Over at Ozarque’s they’ve been having a discussion about men and women and “caregiving,” which seems to be defined to include housekeeping, caring for people directly (as in taking care of children or elderly relatives), and caring for people in the sense of sending birthday cards and remembering to call them. Central points include whether women do this to a disproportionate extent, whether men are secretly miserable about not doing their share, and whether it would make a big difference in our society if we discussed this.
You can find (and join in) the whole very long and complex discussion over there, but there is one aspect of it that I found particularly interesting: the idea that people who do caregiving do it because they want to.
This is a significant point in the admitted caregiving imbalance at my house. There are lots of things on the list of caregiving tasks done at my house that do not get done at all if I don’t do them. Not every single thing on that list; my husband and #2 son will both do dishes, #1 son will do laundry (at least his own laundry), everyone will take care of the animals if barked at stridently enough. But it is not at all uncommon for me to get home at 9:00 p.m. to find all three of the guys sitting around waiting for me to make their dinner. They alert me to their holiday desires, but I doubt that any of them would actually make any holiday preparations were I not there. They will fight among themselves until one of them gives in and mows the lawn, but I don’t suppose any of them would ever communicate with distant family members, unless they happened to be playing World of Warcraft at the same time.
And I think that they would tell you that I do those things because I want to. The very fact that they would never bother to clean the bathroom proves, to them, that it isn’t important to clean the bathroom. When I feel harried about all the things I have to do, they would tell you if pressed, it is because I choose to do all these unimportant things.
There is some truth to this. When I decided to make those cute carrot cakes for Easter, it was definitely for me. It was fun. I like to do things like that. I always enjoyed attending my kids’ performances; I do think of it as something that ought to be done, and I wish that the guys sometimes felt like coming to my or to their sister’s performances, but it has never been a chore for me.
Not all of the things are like that, though. When I clean the living room, which is #1 son’s job, I feel that I am having to do his work because he won’t do it.
#1 son feels that he maintains a reasonable level of cleanliness and tidiness in the living room, and my decision to do things like dust or put away shoes is just something I want to do. Just like making marzipan carrots.
Our mental lists of things that need to be done don’t match. So I think of there being a long list of stuff that needs to be done for the welfare of the household, and I am the one who does most of it. My menfolks think there is a very short list of stuff that needs to be done, and they do their part, and then there are all these other unnecessary things that I like to do.
Naturally, they don’t feel any impetus to do those things.
The new organizational system that I am playing around with, GTD, is based on the idea that we keep too much in our minds. Most of the women I know certainly do. Most of the women I know are working mothers. At any given moment, they have long lists of caregiving tasks they’re working on, including other people’s health and emotional well-being, plus work, plus relationships, plus their own health and well-being, plus community responsibilities of various kinds. The younger women I know have shorter lists of some of that stuff, but longer lists of relationship dramas and things they need to do to look good. The older ones have shorter lists of some of that stuff, but longer lists of health issues to take care of and more people to be concerned about. Many of these women know, care about, and keep track of all the cares and needs of large circles of people, and remember to ask after everyone’s projects and kids and so forth. I find this impressive.
If we apply GTD to that category of tasks, we would determine the action steps: pray for Ruth and take her a casserole. We would write those down and we would quit worrying about Ruth. We would put the repetitive housekeeping tasks into our tickler file and do them automatically on schedule without thinking about them. We would ask ourselves “why am I doing this?” when action steps like “reorganize kitchen cabinets” came up, and we would answer, “I’m doing it because I like my cabinets decent and in order” and enjoy doing it. Or we would answer, “Because someone has to,” and decide that we didn’t have to be the someone and leave it undone.
I’m making that up. Actually, David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, hardly mentions caregiving of any kind. He has a couple of backyard projects and a birthday in there as examples on a list, he has “spend more quality time with my kids” as an example of a major life goal, and he does mention planning a vacation. But essentially, this is a guy who doesn’t feel responsibility for caregiving. I assume that someone else does all that for him.
I think that is the norm. I do not, personally, believe that the average man feels bad about not doing his share of caregiving. I do think that men would notice if someone didn’t do that stuff for them. I think there would be consequences. But that might just be self-preservation. I mean, if I am going to have long lists of stuff I have to do, it is probably more tolerable for me if I can believe that those things matter to and are appreciated by the people I think I’m doing them for.