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.