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Divvy up duties

July 04, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Sharing housework strengthens marriages and parent-child bonds. But division of household labor is rarely equitable - and making it so takes patience, communication and understanding, experts say.

The steady increase in the number of women working outside the home since the 1950s has prompted the need for a fundamental change in the way homes are managed, says Ann L. Fremion, past president of the Ohio Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Working women charged with handling all the housework are more likely to resent their spouses and lose patience with their children, she says.

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"It takes time to teach others how to share in household chores - but the reward in sharing tasks can far outweigh the teaching time," Fremion says. "Families will have more time for activities and special interests. And couples who share household tasks find greater marital satisfaction."

Research indicates that more husbands are starting to help shoulder the burden of housework.

The average married woman in 1993 did about three times as much routine housework as the average married man - even though women's housework contributions declined slightly from 1988 to 1993 while men's contributions increased modestly, according to the most recent statistics from the National Survey of Families and Households.

Research from the National Center on Fathers and Families has shown that husbands' participation in household labor varies according to three primary factors:

  • The more a husband's income and other resources outweigh his wife's, the less domestic labor he performs.

  • The more traditional the husband's sex-role ideology, the less domestic labor he performs.

  • The more domestic task demands placed on a husband, the greater his participation.


And the more educated the husband, the more housework he will be willing to do, according to the National Survey of Families and Households Web site at www.ssc.wisc.edu. The organization is slated to release results of its 2001-02 survey later this year.

Wives can't assume that their husbands will know what help is needed if housework isn't part of men's daily routines, Fremion says.

"Communication is so important. You have to sit down and talk - and not during their favorite sports show or whatever," she says.

Chores should be divided based upon interests and abilities. Spouses who like working with tools might prefer vacuuming, for example, and those who don't mind taking the time to read clothing labels might be suited for laundry duties, Fremion says.

"Men tend to be big-picture-oriented," she says. "They may vacuum the floor but not get the corners or shake out the area rugs. It's important to teach one lesson at a time. It is a learning process."

In addition to keeping the lines of communication open, it's important to assign chores fairly and rotate duties often, says Lynn F. Little, family and consumer sciences educator for the Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

Regardless of who has, or hasn't done, something in the past, divvying up duties can be easy when all parties are agreeable.

If one person cooks, another should clean up. If one person divides chores into groups, other family members should be allowed to choose their chores first, says Little, who writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail.

Chore charts also help families prioritize tasks and make sure they are completed, she says.

Fremion says spouses should present a united front when requesting household help from children. Participating in household chores can play an important role in children's development, according to information from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) in Bethesda, Md.

Chores teach children basic living skills and help them develop such work habits and attitudes as reliability, responsibility, thoroughness and persistence. These skills and values are building blocks for success outside the home. Chores also give parents an opportunity to express their appreciation for children's efforts, fostering kids' self-confidence and strengthening family bonds, according to NASP.

Assigning household chores to teenagers is especially important because chores teach teens the basic domestic survival skills they will need when they leave the roost. In addition to self-reliance, chores also foster self-discipline and help teens learn to be responsible roommates, according to NASP.

The question of whether or not to offer children financial and other rewards for doing chores is one that depends upon families' beliefs and values.

It is important, however, to pair praise for a job well

done with an allowance payment or other reward. And the reward system for chores should be honored if children complete their work - even if they misbehave in the process. Parents should set a separate consequence for the misbehavior, according to NASP.

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