Boy chores, girl chores
Is helping with housework just not a boy thing, wonders Tracey Hawthorne.
My teen daughter gave me 7 kinds of hell. It was as if she’d been issued with a handbook on ‘how to be a tricky teenager and drive your mother up the wall’, and was following the points religiously, one by one.

‘Late tween disgruntlement’ – tick. ‘Early teen surliness’ – tick. ‘Moodiness, dishonesty, secretiveness’ – tick, tick, tick…

She (now 19) and I were discussing that ‘difficult’ period – it lasted about 4 years – recently, with her brother (aged 20) present. He interjected, somewhat smugly, ‘I wasn’t a difficult teenager, hey, Mom?’

‘You mean, aside from the 2 years of neglect of personal hygiene, followed by 2 years of never getting out of the shower, the total loss of interest in schoolwork, the shoplifting, the obsession with the Internet and the general hormonal bedlam?’ I asked.

He had the grace to look a little embarrassed. ‘Oh, ja,’ he said.

Still, when I get together with other parents, the general opinion seems to be that teenage girls are harder work than teen boys. And a recent study in the UK seems to bear this out, with two-thirds of 3 000 mothers and fathers polled saying that they thought girls were harder to raise and three-quarters admitting that they argued more with their daughters than their sons. 

I was somewhat relieved when I read the results of this poll because, as a single mother, I naturally assumed that the absence of an on-site father figure in my daughter’s life might be a contributing factor to her challenging behaviour. But it seems that many fathers, too, battle with their teen daughters.

And the poll revealed another interesting thing: teen girls are more likely to help around the house than their brothers. This is certainly true in my household, where my daughter, even in her most surly of moods, will still clean up after herself and others, whereas my son could cheerfully sink beneath a morass of dirty laundry, used coffee cups and dust bunnies without ever noticing anything amiss.

I’ve raised my children in a particularly egalitarian way, because I’ve always been a single parent working full-time (albeit from home) without the luxury of a domestic helper, so whatever had to be done around the house, had to be done by either me or the nearest child, yanked from whatever leisure activity he/she might be engaged in. Despite this, however, my son seems to have slid with remarkable ease into that peculiarly male frame of mind where any kind of domestic drudgery is ‘women’s work’.

The conclusion I choose to draw from the findings of the study, therefore, is that nature largely overrules nurture when it comes to behaviour through the teen years. You’ve got a daughter? Prepare yourself for a bumpy, if somewhat domestically organised, ride. A son? You’ll get off relatively easy, but you’ll have to wash a lot of dishes.

Tracey Hawthorne

What chores do your sons and daughters do?

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