Not being ‘the Mrs’

Losing my Dad at 13 had a profound influence on me, but not just in the way it affected me at the time, but the way I looked at the future. It made me make a lot of decisions about the future – obvious ones like living for the moment and not dwelling on the retirement fund (who knows if you’ll get to enjoy it,) but also a pledge of independence.

I watched with pride the way my mum picked up the running of our household. I dont mean the day to day – obviously she already did the shopping, the cooking and the traditional roles any Mum would do in the home, (actually she was working by then too,) but also the more traditionally male roles. My Mum became our financial decision maker, book keeper, accountant and gardener. Looking around, many women in their fifties might have fallen apart, not even knowing where to start with household admin they didn’t normally even see. She was able to do it because she and my Dad had unusually always done things like that together and of course it would be obvious to say she also had to. I made me realise I never wanted to become the kind of woman or wife that ‘left things to him’.

A few years on, after only 3 years of marriage I can already feel us slipping into separate roles. I convinced myself it was delegation with things like holiday planning when I was too busy or looking for a new insurance quote, but I felt a bit guilty every time I asked Pete to take out the bin! It’s like that old leadership adage, don’t ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t be prepared or able to do yourself.

More recently, its been all about DIY. For over months the cold tap in our bathroom had a washer problem and although the tap turned, no water came out. It wasn’t sudden, both of us watched it get worse for months and neither of us did anything until one day it stopped. I nagged (no, not my favourite word but I’m prepared to admit that’s what it was,) Pete for months, first to fix it and then to get someone who could. He actually didn’t know how to fix it but I wanted him to look it up or something, there’s always Google right? Of course the answer was that I could just as easily have done something about it myself instead of letting it become the butt of every argument. Eventually the tap got fixed (Pete’s solution was to replace the taps, but that’s another story) and before long there was another minor DIY job… the hook the blind cord wrapped around in our bedroom worked its way loose from the wall along with the surrounding plaster and we couldn’t raise the blind. We both carried on, the hook could be left in place and if you crossed your fingers, it might not fall out during the day, but obviously it wasn’t ideal. The nagging started again.

A couple of weeks ago one Saturday morning I realised, I was becoming that woman. The truth was that although I was busy, really I was also out of practice. I had gone from someone who used to put her own shelves up, to being scared to try to fix this minor problem because I didn’t know how to tackle it any more. So I went and found the tool box, customised some rawl plugs to fill the gap and used a shed load of no-nails to secure the hook. Not all that technical I know, but I felt empowered to start doing these things again. Next on my list is the broken bathroom window lock. I’m told you can buy new double glazing locks and fit them yourself…

I guess some women look at men taking the traditional male roles of DIY etc as being ‘looked after’ but I don’t need Pete to do this stuff to show he loves me, I need me to do them, to make me feel strong. So if the worst ever happens, I know I can manage by myself.

I’d love to hear your take on this readers, it’s high time we had a bit more life-discussion around here and I hope to be bringing you more posts like this, but they don’t work without your input and conversation. Do you DIY and how do you feel about apportioning roles in your relationship? Have I made you think about retaining your independence?


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20 thoughts on “Not being ‘the Mrs’

  1. We divide our roles – I cook, he takes out the bin. We share laundry. I clean my mess and the dust. He keeps his stuff clean and tidy all the time so I have nothing to clean (except my own crap!).

    For woman (or men) that do want to know the basics, I’d recommend here:
    You can do a basic DIY course. It covers hammering and drilling, saw-ing, plumbing and electricals. It was really good.

  2. I love this!

    I’m all for mixing it up. If there’s DIY to be done, I’m the one that does it. I’m also the one that cares about the cars, what they look, drive and accelerate like, etc.

    Mr G is more worried about the vacuum cleaner suction and whether we needed a steam mop (yes, apparently). He also does all the cooking and generally most of the ironing (because I try to avoid garments that need too much ironing and his promotional opportunities actually depend on the creases in his shirt sleeves!), whilst I drill holes in walls, rip out fitted wardrobes and go wild with the electric sander!!

    People laugh at our “gender swap” but he enjoys cooking (while I hate it) and I enjoy DIY and he gets frustrated with it. But really I don’t see it as a gender swap, more the correct allocation of skills and interests to the jobs that need to be done.

    In the same vein, I have to be pretty much self sufficient because of his job (I’m home alone with issues to sort out for about 80% of the week and I have to be able to cope with the whole caboodle alone, for a short while at least, otherwise I’d be screwed!) but also because I come from a long line of self sufficient women, who, although happily married for many many years, for one reason or another (usually their husbands’ career choices) have had to be able to “survive” alone for chunks of time, and cover all bases in relation to the home and family life… the dad role, the mum role, the fixer, the lunch packer, the DIYer, the accountant, the dishwasher repairer…

    To me, it’s just a given that I can cover everything I need to do, to an adequate standard… and then, if a specialist job is required (anyone know a plasterer for my spare room ceiling?) I call in the professionals….. or, my dad! Ha ha! But seriously, I’d feel very isolated and a bit scared of the world if I wasn’t confident that I could get up and do it all myself if I had to. I suppose, in a rather unromantic view, this is my “life” skill set to go alongside my “running away fund”.

    Whether I CHOOSE to do things, is a whole other issue. Cleaning out the bins or unblocking the drains… defo a blue job. And sorting out the family Christmas presents… 100% a pink job!

    Sometimes it bothers me that I’m the one up a ladder covered in dust and feeling very unladylike, but equally, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do so, I could let him get on with it, but I’d never be happy that the results were up to my standard!

  3. This weekend, I made the somewhat flippant passing remark to a friend that “I’m the man in this relationship.” Which sounds weird, but at the time I was getting the screwdriver out to fix something. In our relationship, I do the DIY, Fin does the dishes. I manage the finances, he takes care of the dog. I outearn him in my historically “male” job, while he works in a caring, child-focused role surrounded by female colleagues. But I don’t think it’s from any fear on my part of being overly dependent on a man – we simply play to our strengths. If anything, he’d be screwed if I was no longer on the scene, and not the other way around.

    I do know exactly what you mean when you say “the Mrs”, and “the traditional roles any Mum would do” – we all know what those roles are, and to pretend to be affronted by, for example, the Asda Christmas advert is, to my mind, disingenuous. I’ll be honest, my dad would be an absolute disaster if he tried to do Christmas on his own and to act otherwise is disrespectful of the work my mum puts in to make it magical.

    I wonder, though, if we might be better to stop couching these things in terms of traditional husband and wife/male and female activities? You fixed something in your house – high five, that’s awesome! And it is no more or less awesome because it’s traditionally something a man would do. Likewise, the fact my husband does most of the washing is amazing, but he doesn’t deserve a pat on the back for doing something “girly” – he’s home more during the day, it makes sense for him to do it. It’s like when people refer to dads “babysitting” their own children – it’s insulting to them, and increases the pressure on women to be identified as the primary caregiver even if that’s not what actually works for their family’s situation.

    And not to mention how this all sits with same sex couples – heaven forbid a lesbian couple needs to erect a curtain pole or inflate the car tyres, whatever would they do without a man around??

    All of which is to say, I should probably stop referring to myself as “the man” in my relationship, and just embrace the fact that we’re two people who contribute to our partnership according to our time, talents and inclination.

    I should probably also mention that my screwdriver is pink and flowery, so I’m not *that* manly…

  4. mmm this post is really interesting Rebecca! I HATE having do anyone do anything for me or asking for help and am a complete contro freak and like to think of myself as superwoman. I always assumed this was just me but to a certain degree I think you have hit a nerve, I don’t like admitting to not being able to do something because it makes me wonder how I would manage without Mr H. At the same time it really can be a bad thing as I get exhausted and spread myself thin, maybe its time too relinquish a few responsibilities – definatly a post to muse over xx

  5. Humm, you really made me think. We fill our roles in a rather traditional way I guess, but mostly because that’s where our skills are. I do all the cooking because I love it. It is almost like therapy, or like science (experimenting) and I enjoy it thoroughly. The boy is the one who normally takes care of DIY stuff, but mostly because he is handy, he likes it, (something about keeping himself busy and wanting all the bits in the house to be nice) and grew up watching his father do it, so he learnt a lot.
    In our home, it was my mom who did all of that DIY stuff…. my dad is just not a very practical person.
    For other chores like cleaning we normally share / do it together while playing music and have fun at it. And the accounting we kind of do together. He is better at Excel so he made us a nice spreadsheet program thingy but I know I am equally capable of handling it as I did for years before we got married.
    So I guess I am echoing Kirsty’s comment in that the division of roles has more to do with the actual skills of each partner than in roles “assigned” by cultural norms…

  6. Great post!
    I totally recognise this situation! I’ve always been super independent and generally done the more traditionally ‘manly’ things at home ~ DIY, putting air in the car tyres, checking the oil etc whilst my hub’s been happy to cook and iron!
    It’s worked for us and I’m glad, as I’ve watched my Mum leave all of those tasks to my Dad and constantly worry that should anything happen to him, she’d be clueless. It drives me mad!
    However, since having a baby 15 months ago, I now find myself doing the same and have recently given myself a damn good talking to. I want to be a strong role model for my girl (much like it sounds like your Mum is to you) ~ and your post has reminded me how important that is. Thanks! x

  7. My Dad works long hours as a farmer. He’s up at 5am most mornings. You would think a farmer would be good at DiY, but I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never seen him do it. He’s just focused on farming, and cricket (his hobby). My mum is a saint.

    The house, including DiY is mum’s domain. If the drains are blocked, mum rods them. If a washer needs replacing, mum will do this. Any painting, mum. And she does all the gardening, not forgetting the housework. It’s a large 17th century farmhouse too.

    Mum also does all the book-keeping with the farm, pays all the bills, sorts out the insurance, all household admin etc.

    I might have a super mum, but I don’t do any DiY. I have a husband, who does it all without me even asking. If this wasn’t the case, then maybe I would learn. I think you just learn to adapt, and fit into a routine that suits you both.

  8. Ooh, a very interesting post Miss Rebecca! I can’t believe you got annoyed with YOURSELF though when the taps and the blind cord got left for weeks- I would have been so peeved that P hadn’t bothered fixing it yet! Which has left me quite surprised with myself how much I do like the roles to be fairly traditional… but then again he’s fixed things for the last 8 years so it would be very strange for him not to.

    Three quarters of the year I do all the laundry and house cleaning, he does the bins and the fixing/lightbulb changing and we share the cooking. He’s a teacher though so I do enjoy my summers when I leave him at home with a long list…

    I know that I’d be perfectly capable attempting most ‘manly’ things myself… I just don’t want to!

  9. James and I were both brought up in households where the roles were split pretty traditionally, and we’ve both been keen to avoid that. Mostly we split things down the middle according to our strengths/inclinations so he washes, I iron, we both cook and tidy, historically I managed our finances but that is now shared, we both do DIY according to what/where it is – something fiddly is me, something requiring strength is him and we split admin into things which require phone calls (me) and things that can be done online (him).

  10. From the day we decided to stay together, Ad and I have always worked as a team. Where there’s something that needs doing, from a nasty washing up mountain to a more complex room redecoration, we crack on and tackle it together. I do admit to bowing out of ‘under the bath’ type jobs, but that’s because he knows his pipes better than I do, but I’d like to think if he wasn’t around I could turn my hand to most things! I think in a relationship you have to avoid defaulting to roles and work together to get stuff done. It works for us!

  11. Both of us treat DIY as a necessary evil but we generally do it together, unless it’s something I’m too short for (stupid tenement ceilings). But I’m usually the one who says ‘let’s do this’ and who is less of a procrastinator. I’m happy to do wee jobs, just because but also because I know if I ask Ross he’ll try and put it off!
    I think generally we play to our strengths though. For example, I’m chief glosser in our house because I know he hates it, he takes the bins down because I’m slightly scared of what may or may not lurk in the bin shed.

  12. Interesting post Rebecca. We divide the household chores quite traditionally I’m afraid to say & I’m ashamed to say I didn’t give it much thought until now! Just last night one of the radiators needing bleeding which David did & then the pressure dropped in the boiler (I think…) & he fixed that too. I’m embarrassed to say I wouldn’t know where to start with that kind of thing & can’t change a tyre on my car either (despite having been shown at least twice… But that was years ago). Now you’ve made me think about it I probably should make an conscious effort to improve my DIY type skills as I hate the thought of not being independent or able to cope if the worst were to happen. Thanks for making me think 🙂 xxx

  13. Ooh interesting, I’m really struggling to order my thoughts on this. Instinctively I feel that I really don’t want to be someone who isn’t capable of managing by myself should that ever be necessary. However one of the joys of marriage is being able to play to each others strengths. My husband is currently listed in my mobile as “technical support” as whilst I am pretty computer literate, he is super IT savvy and has sorted out all our computers, network, automatic back ups etc etc etc and I have NO clue as to how any of it works.

    On the other hand I’m the organised one, who knows whats coming up, when we’re going to run out of stuff and without me he would really have to make an effort with this sort of stuff.

    Housework we officially share but I have the lower mess tolerance so probably do more. Having said that he is home alot at the moment and really happy to do any jobs around the house as long as I leave him a list and he doesn’t have to notice they need doing himself. We share DIY/gardening although most often with the assistance of my amazing dad who will have a go at anything!

  14. Great post Rebecca! Am I the only one who thinks that they should teach basic DIY in school, along with how to cook easy healthy meals (I did home ec but they did not cover this!) and financial education.
    In our house, I do most of the DIY stuff and the majority of the chores since my other half is studying as well as working full time. However that will change once he graduates!

  15. It’s interesting that most of you have talked about apportioning roles to the people who suit them in a relationship regardless of gender and I’m glad to hear I’m not the only woman who does less cleaning and cooking than her other half. I totally agree with that – it makes sense right?

    On the other hand, some of you have picked up on the deeper thought behind this post, which isn’t really about DIY but the way being with someone who becomes so much a part of your life that they are always there, makes you exposed in a way, and vulnerable. Emotionally of course, but does it also affect our independence?

    Glad it made you think ladies – expect more like this – I love hearing your thoughts 🙂


  16. My mum has always been the parent to do the decorating and she’s always been good at minor DIY stuff, on top of having 3 kids, 2 cats and a dog, a beautiful garden and a full time job – so I have always had a superwoman role to aspire to. My dad used to do all the bigger DIY stuff but now they are no longer together my mum has taken on a lot of these jobs too.

    My hubby and I have lived seperately for just over 10 years (maried for 1 of those) – he is in the military and he has lived near the base during the week and come home weekends when he can (a strange set up to most people but it has worked for us). As a result I have had to play both roles during the week. I cook, I clean, I do the garden, I shop, I look after the cats, I work full time, I do the decorating, I do the DIY…..upto a point (some jobs are just too complicated for me to tackle!). Hubby helps out where he can when he is at home, and that is fine – we’d be in a pretty bad way if I just waited for him to come home to do everything! And he does the finances and admin stuff – something I will have to take more of an interest in.

    In the new year we are moving to a different country for his job. We will be living together properly for the first time. He will be earning the money and to start with I will be playing housewife. We’ll see how our roles change then. It will be a huge learning curve for both of us!! I wonder how long I will stand being a “lady of leisure” before I start searching for a job! 😉

    I love the posts like this Rebecca, the ones that make you think 🙂

  17. I think I’ve actually become more independant since having our son 7 months ago – mainly because so much responsibility has landed in my lap and it’s given me the confidence to do so. I’m also really aware that our marriage needs that extra boost of romance at the mo – so I don’t want to be the ‘nagging Wife’….instead I’m actually enoying showing my Hubby how to put up the stairgate, fit the isofix in the car, etc and it’s nice that he’s then free to take over with supper, baby’s bedtime etc.

    I think so much of it is about confidence.
    Great post! x

  18. This post has really got me thinking, not necessarily about who does what, but more about whether I could cope with Tom. Obviously I hope I won’t ever have to, but I do have to admit that the times when he’s not around I don’t really get round to doing any of his tasks.

    I was still in the full throws of morning sickness when we moved house 2 months ago and I was so grateful to have a partner to take care of everything, which he did without so much as a comment. All I could think was that I didn’t know how I would have done it if I had been single – it was a struggle to get off the sofa some days, never mind dealing with solicitors and packing boxes. So whilst it’s scary to think that I do rely on someone else (although you could argue that he’s relying on me to look after our baby right now, selfish man!), I’m just going to be thankful for the fact that I do have someone.


  19. This is my favourite kind of FF post. With a two-year old daughter at the ‘sponge’ age of soaking up how the world works, I’m conscious of demonstrating to her that there are no limitations to what men and women can do (especially when she’s growing up in a world where the toy shop ‘girl’ sections are full of pink tea sets and princess costumes). My husband and I are in the process of renovating a big ol’ Victorian house in south Manchester, so we take it in turns to look after the kids (we also have a baby girl) while the other gets busy with the power tools – he plasters and paints, I sand and upholster. I’m proud to say my little girl already knows how to pick up a screwdriver and a screw and find a hole in the wall to screw it into – closely supervised, natch!

  20. Such a great post!!!
    In our house I cook (because he can’t and I was raised by an Italian mother) but he does all washing up and tidying(because I’m the messy one) I do the cleaning (because I do the better job of it) he takes the bins out(because he has a ciggy on the way) This has very much been the natural order of things! I love to cook so it isn’t a burden and he pays for date nights in return.
    When the towel rail was slowly falling off the wall for months and eventually did taking half the wall with it-even though he works in construction he did nothing! In the end I went in with polyfilla and no nails! When he saw me leap into action he was interested in helping! And basically we did it together! I think our roles in our house are that we are a team. We help each other out. Out of love not duty. I hate the sound of me nagging so I don’t do it. Instead I know he will always help me and we will do it together. Two heads and all that…..

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