A study recently released by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) took a look at the mystical work/life balance of people in the 34 countries among its membership, including Canada. This respected multinational organization has spent 50 years tracking everything from pension systems to chemical, agricultural and living standards. It has access to data it can crunch and define who we are as a nation, and compare that to others.
This study whacks away at that old chestnut about paid and unpaid work; it arrives at the fact that worldwide, women are working more paid hours than ever before, but generally, men aren’t picking up the slack in unpaid work that still must be done. Who spends more time facing down stubborn bathtub rings, and who plays video games? Who sorts out dentist appointments, and who considers watching their own kids, “babysitting?” Who does the shopping, the sports, the sleeping and the sweeping?
Most of the results show a trend to a better balance, at least in Canada, between men and women. Oh, men are still apparently finding more time to watch TV and dodge scooping litter, but while recognizing that we have to start gathering data somewhere, I have two distinct problems with these studies.
The first? They measure quantitatively, not qualitatively. If I spend two hours scrubbing floors, it is two hours where I envision this is what hell has waiting for me when I get there. I hate it. Every time, it feels like eight hours, and I’m always shocked when I look at the clock. When I spend two hours cutting the yard, I feel like I’ve tackled nature to her knees while receiving a good workout at the same time. I’ve spent two hours not being able to hear the dog yapping two yards away, or anyone yelling for me. This is heaven. So, this two hours does not equal those two hours.
I’d rather fold laundry for half an hour than empty the dishwasher in five minutes. I’d rather wash dirty pots than make dinner, though I know people who find cooking relaxing. Shouldn’t that count under their fun budget in these surveys? It might take me two minutes to sew on a button, but I’d rather weed the garden. And I’d rather scrub those floors than go grocery shopping.
Which leads to my second problem: we all knew (or should have known) who we were teaming up with when we got into this mess. Sorry. Marriage. If your delightful bride considers takeout menus a kitchen fixture, chances are good the ghost of Julia Child won’t be visiting any time soon. If that lovely man-child stares at the washing machine and says, “where does the money go in?”, you’re on your own. Do yourself a favour before you set up your gift registry; remember that human beings are highly averse to change.
I’ve found relationships that work don’t split duties along lines that fit well into surveys. Instead, they’ve established their own rhythm that reveals something done of your own volition is less likely to warrant keeping score. The second someone says, “I called your mother last week” or “it’s your turn to do soccer practice”, you’ve become something more like squabbling siblings. This does not equal that.
Working a relationship and running a home is much like two captains picking players for a team. You take turns nabbing what you like best, then evenly sort out the less desirable options. Think even that method can hand you a dud card?
Try doing it with just one captain.