Late summer, I was walking our dog, a Great Pyrenees, in the yard and looking for a missing toy in the grass. As we were walking a rabbit took off and my dog tried to as well, pulling me into a divot in the grass. The result was one of the worst ankle sprains of my life. I required assistance just to get back to the house. The males in my life sprang to action. My husband helped me get into the house. My oldest son helped me wrap my foot; finished cleaning the floor, an interrupted chore; and picked a flower for me. My youngest son stayed nearby offering comfort. I thought as I sat there, my ankle on fire with pain, as the only female in my house, if a female is required for caregiving to happen, I would be in trouble. I thought exploring the topic would be interesting.
When it comes to raising boys, there are few discussions about boys and the role of informal, unpaid caregiver. In popular culture when a father cares for his child without the mother present, some have called his care “babysitting.” There is a counter movement stating father’s when left alone to care for their children are parenting, not babysitting.
Both children and adults at some point in life require caregiving. Statistics show the economic value of unpaid caregivers in the billions of dollars. According to caregiver.org, out of the 43 percent of the population that provide care to a child or older adult, 14 percent are males.
In an article by the New York Times, the risk of divorce when women are diagnosed with a chronic or terminal medical condition is discussed. According to a study published in the journal Cancer, “female gender was found to be a strong predictor of partner abandonment in patients with serious medical illness.” Having a spouse for support when managing a serious medical diagnosisis an important part of improved mental health and physical health outcomes. The conclusion in the study from Cancer mentions this as well: “When divorce or separation occurred, quality of care and quality of life (for women) were adversely affected.”
I believe valuing caregiving and care for the home are important to the health of my son’s future marriages. By investing in the training of my sons to run a household, care for children and adults, and complete house cleaning chores, my sons will be better prepared for marriage and parenthood.
A simple way to model these skills is to include children in daily work. In fact that’s what we do, we start with doing the work together. I’m not looking for the boys to pay attention to every detail I would, or in the way I would. I observe simply if the job is done, with increasing attention to detail as the child gets older. Yes, the boys fuss and argue, but often, with using some whimsy and playfulness, we are able to have fun together through the duration of the project. My 3-year–old has announced he hates laundry and loves to do dishes. My 6-year–old some days fights me, and other days initiates working on chores. In fact, setting the table is a specialty of his, with attention to detail and the comfort of the family.
The process of modeling these skills has provided opportunity for my husband and I to have discussions about who does chores around the house and when. This part of our lives continues to be a work in progress. Fortunately, how we handle these discussions can be helpful for our boys as well. Modeling how to have a conversation about chores, even using tools to help identify areas of improvement, can be helpful. In an article on the chore war, which includes a checklist to guide a conversation about chores, because “couples who do the least arguing about housework are those who have talked about it and made choices together.”
I want my boys to be fully prepared to graduate into meaningful employment and relationships when they leave our home. I want my boys to realize the work in a home isn’t men’s work or women’s work; it’s the work that benefits everyone closest to them, benefits a wife, benefits their children, benefits their family.
“The work of making home happy does not rest upon the mother alone. Fathers have an important part to act. The husband is the house-band of the home treasures, binding by his strong, earnest, devoted affection the members of the household, mother and children, together in the strongest bonds of union,” Adventist Home.
Glantz, M. J., Chamberlain, M. C., Liu, Q., Hsieh, C.-C., Edwards, K. R., Van Horn, A. and Recht, L. (2009), Gender disparity in the rate of partner abandonment in patients with serious medical illness. Cancer, 115: 5237–5242. doi:10.1002/cncr.24577
White, Ellen G. The adventist home counsels to Seventh-Day Adventist families as set forth in the writing of Ellen G. White. Southern Publ. Assn., 1980.