- Kitchen dishes stacked with globs of grease from fried chicken dinner from two nights ago yet he is merrily shooting a laser gun at some sort of alien figure on a wide-screen TV
- You are out shopping for the week’s o and he calls you, “Re, Smaro, pou eine to kalodio tou computer? Den to brisko.” To which you reply: “How the diabolo should I know? Use your eyes and your common sense to see if it is in the computer desk or stuck behind it
- Although he might on occasion do laundry, when he runs out of Fruit of the Looms he would rather go to Macy’s and order a new pack instead of wash the old ones
- You come home exhausted from a stressful day at work, and there he is sprawled on the couch, the dog’s barf on the kitchen linoleum, the attempt to find the right suit combinations scattered all over the bedroom floor, the unpaid bills stacked in barrels on the desk, and he turns to you, “How honey how was your day?” followed in quick succession by, “Can you make us something to eat?”
The mother/wife becomes the general do-all genie of the castle. Every day, I get commands:
“Irene, where’s the remote?” “Find it ya big bafoon. You’re probably sitting on it,” I’d like to shout back, but instead cry out, “Try under the sofa pillow, honey.”
“Mommy, can you wipe my butt?” “I’m not as ass wiper. You should be wiping your own ass at this point” is what I’d like to say, but manage to eek out, “You are a big girl now, beba.” I try to reason with a toddler. “You have to try by yourself.” After a tantrum and 7 minutes of continuous whining and crying, of course, I’m cleaning up the crevices.
“Honey, do this, honey where’s that? Did you pick up the dry cleaning? Did you send out the electricity bill? Did you sign the permission slip for Christina’s trip? Why is the milk cold? Why are there shit stains on my briefs? How far is Freehold from here? What’s the temperature in Peeksill in comparison to Long Island?
I get barraged daily with constant commands/requests/complaints/inquiries/questions, etc. You’d think I was some sort of Google/robot/miracle maker.
I will try hard not to stereotype in this article, yet I cannot help but speak through honest personal experience. If you, like me, are married to a more traditional sort of guy, then you know the frustrations of having him do his fair share of the housework. Let’s face it: Greeks, Italians, and other Middle Eastern/Mediterranean cultures, generally speaking, have been brought up with the traditional set of sex roles: the man is the bread winner in the outside world and the woman works on the domestic front, keeping house and raising children. Now there is nothing wrong with this sort of arrangement. However, when the lady of the house has a high-powered job and sometimes reels in more in salary than the man, and yet is still expected to keep house, manage the food preparation and cooking, as well as keep track of the children’s progress and well-being, while the man comes home and plops himself in front of the TV, his day done, then there is a problem.
I just can’t believe how much some men get away with doing so very little in terms of house work and child rearing in the 21st century! It is just plain unfair. It enrages me to come home and see the house a total wreck, the baby eating kibbets out of the dog bowl, the laundry mound avalanching into the tub, the fridge empty and the lawn turning a golden crusty brown, while my beloved husband is watching back to back episodes of “Pawn Stars.” “Doesn’t it bother you to see the house in such a mess? I’m ready to have a heart attack,” I go around shouting like a lunatic. “Relax, relax,” he tells me, “Things will get done.” This answer translates in my mind to “If I don’t do it, no one will.” So that’s what I reverted to doing: doing EVERYTHING—my full-time job, the kids, the house, the laundry, the cooking, the bills. And then after several years of doing this, I reached the melting point. I no longer had the energy or the will power to be Superwoman. I wanted to be the pampered princess who soaked in a bath of warm goat’s milk, put on her silk robe with silver slippers with those white feathery pom poms on them, and nibbled on cucumber sandwiches with Earl gray tea while relaxing on her lounge couch watching her favorite episodes of “Constandinos and Eleni.”
In this hectic day and age, it is extremely arrogant, unjust, and cruel to have the woman come home to a second shift after putting in a hard day’s work in whatever her chosen field. Enough is enough. When you get to the point when you’re fed up with the Superwoman routine, it is time to retrain your husband and yourself.
The trick is, you have to retrain your husband/boyfriend to take a more active and more equitable role in the distribution of adult responsibilities. Now, this is difficult but not impossible because humans unlike dogs and dolphins, that require only one or two attempts before they assimilate new behaviors, need consistent reinforcement in order to change their ways of operating.
Another reason why it is particularly difficult to retrain a Greek husband or those from cultures that traditionally define house and child-rearing with a woman’s duties is precisely this, to indulge in woman’s work would make them a “woman” and that, my friends, is the biggest insult you can give a macho Greek man. Traditional men might consider it a threat to their masculinity if they start doing the dishes or changing diapers. In fact, the traditional “manga” macho could not be caught dead mopping the floors as that would be equivalent to turning gay. I remember one Greek young man, raised with mom as his personal servant, who came out bragging to his friends about the crispy ironed shirt his brother-in-law, an American lieutenant in the Air Force, “Look at this, re malakes,” he said pinching the shirt in a stance of bravado, “my idiot brother-in-law ironed it for me.”
With that being said, you will come across a great deal of resistance but you should not give up. It is the only way to get justice in the house. Here is my list of strategies to retrain your husband:
1) Talk about the situation. Create a list of chores in the house and create a schedule or calendar for who does what and when.
2) If he “forgets,” don’t pick up after him. Let the consequences roll by themselves.
3) Go on a solo vacation and inform him that because you have done overtime in the house department, that you are on a verge of a nervous breakdown, you are taking a well-deserved break.
4) Hire a house cleaner to help with the upkeep and take it out of his salary.
5) If he still does not contribute his fair share to the housework and children, start giving him the silent treatment. In fact, extend the silent treatment into the bedroom. That’s the Lysistrada technique. It helped the women of ancient Athens deter war. It will help you get the basement done.
6) Keep a checklist on the fridge and every time he completes something, put a smiley face next to it. Tell him each smiley face stands for something that will put a smile on his face. (You figure out what that is.)
7) Give him lots of positive reinforcement when you see him trying to do the housework. If he is starting to vacuum, fall on him and shower him with kisses and don’t go easy on the dramatics, “Thank you soooo much honey . . . blah blah blah You don’t know how much this means to me . . . blah blah blah . . . I’ll have so much more energy if you start taking over the housework, we can do more fun things together (wink, wink).”
8) Leave reminder post-it notes in his sock drawer for the chores he must accomplish that day. Follow up with a reminder email and finally with a confirmation phone call, “Honey, you did pick up the groceries, didn’t you?”
9) Start a group and have your friends sign a pact to retrain their husbands together. This way when your husband complains he is the only sucker who is scrubbing the floors, you can defend yourself by saying, “Not true. Jenny’s husband is also scrubbing the floors. It’s the modern thing to do.”
10) Always stress to him that this is the 21st century and that the sex roles are more equal. Doesn’t he want to be a modern man?
Don’t forget. One of the hardest steps to retraining your husband is not going back on yourself. You must stop doing everything for everybody and stay committed to yourself. Promise yourself that you will not feel guilty or less “valuable” for not going beyond your call of duty. Take time to reinforce yourself that you deserve every valuable minute for yourself. You should be taking the time you devote to the housework and the child rearing to taking care of yourself. Go to the gym. Take a class for some forgotten hobby you have always wanted to take. Go out with your girlfriends. Enjoy a spa day. Or just plop yourself in front of the TV, take off your shoes, and shout, “Baby, where is the remote control? What is the number for the Greek channel? What’s for dinner tonight?”
Let us know how your efforts go.