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Roles can work when couple makes the rules

July 10, 2011
By ANITA HANABURGH , For The Leader Herald

I was at the grocery store the other day and I ran into a good friend.

"Going tonight?" I hollered to her across the buy one, get two free Freihoffer cookies.

"Yes," she shouted back. "I can't wait!"

"Can I pick up?" I asked.

"No, thanks anyway. I can't go until after six - I have to feed Joe dinner first."

"Oh, OK, oh sure, me too," I replied. "I'll see you there."

I began to think - "Feed Joe?" Say what? Is there something wrong with him? I don't think so. Is he incompetent, lazy, unskilled or what?

"Me too," I had answered her. Why did I say that? Are you feeling a little guilty, Anita? You didn't even think about feeding your spouse before heading out on the town. Feeling a little guilty that it truly never crossed your mind? Were you embarrassed in front of your dutiful friend that you did not think of the welfare of your housemate, or is there a certain part of you that still has mixed felling about who fits into whose role? Those male/female roles and who sets the rules!

Joe is my age, so I knew he was not incompetent, lazy or unskilled. Joe was just one member of those partnerships that divided the work according to a particular set of particular rules. The rules for the household duties for males and females have been transitioning for many years.

These "rules" are patterned after our parents, some after the rest of society and most by the couples themselves.

I was raised in a traditional home. My mother was proud of doing her duty, but I received two messages.

The week my father retired, my mom called me. She was very upset.

"He just got up from the lunch table," she explained, "and headed to the living room, turned on the TV set, lay down on the couch and took a nap. He left his dishes right on the table, never even put them in the sink."

Oh, is that all, I thought. "Why are you so surprised?" I asked. "He's been doing that for 50 years. You trained him well."

Annoyed, she responded, "But he was working then. Now he is home. Can't he help?"

So I answered, "Of course he can, but it's kind of late. You taught him well and he learned very well."

I started looking around the store. Perhaps I should get my partner something for dinner.

I worked pretty much full time during my adult life. I wasn't always there to prepare dinner, so my spouse learned to fend for himself. Also, he never minded stopping for a bite at McDonald's. Although I didn't always prepare the food, I was/am still in charge of the kitchen. This is not because of my profession, but because I just assumed it as my role early on. Although I am still the one who plans, purchases and prepares most of the food, the dinner preparation is pretty much shared and our system does not require perfect attention.

My cousin told me we were part of the "cross over" generation. We didn't know what our role was. We felt guilty, because of our upbringing, if we didn't do the household chores and guilty - because of starting the liberated womens' generation - if we did.

Young couples today don't worry about that role thing anymore. They just do what needs to be done. They don't seem to suffer guilt if they do or they don't. Maybe my generation used all the guilt up. Maybe my generation set a stage that obliterated the guilt.

Well, I like my current role. It required a lot of practice and training over the years. We have set our own particular rules. Does it matter who does what as long as it's fair? Does it matter who does what as long as both members of the couple feel good about it?

I came home from the store and hurriedly started to prepare dinner for my spouse.

"What are you doing ?" he asked. "I thought your were going out." He actually sounded disappointed.

"I am, but I'm making you dinner before I go," I told him.

"Why?" he asked.

"Well, I thought it would be nice."

"OK," he said. "Well, sorry, but I'm going to the garage and bringing subs to the guys."

Oh, busboy. I guess I taught him well.

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