How to Use Chores to Create a Gender-Equal Household

Kids can learn a lot if you model these behaviors.

by Trish Allison
Originally Published: 
A boy putting dishes in the dishwasher as part of his chores

Household responsibilities like cooking, cleaning, and taking care of others are perfect opportunities for teaching boys gender fairness. Here are some suggestions for parenting beyond outdated gender norms and helping him thrive as he grows into adulthood:

1. Think Harder About Chores

With chores, two principles are crucial for building an equitable household:

1. Children should help equally with household tasks regardless of gender

2. Both genders can and should help with both outside and inside chores.

First, try to keep in mind that chores are practice for adult living. If boys are allowed to continue playing video games while girls help in the kitchen, that’s the model for fairness that your boy will take into his adult life.

Second, try to refrain from assigning outside chores only to him. There’s nothing wrong with him saying he’d rather feed the baby or do the sewing than mow the lawn.

Of course, you know your boy best. It’s completely your decision to assign the amount and type of household chores based on his developmental and physical ability. That said, here are some ideas that defy typical male chore assignments:

  • empty the dishwasher
  • do the dishes
  • make the dinner salad
  • organize the grocery list
  • feed the family pet(s)
  • set the table
  • vacuum
  • sew
  • sweep
  • learn to use the washing machine and dryer and start a load of laundry
  • fold laundry
  • pick up clutter
  • dust
  • help care for baby and/or ailing grandparent

If your boy complains about his tasks, listen to his complaints, and ask how he would make it more equitable (without saddling you with more work or expense). Talk about it together. He needs to feel like he’s part of the discussion.

Ask if he thinks he can continue with his assigned chores for another week. Hopefully, he’ll agree, his complaints will wane, and then disappear altogether. If his complaints don’t disappear, offer alternative chores. He needs to know that you’re listening to him and willing to compromise.

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2. Keep Allowance Equal

Equal pay? Yes! Absolutely!

Your boy needs to know that everyone should contribute equally to household maintenance, regardless of gender, and receive the same amount of allowance.

Although there are a few signs that the gap is shrinking, most data shows that starting as early as childhood allowance, girls are still paid less than boys for doing the same work.

If there are special circumstances in any given week (e.g., special chores for bonus pay, sick child, conflicting family obligations, etc.), try to balance-out opportunities and payments in the ensuing weeks. Otherwise, payment should be the same, regardless of gender.

Equal work deserves equal pay and equal pay deserves equal work. Gender is not part of the equation. Period.

3. Watch out for gender-biased language

Whether we’re aware of it or not, our language sends messages about our expectations based on gender. When we comment on how pretty girls look or how strong boys are, for example, we send messages about our expectations for kids based on their gender.

Watch what you say and how you say it. Be aware that kids pick up the subtext of the words and not just the words themselves. Sexist jokes, gentle jabs about a woman’s weight, a boy who is emotional, sensitivity expressed as a girl thing, a boy who expresses fear of being called a sissy — all of these verbal subtleties are retained and absorbed by children more than we realize.

These kinds of female-based barbs assume a weakness in girls and women that is unfair, unwarranted, and unkind. Yet these phrases are so ubiquitous and have been around so long, many people don’t even think much of them.

For everyday conversations, try to use gender-neutral words. For example, the words policeman and stewardess are gender-specific job titles; the corresponding gender-neutral terms are police officer and flight attendant.

Phrases like ‘man up,’ ‘mankind,’ and ‘drama queen’ are also deeply embedded in our daily language. We all do it.

And our kids are listening.

Because we all are blind to some of our biases, we need feedback. Talk to close friends and family members about your own gender-biased language and ask them to call you on it.

Ask your boy to hold you accountable and give you feedback if you are modeling stereotypes or expressing bias with words. Being willing to admit bias will send a powerful message to him about how important gender equality is. Once he makes it his job to correct any biased language you’re using, he’ll most likely adjust his own language too.

As boys grow into men, they transfer misconceptions about being a girl and a woman onto the women they will meet with, deal with at work and in social circles, and to their own daughters when/if they have them.

Try to remove these misconceptions from your family’s daily language so they don’t get passed onto the next generation.

4. Model gender-equal household behavior

In an ideal world, both parents should be doing an equal amount of housework and both parents should be contributing the same amount of work hours outside the home. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and families come in all shapes and sizes, so the 50/50 scenario is a great goal, but not very realistic. Whatever division of labor you and your partner can contribute towards the ideal 50/50 scenario is best.

One of the things you can do to send the right message is to be aware of your attitude toward gender inequality in the media.

While you’re watching a show together, make a remark about how fair or unfair a certain scene is. Then talk about how it used to be accepted that men were superior to women, but that mindset is changing. Make sure he’s listening.

Also, keep in mind that it’s the little things that make the biggest impressions. Make adjustments where necessary:

  • who drives on family outings?
  • who pays at restaurants?
  • who contributes to household income?
  • who goes to parent/teacher conferences?
  • who chaperones school field trips?
  • who does the family laundry?

Your boy might not always do what you ask him to do but he will definitely do what he sees you doing. So if the work in the house is divided along gender lines with the father doing certain ‘male’ jobs of repairs and maintenance and the mother doing the ‘female’ chores of cooking and cleaning, this strategy is what your boy will pick up and carry with him into adulthood.

It’s time to make changes.

Trish Allison is the author of multiple best-selling books on conscious parenting, a parent educator, a featured parenting newspaper columnist, a former Silicon Valley technical and corporate marketing writer, a lifelong advocate for social justice, and mom to a grown (equality-enlightened) son and daughter.

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