THE BLOG

Housework: Should I or my mother do it?

07/04/2016 11:52

I deliberately penned a title that could sound provocative. Let me show you why.

Personally, I enjoy studying. I spend hours writing and looking up new information. I minimise my time on social media by saving up speedily interesting links and pictures to go over when time allows. I also love quiet activities such as reading and drawing.

My mother has dreams too. She wants to write a book on parenting in retrospect. She wants to tidy albums of old photos. But she has to do the housework -- she's so perfectionist that even the ceilings need scrubbing -- and afterwards, she's on YouTube learning how to make soufflé and watching certain religious documentaries which, quite often, is hype.

It seems to make sense for my mum to keep doing the housework and me to study, our academic tools being the basic economic principle of division of labour and the notion of optimal strategy in game theory. This is because while I am engaging in productive activity, my mother's most productive day-to-day activity is still maintaining the upkeep of our place. Therefore, to maximise each other's efficiency in productive activities, I should study while my mum takes over the housework.

That conclusion, however, is sacrilegious in a culture of filial piety, regardless of how my mother spends her scarce free time. It is a shame to have one's ageing parents handle their grown children's living residence. It means that if I let my mum do the chores, I am being irresponsible as a fully functioning adult and a co-resident of her property. It means I still need my mum to "baby" me. Of course she used to take care of me as a baby, but now that I can take care of myself, why not let me?

Psychologically, when I allow my mother to follow up on me, the dynamics between daughter and mother change too. By taking on the housework, my mother becomes a servant, while I become the served, when it should be that I am the servant and my mother the boss. That's how resentment could build up between us. It's humiliating for the senior to serve the junior.

I also noticed a similar phenomenon in -- guess where -- fast food chains. In foreign countries, when you have finished eating, you are expected to vacate the seats and clear the tables by yourself. But in Hong Kong, people just leave their soft drink cups, burger boxes and other waste around after they've finished eating. A member of staff would then collect and throw the stuff into the dump. Once I tried to be as civil as my foreign friends and approached the chute myself with my tray of rubbish, but the staff on duty wouldn't let me and took my tray from me. People find it acceptable to leave litter around, and the staff willingly takes over the responsibility that did not belong to them, but the difference here is that while, in general, the staff and the customers are strangers to each other and hence superficial politeness suffices, it is not so with mothers and daughters. The grown daughter is responsible for the mother.

Therefore, without any excuses, I should do my chores. Yet before I get to them, my mum has already taken over and would rather I studied. I only hope that she releases her book soon.

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