Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Sins of the Fathers

"Would you like some dessert?" my mom asked on Sunday night, digging into the dark chocolate pudding cake, still warm from the oven.

"No thanks," my dad answered pleasantly.

"Oh you!" my mom exploded. "You are such a sulk!" She jabbed her spoon furiously at the rejected dessert. "Just because it's called pudding cake!"

For as long as I can remember, there have been two foods my father would never eat: "yucky squash" and pudding. This was a source of considerable amazement to me as I was growing up. My mom would make wonderful homemade butterscotch and vanilla puddings, rare treats in our health-conscious home, and he invariably and unaccountably chose to forgo all that sugary goodness, retiring dessert-less to his easy chair to watch the news. (He would load up on toast and jam later of course, to my mother's sarcastic dismay.)

Hubby and I burst out laughing at her sudden venom. My dad left the kitchen, deaf as always to any words that might be construed as criticism.

*****

"My parents fought a lot about housework," mom said later, as we sat by the table devouring our cake. (It was delicious - my spoon kept creeping towards the dish for seconds, only to be slapped back with a gasp of horror from my vigilant mother.)

Her mother worked full-time as a secretary when my mom was growing up - an unusual choice in those days. She and my grandfather shared household duties, doing the grocery shopping and housecleaning together while other housewives pursued the 1950s ideal.

"I always told myself that when I grew up I'd stay home with my kids," my mother added. "My husband and I would never fight about housework because I would just do it all myself." She paused, then added ruefully, "That's exactly what happened."

*****

My parents never fight. They have a deal worked out: my mother can complain, make jokes at my father's expense, or rebuke him for small, nonsensical things like not eating dessert, and he never rises to the bait or responds in any way. In exchange, he gets to do anything he wants.

I always knew growing up that I admired my mother - that I was on her side - but that I didn't want to be like her. Of the two I preferred my father's deal, the way he so genially managed to golf on the weekends while my mom looked after us, to watch football with his feet up while my mother made supper and washed up afterwards.

I've been as good as my word. Housework has been the #1 source of conflict in both my marriages (though in neither marriage has overt conflict been a major problem - I learned too many avoidance strategies from my parents for fighting to be an issue). I am a throwback to my grandmother, compulsively weighing and measuring my contribution to ensure that I'm doing my share of the housework and childcare, and not an iota more.

Long before I had children, I was struck by how odd it is, this adult life we live under the scrutiny of sharp-eyed observers who watch our every move, rejecting our ways and vowing to do better. Perhaps the only way we cope with these household critics is with the humour gained from a lifetime of compensating for our parents' flaws by developing a full set of our own.

42 comments:

Grilled Pizza said...

I loved this post, it's so easy to forget our parents probably felt the same way we do at some point.
Lying in bed discussing issues that might come up when we have kids with my husband i found myself vowing silently i would never do certain things my (wonderful) parents did and within seconds in my mind had imagined how i might be in a situation where i thought it the best thing, i then imagined how i would excuse myself and then also in my mind forgave my parents any mistakes they ever made as it dawned on me just how easy it is...

Emily R said...

SOmetimes I wonder how much we do just as a reaction to how women before us lived their lives. You are wise to recognize the way you have responded to your parents' relationship.

Chaotic Joy said...

I hope that what my children take away most from my relationship with their father is not, how not to make the mistakes we have made- for they are too numerous to count-but how to show grace and forgiveness in the face of them.

I love this post. The way each generation of women was driven to a roll opposite of the one before them. I wonder if Pie will continue this trend.

Anonymous said...

I truly believe that household where both parents work outside the home must consider cleaning help. We had two wonderful women for 15 years; they came to the house every other week to clean bathrooms, dust and vacuum. Huge help and time saver. Instead of saying to the children, "Later after mommy cleans the bathoom" we were able to maximize our time together. It's not terribly expensive and the rewards are endless. Not to mention being able to employ people of limited means and marketable skills.

painted maypole said...

hmmm... i always wonder what MQ is learning from watching us...

Jenifer said...

It is so true that we want so bad to set ourselves apart, to do it all our way - a direct reference to the fact that our way will be better. As a child of divorce I vowed as a child to never do that to my children.

So far it is working. :)

Because I stay home and this is my job at the moment, the contribution factor is hard to determine. When Hubby is home he does everything I do when he is not here.

Those times are much less frequent than I would like. He works long hours so often, ironically, it does seem like I am a single parent some days. Those days are really rare though, but they make me appreciate having partner all the more.

Things will never really be "even Steven" around here and that is fine, I am much too much of a control freak to worry about if I am putting in an "iota" more and I would definitely say I am. The thing is he puts in more in some areas where I put in less or even no effort.

We have friends who operate a bit like that. If one person gets a "night off" the other will take theirs accordingly. It is all very fair. In our house while I feel slighted sometimes if Hubby goes to poker night after many late nights at the office, he never begrudges me my time. He is constantly trying to get me out of the house alone. He never keeps score.


I guess it all works out in a sense. The deals you make, the harmonies you establish - no matter what anyone else thinks, as long as it works for you that is all that matters.

I guess I liked this post!

Mouse said...

I frequently find myself mentally weighing my contribution and tallying up points, but I try my best to let go. Trillian and I have different areas for which each of us does the lion's share. Sometimes we have to adjust and ask the other to take up some of the slack. And I try very hard not to make a mark in a mental column--but the accounting book is still there to some extent.

Lawyer Mama said...

Very true. We do always vow to be different. My marriage is nothing like the somewhat traditional arrangement my parents had, but my mother was always resentful of the arrangement. My marriage is not traditional and I am not resentful. Although I must say that a cleaning service every other week cuts down on conflict considerably!

Patois said...

I adore "with the humour gained from a lifetime of compensating for our parents' flaws by developing a full set of our own." That's something I intend to gift my kids.

Amy said...

Great post. Compensating for them and creating our own. Hum. Uncomfortably true.

Mary Joan Koch said...

I suspect the reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that each generation rejects the one before it.

Mimi said...

Aha. Children are clever: when you examine the household dynamic growing up, why would you choose naggy housewife over genial do-what-you-want manhood? I know I found puberty traumatic in part because I was turning into a WOMAN and they seemed to sorta get the short end of the stick, quality of life-wise.

I am turning into my mother: dominant partner in the daily running of life, confident, impatient, imperious, thoughtful, easily startled.

Sue said...

"Of the two I preferred my father's deal, the way he so genially managed to golf on the weekends while my mom looked after us, to watch football with his feet up while my mother made supper and washed up afterwards."

I LOVED what you wrote here. Wow. Watching my mother live her life in what was basically indentured servitude, I had definite ideas about what my life would NOT be like. My DH and I have taken turns working, taken turns caring for the kids, and taken turns being primarily responsible for housework. And we both weigh and measure, weigh and measure. Luckily, things are in balance most of the time.

Cyndi said...

As a SAHM, I do a lot of the housework, but my husband does more than his fair share. He is good about picking up the slack and making sure that I have time to myself. We still fight about housework sometimes, though. This was a very good post- very thought provoking.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I spent the first year of my first-born's life furious with my husband for not participating more in childcare. I mean, some days I could barely look him in the face... He's great about housework, but he only becomes the primary caregiver when I'm not here. I have had to learn to live with it.

If my daughter resolves never to let a man do that to her, I'd be fine with it!

Alpha DogMa said...

I hate pudding, too. It is almost as disgusting as cheesecake. I'd rather a nice piece of dark chocolate.

As a SAHM my only job is to make sure the children are still alive by 5 PM. If I feed them, clean the house or have dinner ready -- it is all gravy. Please don't tell my husband this is NOT the status quo for other families.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

But speaking of weighing and measuring: I try not to do it. Well, I at least try to think of it on a decades-long scale, rather than a daily scale. I mean, I'm going to married to this man for a long, long time; so if I get 'stuck' with childcare now, then when I'm free of it, I can fill that time however I like. Whereas he will still be working, the sucker! ha!

slouching mom said...

What Mary Joan said.

Beck said...

My mother worked full-time AND did all of the housework and cooking AND worked on her BA. Gee! Where do I sign up for THAT?
I do probably 75% of the housework and about 90% of the cooking. It feels more than fair, since my husband is REALLY involved in childcare and has two jobs and all.

Kellan said...

Yes ... I have a full set of my own flaws. I am like your father - I'm not a pudding fan. Lovely post. Take care and see you soon. Kellan

Mrs. Chicky said...

I think I love your parents. Especially since your mom makes pudding cake. But if they never fight I guess it's okay for your dad to dislike pudding.

Janet said...

I used to scrutinize and compare my household load against my husband's far more critically when I worked full time. I had a big 'ol chip on my shoulder because I was doing more. Since I quit the high-pressure, high-paying job I have settled nicely into the role of doing more at home, because it feels like I should.

flutter said...

At least there are only two foods your dad won't eat. My Boy has a litany....

Kyla said...

Josh and I both come from households in which chores and household duties were shared almost equally between parents. And we, too, share things equally. I can't imagine being in a household that was one-sided. I don't think I'm built for it! LOL.

Erin said...

The housework is a total drain on our marriage sometimes. I get way to caught up in getting things done, always having to DO something. I grew up in a messy and often dirty house. I guess I'm self-conscious of it. My husband grew up the complete opposite and tends to enjoy himself more. He makes a mess but doesn't let it make him crazy. We're not well matched this way, but somehow we've found a mostly peaceful mode of operation.

Blog Antagonist said...

My mother did absolutely everything when I was a child. I didn't realize that until I was an adult how imbalanced the work load is in their relationship. My Dad, though I love him to death, is very very lazy. I always swore I would not let myself be taken advantage of the way she did.

I'm a stay at home, so by default, I do more of the household chores, and that's okay. Husband makes up for it by taking on several things that I really loathe doing; Paying bills and balancing the checkbook, yardwork and car maintenance.

Sometimes it bugs me that he never had to scrub toilets or mop floors, but..it is what it is. *I* don't have to get up at 5 am and fight traffic everyday, or deal with a truculent boss or imcompetent underlings.

KAL said...

How true this post is. Each generation of women does seem to gravitate towards the exact opposite of what their own mothers did. I've certainly done everything I can to be the opposite of mine.

When I came to the line: "...compulsively weighing and measuring my contribution to ensure that I'm doing my share of the housework and childcare, and not an iota more." I thought "That is me!" and then "I am failing miserably!" because I am doing far too many more iotas than my share.. Sigh. I think I'm tired of fighting about it.

Pieces said...

I love the way you constructed this post--with the vignettes of your evening with your parents. And of course your conclusion is correct. We all have flaws. And it is human nature to seek flaws that are different from our parents'.

Aliki2006 said...

It's funny, I try hard to so consciously be UNLIKE my mother in as many respects as possible. I hate defining my own role as a mother by this--that I must be anti-my-mother to be successful, yet this seems to be the situation I've set up for myself. In many ways this is good, but I wonder sometimes what kind of mother I'd be if I didn't try so hard to be so unlike my own.

nomotherearth said...

Housework is a source of conflict for us. I think both of us feel that we are doing 90% of the work, and the other should do more.

How can you hate pudding? What has pudding ever done to your father??? I love pudding cake.

Now I'm hungry.

Jozet at Halushki said...

"Long before I had children, I was struck by how odd it is, this adult life we live under the scrutiny of sharp-eyed observers who watch our every move, rejecting our ways and vowing to do better."

And blogging about it.

That's the part I'm bracing myself for.

My 8yo already wants to start a blog.

My critique is upon me.

Sarcastic Mom (aka Lotus) said...

I may still not agree with everything my parents did, but I've come to understand them more.
And the wait for my own son's understanding of me has begun.

Amanda said...

This journey is at once exhilirating, excruciating and humbling. My line has become, "Well, I can breathe easy I won't make that mistake, but I'll surely devise brand new ones for the girls to avoid when they're adults."

This was beautifully written, and, in defense of pudding haters the world over, some of us have primal issues with an absence of texture in our food.

b*babbler said...

In some ways I have it easy, in rejecting the decisions of my parents all I have to do is stick around for the Peanut and my husband.

However, sometimes I find myself longing for a more traditional upbringing - it doesn't matter what type, SAHM, WAHM, WOHM - just something that I could use to compare and define against. As a yardstick to compare my own decisions and experiences.

Angela said...

It is not easy working out the give and take of the house.

I started work four weeks ago and my husband has had a hard time adjusting to doing some house work, but he is getting better.

Laural Dawn said...

Your description of your parents made me think of my grandparents. They "never fought a day in their lives." They would bicker sometimes or argue about directions, but not fight.
And, my grandma did a lot of the cooking and cleaning most of her life. She didn't mind.
I guess it's not how I wanted my marriage to be. But, I miss watching them. And observing how they interacted.
I lived with them for awhile, and at the end of the day they would sit on their chairs, hold hands and pray together.
I'm not sure I want my Grandma's life, but the example she set ... wow.

Occidental Girl said...

I'm with your dad - no yucky squash or pudding for me!

This was great, about housework and fighting. I loved it because I can relate. There is much new to this generation of women, and it's hard to find our way. No one asks men to "balance" family and career.

My grandma worked outside the home, and in the 50's, that was big!

Mac and Cheese said...

When I asked my husband to do more of the housework, he hired a cleaning lady. There is probably a fundamental issue that I should be upset about, but somehow I don't think I should rock the boat on this one. She does a much better job than either of us.

Jennifer said...

I am just like you: weighing and measuring, weighing and measuring. It is the source of many arguments. I am afraid though that otherwise he will walk all over me. How to find a balance?

Swistle said...

Before Paul and I got married, we lived together. At least twice, I got as far as calling around to find myself an apartment. It was always because of housework disputes.

I even made him pay me, at one point: if I had to do his agreed-upon chores, he had to pay me to do them. That didn't work, especially once we combined finances.

My dad is the kind who leaves his dishes on the counter above the dishwasher. My mom is the kind who says her husband does WAY MORE than other husbands.

the mad momma said...

excellent post.. and er, I echo Mary Joan.

Becky said...

Just catching up on blog-reading, so I'm cashing in a little late, but I think your parents are my parents. I can never get over how little my father does around the house. When he does something half-hearted, my mother has to redo it anyhow, so she often doesn't even bother to ask him to help. He's got a wicked scheme, there, I tell ya.