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Housework in families with children

28.04.2020 klo 14:03 - Written by Written by Milla Sinnemäki, Family Relationships Specialist, the Family Federation of Finland , Family Federation of Finland
Housework is one of the issues in a relationship that causes the most arguments, and chores may also be a matter of argument among other family members. Arguments may arise from many different things, but it is often about the fact that there is more to do than time and energy to do it. Especially families with young children may have a lot of housework. Spouses may feel that they are doing a lot and their contribution is not appreciated. It is possible that both of them do a lot of housework, but still some things do not get done or nobody has the overall responsibility for something. This easily leads to a feeling of injustice or ingratitude.

The amount of housework usually increases when you have children. Babies and children have to be cared for in many ways, and the home is prone to clutter. In addition to increased housework, a baby can keep you awake at night, which translates to less energy for housework than before. When children are home, parents may feel that they want or need to spend time with the children and the housework is only done when the children have gone to bed.

Reducing the arguments should be started by discussing things calmly. Together you can think which housework has to be done and which can be left for later. The most typical housework are listed at the end of the article. Disagreement may be caused by the experience of injustice or different expectations. Spouses may have a different idea of how often to vacuum or how often to eat convenience food. By discussing, you first become aware of the opinions of your partner, thus common rules can be agreed upon. You may take some things for granted and you do not even realize to mention them to your spouse, and get annoyed or confused when your spouse does things differently than what you are used to. It would be good for the spouses to understand what the other is doing. Also, swapping responsibilities for housework/paid employment is often eye-opening.

Thus, you need more time and/or energy or less to do. For example, you can reduce the amount of work done by lowering the bar. Could some cleaning stuff be done less often? Would you prefer quickly prepared food? It may be difficult to get more time and energy, but sometimes reorganizing with your family helps. Could the children be involved in housework? A good night’s sleep supports not only many other things but also the ability to do housework, so it is worth investing in sleeping arrangements for this reason as well. Sometimes having children is a real benefit to housework, but sometimes doing housework can be time spent with the children allowing the adults to get things done while playing with the children. Help from friends and relatives is worth considering. You can also get more time by eliminating some errands. Too many hobbies? Is it sometimes better to stay home instead of meeting friends or relatives? Some families use outsourced services, such as a hired cleaner for cleaning the family home.

How to distribute housework?

Families have many different opportunities to organize their housework. You should talk about housework with your family and decide together who does what, when and how. The adults of the family usually do some housework, but children can also participate according to their abilities. In some families, for example, grandparents participate by taking the children to day-care or hobbies. Young children need a lot of care and are more or less subjects of housework rather than facilitators. As the children grow older, they can usually get more involved in housework. At first, the children can take care of their own belongings (take toys & clothes to their place) and as they grow up, they can also help the entire family (setting the table, vacuuming and even preparing meals for the entire family). However, it is a good idea to gradually increase the amount and complexity of housework and to teach the children very tangibly what is expected of them. At best, day-to-day errands are wonderful common moments that everyone can enjoy. Young children, in particular, are keen to be involved in the parents’ affairs and may initially be the parents’ sous chefs or assistant cleaners. However, the adults must ensure the safety of the children and care should be taken with sharp knives and hot surfaces, for example.

According to the 2017 Gender equality barometer, women in straight families still do the majority of housework and feel they are overly responsible for the housework clearly more often than men. Particularly after having children, women do on average considerably more housework than men. Therefore, you should agree on how to distribute housework so that someone does not accumulate too many errands without the others noticing. According to the 2013 Family barometer of the Family Federation of Finland, women and men report different levels of arguing over housework. Women think they argue with their spouse more than men. It is interesting to consider the cause of the difference between men and women. Does the responsibility especially accrue to women, causing stress and irritation? Do women keep the irritation to themselves, thus men do not know about the feelings of the women, or do men and women define arguments differently? If your workload annoys you, you should tell your spouse and also tell them what kind of change you would like. The list at the end of the article helps to perceive the amount of housework and the time it takes. Not everyone has pets, a car, children, or a yard, but everyone eats, needs clothes, and a clean enough home that is not a health risk.

Housework as a hobby

Housework can also be a hobby, such as decorating, cooking, gardening or shopping for baby clothes. Thus, it is natural to spend more than a minimum amount of time and energy on it. However, you should agree upon housework together so that the hobby does not overload the other. For example, a long cook in the kitchen can be a good thing for everyone: one can exercise their passion in the kitchen and the other can enjoy delicious food. However, one adult closing in to the kitchen may also be tough for the other parent. Does the other always have all the childcare responsibilities on weekday evenings? Does the other have to do all the other housework after the other has spent a long time in the kitchen? A hobby is appropriate when you do not spend too much time or money on it.

Tips to make day-to-day life easier:

  • clearly agreed responsibilities reduce the burden of meta-work
  • doing things together can boost the team spirit and allow for meeting eachother
  • less stuff (and square metres) usually means less to clean
  • clutter and disarray are typical in families with children
  • there are plenty of instructions of foods that take 10-30 minutes to cook online
  • convenient and easily accessible cleaning tools facilitate cleaning
  • hobbies close to home reduce travel time, and older children can go to hobbies on their own
  • well-considered storage solutions facilitate putting the belongings in place
  • cleaning and cooking can be done in large or small batches according to your own wishes and needs
  • calendar to support memory

What is included in housework?

Housework is multiple and if one person is in charge, the other family members may not understand what it takes to get things done, so you should make the amount of housework visible. Not all households have all of these household chores, but here are some of the most typical ones.

  • meta-work, i.e. planning entities: when to go to the store, what hobbies anyone has, who takes the dog out, what size mud pants does the last born need, when is the parents’ evening at school, etc.
  • cooking: meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, washing the dishes, cleaning the table & counter, washing the oven & microwave
  • cleaning: vacuuming, cleaning the toilet & bathroom, taking the trash out, doing laundry, drying laundry, taking the laundry to place, dusting, changing the towels, changing the sheets, washing the floors, airing and washing the rugs, cleaning the windows, opening the sewers
  • childcare: changing the diaper, feeding, changing clothes, taking to day-care, picking up from day-care, playing with children, evening errands (brushing the teeth, washing up, bedtime story), taking care of homework, purchasing clothes & goods, caring for sick children (days at home, visits to doctor, dentist and various therapies, medication), organizing hobbies
  • arranging & decorating: designing and purchasing furniture and storage solutions, goods in order, papers in order, paying bills, monitoring the financial situation, making the bed
  • remembering friends & relatives: buying gifts, sending cards, phone calls, helping elderly relatives, helping sick relatives, paying attention to neighbours & friends
  • car & bike: selection & purchase, refuelling/pumping tires, washing, maintenance, tire change
  • information technology: device purchases, software installation, device maintenance
  • handyman jobs: fixing paintings on walls, lightbulb replacement, door handle repair, oiling of hinges, furniture restoration, sporting goods maintenance, wallpapering, painting
  • yard work: raking, snow ploughing, lawn mowing, flower purchase & planting, watering plants, weeding, making logs, pruning shrubs
  • pet care: taking out, feeding, medicines, visits to the vet, washing, cleaning the home/bed
  • moving: finding a new home, packing, unpacking, moving notice, sales/purchase documents & appointments, lease agreement, visiting open houses

References and further reading:

2017 Equality barometer of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health

Kontula, O. Yhdessä vai erikseen? ‘Together or alone’ Family barometer of the Family Federation of Finland

‘Households do a great deal of housework, and this is also a significant matter of national economy’ Statistics Finland 2018.

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