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I’m a stay-at-home dad. People say all kinds of dumb things to stay-at-home dads. This blog began as a way for me to record these comments and criticize the people who said them. However, it's evolved, and I now use it to express other random thoughts on parenting, children, gender, and society. Thanks for checking it out.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

“Do You Help Your Wife With the Cleaning and Stuff?”

Not long ago, I was at Target with my 1-year-old daughter. It was our weekly trip to spend ridiculous amounts of money on diapers, baby food, a wide array of kid-friendly crackers, too many paper towels, and maybe—if there’s room in the budget—one or two items for me. We were in the checkout line, and the cordial, clueless employee started chatting it up with me.
Noticing the small child and assorted groceries in my cart, she asked with a smile, “Are you a stay-at-home dad?”
“Yep,” I said, wondering to myself whether she asks moms the same question.
“Aw, that’s so cute!”
I smiled and gave a polite, fake laugh. As I’ve pointed out before, I don’t think it’s particularly cute that I care for my kids, but whatever. No point in making this lady feel bad. Target management had already required her to wear a “New Team Member” nametag, and that’s embarrassing enough.
But then she kept on yammering.
“So, do you help your wife with the cleaning and stuff?”
At that point, I looked around for a hidden camera. I had met this lady 15 seconds ago, and she had already said three blog-worthy things to me. Was this some kind of a prank? It’s like she had read my blog and was trying to provoke me. Maybe she wanted to get mentioned. If so, it was working.
“I do the cleaning,” I replied. “I don’t really call it ‘helping.’ It’s my job. I’m the stay-at-home parent.”
“Oh! That’s great!” she said, wide-eyed. “Do you want a handle for your toilet paper?” Then she made stupid faces at my daughter and continued ringing me up.
I hope I got through to her, at least a little. That word—“help”—bothers me, and anything I can do to stop its widespread use is a step in the right direction.
I’ve heard it a lot since I started the stay-at-home thing. Someone once asked me if I “help with laundry.” When people hear that I cook dinner most nights, I’ve been told, “That’s so nice of you to help your wife like that.” It reminds me of when my 5-year-old “helps” me shovel snow, which is to say he scoops one small shovelful and then just jumps around making snow angels. I call him “Daddy’s helper” because it’s cute (there’s that other word the Target lady used), not because he’s actually helping.
Why is it “helping” when men do the housework? When I was single and lived alone, I did my own laundry and washed my own dishes all the time. Whom was I helping back then?
When I moved in with a woman, did it immediately become her job to clean my skivvies for me? If that’s the case, someone tell her, because I can count on one hand the number of times she’s done my laundry in seven years of marriage. (Full disclaimer: Because of my OCD, I pretty much have to do my own laundry. If I let someone else do it, they might fold it all wrong.)
I’m not helping my wife when I clean the house, anymore than she’s helping me when she goes to work every day. Using the word “help” implies that the cleaning is rightfully her job, and that the breadwinning is mine. That it’s not my responsibility as a grown man to scrub the toilet once a week, and that she really shouldn’t have a career that can support a family.
We’re married, we own a home, and we decided for some reason to have two money-sucking, attention-demanding, mess-making, beautiful, wonderful, glorious children. All of the responsibilities associated with those endeavors are shared responsibilities. They don’t belong to one of us or the other. I mow the lawn and iron the clothes. My wife bathes the kids and cleans the gutters. We both work and earn money.
The majority of the housework falls on my shoulders, and it should. After all, she works full-time, and I work part-time. It seems like a no-brainer, and it works for us. That’s not to say we enjoy it all the time or never quibble over who’s busier, but simply that we recognize things need to get done and don’t much care which one of us does them.
I know it’s not my place to tell anyone how to run their household. The traditional arrangement—man go hunting, woman go to river and beat clothes on rock—works for plenty of families, no matter how disturbingly outdated it seems to me. To ask everyone to abandon that and embrace a world in which we all rake leaves and pay mortgages and bake quiches and wipe babies’ asses, regardless of our preconceived notions about gender, is asking a lot.
So let’s start slow, by simply correcting Target employees. And by recognizing nobody should feel forced to do anything because of what is or isn’t between his or her legs. If you want to do it the old way, go ahead. It’s none of my business. Just don’t refer to me as my wife’s “helper” if you happen to notice me cleaning my own damn house.

1 comment:

  1. Why lie. You're not a "stay at home Dad" I've seen you out of your home.