Oddly enough, in real-life family situations, the strategies men and women embrace regarding the performance of household tasks are very similar to the above. Apparently, according to Lisa Belkin’s recent article in the New York Times Magazine, among spouses, the wife-to-husband ratio for performing housework is two to one; and regarding child care, it’s five to one. Irrespective of circumstances such as, one-or-two income parents, proximity of work to home, job demands or income, house size, numbers and ages of children; or geographic region, husbands seem to “negotiate” what tasks they will perform and more often than not, women acquiesce or “cooperate” by doing more domestic work.

This situation works perfectly, except for one small obstacle: women object to their percentage of home labor—at times, vehemently. And rightly so, according to some research by Lee Blair, an associate professor of sociology at a college in Buffalo, who studied the division of labor in families. Apparently, after children and money, decisions about household chores is the topic most disputed between spouses.

The inequitable arrangement regarding the performance of domestic activities is embedded in generations of cultural norms. As a result, the concept of “equality” rarely exists in a marriage. So how do these “cultural norms” develop in such a manner that women perform at least twice the household chores as their male counterparts?

Social norms are the outgrowth of choices that are made in specific contexts. Think of contexts as subject-headings that make up someone’s life such as: career choice, family-planning (i.e., whether and when pregnancy is anticipated), parental modeling, neighborhood peers, and so forth. The choices someone makes in any context is represented in the myths or “stories” he or she tells himself and others. They include comments about expectations of success, desired goals, and cautions. For example:

“I like the health field, but I need something flexible—no more than four days per
week—as I also want to start a family.”
”I am a busy doctor—and with emergencies, my hours exceed 60 per week at times.
I don’t have the time to clean or fold laundry.”
“None of the guys in our neighborhood do much around the house. Cut the lawn,
maybe, but that’s it.”
“I wish my husband did more around the house. But I also know, being a typical
‘guy’, he will screw up the wash—mix coloreds and whites together and ruin
the kids clothes. I’m happy if he just takes out the garbage.”
“It’s a losing battle. I tell my husband I need him to do more, and he brings up how
my mother did all the housework and never nagged my father to help her.”

These “stories” or myths by which we live are held in the body in specific ways and in large measure determine our perceptions of and responses to our environment. And apparently, few if any of the choices that are made represent the concept of an equal sharing of household responsibilities. “Equality” in the sense of fragmenting or dividing chores presupposes that the many chores could be “weighted” equally. But then, how do you equate them--by the time required to perform given tasks? Level of complexity (i.e, number of sub-tasks)? Perhaps the sacrifices made in order to be available and perform a given chore?

The larger issue here is working in harmony—together; the integration of the various component parts (i.e., chores) into one “whole.” This is a smoothly-operating household in which there is a virtual seamlessness regarding the pieces of which it is comprised. Warning! The following is not for everyone. If you think you have no time to devote to learning something new, stop reading here! For the rest who wonder how this “wholeness” can be applied:

• Consider what tasks need to be done in your household, irrespective of who does them. This may include various aspects of childcare as well.
• As mentioned in the New York Times article, rather than assigning duties based on some notion of “equality”, decide in the best interests of the family, which of the above duties need to occur as priority upon being noticed.
• Begin to have the experience of being one small unit within a much larger condition we call, “family.” In holding this consideration, you may become aware of others you know who, like you, are also small, single parts of a much greater “whole”—their families. You may recognize that this phenomenon also holds for experiences in which you are one of many who share a common experience—a ballgame, concert, lecture and so forth. Noticing what’s common among you become aware of how your body is affected as you begin to lose yourself in this timeless, optimal experience.
• Applying this to the tasks which need to be done, consider that any or all of them are a part—not apart—of the whole-form experience known as your household. Begin telling yourself new stories about your performance within and relation to the whole that is “household.” Notice any changes in your posture, musculature, breathing. Pay exquisite attention to the things within this household environment you occupy; and perform tasks as you see the need to do so. After some time and practice, you may become aware of the fact that you are doing things out of awareness! In effect, let your unconscious be your guide…