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Welcome to 2014 January 12, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, older son, personal, younger son.
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Despite all of my good intentions, it’s taken a bit more to get back into my routine.  The youngster went back to school on Monday.  I was relieved not to be teaching this week (or this semester), but I had a paper deadline this week along with a lot of other anomalous stuff.

In particular, a friend of mine passed away at the beginning of the week.  It’s made this week seem a bit surreal.

That’s given me an opportunity to think about my priorities, which was something I had started reflecting on over the break.  I’m not one to make resolutions, but it’s good to reflect on goals.  And nothing will make you think about your goals more than realizing they can be cut short.

My thesis has been weighing heavily on my mind.  I definitely reaffirmed that I want to finish my PhD, but it’s been hard and frustrating this past year, particularly the past three to four months.  I really anticipated being farther because I didn’t anticipate how rough the fall semester would end up being.  So I’m working on getting my schedule set up to have more time to devote to that.

Realistically, that’s the one thing I’m really not happy about.  It’s a big thing, so it’s not something as simple as, “I can put in 15 minutes a day on it.”  But I’m making an effort to rearrange a few things, particularly with kid schedules, to facilitate getting more time on things.

I also want to be blogging regularly again.  The holidays and grading threw an awful crimp in that one.  One day isn’t a data point, but you need that data point to start a trend.

I’m happy to report that our housekeeping effort is going well.  That is, the kids are doing a great job.  I gave up on trying to have them get things done before the weekend.  We just schedule a time for them to work on it and, when we tell them it’s time to, they do.  (We’ve found that it seems like we can’t get to it every week, but we’re holding steady with every other week at least.)  We pay them according to which jobs they do, and we match everything they earn with a deposit into their savings account.  The house is staying cleaner than when we had a housekeeper, and I think we’re actually spending less.

This is actually much more about the kids than it is about the house, though.  I’m really happy that they are both at a point where they are taking responsibility for their chores.  I hate breathing down their neck about anything. I also really am happy about the fact that doing chores is one thing they do cooperatively.  They have a system worked out – older boy does the tall stuff, younger boy does the floor stuff that older boy hates, etc.  They worked it out themselves and, even better, they seem to have fun doing it.

At the same time, the older son is getting ready to go to college this fall.  I anticipate that there will be a lot of changes despite his plans to live at home.  I’m impressed that he’s trying to move forward cautiously and not bite off more than he can chew.  I also have no idea how the big changes over the next couple years will affect the younger son, who quite adores his older brother.

I anticipate there will be a lot of bumps in the road this year, but I’m hoping that it will be uphill from here.  I guess I’d rather start the year on a sad note so that I can look forward to how much better it will get.

A clean sweep August 20, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in family.
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For the past year or so, we had enlisted the services of housekeeper because I was just simply overwhelmed with everything.  However, I’ve decided that I need to cut back a bit on my time at work so I can spend more time on my thesis as I also have a class to teach this fall.  We decided that the drop in pay was about the same as the housekeeper.  Given the housekeeper was having a hard time doing all the stuff within the given time, it seemed like the obvious answer was to let him go and have everyone pitch in around the house for the same amount of time.

When I was a kid, my sisters and I were expected to do the majority of the cooking and cleaning.  My parents jokingly referred to us as ‘slave labor,’ though I have to admit to not finding much humor there.  Realistically, though, it was the only way to make things work as my parents were working…a lot.

I’m still not crazy about the slave labor idea, though, even for my own kids (as appealing as certain aspects of it may be).

The first thing I did was to make a schedule for myself to see when I would actually have some time for housekeeping.  I need 2-3 hours per week, and knowing myself, I need it to be consistent.  It ended up being Saturday morning.  After that, I listed all of the chores I would like done around the house.  I then assigned a monetary value to each chore so that the total for all chores was a bit lower than what we were paying the housekeeper.  The chore list goes up on the wall on Sunday, and the kids put their initials next to every chore they do.

Here’s the kicker: the kids get paid for every chore they do between Sunday and Friday (except for anything in their room, like vacuuming).  I initially thought I would assign rooms to each kid, but it turned out that some of the chores are easier for younger son to do and some for older son.  Once we get to Saturday morning, though, and I have to help, they don’t get paid for any of that time.  My goal is to provide some economic incentive for them to get things done before Saturday so that I can have some down time to wear my slippers around the house.

The first week didn’t go so well, but that’s to be expected.  I actually set some time aside after supper on Friday so that they could get going on things.  Even with that, there was still about half of the items left this morning.  It’s obvious that it may take a couple weeks of doing this before they’re able to function completely on their own as they had a lot of questions about how to do things and where the various tools were hiding.  I’m also a bit worried that, with extracurricular activities and homework for the younger one that this will all get left for Friday evenings/Saturday morning.  However, there were no complaints, even though they weren’t getting paid for part of it, which is a huge difference from prior attempts to get them involved in housekeeping.  In fact, I frequently got the question, “What can I do next?”

It certainly was easier to have a housekeeper, but I genuinely appreciate that everyone is pitching in and willing to work.  I just hope that morale doesn’t dwindle as time goes on…and that applies to the adults, too.

Hung out to dry May 5, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, personal.
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Some days I don’t feel like posting about science or engineering or anything like that.  This is one of those days, and I’m feeling more domestically inclined.  (Perhaps it was baking muffins that got me on this kick.)

Over a year ago, a relative of mine was featured in the local paper because of his attempts to minimize energy use and how this was connected to his ministry (he was a minister at a local church, at the time).  I actually didn’t know how far he’d gone in his attempts until reading the article, and I have to say I’ve been trying to think of ways to do things like this ever since.  The picture included with the article showed him in his basement with lines hung all around, drying his clothes.

A couple months ago, I decided that there was no reason not to try something similar.  When I was a kid, we had clotheslines in the back of most of the places we lived, but I never really liked those.  I don’t know how many times I brought in clothes that were covered in dust or seeds…or even bugs!  I also had no idea how I’d hang lines around my basement (or how to keep the kids from playing with them and turning them into a place to hang and launch toys.) Instead, I bought a couple of clothes-drying racks and set them up in my basement.  I figured it would cut down on use of our dryer (extending its longevity), cut down on energy use, and help keep some of our clothes from coming to an early demise.  (I think I read somewhere that heat destroys cotton over time, and I’ve seen it with a few of my own things.)

I tried to talk my husband into using them, but I don’t think he likes them a whole lot.  He is giving it a try…at least for now.  We’ve determined that several of our work clothes just simply can’t be dried on the rack because they get too wrinkled.  (I’m sorry, but I really don’t iron clothes unless absolutely necessary.)  Also, jeans take forever.  I keep trying to get myself onto a schedule (like I was a few years ago), where I did specific loads of laundry on specific days (Mondays was whites, Tuesdays was jeans, etc.).  I think it would work much better than just doing things on the weekend…and running out of space.  I am also trying to think harder about what kinds of clothes will dry well on the racks and try to avoid those really wrinkly things.  That’s difficult, however, as you can’t always tell how well they’ll work until you see what they look like wet.

The end result is that we’re drying about half of our laundry on the racks, while the other half is still going through the drier.  I still feel guilty that I’m not doing all of it this way, but I keep telling myself that every little bit is a step in the right direction.  (And, hey, if it cuts down on expenses, even better.)

(Thanks to Ukko.de for the picture!)

Chores: a microcosm of a relationship April 16, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, family, feminism, food/cooking, homeschooling, societal commentary, work.
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It’s been a busy week.  I’ve been meaning to respond to a post about chores over at Wandering Scientist, but haven’t had a chance until now. Still, I’ve been parsing it in my head quite a bit.  Here’s the gist of it:

Anyway, here is the scenario: Consider two couples, Janet + Steve and Joan + Tom. Both are dual career couples with a couple of kids. Both are genuinely loving couples. Janet and Joan both consider themselves feminists, and if asked, both Steve and Tom would say that they consider their partners to be their equals, and that they think men and women in general are equal. However, Janet and Steve have an equitable home arrangement, while Joan and Tom do not, and Joan is unhappy about this. Joan and Tom argue about it with some frequency, but the issue never resolves between them, leaving Joan quite frustrated. Janet and Steve argue about the chores from time to time, too- after all, chores basically suck and most people would rather be doing something else- but for some reason, their arguments resolve the issue at hand, and Janet is pretty happy about her home arrangement.

What do you think? Why can’t Joan and Tom resolve the chores issue, but Janet and Steve can? Is the different dynamic within these two couples due to a difference between Janet and Joan or a difference between Steve and Tom? Or is it something external to the couples? Or are there multiple differences at work? What might they be? For instance, do you think the amount of money that each partner makes plays a role?

This post struck a chord with me because at one point I was Joan but now I’m Janet.  Many of you know that I was married before and that it didn’t end well.  Part of that is because I didn’t like being Joan any more.

As much as the scenario says that Joan is in a loving, equitable relationship with her husband, I honestly don’t think that can really exist if there isn’t a satisfactory division of labor within the household.  My experience tells me that husbands who do not step up to help around the house really view their wives as inferiors: the man’s view of this is very ego-driven.  The work that needs to be done is below him, so the wife should do it.  I say this because if it’s important for it to be done, then why aren’t they pitching in and helping with it?  The answer is that they feel it’s not important enough for them to spend their time on it because their time is worth more than their wives’.  And if their wives keep putting up with it, it’s also not really a big deal to them, right?

Unfortunately, wives will very often buy into this.  Husband complains about something not being clean, and obviously she’s supposed to take care of it.  I don’t know how many of my friends have complained about this exact scenario.  What she should say is, “If you want it clean, you have two arms and a brain: put them to work.”  Instead she excuses the behavior and comes up with some excuse why he can’t do it…yet resents him the whole time.  And there we see the lack of communication: if you want him to do it, don’t give him the silent treatment…tell him to do it!  (Although I can tell you that asking nicely is always important…no matter who is doing the asking.)

I think a lot of women put up with it because the alternative seems a lot scarier: leaving the husband and doing it all on your own.  (And having done that, I can say it’s pretty rough.)  I’m sure a lot of women think it’s worth putting up with because they don’t feel (maybe rightly so) that they can handle that amount of work (although I suspect a lot of them won’t find that it’s THAT much more work).  I think a lot of them also don’t see it as a problem with the relationship, so it’s not worth leaving him over.  I don’t agree with that view, however, because I see this particular issue as a reflection of how the whole relationship operates.

So my opinion is this: he sees his role as worth more than her being less overwhelmed, and she won’t express how important it is to her or is too insecure to confront him.  Quite possibly, this is exactly what they observed in relationships when they were younger.  They are emulating that because they aren’t sure how to do it any differently or haven’t gotten sick enough of it to try.

To me, this is just a reflection that making decisions about household work has nothing to do with loving the spouse and more to do with how you view gender roles.  Women do x while men do y.  If you think a man can’t do x, then you are viewing your spouse through a gendered lens which is likely to override things like honest communication and caring in a relationship.  How many times does the spouse who refuses to help with work make a point of saying how much they appreciate the spouse who is?  Or do they just complain about things that aren’t done?  Do they ever offer to help out when it’s apparent the spouse who is ‘supposed’ to do the work doesn’t get it done?  My observation is that they don’t often appreciate the contribution of the spouse who is supposed to do the work, or if they do, they seldom vocalize such appreciation…or offer to help.  This is what wives are supposed to do, and there is seldom the question asked, “But is this right for OUR relationship?”  And if that question isn’t being asked about the housework, what about the other roles that each has?

Getting specific, we have a fairly inequitable division of labor (strictly in terms of housework) in our house right now, and I am the beneficiary of it.  I wasn’t always the beneficiary.  When my husband was doing his PhD, I was helping out a lot more than I do now.  I had a summer off between my BS and MS, and the house was completely spotless.  On the other hand, when I was prepping for my orals, my husband was driving down the Minneapolis and spent the weekend taking care of cleaning and laundry.  He still does that right now as he’s ‘only’ doing a full-time job, while I’m working part-time, working on a dissertation, and dealing with partial homeschooling and general running around of offspring.  And we’ve both gotten so overwhelmed that we had to hire a cleaner as well as expecting the older boy to help around the house much more.  (And, to be perfectly honest, our house is still not in good shape.)  We do it this way because, in terms of who has time when, it makes sense.

He has and probably always will make more money than me.  Significantly more.  And he has never once held that over my head nor used that as an excuse for why he couldn’t do something.  I therefore think it has nothing to do with money, although people use that to justify their position.

If it’s an equitable relationship, both parties will look at what needs to be done and try to make sure that the labor is divided evenly so that no one is too overwhelmed.  My husband has asked me to do the laundry when he’s had to be gone.  Okay…it’s not ‘his job’, but he usually does it.  And if he can’t, then I need to.  Likewise, if I can’t run a kid to the doctor, he needs to do it, even if that means taking time from work.  In an equitable relationship, the work isn’t necessarily based on roles.  Very often, it switches.  The idea of the relationship is to work together to help each other out.  Admittedly, we definitely prefer to do certain things.  I do most of the cooking (at least if we’re not grilling something), and he does the dishes. I hate dishes, and he doesn’t like to cook.  But he will cook if I’m busy, and I will do the dishes if he’s busy.

The last comment I have to make is that some couples do have different standards: my husband needs things to be a lot more neat than I do.  That’s one that can be very hard to communicate sensitively, but it’s important to know when you should just let it go.  Maybe having kids has helped both of us to deal with that better.  When we weren’t as swamped as we were now, we sat down and discussed things that the other person did or did not do that drove us crazy in regard to cleaning.  (I remember he didn’t like that I would put clothes in first and pour soap directly on them.  I quit doing that, but now we have a front loader and it’s a moot point.)  However, we’ve just learned to appreciate when the other has done something (like the laundry) and not worry so much about specifics (it didn’t get hung up right away and so has wrinkles). We don’t always go about our cleaning the same way, but we’ve come to just be happy that it gets done at all rather than done the way we want it done.  If we do it ourselves, then we have the option to do it a specific way, but otherwise it’s just best to appreciate that someone is willing to pitch in and reduce your personal stress level.


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