I went to an all girls’ school. When I got to the sixth form, much excitement ensued, as we were trusted with our own little kitchenette, which contained a kettle, and was adequately stocked with tea, coffee and milk. I don’t believe there was a microwave, because although many of us were legal voting age by the start of the upper sixth, we couldn’t properly be trusted not to set ourselves on fire.
Still, it was a sort of freedom. A sort of freedom that was a little bit undermined in the upper sixth when the teacher who was appointed Head of the Upper Sixth came into our common room, declared it a disgrace, and – to our 18 year-old hilarity – called us all sluts. We were unfamiliar with the somewhat archaic term to mean “a rubbish housekeeper” and surmised she was insinuating our lack of ability to wash our cups out meant that we were also frantically shagging our way round the locality. To be fair to her, this may have been true in some cases. And why not. We were young, free and apparently slutty.
Our school had a boys’ equivalent, literally on the same street. We were under the same “group” of schools. We shared after-school activities and facilities. The boys, upon entering sixth form, also got their own common room. With a tea lady. The tea lady would dispense them their prefered beverage, and then do all of the washing up of the cups, and would be there all day to ensure the boys were always appropriately hydrated. I believe this was still the case when my brother entered sixth form, six years after I had left. I am sure he will be along to correct me if that is not the case.
By age 18, the girls had been called “sluts” for not washing up properly. The boys had learned that they deserved a woman to wait upon them.
For the last few months, TheBloke (TM) has been taking some time out of work. I know we are in a very, very fortunate position to have both of us at home all day. I don’t for a second preach the following as something that is workable for everyone. I do believe that if one person is staying home with the children, then (so long as there is no illness or a newborn, or something all-consuming) then it is fair for that person, regardless of their genitals, to do most of the work around the home until the partner returns. Clock starting when the partner returns, everything from that point should be split 50-50. Looking after children is work too.
When TheBloke (TM) was first at home after having been working for the last twelve months, it took me a little while to “find my feet” in terms of making sure what we were doing was equal. So here are some things I have learned that might help equality in your home.
Nunn the Wiser’s Guide to an Equal Relationship
1. No sacred cows
Do NOT get into the habit of certain jobs can only be done by certain people “because it will take me longer to show him/her how to do it than to do it myself”. I always used to do the supermarket shop because I knew what brands we bought, and where everything in the shop was, and would know that although I didn’t put milk on the list, we always need milk. It would take me half the time, and the groceries brought home would be twice as accurate. But actually, after a couple of shops and minor inconveniences of having the wrong sort of tortilla wrap or having to pop to the local shop for milk, this is now something we split.
This has to work both ways. If I expect TheBloke (TM) to take his turn taking EldestGirl to Rainbows, then whilst he’s out, it makes sense for me to put the bins out.
2. Some sacred cows
OK, OK, there are some things I’m just shit at. TheBloke (TM) has a full-on obsession with stacking the dishwasher a certain way, so I let him get on with it. I make the Sunday roast.
3. Not just the jobs
When one of you works, and the other is at home with the children, it is the stay-at-home parent’s “job” to take children to their classes – playgroups, singing groups, swimming, gymnastics, rhyme time at the library – whatever your family does. At first, I continued doing this, getting increasingly irritated that TheBloke (TM) got “alone time” in the house watching Netflix whilst I was still trotting backwards and forwards to classes. Now we either take it in turns, or go together. Again, once you’ve done it once, it’s not daunting at all. True, TheBloke (TM) is sometimes the only adult male in the room, but that’s OK. He’s setting an example. Or, as he so delightfully puts it, “shopping for your replacement”.
4. Address skills shortages
There are some things you can learn, and some things you can’t. I am never going to possess TheBloke (TM)’s ability to tessellate a dishwasher to his high standards. Partly because I just don’t care. However, I have long been the cook of the house. TheBloke (TM) will happily make an excellent spaghetti bolognese or a stir-fry, but the bulk of the day-to-day cooking has fallen on me, and I was OK with that because I like cooking. But actually, it’s not hard to learn a few new meals. We got a special offer on a few of those meal boxes through the post that have instructions that a complete novice could follow. TheBloke (TM) followed them extremely successfully, and added some more meals to his repertoire, lessening the necessity for me to cook most nights. On the nights he cooks, I can catch up on some admin, read, or watch a bit of TV.
5. Time is money
When you have small children, the one thing you never, ever have enough of is time to yourself. We try to split “alone” time fairly evenly. If I take YoungestGirl to singing class on Wednesday, giving TheBloke (TM) a morning to himself, he will take her to soft play the next day so I get some time to myself. Children’s birthday parties are taken in turns. Lie-ins at weekends are split strictly 50-50 with an agreed end-time of 9.30.
At 9.30 a.m. if the other partner is a no-show, you have permission to assemble the Bottom-of-the-Stairs Toddler Music band. Find the cymbals. Get the battery-operated guitar and the Peppa Pig harmonica. Find the xylophone. Locate that recorder that “got lost” behind the radiator. All bets are off.
6. All hands on deck for emergencies
Any vomit, any time, or poo where it shouldn’t be, negates any alone-time or lie-in agreed. Bleeding and head-injuries are judgement calls.