21/10/2013 18:03 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Why Is Managing The Home Still 'Mum's Job'?

Why is managing the home still 'mum's job'?Getty

If you followed any of the news from the party conferences over the past month, you'll probably have heard various politicians talking about housework like it's still "Mum's job". Indeed, even David Cameron declared on television: "At the heart of many families are

women who are worrying desperately about the family budget."

But this is the 21st century. It's not as if women are confined to the home while their husbands don their suits and bowler hats and head off to their important jobs (much like Reggie Perrin in the 1970s sitcom), and once they have earnt their wage they hand it over to the little lady wife who then - and only then - can buy the household supplies, leaving the men to sit in an armchair, smoke a pipe and read a newspaper, knowing that their contribution to the smooth running of family life is over and done with.

No. Women go out to work now, and men pull their weight around the home and with childcare. Or indeed, sometimes the traditional roles are reversed. Hazel is the main wage-earner in her family, while her partner works part-time, and they split looking after their baby daughter equally. "He does all the shopping and cooking and so he budgets for that, and I, well, just eat it," she says. "I haven't the faintest idea what our household budget is or what we spend on food or heating. I wouldn't know where to start."


So why are "the family budget", the chores and the weekly shop still seen by so many - including the prime minister - as something women ought to be getting on with?


Partly it's because those stereotypes - about men being the breadwinners and women being in charge of the home - are deeply, deeply ingrained. Even when both partners are working full-time, there's still those tiny little voices in our heads that say that keeping the cupboards stocked, feeding the family, making sure everyone has clothes to wear, and polishing every available surface so it sparkles are the jobs of the woman of the household - even when
she's the breadwinner.

Janet works full-time while her husband stays at home with their four children. It was a decision they came to recently; previously they both worked but Janet, who's self-employed, was in charge of the house. Now, even though Janet loves her job and even though he's
dealing with all the household duties brilliantly, she still isn't entirely happy - because "in a way I still think of it as my responsibility - maybe because it was for so long."

Pippa is self-employed, working part-time from home, but the rest of the time she's caring for her year-old son while her husband goes out to work - and he thinks that when he gets home, he should be able to have a sit-down and not be asked to help out with the housework. "I'm forever asking him to help more around the house, but he always says
he works full-time and when he's home in the evening he's looking after the baby so I can get on with the chores! I point out that he could help out when the baby is asleep, but he doesn't seem to listen. I just think men don't see housework like women do - they're not bothered by dirt and mess."


But as Janet and Hazel's experience shows, an ability to do housework isn't inherently female - so can we ever break those habits and silence those little voices telling us to stick to the stereotypes?


Certainly it's possible - particularly if you're both out at work full-time. The obvious thing for a happy home would be to split everything fifty-fifty - and that's what happens with Lee and Natalie, who have two school-age children. "It's an equal split, but I do all the ironing!" he says. "As for household shopping, that's an even split too - we have a joint account for bills, and whoever's free when we need things will go round the supermarket."

If, like Pippa, you find yourself seething that household chores aren't evenly divided in your family, a bit of delegation may be called for until it becomes second nature - whether it's to your partner or to your children. Sarah always asks her husband to help her out when she's cooking or cleaning: "Clear delegation in small measures always delivers!" she says. "Working together works best - that way, he's not on his own and hating it all the more."

If your kids simply refuse to shift themselves and pull their weight with housework, then extreme measures are called for. Emma, mum of a nine-year-old son, says: "He usually gets £5 a week on a Friday, but he has jobs to do during the week, and if they're nnot done, then no money. You have to work for the things you want."

Alternatively, and for a faster impact, Richard recommends: "No Wii, xBox or PS3. That works much quicker!"

Do you think it will always be assumed that mum stays at home and dad goes to work?

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