Dismantling Domestic Expectations

Being raised by a single man gave me an interesting perspective on gender and domestic responsibilities. My Dad truly only did the things he thought were important, or that he liked doing. Dusting? Decorating? Nah. He liked building shit (although his design style was a little “Obviously Made out Of A Shipping Box” for my taste) but he could NOT wrap his head around cooking. Like…why spend X amount of time on a meal that takes people 1/10th of X amount of time to eat. He felt like the two amounts of time should equal each other. We ate a lot of stuff out of the freezer and out of cans. I think he enjoyed doing the laundry because it gave him some solitude as our washer/dryer was in the unfinished basement and Chris and I found it creepy down there. But, he didn’t make big productions out of folding things, we were kinda on our own once the laundry was washed and brought back upstairs. We always were fed and had a sanitary house but he never felt “pressure” by any outside societal forces to do more. As a matter of fact, being a single Dad in the 80s meant he was kinda revered as a super hero for doing ANYTHING. There were no domestic standards he was expected to reach as a homemaker, because he was surpassing everything expected of him as a Father in the 80s.

So, part of me doesn’t instinctively care about a lot of the domestic standards and I definitely don’t think of them as my responsibility, BUT…I have the societal pressures Dad didn’t have.

Donnie grew up in a home where the typical domestics standards were met, mostly by his Mom. There was a nicely decorated home with proper meals and mealtimes and cleaning schedules. So, his childhood expectations were a little different than mine. BUT, he had no desire to be part of the system that met those expectations. And since he’s not sexist, he felt like if he didn’t care enough to do it, then it just wouldn’t get done. Unfortunately, because I am a woman raised in this culture, I would try to meet those dinner/clean baseboards/spotless bathrooms standards that I knew his mother met because…you know…THOSE DAMN SEXIST SOCIETAL PRESSURES.

In the last few years, and especially since I started working on radical self love, I’ve started digging into the why that I do things. I’m going back more to my roots as someone who grew up in my Dad’s house. I grew up fine without clean baseboards and perfect meals at scheduled mealtimes, why am I stressing out about these things as a parent/wife? The ultimate question when I’m beating myself up about a task:

Does it need to be done? Do I want to do it? If both of the answers are truly NO, then I need to dig deep: Do I feel pressured to do it by outside misogynistic forces? Most of the time the answer to that is YES and so you know what? I don’t do it.

I need to do laundry and I don’t mind doing it. But, I don’t feel like putting the kid’s clothes up as they’re plenty old enough to do that. So I give them their clean clothes in a laundry basket and it’s up to them. Wesley has been living out of a laundry basket for about 2 years now. I don’t care. He’s wearing clean clothes, that’s all that matters. Nikki puts her clothes up eventually. But again…no skin off my back if she never does.

Donnie switched to a really strict nutrition regiment with some of his training (YES. IT IS HARD ON ME AS I RECOVER FROM AN EATING DISORDER BUT THAT IS ANOTHER POST FOR ANOTHER DAY.) and so he started putting things like “Beets” and “Sweet Potatoes” on the shopping list. There was a time when I would cook those for him but NOT ANYMORE. I do not like cooking AT ALL and I have no desire to cook something I’m not even going to eat. So I buy him all of that stuff and he cooks his weird vegetable dishes whenever he wants. I did feel some outside guilt at first, but it didn’t take long to get over that.

I gave up on mealtimes about 2 years ago. The kids just got to the point where they didn’t like hardly anything I cooked and so I started buying things they could cook themselves and everyone just kinda eats whatever they want whenever they want it. At first I felt bad about this because I really felt like mealtimes were so important for my first decade as a Mom. All of my friend’s had mealtimes and I kinda felt bad my Dad never made us do it because it seemed like something all “normal” families did.

But then I shook off the expectations built by a generation of Moms who didn’t work outside the home and the patriarchy that programmed those women and I remembered: I DO NOT LIKE STRESSING OUT ABOUT MEALS OR MEALTIMES. It’s just not enjoyable to me. I want to feed myself and if no one wants to eat what I’m feeding myself? THAT IS ON THEM. Sometimes I’ll just cook a bag of tater tots for dinner because I WANT TATER TOTS. And honestly? That tends to be a “meal” my family actually all wants to share with me. SCURVY BE DAMNED.

But you know what? We still spend plenty of quality time together even with two teenagers and no proper mealtimes. My kids and I have a thing we do when we want to kinda “schedule” time together. We drive to McDonald’s and get sodas at the Drive Thru. It’s something we started during the pandemic just to get out of the house (McDonald’s large sodas are only $1) but now it’s just something we do when we all have simultaneous down time. It’s a guaranteed 30 minutes of time/conversation which is about 15 minutes more than we’d probably get if I forced them to sit at the table and eat with me every night.

Some people like cooking and mealtimes. I DO NOT. So that task has been out for awhile and I have no regrets.

But I do like keeping the house picked up. I don’t dust, but there’s rarely too much clutter around. I like being organized. I like having clear counters and table tops. If I’m putting stuff up that has accumulated over the day on the kitchen island and I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” The answer is, “It makes a more peaceful environment for my anxious mind.” SO I CONTINUE TO DO IT!

But when I was mopping a floor that looked clean a few months ago and asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” The answer was, “Um…because it hasn’t been done in awhile and it seems like something I should do regularly?”

NO! Who cares? I never saw my dad mop a floor my entire life and I turned out FINE. Clean up a spill, clean up messes, obviously…but mopping just because? NOPE.

I’ve been thinking about my Dad a lot lately and wishing I could talk to him about his mindset around such things. Did he recognize his privilege at not having these societal expectations thrust upon him? I remember one time he seemed concerned when he was visiting that I was putting such an effort into cooking dinner. “I didn’t teach you to do that.” He thought it was strange that I was doing something off script from my upbringing. Now I know that it’s because I was also being raised by the media and a society where all of my friend’s Moms cooked big meals and so while he didn’t teach me it, I still grew up thinking it was expected.

I’d love to ask him about that.

But instead I wanted to write through my progress to encourage anyone out there to ask themselves the same questions. WHY DO YOU DO THE THINGS YOU DO? Some things I don’t love doing as a task, but I love doing as a gesture of love to my family. I find that reason to be plenty valid too. I just no longer want to put expectations on myself to do things that I don’t feel have an actual purpose. Does it bring me joy? Does it help me get some peace by reducing my anxiety? Does it allow me to serve the people I love in a way I find fulfilling? Does it help me function?

I grew up FINE without proper mealtimes and clean baseboards. There is nothing wrong with me because my furniture was outdated at best, but mostly made out of old wooden shipping crates. I am still a good parent even though I often ate cereal 3 meals a day.

I guess I’m just giving everyone else permission to question the standards we put on ourselves. You only have this one wild and precious life. Do you want to spend it dusting the tops of surfaces you can’t even see, or do you want to laugh at cute dog videos on TikTok.

Because, let’s be honest. It’s not like I’m doing anything phenomenal with that extra time I now have. BUT AT LEAST IT IS TIME SPENT DOING SOMETHING THAT BRINGS ME JOY. I deserve that.

5 thoughts on “Dismantling Domestic Expectations”

  1. As a single dad of a teenage boy our house is not a female friendly zone regards domestic stuff.
    We keep the place clean, laundry done fully, and overall do what is needed.
    Otherwise decorating is definately blokey, the garden is largely vegetables and while the place is clean it is generally untidy.
    Weirdly I sew when clothes need mending, iron when they need to be.
    Cooking is the weird one as we both like to cook from scratch and will spend hours baking bread, cakes, or biscuits. At times the oven is slow cooking a casserole or pie, while othertimes beans on toast is the lazy way out.
    Blokes are simple in many regards and complicated in others. Just never stand between them and their shed.

  2. It’s being irritating about letting me comment, so here’s my comment:

    We cook, but we don’t sit down at the table to eat unless we’ve declared it a “fancy dinner” night. I don’t dust unless it’s ridiculous. My grandmother would have been horrified at the state of my house, but it’s basically clean, laundry gets completely done at least once a week, the kitchen is clean (because I like cooking, and cleaning the kitchen is oddly satisfying), and no one walking into it would be horrified by the mess. I am still having to work on the echo of my grandmother, though, who would walk through the house after cleaning wearing white gloves to check surfaces for dust or dirt. I don’t want to be that person! I want to spend my time on things I love doing.

  3. I hope this isn’t a duplicate comment but it looks like my first one didn’t post so I’ll try again. 🙂

    GOOD FOR YOU. Do what makes your heart and soul happy. It may CHANGE. The more you ask why, your “why” may change based on your experience, environment, situation, etc… and that’s okay. I find myself more domestic now than I’ve ever been. It’s a role I never thought I would have had, but here we are. Cooking and cleaning up a storm. Maybe I’ll go get a full time job again, maybe not. I do know that I’m always comparing myself to my facebook friends, especially the women- even though I know it’s not logical or healthy. I’m always falling short in my mind. Not thin enough, not athletic enough, I’m not a mom, I’m not even working a full time job, I’m not political enough, I don’t read enough, I don’t *whatever* enough. And that will be true for the rest of my life. There will always be other women doing more than us in every single area of performance, we must learn to find peace and happiness in our own efforts and successes and lifestyles no matter how different they look.

  4. Well, I don’t think it’s sexist to expect your partner to meet certain behavioral expectations within your own marriage. It would be sexist to expect everyone else to follow that same recipe, though. After watching tons of marriages, and seeing the patterns that develop in different kinds of marriages, I’ve decided I want my husband to be the breadwinner. I want him to manage our finances and be the leader of our relationship. We can still argue and debate but I want him to have the the final say on most things because it reduces my stress levels. I want someone more competent and more experienced and capable than me. Is that sexist? No, that’s a personal preference. Now, wanting a traditional husband means he’s probably going to want a traditional wife, so that’s the trade-off. It’s a compromise I’m willing to make to be financially secure without stress. I don’t feel like I’m being forced into the role, I chose this and I’m happy with it.

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