Negotiating Household Labor

Sarah McMahon
4 min readMay 15

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

Sometimes, I read articles or see videos about household labor and the gender split; how women are now not only working, but often becoming breadwinners and still shouldering the bulk of household work. This is a fact, proven both anecdotally but more importantly, through plenty of research.

Today is Mother’s Day and although I am not a mother, a checkout clerk at Whole Foods assumed I was. “Your kids are lucky to have you!” she chirped as I finished paying for my groceries. Instead of correcting her, I just smiled and said “Thank you.” I was buying eggs, wine, a frozen gluten free/vegan pizza, a graduation card, and a bouquet of flowers. Nothing I was purchasing implied motherhood. She simply presumed, just as many of us presume women to be better at cleaning or laundry or scrambling eggs.

I am not a mother, but I know many mothers and of course, I have a mother myself. My mother worked and cooked and did laundry and recruited my brother and I to help clean. One person cannot and should not be responsible for an entire household, after all. Sometimes, I let my bedroom fall into disarray and spent a whole day cleaning it and rearranging furniture. I learned from my Great-Grandmother how to properly square a bed corner, and I learned from my Grandmother how to scrub windows with ammonia and warm water, leaving no streaks left behind. My mother separated the laundry, teaching me tricks to get tough stains out (ammonia and cold water), tricks to get tough scents out (white vinegar), and tricks to folding complicated articles of clothing. We hung laundry outside in the summer, so our t-shirts and towels and bedclothes smelled like a fresh, midwestern country wind.

It was the women in my life who were picky about the ins and outs of household cleanliness, who had a favorite brand of dish soap or bathtub cleaner. I once read that women are better than men at juggling multiple thoughts and responsibilities at once, that our brains can balance a memorized grocery list, a weeks worth of meetings, and what time we need to be where, with whom, and what the proper dress attire might be.

I can attest to being able to juggle multiple things. My first boss called me, “extraordinarily efficient.” In college, I could knock out a 20-page…

Sarah McMahon

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