational Hypothesis)

Of course they can see what needs to be done, but in their eyes, it’s just not that important to do it, especially when other stuff matters more. Homemade valentines for your class party, kiddo? Why bother when we can just buy some and save time?

They Literally Can’t Do it Because of Their Job (Structural Hypothesis)

If a man’s working sitch requires long hours and zero flexibility, picking up kids after school is not an option. Likewise, the requirements for advancement in their field mean wining, dining and dazzling clients/superiors at off hours or on weekends or with big travel commitments, leaving them MIA on the homefront.

Sure, OK. But what’s the real cost of all this resistance to pitching in equally? Listen to CURRENT interviews with women in middle-class households about how they feel about their household labor division (from another Atlantic piece in a series adapted from the book Fast-Forward Family), and you may as well be reading anecdotes from the 1963 classic the Feminine Mystique.

Says Susannah:

Personally, I don’t have a life. My life is my family because whatever their needs are they always come first before mine and I can honestly say that. He-and I think it’s great-he does his golfing, he does his bike riding, and it doesn’t take a long time and he needs that. I don’t get that yet. I don’t have that yet. I don’t have the time or the luxury. That for me is like a huge luxury that I don’t see happening in any time in the near future.

Says Alice:

I have to, like, I manage the household, and, like, I delegate what needs to be done, ’cause basically I’m the one in charge of seeing that-everything needs to get done. That’s how I look at it. Anyway, so that’s a real source of tension between both of us, I think. It’s not like the trust thing. It’s just that-that, um, it wouldn’t be like Travis would walk into the room and go, gee, my underwear’s on the floor; I guess I’d better pick it up. It’ll be, like, Travis, pick up your underwear off the floor. I mean, it’s like, basically for me, it’s like having three kids in the house. Sorry, no offense. I love you very much.

Later, Travis wonders why Alice can’t just constantly leave him notes to tell him what he has to do? Sure thing mister, right after she cuts the crust off your PB&J.

Fortunately, there are people who have figured out how to share household work equally, and they offer some concrete solutions for navigating this depressing, bullshit scenario that feels more retrograde than Mercury.

Consider what couples who get this right do for each other:

A study of the couples preparing dinner together revealed a variety of interactional styles, including (1) “silent collaboration,” in which both partners worked in the same space and went about the task at hand; (2) “one partner as expert,” in which one spouse was considered an expert or authority in a particular task, either humorously or with genuine respect; (3) “coordinating together,” in which partners verbally organized the activity in concert; and (4) “collaborating apart,” in which partners carried out their share of the labor in separate locations.

The key in all this is that “spouses who appeared to have a clear and respectful understanding of one another’s roles and tasks, in contrast, did not spend as much time negotiating responsibilities; their daily lives seemed to flow more smoothly.”

Amanda Marcotte succinctly sums up the gist of the lessons to be learned from these couples who are actually winning the household wars:

The lessons here are simple: 1) A sitdown discussion dividing chores up is critical. 2) Once the chores are divided, it is important to do your chores in a time-efficient manner, without complaining. Men should not try to “cheat” the chore division system by dawdling until nagged or their partners do it first. 3) Once a chore is assigned to one partner, the other should butt out. That means women need to let go of the fear that they’re failing as women if they aren’t controlling what’s going on in the kitchen, etc. 4) That, in turn, means that if a chore is your responsibility, you need to do a good job. Half-assing it is just another form of playing chicken, and trying to get the chore removed from your list by making your partner have to go in and redo your work.

But if you’re wondering how to even get this conversation started, The Atlantic suggests that couples can begin by identifying the specifics of your problem, by having men/fathers put their reality glasses on and asking themselves the following questions:

Do I do half of the laundry and half of the dishes every day?
Do I buy half of the clothes and toys?
Do I take on half of the management of my care providers?
Do I write half of the lists and notes?
Do I wake up in the middle of the night to calm the baby half of the time?
Do I change half of the diapers?
Do I plan half of the travel?
Do I track half of the household budget?
Do I put the kids to bed half of the time?
Do I make half of the grocery, sports, and afterschool lesson runs?
Do I write half of the e-mails to my kids’ teachers?
Do I watch the kids for half of the weekend and for half of every weeknight?

They also provide a long list of “invisible work” categories to consider in mapping out a discussion of how to re-broker your deal:

Childcare management and communication
Cooking and meal preparation
Laundry, ironing and mending work
Grocery shopping
Home decorating (garage sales, picture hanging, etc.)
Yard work
Afterschool lessons, weekend activities, and summer camp planning and coordination (researching, driving to, waiting during, and equiping)
Communication with extended family (calling mom, mailing gifts, etc.)
General household cleaning (sweeping, vacuuming, garbage removal, window washing, etc.)
Making travel arrangements and packing
Party planning and holiday preparation (cards, meals, decorations, cleaning)
General social outreach (setting up playdates, interacting with neighbors, making plans with friends, etc.)
Monthly financial chores (bill paying, health claims and tax prep)
General shopping and consumer research (for clothing, gifts, technology, media, etc.)
Putting kids to bed and waking up with them in the middle of the night
Getting kids ready for school, dropping them off, meeting the bus in the afternoon
School-related tasks and communication (contacting teachers, delivering forgotten items, volunteering, attending conferences and shows)
Staying home with sick kids
General family scheduling
Coordinating and completing home repairs
Documenting family history (taking and organizing photos)
Disciplining kids (establishing and enforcing consequences for misbehavior)
Managing and picking up the pieces after major upheavals (moves, home sales, funerals, job losses)
Pet care (walking the dog, checking out kennels, etc.)
Emotional work (resolving playground disputes, offering advice, proactively keeping the peace among siblings)
Long-term financial planning (for retirement, college tuition, etc.)

Then, get to hashing.

As someone living in an equal division of labor household, here are some additional tips I’d add to all this.

This stuff isn’t all theoretical

Try to map this stuff out as much as possible in advance, but just diving into your agreed tasks will surface any weak spots in the agreement immediately. You’ll feel your way through it and figure it out as you go along, and that’s OK.

It’s all up for negotiation

I would love it if I could force my kid to run to her dad half the time when she’s upset and me the other half. But she doesn’t. I can’t make her lean on him for more emotional support, so I absorb this work. However, we can make sure we both play with her and bond with her and that he gets one-on-time with her to encourage that option, and the more we do this, the more she does run to him for comfort. I get some relief, but he picks up the slack elsewhere.

You do have to agree on, or agree to disagree on, a standard of cleaning/care:

Look, in order to change a tire, you can’t just lean a new tire against the car, right? You have to actually put it on, secure it, tighten it, and balance it. A clean kitchen is not that different: You can’t unload the dishwasher but not wipe the counter, or wipe the counter but not take out the trash. Agree on a functional definition of “done” that is logical, and avoid the resentment that comes from feeling like you did it all, and better.

Divide the labor however you want, as long as you agree that it makes sense

Gender-obvious division of labor was easy because it was usually women inside/men outside. Men fix, women clean. But that no longer reflects our actual lives and abilities, and I am all for my husband doing things he’s better at. Like cooking. But he had to be receptive to it in order for us to discover this.

I taught him what I know, and he surpassed my cooking abilities in five minutes merely winging it. (To this day, I still need a recipe to cook most things, and even then, the results are not guaranteed.) The point here is that people should be open to getting better at things they might not even realize they’d be good at, regardless of gender. I find trimming hedges with that electric thing to be positively invigorating.

Equal may not look “fair,” but who cares

I nursed my child for two and a half years. Obviously, my husband could not do this for me. But he did literally every other thing surrounding nursing that was possible, and picked up cooking and cleaning while I was tied, sometimes round the clock during teething episodes or growth spurts, to my child. And when I started weaning, he started putting her to bed every night so we could avoid the inevitable struggle to still be nursed to sleep.

When in doubt, split it down the middle

My husband gets to sleep in on Saturdays and I get to sleep in on Sundays. The end.

Always check back in

Don’t hassle each other over minutia, but I think if you have a good thing going on communication-wise here, you should be able to tell someone they forgot to bleach the toilet. Or save these concerns for when you check back in, and ask each other: “So how is this working?” Do you think you’re doing too much? Do you need more help on something? Are you feeling like you got stuck with a bigger task than makes sense?”
Be ready to re-negotiate.

Of course, all this presumes you have a partner willing to dive into this new equality with you. If you can’t even get your dude to talk about a better solution to managing your time as a family, then you have even bigger issues to solve than a dirty kitchen floor.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin