Sharing household chores

There is greater efficiency and happiness in a home where family members share household responsibilities equally

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If you’ve seen the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cartoon or film, you’ll remember that scene where everyone is engrossed doing their own work – one is chopping firewood, another is removing cobwebs, a third is fetching water, a fourth is polishing the furniture, even the birds are ferrying twigs. You get the picture.

Why doesn’t this smooth distribution of responsibilities happen in real life? Sometimes it does. Sometimes it needs to be done. Distributed duties lead to lesser friction, though the distribution may not always be fair. In generations gone by, the women stayed home and cooked whatever the men brought in, and cared for babies. They didn’t go to the bank, do the shopping, file tax returns, or attend PTA [Parent Teacher Association] meetings. The children were expected to play, and maybe learn till they could fend for themselves and help with the earning. Today, there’s no harm if they can lay the table, clear it, help with folding the bed sheets, pack their bags, take out the garbage, or read the paper to a grandparent. It’s a matter of habit and discipline. Moreover, every religion, philosophy and civilisation has stressed on the value of being self-dependent.

Listing tasks

It starts at the very beginning. If you’ve been doing all the chores for the rest of the clan, they’ve got used to it already. Change is going to be tough, but possible. Make a beginning: list out every tiny job that has to be done in the house, from the time you get up, till you fluff out the pillow to rest your head upon. Ensure that all tasks get done. It is important that the basin gets scrubbed, the furniture gets dusted properly, the curios get arranged in proper sequence, the stationery gets sorted out, shoes are polished, office clothes are ironed, and the like. Also take into account work like cleaning combs, checking for cockroaches in the crevices so you can call the pest control service. The kitchen-work, naturally, comprises the maximum number of chores: chopping, shredding, grinding, shopping, putting away things, getting them out, figuring out what to cook, making a note of what’s getting over [this could move into the weekly or monthly list rather than on the daily to-do].

The listing exercise should be done methodically. Every detail should be mentioned like cleaning the windows and cupboards, sweeping under-the-sofa and behind-the-fridge. Actually, you can write an entire chapter on cleaning. Figure out who is good at what and distribute tasks accordingly. The computer savvy person answers emails, the maths whiz does the Income Tax returns, the chatty one answers the phone calls, and the picky one does the fresh-food shopping.

Allocating time

When all members are adults, and possibly attending office, they wouldn’t necessarily have the same timings. Hence, the jobs could be allocated time-wise. So whoever enters the house first in the evening starts the work. Puts the rice on the cooker perhaps, roasts the papads or slices the cucumber or loads the washing machine. The next person would automatically put the clothes on the line, season the dal. Coordination is no big deal in this world of instant communication. External tasks may or may not be rotated, depending on convenience. Shopping, paying bills, visitin the tailor, and the like can be planned in advance. For smooth running of tight schedules, the mobile phone can be a boon. It’s reverse gear in the mornings; whoever leaves late must ensure the gas is off, the windows are shut and locked, the tap is closed, the watchman has been told to receive that important courier packet.

Similarly, large organisations manage their work of planning, preparation, execution, supervision, and closure – like it is done in a family. Even in a small family of three, it helps to have a hierarchy. One must be the leader or manager who makes the list and allots the tasks. The leader should not lose his temper, be prepared to handle occasional slackness, forgetfulness, cheating and sloth. He should be able to overcome irritation, for it doesn’t help to have tension over who didn’t wipe the spoons, who left the towel on the bed, or who didn’t switch off the geyser. The trick is to remind gently, firmly, regularly, and continually. The habit will eventually form. Giving up in a fit of annoyance might be disastrous to the whole sharing business.

Helping outsiders

Sharing involves more than housework. What about other responsibilities like looking after ailing relatives? Paying the fees of a poor cousin to help tide over a bad phase? Baby sitting an ill neighbour’s child? Who will share those? Once you have a fairly organised internal set up, it’s easier to extend that experience to outsiders. Ok, relatives and childhood mates may not be considered outsiders, but they are beyond our brief nuclear families.

For a moment let’s forget outsiders. In an emergency in our own home, like an illness or a sudden call from work, there is nothing like a well-trained family with well-oiled machinery in place as a comfort zone. No one’s left stranded. Everybody knows where the extra money is kept. Everybody knows how to boil instant noodles and a cup of soup. There’s no panic, and life doesn’t stall. The load is evenly carried. If you ever feel you’re doing it all and the others are having it easy, speak up, step in and make that difference. Caring really is about sharing everything and that includes domestic chores to begin with.

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