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Just Kiss Me and Tell Me You Did the Laundry:
How to Negotiate Equal Roles for Husband and Wife in Parenting, Career, and Home Life

ISBN: 1579547605
By Karen Bouris
Review by: Justine Dymond

5/15/04

With our first child due in July, my partner and I are facing what many people tell us promises to be an enormous life change. During our several years together with cats as our only family responsibility, we have enjoyed a lot of freedom to pursue our careers, travel, and develop interests in common. We’re ecstatic to welcome this new human being into our lives, but I would be lying if I said that we weren’t apprehensive, too. Will we be good parents? Will our relationship to each other change fundamentally? Will one of us end up sacrificing career goals? When will we ever find the time to do all the myriad tasks that comprise parenting, let alone sleep?

Karen Bouris’s Just Kiss Me and Tell Me You Did the Laundry addresses these apprehensions for the first-time parent as well as the established ruts that veteran parents may find themselves stuck in. Bouris offers a straightforward, practical approach to managing family and career that pays particular attention to equitable balance of roles between the sexes. Thus the subtitle: How to Negotiate Equal Roles for Husband and Wife in Parenting, Career, and Home Life. (While there’s plenty of insight in this book for gay parents, Bouris chooses not to include them as an explicit audience. This is an unfortunate oversight for obvious reasons, but it’s particularly glaring when Bouris goes to great lengths to challenge gender-specific roles in coupledom and parenting, even referencing a study in which male rats, in the absence of female rats, nurtured their progeny. Why turn to specious comparisons between animals and humans when gay couples are obvious models for dispelling archaic assumptions about sex-based behaviors in parenting?)

Bouris breaks down her advice into easy-to-swallow chapters with titles such as “Intentional Parenting and Equality,” “Strengthening Yourself,” “Loving Each Other,” “Managing Work and Money,” and “Taking Care of Home and Hearth.” Each chapter contains narratives from parents and couples (including Bouris and her husband), analysis of the traps people fall into, and bulleted points on how to re-examine one’s priorities and philosophy on the subject at hand. There are lots of gray-shaded boxes with quizzes (“Test Your Couple Martyr Behavior”); brief suggestions for better communication (“Discuss What Equal Responsibility Means to You”); insightful comments from a part-time employed, stay-at-home father (“The Gift of Children”); and reality checks for gender equity (“Top 10 Gender-Associated Tasks”).

Each chapter moves toward Negotiation Points and Intention Statements designed to allow each partner to formally commit to the newly negotiated organization of family life or work. Some chapters even include already-designed charts for dividing responsibilities that can be easily copied for use or that can serve as a model for the readers’ own design. The chart that outlines parenting tasks in the chapter “Raising the Children” nearly fills three pages and includes the mundane, such as packing school lunches, along with the profound, such as researching health issues. I confess that I felt the urge to scream when I saw this chart, partly because it forced me realize how much is involved in parenting but also because I can’t believe that life has to be this hyper-organized to be satisfying. And I’m already a fairly organized person.

Indeed, as much as I appreciated Bouris’s meticulous attention to the details that too frequently become the responsibility of women by default, and that are undervalued as work, there is a pernicious way that this accommodation to hyperparenting perpetuates the phenomenon itself. Ironically, a few pages before the parenting tasks chart, Bouris makes a gesture to the problem of what psychologist David Anderegg calls “overparenting” and what Bouris calls “parenting propaganda.” Just Kiss Me and Tell Me You Did the Laundry is certainly a far cry from the feminist manifestos on marriage from the 1970s that critiqued not only the burden placed on women within marriage but also the individual consumer model that left families to their own devices when it comes to child care. To be fair, Bouris does acknowledge how workplace culture undermines families by valuing the “unencumbered worker.” Bouris writes, “The end goal should be intentionally creating a world which releases both men and women from traditional roles so that they may be truly unencumbered and choose the roles that best suit them and their family, unfettered by social pressures, expectations, or assumptions. We can then join hands and insist on policies that support family and work balance.”

Perhaps it’s unfair to criticize the self-help genre for doing what it intends: to help people navigate the world as it is rather than to reshape the world as we might want it. Indeed, Bouris wants to change the world from within the family itself. And yet I can’t help but think that while we may become better parents, we may strengthen our relationships with partners, and we may learn to balance work and family more sanely, we ultimately leave a legacy of overwork and hyperparenting to the next generation. But even with these misgivings, Bouris’s book will certainly find a prominent place in my home library—just think of all the dusting time I’ll save by frequently pulling it off the shelf!




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