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How a single mother’s son does more than his share of housework

‘We’re a team,’ says Derek Hodgson about his family’s approach to chores.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

This story is part of a Globe and Mail series on housework.

In the kitchen of his Ottawa home, Derek Hodgson, a researcher with Health Canada, is efficiently washing the dishes, scrubbing the pots, rinsing out the lunch bags, and whipping up a latte for his wife.

"Maria doesn't 'know how,' " he quips, with air quotes.

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In less than 10 minutes, he has erased all traces of the pizza and burritos that Maria DeRosa, a chemistry professor at Carleton University, cooked for dinner, since she was the first one home.

Meanwhile, Ms. DeRosa is in the basement playroom, trying to yank apart their two squabbling boys. When they come back upstairs, both Ethan, 2, and Tristan, 5, have scribbled markers on the back of their T-shirts.

"Now this is a typical day," Ms. DeRosa laughs wearily.

When Ms. DeRosa is marking papers or handling online queries from students after their sons are in bed, Mr. Hodgson might run out to Wal-Mart for bleach and grab presents for an upcoming birthday party. He often does more than an equal share of the dishes, the cleaning, and the grocery shopping.

"I feel like we're a team," he says. "In my mind, she's providing for the family one way, and I'm providing for the family this way." He points out that his job usually ends when he leaves the office, while Ms. DeRosa often has to work when the kids are in bed. "What am I going to do, sit around watching TV by myself?"

Mr. Hodgson credits his single mother with teaching him early that chores were a fact of life. "If they were fun," he says, "they'd be called 'pleasures.'"

He jokes about arriving home one day not long after they married – their 11th anniversary comes this September – and finding his clothes freshly folded. "No one had done that for me since Grade 9," he laughs. His mother would say, "I didn't raise my son to be waited on."

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In her social circles, Ms. DeRosa says, her husband would be an anomaly. "In some cases, it sounds like the husband is helping out, but it's such a big deal it's not worth it. Or do it and do such a bad job that [they] don't have to do it again. That's an ongoing theme. … I don't have that issue at all."

Mr. Hodgson is definitely the more organized of the two of them, she admits; when they first met, he had his T-shirts hanging in the closet by colours of the rainbow, and his CDs alphabetized.

But she says her standards around the "deep cleaning" are probably higher. "In all aspects of life, I have to just say, 'Okay, some things are not going to be A-plus. There just isn't enough time.' "

Occasionally, there are laundry mishaps, including a dress that was shrunk into a tiny, wrinkled ball after Ethan threw up on it. "Hey, I was trying to get the vomit out," Mr. Hodgson says.

But Ms. DeRosa says she doesn't criticize: "He's really good at tidying, but there may still be gunk in the sink. But I never complain, because I could have done it too."

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More

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