Recently, I spent an afternoon with my twenty something sister-in-law and her female cousins, listening to a continuous commentary about their significant others' level of participation in the household. I smiled and empathized with the next generation of working spouses and mothers who are facing the same challenges I did when I married. That evening, as I put yet another of my husband's dirty plates into the recently emptied dishwasher for him, I wonder how many more significant others are in the same situation I am...and how on earth I'm going to save my son's wife from such a fate.
Men have historically born the brunt of jokes about their deficits in household management skills, eg. an inability to wash dishes, clothing, children... (well pretty much just about anything), shopping, and so on. The image of the disoriented father surrounded by randomly dressed children wandering around the grocery store surrounded by an aura of defeat springs immediately to mind. While the gentler sex may enjoy flogging this stereotype in conversation (just as men may enjoy talking about womens' shopping expeditions) surely we can't enjoy living with it quite as much.
But should we expect more? As our culture has evolved to include increasingly higher percentages of women in the workforce (46.8% of the US workforce in 2009), has the way we run our households kept pace? We live in an age where a two income household is frequently necessary to maintain the standard of living to which we have become accustomed (or would like to become accustomed to), and in these households, mens' participation is more vital than ever. Bringing home a paycheck is no longer enough of a contribution in a dual career household.
Our sons can no longer grow up relying on marriage to a domestic goddess to assure order and domestic tranquility in their home, because chances are, that goddess will have a career of her own. Nor, with the increasing emphasis on more rigorous academic offerings in public schools, can we rely on the stopgap of home economics classes to teach the skills our children will need to make their own homes.
So how are they going to learn? Obviously we, as parents, will have to teach them... but teach them what? What can we do to ease their transition to adulthood so they leave home knowing how to cook something that does not have ramen as the main ingredient, wash clothes so that they neither shrink nor turn pink, or find things in the grocery store? And what are the most important things we should teach our sons so they can be contributing members of a household?
These answers and more coming up after these messages...