so you want to help around the house!
This post is so hetero that it never has to check who’s around before it knocks a kiss on its person on date night at Bed Bath & Beyond. Yep, this one deals with straight partners and marrieds - if that’s not for you, no worries! Catch you at the next one!
So you want to help around the house!
First of all, yay!
We are, like, so glad you’re here.
While we have always genuinely appreciated the way you take care of the car and lawn, we’ve also been hinting, just a bit, here and there, with much subtlety, that we need a little more from you.
Throughout the rest of this step-by-step guide I want you to remember how much we love you and how happy we are that we picked you to share our lives with us. There’s no one else on Earth that we’d rather share a home and family with, and we’re thankful for you every single day, especially on days like this one where we have a chance to really grow together. Thank you for being willing to put yourself out here and admit that you could be doing more. You are truly our soul mate, Joaquin.
That’s how we know you’ll be able to handle it when we tell you that from here on out, our love is going to respect you enough to give it to you straight:
It’s about damn time.
Look, you’re here so you obviously get that helping around the house is important, and I’m not about to look a gift-husband in the mouth. What’s done is done, and the important part is that you’re here now. So. Fresh start?
You probably think that I’m about to reveal the ancient secrets of the mystical third eye that “sees mess,” the one that you assumed was as female as the ability to fight while smiling and an aversion to mattresses on the floor.
Surprise! Situational awareness isn’t magic. It’s actually just paying attention.
Nobody asked you to develop your situation awareness around your own domesticity. Largely, that’s because they’ve been asking us to do it since we were toddlers, so we get why you’re late to the game. But now that you’re here you have a lot of learning to do and quick, so suit up, rookie.
I like to think of the process of achieving domestic equity as a series of stages, starting with where you are now, which is basically the bare minimum that a loving partner would do, and ending with a full-blown screaming equitygasm. Ready? Let’s dive in.
This blog post is not about “female gatekeeping,” the phenomenon by which men attempt to help with domestic labor and find themselves shut out by their partners. That may or may not become the subject of a future post, but for now I’ll just say that in any healthy partnership you have to know what is and what is not your responsibility: if you’re trying to help and your partner’s not letting you, it is your responsibility to find out what’s not working and work to fix it. It is not your responsibility to assume that she wants to handle the whole family and household herself. It’s not your responsibility to decide that she’s simply never going to be happy with your efforts. She may not trust you to handle a complex or involved project yet. She may be preoccupied with something else and not have the time to explain to you how the laundry needs to be set differently for her delicates. You’ll only know if you ask.
It is also, FYI, not your responsibility to get huffy, give up, take to the internet, and comment on this post about how you tried and she wouldn’t let you.
This post is about how YOU can learn to help around the house, if you want to. If you want to complain about your wife’s unattainable standards for loading the dishwasher, you’ve got a whole fucking internet out there just mouth-breathing at the chance to meme along with you.
Okay, NOW let’s dive in.
The Stages of Domestic Equity
I do car and lawn maintenance, and I take the kid to soccer on Sundays.
Of course you do.
It’s a perfectly understandable starting point. These are probably the chores that you watched your dad do, or saw dads do on TV. These are man things in man spaces, machine-based, sweaty, sporty, and actually, when you think about it, occur almost completely outside of the home, almost entirely on one day of your weekend. You’re in nature. You’re in the garage. You’re in the stands. You step into the kitchen to grab a beer or a Coke, and then you’re back to work for a couple of hours one day a week.
You’re able to see this labor as work, which is important to point out early in the game.
A well-run machine counts as a meaningful contribution to the household in your mind. It is, after all, how your dad contributed, and all the dads on TV. It’s satisfying in its visual completion: a sticker on the windshield shows you did it. The long strips of neat green show you’re a good man who takes care of his home. You’re at the sidelines. You’re clapping.
Ain’t nothing wrong with doing car and lawn maintenance and youth sports. But if your entire home and family labor list consists of oil changes, lawn mowing, and soccer practice, that’s like my entire home and family labor list consisting of dropping off the kids at the dentist twice a year, mopping the kitchen floor once a week, and taking the dog to obedience school on Saturdays.
One of those tasks in an errand in which we deliver an object to be serviced by professionals, and we sit in a room with a magazine while that happens.
One task is visually satisfying and requires a lot of physical exertion but only addresses one part of the home.
One task outsources caregiving/teaching labor, and gives us a breather while our little ones get a workout.
All of those chores are great and important! None of them will keep our family running smoothly for long if we do those things and nothing else.
There is a lot that goes into running our home and our family. There is more than you can see. There is more than maybe you can even imagine. So stage 1 is a perfectly natural place to begin, but if you want a partnership, a real partnership, you have to start thinking bigger.
You’re ready to graduate from Stage 1 when you do: Yard work, car work, sports work, bar work. Man work. Dad work. Sweaty lad work.
I do lawn and car maintenance. After talking to my partner about how I can contribute more to the household, I also take out the trash, load the dishwasher, and do bedtimes on M/W/F, even though sometimes I need a text reminder that it’s my night.
Hey! That’s better! That’s progress! Those chores definitely wear on us when we have to do them day in and day out. Garbage, dirty dishes and laundry: the trifecta of things that our families produce relentlessly, and the ecosystem of the road beneath our feet on our long, dry march to death. Some days if I look at another hamper of clean laundry that needs to be folded and I dream of setting it on fire, boosting a speed boat, and making for the horizon, just to feel something. Just to feel free.
Bedtime is a huge one, too. We get why bedtime is a bummer sometimes. BELIEVE US. WE GET IT.
It’s the end of the day. We’re all tired and licking our chops for secret candy and wine after the kids go to sleep. The kids are pooped and in that manic mental space where their brains just dumped a little adrenaline in the mix to keep those tired kids hopping, and oh, do they hop. Bedtime is, even at its best, a series of mandatory transitions (from clothes to bath, from bath to pajamas, from bathroom to bedroom to bed) and we are fresh out of adorable creative patience so more often than not, bedtime turns into a series of ultimatums and at least a dozen counts to 3.
For you, bedtime is also an opportunity to show your child that you know how to brush hair and teeth gently enough that it won’t hurt. You get to ask them about their day and snuggle under a blanket and read the books that make them giggle. You get to make up your own little good-night dance. When Ryan does bedtime with Buster, he has an entire routine that is just theirs. It includes something called a buttwhumpus, which my lawyer told me I should not see in order to maintain deniability and retain custody should a buttwhumpus go sideways one of these days, and which Buster never asks me for when I do his bedtime. Those moments create intimacy, joy, trust, and deep love in your relationship with your child. You are the only person who can do that with your child. We can’t. Moms can’t Dad their kids. That’s on you. So we’re overjoyed to know that you’re regularly participating in even the frustrating, tooth-grinding daily routines of your child’s life.
Important for you to note in stage 2: while we’re psyched that you’ve accepted responsibility for some recurring chores, it’s not really your job if she has to remind you to do it.
At best, that’s a joint endeavor, and if you’re at all snarky, passive-aggressive, sulky, or harumphy about doing the things you said you were going to do, then you just made “Force husband to do thing he promised to do” her job. Not only did she have to monitor the chore to see whether it had been done, and then not only did she have to remind you to do your undone chore, but now she has to do the calculation of whether you doing the dishes is fucking worth it if she also has to ask you multiple times and then endure your terrible mood.
You’re ready to graduate from Stage 2 when you do: Regular child care doing things that might be boring or frustrating. Regular work on your relationships with your children. A finite number of household chores that are your responsibility: dishes, laundry, sweeping, trash, moving wine glasses from the bedside table, hanging up damp towels.
I do all the shit from stages 1 and 2 and I don’t need to be reminded about them anymore.
Sometimes she still asks me to do extra stuff after I’m done with my regular stuff, though.
You’re contributing to daily housekeeping maintenance and parenting. Great! In basketball terms, you know how to dribble now.
Dribbling is crucial. Dribbling doesn’t win games, though, does it. Dribbling just gives you feet on the court. Now you have to learn to shoot, pass, lay up, drop it like it’s hot, floss, squeegee, dab, and flamenco. I actually don’t watch basketball. Basketball games are just one giant squeaking shoe to me.
About that “extra stuff” that you have to do after the “regular stuff”?
Stage 3 is where you need to start to develop your situational awareness. See. Notice.
See, in stages 1 and 2 we were happy to get you started with a to-do list, but starting in stage 3 we need you to start to take responsibility for making your own to-do list based on our home and family needs. Yes, you yourself will need to notice things with your own eyes and brain.
Don’t roll your eyes at us. We know it sounds childish when we tell you to see and think. But listen, Joaquin, if you were doing it, we wouldn’t be explaining it. Accept that your behavior up to stage 3 has been adequate for a child’s contribution to the household and family. But you’re not a child. You’re a grown-ass man. Notice shit.
For example, after you take out the trash you could notice that there are bikes in the driveway.
For example, after you’re done loading the dishwasher you could notice that the sink is full of sick narsty spatter.
For example, after you put the baby down you could grab the overflowing hamper and start a load of onesies.
For example, when you get home from soccer, you could unpack the backpack, rinse out the water bottle, and spray the grass-stained shorts with Shout.
These aren’t extra chores that we want to specifically delegate to you, but the reality is that they are chores that need to be done. If you don’t do them, we will follow behind you, sweeping up these peripheral tasks as we go, as if you were vacuuming while eating popcorn and we had “sweep” on our list.
Or, stick with us here, you could just see and then do them yourself. You’re already there, presumably with eyes.
If we have to start listing every unique act of home and child care that needs to be done on a daily basis, not only will we burn this bitch to the ground, but you will also want to run away from us and never return, and we will come to empathize with you, because it will feel like we never, ever stop asking you to do things. We will all come to hate the sound of our voices.
If you already feel a little bit like that, welcome to womanhood, and welcome to the operational headquarters of your home and family, where we are never, ever, ever, EVER DONE, but the people constantly asking us to do things are our eyes and brains and the calendars and the emails and forms that came home in backpacks.
We rest because we’re depleted, not done. We need you to start noticing so we don’t have to do the work of delegating to you anymore. Noticing and delegating is half of my day sometimes. Noticing, delegating, and following up? If those three tasks were reduced even by 50% my book would be done, son. It’d be done six months ago.
You’re ready to graduate from stage 3 when you: Begin to walk into a room and see what needs to be done to bring that room to order. Do those things. Ideally, you do them without asking for a parade in your honor, but we all need a boost sometimes, we get it. I brag about my productivity to my husband at least 4 nights a week and he oohs and aaahs and falls to his knees at my feet because that’s love, baby.
I do all my shit. I also notice and then do the shit that’s peripheral to my shit without being asked or reminded. I feel like I’m really seeing and noticing the needs of the house and family.
Sometimes I ask what else I can do to help, but when I ask, I’m aware that asking maintains the dynamic that she owns the mental awareness of the home, and that it’s still her responsibility to know everything that needs doing and then hand me finite tasks to do. That’s a bummer, but we’re working on it.
Way to go, Joaquin! You are seeing and noticing, doing without relying on us to remember for you, and you’re aware of the inequality of our mental work. That’s outstanding. Honestly, you’re probably operating in the 90th percentile of men in hetero partnerships right now.
Here in stage 4, we need you to start remembering and anticipating.
Oh yeah, baby. Now you’re in the real shit.
There’s a silent, invisible world of work out there that doesn’t even stare at you from the counter like, “HI. I KNOW YOU SEE ME. I AM A DIRTY BLENDER. RUN WATER IN ME OR YOU WILL SPEND AN HOUR SCRUBBING SMOOTHIE FILM FROM MY NOOKS AND CRANNIES,” or call to you from the laundry room in a sing-songy jingle: “This load of laundry is done-done-deedly-dum, please move me to the dryer before I start to mildew-do-deedly-do” or scream at you in the middle of the night that it has shit its pants and needs a fresh bottom, stat.
Your mother’s birthday is in 3 weeks. Usually we check to see what day of the week it falls on and then check the closest weekend day to pencil in a brunch or dinner. We may also reach out to her to find out if there’s anything special that she wants to eat or do to celebrate. We start to think about what gift we could purchase, and what kind of card the kids are capable of creating for her without destroying our kitchen table. Glitter? Fuck off with that nonsense. Glitter glue? Great compromise.
The kids have gymnastics until 6 on Wednesdays now so that changes the dinner menu for the week significantly, which changes the grocery list, which we usually make on Sundays and shop for on Monday mornings. You could do some of that.
It’s April and we know it sounds bonanza but we may already be too late for the best summer camps. We need to start doing research on that. We need to start thinking about our childrens’ interests and struggles and booking camps that complement those interests and bolster them in their struggles. We may reach out to our kids’ friends to see what they’re doing. Their camps may already be full.
The book shelf needs to be cleaned out. It looks clean but it also looks full and we know that the kids haven’t even looked at those board books in at least a year.
Remembering. Anticipating. This is complicated Stage 4 shit.
Remember back in Stage 1 when I was like, “You register sweaty sports and yard labor and car chores as actual work, which is one reason it feels validating and rewarding to do those chores, and cheapening and annoying to sort out the Legos from the Duplos when the kids made toy soup.”
Stage 4 is where you really begin to understand that annoying, mindless, invisible work is still work, and that it is a valuable contribution to your family when you perform it. I would even go so far as to say that when you remember your mother’s birthday and plan something to celebrate her, that is actually even more meaningful than when you remembered you’d hit 65,000 miles on the Subaru.
This is bigger than a countertop. This is bigger than remembering your child’s teacher’s name.
This is a fundamental shift in your definition of your value as a human being and as a partner and father. You are so much more than the paycheck you earn. You are more than the male labor your father and TV father did.
Your silence when you lie in bed, holding the hand of your silently reading child, is work. It’s an exertion of love, the construction of trust and understanding. Your body is at work at the counter, scrubbing sick narsty spatter out of the sink.
Sit with it for awhile. Let it percolate. Trust us. We are the ones you love so well. Trust us to tell you how well you do it.
I own my chores. I notice the visual, tangible shit that was never assigned to me, and I do that, too. I remember and anticipate the invisible shit, and I do that too. I take time to do nothing with my children and I see the way my undemanding presence shows them that they don’t need to entertain me to earn my attention or affection. I know that when I do all of these things, I am contributing to my family in a way that is just as valuable as my cash or physical strength.
Congratulations. You’re there, babe. You’re Karamo Brown. Or Paul Rudd.
Now, it’s important that you remember that Stage 5 Domestic Equity is never acquired. This isn’t a fixed state.
It will take your constant work to continue to see, notice, remember, anticipate, and value the work that needs to be done in your home and for your family.
When the fit hits the shan at work, you might start needing reminders about handling your chores again. She might need to ask you 7 times to call your dad and ask him if he has anything he wants to do for Father’s Day. She’ll be there when you forget that all you need to be is in the room with your kids. That’s enough.
Those backslides are okay, babe. We expect them. It’s all part of a partnership.
Just because you take a nostalgia trip back to Stage 3 for a hot minute at a time of work crisis doesn’t mean you have to move back in like it’s your mama’s basement. You’ve reached Stage 5, so you know how it feels on your best day to be able to look your partner in the eye and know that you have reached a true, fleeting, but definitely repeatable partnership.
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Because you’re my freshmaker, baby.