Monday, February 21, 2011

Single mothers are teaching boys to do housework

In many families, children help out with chores, from washing dishes to mowing the lawn. However, boys and girls often have different jobs, with girls doing more cooking and cleaning and boys more household repairs and lawn care, reflecting our culture’s beliefs about gender and housework. Girls also spent more time overall on chores --about an hour more a week, according to some estimates.

On the other hand, a small study published in the Journal of Family Issues finds that in some single-mother families, these traditions are being challenged. Researchers looked at what prompted low- and moderate-income unmarried mothers to ask their sons to do housework, and how sons reacted.

Most boys helped out with a variety of chores, including ones typically considered “female,” such as ironing and laundry. Many also watched younger siblings, and a few also babysat for neighbors or other relatives.

Pressed for time and money, mothers relied on sons, and boys did a “significant amount” of work. But mothers’ motivations went deeper: They believed that boys should learn to do housework because it teaches “practical life skills and responsibility”. Also, a key motivation was to raise a son to be a good partner and “pull his own weight” once in a family of his own.

Although some boys resisted these responsibilities, most felt competent and satisfied with their work, while recognizing the importance of helping their mothers. Meanwhile, the mothers took pride in their sons as their families challenged long-held traditions about household work.

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