Why dads need to wash dishes and mums need to fix the plug…

A recent article pointed out that “Dads who want their daughters to aim for prestigious professions should start by doing the dishes or loading the washing machine”.

Besides that not all parents consider their children having “prestigious professions” is the first goal, I am intrigued by the simple fact that parents apparently need this kind of studies to be reassured they’re giving their children the best start in life.

When I read that “fathers who perform household chores are more likely to bring up daughters who break out of the mold of traditionally female jobs and aspire to careers in business, legal and other professions” I couldn’t but smile… Do we need a doctoral candidate at University of British Columbia tell us that “girls grow up with broader career goals in households where domestic duties are shared more equitably by parents”?

Apparently “the study involved a survey of 326 children, between 7 and 13 years old, and at least one of their parents”. – Does this mean that they questioned them about their goals without checking if they ever achieved them? – A longitudinal study would give more data on these assumptions…

A part the lack of information about the parameters and methods used in this study, I wonder: will children have broader career goals because they see their fathers (and mothers) doing household chores? Does this imply that a child whose father and/or mother isn’t involved in the household chores has narrower career goals?

Let’s set things right. Parents are a role model for their children and what they do – or don’t do – has a major impact on their lives.

I agree that seeing a father involved in household chores gives the children – daughters and sons! – a clear message about egalitarism: daughters grow up with the certainty that a man cooking and doing the laundry is normal. Sons grow up learning that chores are just a daily task that needs to be done by whoever is part of the family or the group living together.

In fact, I think the bottom message of this kind of studies shouldn’t be the career goals of the children but a more egalitarian, less judgemental and open minded society.

Focussing on fathers washing dishes and loading the washing machine is not accurate. – In order to have a fair egalitarian picture, children would need to grow up seeing their mothers too, fixing the plugs and generally accomplishing tasks that are usually defined as “male” tasks. – Sons and daugthers would grow up considering their mothers and fathers as equally valuable for their micro-world, i.e. their family. And growing up with this picture, they would both, girls and boys, one day consider it normal that they get the same wage, the same job conditions and the same chances. – Parents, teachers and caregivers need to be aware of the lessons or messages they’re giving to the children with the decision they make regarding the roles in the family and the society.

We all know that language has a huge effect on us, that an empowering use of language has a very positive impact on our self-image and life: so it does on our children. The same applies to the roles we assume in our families and the way we talk about them. A father who says that cooking is a thing for women is sending a clear message just as a mother saying that “you have to wait for dad to fix your bike”. The father is depreciating the work of women and the mother points out that certain works aren’t for women/girls.

I’ve always been a very curious person and am still keen to learn more. I never made cared about what I was learning, if it was more “boyish” or “girlish”. I learned typically (?) male-tasks from fixing a plug to changing a wheel simply because I wanted to learn it and it was something I considered important to become independent. I never considered any task in the household more “male” or “female”. Even if I grew up in a traditional household, my father would help with the tasks in the weekends and my mother was perfectly able to do everything around the house (also because my father used to travel a lot and it was simply not possible to wait until “dad comes home and fixes it”).

Today I ask my children to learn all the tasks in the household and my husband and I are interchangeable in this. Obviously there are things we like more or we’re better at, but we are both able to do all of them if needed. In my opinion, we should at least know how to do things because if we can’t do them by ourselves, we won’t be able to teach another person to do them for us, right? It’s the same at our job: a good principal is someone who is be able to do all the tasks by himself before delegating them to his subordinates and collegues,.

Personally, I’m not sure that our children seeing us doing all the chores in the household is related to a higher achievement in life, there should be another study demonstrating that children whose parents are not involved in household chores don’t aim for prestigious professions…

What I am sure about is that seeing fathers loading the dishwasher and moms fixing the plugs certainly gives children a more egalitarian view of coexistence.



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7 replies »

  1. Indeed, our young people are more perceptive than we give them credit for. The actions may not be all that overt; perhaps a sincere disposition; an attitude may be all it takes.
    When you are being seen doing roles that one does not normally associate with your gender, the thing is to reflect a generally positive (as appropriate; you’l never hear me singling joyfully while cleaning the toilet) disposition toward the task at hand.
    Now, lest you think I’m the type who believes that men should do certain things and women others, let me go on to point out that at my home there is no dishwasher. No mechanical one, that is. Around 60-70% of the time I end up doing the job, mainly because the other 5 individuals expect it from me; it’s always been that way. So, I go to work, each and ever evening, prepare a meal, put it on the table and, around 15 minutes later, find myself alone in the kitchen with a pile of dirty dishes. I’ve done it often enough that I can clean the works up in 10-15 minutes and generally do, though often grudgingly. Every now and again, though, I just put my foot down, remind the reminder of the house that they’ve all had a free ride for some time and then pick the one I know who’s been slackest lately and ensure that they do it; no gender selection, just based on the notion that most tasks should be gender neutral; as I see it there’s no real reason any more for it to be otherwise.

  2. Thank you, Maurice, for sharing your personal experience. I agree, the attitude often suffices to get the message across. You made me smile with your comment about cleaning the toilet. I haven’t met anyone who likes doing it, let alone singing while doing it. My mother in law didn’t have a dishwasher for many many years. She considered this time, at the end of a meal, like quality time to spend with her husband, son or daughter, i.e. the one who was next to do the task: one would wash the dishes, the other one towel them down. Of course, you can have this one-on-one time also while having a glass of wine, tea etc. together, but I actually observed that people tend to share, to open up differently when they are engaged in something.
    – My question: do you think that your children did “break out of the mold of traditionally female jobs and aspire to careers in business, legal and other professions” because of you doing household chores?

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