The Multitasking Woman – You call her Durga …. But is that what she wants…?

… Maybe not. Maybe she will thank you for the appreciation, but chances are that she would prefer you give her a hand, and help free some of hers.

Who is she? She is the ‘modern’ woman, aka multitasker, superwoman, supermom etc. etc. While all these tags appreciate her abilities, she needs more than that. Today’s woman has shown the ability to manage both her house and her work very well (even just managing the house requires multitasking). We have all been reading about how these superwomen are able to multitask – that’s great, but really is that the place the woman wants be in? Is it really that easy? I for one, come under a lot of pressure reading about this super efficient woman – it is almost as if we (the women) are born with this “multitasker program” which can get switched on as and when required. And that it is almost expected for us to juggle everything.

But what about the men? It seems they have begged off this ability to multitask and majority of the dual workload of home and office falls on women. There are articles about how women are better at multitasking than men, who are able to do better when focusing on one thing. Men seem to have been very conveniently let off the hook! Frankly I don’t care if they are good or not. They might as well try and I am sure they will get there! As we all know – practice makes a man perfect!

Men across the world seem to be afflicted by this ‘inability to multitask’, along with the social conditioning that housework is a woman’s job. It is so common in India, to see a woman come back from work and start cooking for everyone, while the husband is more likely to come home and relax. She will also be getting up early to probably cook lunch and breakfast for everyone and likely get the kids ready too. And I have even heard cases where, while the woman wants to hire house help, the in laws or husband would not want an outsider to do these chores! But this is not just in India. In the U.S. a woman laments that since her husband lost her job two years ago, she has been working double shifts to support the house. However, he insists that the baby be put in daycare (which is very expensive), refusing to take care of her at home. In a Central Asian household, a woman returns from work, only to find the house in a mess. When she asks her retired husband, why he couldn’t have cleaned the house, he retorts saying that it is her job. These examples could go on. And across the globe.

I know that more and more men are trying to come up to speed. Many men are taking part in child rearing and helping with chores around the house. But I am not sure if the number of those men is enough, neither am I sure that the amount of work they are putting in is enough. Many men that I know would say that they ‘help’ around the house. The key word is ‘help’. You ‘help’ when it is someone else’s work – implying that the man still believes that it is his wife’s job and he is being a good Samaritan by ‘helping’ her. Perhaps it is fine when the wife is stay and home and takes on primary responsibility of the house – however, when both are working, it is essential that men come out of the ‘helping mode’ and start taking ownership.

Let me dwell a little bit on the help vs ownership model. Think of a project team – there is a manager/ team lead and there are team members. It is the ‘responsibility’ of the manager to plan for the project, divide roles and responsibilities and get the team to execute the project. The team members are ‘supporting or helping’ the manager in that sense. The manager’s primary role is to coordinate and will be doing fewer or probably none of the tasks. What happens with women is that they end up becoming the manager as well as the prime executor with minimal or no outside support. Those of you who would have led a project would appreciate the difficulty of both managing and executing a project. The woman is taking both the mental and physical load of managing the household.

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Mental load is best described by a French comic artist Emma. She has brilliantly illustrated this in the comic “You should have asked“. I recommend everyone reads it. When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he is viewing her as the manager of their household chores.

A little quiz below to see where you/ your husband figure in sharing the household work:

  • Who cooks? Who decides what is to be cooked? Who buys the groceries and vegetables and who makes the list? Who manages household help? Who gets heart attacks when the household help takes unannounced leave for 3 days?
  • Baby is crying. Who picks her up? Who cleans the baby and changes soiled diapers? Who makes sure there are enough diapers and wipes at home? Who washes the nappies? Who hangs them and folds them and ensures there is a supply of dry nappies at home at all times?
  • Who drops the kid to school/ bus stand? Who picks him up? Who makes sure the uniform is washed and ironed? Who checks his classwork and ensures that homework is done? Who helps with corrections? Who helps with class projects and crafts? Who remembers the date of submission of these class projects? Who is part of the parent WhatsApp group? Who writes diary notes to the teachers and who attends the parent teacher meeting especially if it is on a working day?
  • Who arranges play dates/ summer holiday classes? Who buys birthday presents for kid’s friends? Who picks out party clothes? Who buys clothes for kids?
  • Who makes sure that the medicine cabinet is well stocked? Who makes sure everyone is taking their daily medications? Who is managing the vaccination chart of babies? Who takes them to the doctor? Who knows what is to be given for cold vs cough vs fever? Who takes leave when the kids are sick?
  • Who cleans the refrigerator/ the washing machine/ the dish washer? Who knows when the soap/ shampoo/ toothpaste are finishing? Who gets the dry cleaning done?

If the answers show an unbalanced picture, better to do something now than later. Perhaps the best thing would be to sit down and divide not only chores but areas of responsibility. For example, “I take care of the kids’ homework and you make sure all extra curriculars are taken care of.” “I ensure that plants are watered and you make sure that the ceiling fans are regularly cleaned” etc etc. And then once the work is divided, DO NOT SUPERVISE what is not your responsibility. Women need to let go. Some couples have tried it and here are some examples and here as well.

It is not so difficult if we really put our minds to it. (I hope so!)

So dear men, please start being a part of your household. If you are a lounger, please start with being a helper and then slowly rise up the ranks (like you did in your organisation) to become a co manager. The end result will make you happier than your year end bonus does.

 

 

‘Maid’ for Each Other – My Elusive Search for the ‘Dream Girl’

You know I remember a time in the not so distant past when I was carefree. Those were the days, when my first thought after waking up was NOT whether the maid will come. I would wake up with happy thoughts of the lovely day ahead. AAh, the beauty and innocence of those days.

We were a Double Income No Kids (DINKS) couple then. A cook and a cleaner were more than enough and who cared if they didn’t turn up! A good opportunity to eat out and the house could wait another day before getting mopped! All that changed with our first baby. The first few months of the maternity leave were heavenly, and the two of us were enough for the baby’s needs. But we did realise that we will ultimately need some help. A year later, my parents moved in with us, and our needs increased. However, with a regular turnover of part time help and a crèche for my son, we managed. And then all hell broke loose, when I produced two more babies!! My battered body, older parents, hapless husband were no match for two demanding babies!! All the king’s horses and all the king’s men were not enough! (mind you, it is not simple maths with twins – the effort is not doubled it is probably quadrupled, or quintupled or maybe hundred-tupled – whatever).

What we needed was some good, solid household help. But in a country of more than a billion people, it seems like an elusive search. The twins are 19 months now and we have still not found our dream girl(s)! But so what – we might not have found HER, but what we do have is some priceless experience from the last few years.

We have of course learnt a lot about hiring part time maids – we figured it is better to hire two cooks – one for morning and one for evening (chances of both maids taking an off the same day are lesser and so at least one meal is ensured), split the other household work also in the same logic, hoping at least someone would turn up. If you have fixed with them to come at 11 a.m., try not to panic if they haven’t turned up by 1, because you see, time management is clearly not an appreciated value here. But of course be prepared, that 6 to 8 days a month, they actually might not turn up. And even if you do have 6 by 6 vision, it is best to turn a blind eye to that dirty spot behind the door or under the refrigerator door. Better to wait for the weekends and get it done in front of your eyes – though be prepared, that they may also decide to have the weekend off.

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There was a time when agencies were cheap and honest (well at least some of them). Our first experience with an agency about ten years ago, led us to believe that this is a workable model. We realized our folly when one of the helps we hired left us on the pretext of a wedding exactly halfway through his contract (I realized later that this was one of the common scams); while another one literally ran away, because apparently she felt too hot in our house (we had only 1 A.C in our bedroom at that time – I assume it would have been a bit odd to invite her to sleep in our bedroom). After those fiascos, we decided to hire locally.

Once we hired this well dressed, bespectacled, seemingly respectable lady. We were fairly happy with her work (and thanking our stars) till we discovered Mr. Hyde behind Dr. Jekyll. We found out she had money disputes with her family and were horrified to hear her screaming matches on phone. Even our neighbours started to wonder what was wrong with us! We still managed for a year, till we discovered that she had falsely accused her husband of her own murder! We decided it was just safer to have a break up with her!

Oh and then there was this Mr. Perfect! A very highly efficient guy, who came home at dot 6 a.m. and did everything perfectly. We thought God is so kind till we discovered that he loved to take weekends off (which is when instead of resting, I ended up doing household chores). The last straw was when he cut his finger a bit and refused to turn up for about two weeks.

We also tried the straight from the village types, thinking they may be easier to mould and train (also cheaper) – but gave up quite quickly after realizing that training them was no piece of cake. Right from teaching them how to stand straight (and not lean on every wall), how not to clean dirty hands on the nearest curtain, how to sit on the western toilet, how to close the refrigerator properly and of course how to do the tasks they were hired for, we realized it is probably less stressful to do the work ourselves.

More recently we hired a Bengali lady (barely knows hindi as well as most of the housework) who also eats niramish (strictly vegetarian and no onion garlic) and that also became pretty nightmarish. Between having to explain multiple times to her what we wanted to get done, her slow speed and the three times separate cooking, we realized nothing was getting done. My mother was ending up looking after both the babies! We realized soon enough that this relationship was also not going to last.

And finally, I recently thought, I had found the ONE! A young girl, very pleasant, very nice with the babies, fairly efficient – what more could I ask for! This one was definitely a keeper! But god had something else in mind. My dream run lasted till I discovered that she had been robbing me behind my back! (chhann se jo toota koi sapna….)

And we are back to square one. But believe me when I say I am not promiscuous. I just haven’t found my dream girl. And I am not the only one. When a colleague told me that she went through some 20 to 30 maids in the last one year – I realized I am not alone. And I got strength. And I got hope. And I decided to restart my search with vigour.

And while you get some strength and inspiration from my words let me just go and clean my drawing room. You see another prospective “match” is coming to see (meet) me – please wish me luck that this time I get my dream.

Do like and share this post and tell me your stories too!

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