The housework debates…

The housework debates continue. Despite the fact that Kev took over the cooking while I'm finishing up the quarter, I had a meltdown yesterday because it had been so very long since I got any writing done, and I had started feeling like every time I glanced over at his computer, he was playing Warcraft. A lot of this is perception, rather than actual unfair division of labor, of course -- as it turns out, when I actually talked to him about it, he'd probably spent about twenty minutes on Warcraft in the last few weeks -- he'd just bopped in to check on progress of stuff at the auction and such, and I'd happened to see the screen at the right moments. Whereas I've read at least a few pleasure books in the last few weeks, so you could argue that I had more recreational time. There's all kinds of stuff like that, that contribute to the division of labor starting to feel really unfair when it actually isn't.

That said, we sat down and listed all the household chores and divided them up again. I don't think we're ever going to do a strict chore rotation, in part because there are various tasks that either he or I truly hate to do, and the other doesn't mind doing them. I.e.; he manages the household budget; I talk to strangers. That kind of thing. When we divided it all up, he did take on a few more small things, but mostly, the way we had the labor was actually reasonably close to fair. I think the small things may help a lot with my sanity, though. Kevin's three new tasks:

  • At the end of the day, after we've gone to sleep, pick up Kavi's mess. Toys in the toybox, books back on the shelf (not alphabetized, just shelved), napkins back in the drawer. (15 minutes daily)

  • His dirty clothes actually in the laundry basket, not on the floor! (Laundry is otherwise my job, which is okay, I think. My accompanying task is to keep the laundry basket clear enough that he can fit his dirty clothes in there. Also, when he's changing Kavi's clothes, her dirty clothes also go in her laundry basket, not left in whatever random place they happen to be.) (5 minutes daily)

  • He takes on more (maybe most) of the bath/bed ritual at night, which somehow feels more like a chore to both of us than the rest of the Kavi-watching. (30-60 minutes daily)
He's also going to try to get up earlier, so that I don't have quite as long a stretch alone with Kavi every morning. He got on a late schedule recently, up 'til 4 and sleeping 'til noon, and sleeping badly at that, poor thing. Thankfully, Kavi's sleeping 'til 6-7ish these days, instead of getting up at 5, which is a huge help. Fingers crossed it continues. But even with that, 5-6 hours alone with the babe does get on momma's nerves. I am so not cut out to be a traditional house-mother.

I hope all these housekeeping entries aren't boring y'all to tears. But really, this stuff does drive me mad, and if I don't at least *feel* like things are relatively fair, it starts poisoning the relationship really quickly. I'm still, off and on, reading through Halving it All, that book of interviews with parents, talking about to what extent they equally share childcare and household chores.

So many of those couples set out to be 50-50 partners in the household, raised with all sorts of egalitarian ideals, but then end up 60-40, or 70-30, or even 80-20. And it's always, always, always the woman who takes on the bulk of the household chores and compromises more of her career. Sometimes happily, because she finds she just loves childcare more than her previous career, which is fine. But very often not happily at all. The interviews in the book make me super-sensitized to the problem, in a conscious way, but I think that's good. Otherwise I'd just be subconsciously simmering with frustration, getting more and more panicked that I would never have enough time to write another good book.

For those of you in live-together couples -- how is your division of household/childcare labor? And are you happy with it? Do you both feel like you're getting to pursue your career goals as much as you both want to?

11 thoughts on “The housework debates…”

  1. I have been wrestling with this same thing, in my head, for a few weeks. Division of labor. We moved here for my husband’s job. I want him to be able to focus on that and not be stressed about me or the kids or house work.

    For the first time in my life, I am a stay@home mom – just for the summer. I am parenting our 2 children 24/7, cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, grocery and clothes shopping. And blogging.

    In our former lives, my husband cooked ALL the time, or we went out to eat. Which meant he also did the grocery shopping. He cleaned the floors and most of the time, everything else. He bought the kids clothes. I did the finances. He washed his clothes. I washed everything else.

    I justified the lopsided division of labor because I made more money and he had 3 days off each week, is the better cook, and does the cooking and cleaning better than I do. He also decorated our home and took care of the landscaping.

    After years of this, the tables are turning. I’m picking up the houseload. I am trying not to be resentful. I feel like I am stuck at home with the kids and housework, while he gets to be around adults and make new friends in our new city. It is a daily struggle to keep my attitude in check. I have to keep in mind all he did for me in our other lives.

  2. We’re struggling with this, too, although we don’t have kids. Like you, we both have a tendency to perceive unfair division of labor when it’s not actually there. There are some things one or the other of us does all the time, and some things that we try to divide equally, but it’s always hard to make sure we’re not grumpy and resentful, because yes, if we feel like it’s unfair then the relationship suffers. One of the bigger struggles for me is that I often work from home and so it’s easier for me to schedule errands. Unfortunately it gets in the way of my actually doing work. I want a solution! .laugh. I suppose this is the price of liberation.

  3. Mary Anne, I must have told you about it before, but you have inspired me to write up in further detail our chore list system.

    I gotta tell you, it is designed to address exactly what you are describing. There is nothing more disheartening than constantly wondering if things are fair, finding yourself resentful over every little bit of fun your partner has, and guilty for being resentful of it, and resentful for being guilty for being resentful of it. What is needed, in my firm conviction, is not mere goodwill or good intentions — which are surely in copious supply, but may not be sufficient to the task — but metrics.

    This system really isn’t that much work. There’s a little bit of work setting it up. But it soon becomes totally automatic to parcel up your work — wipe all the counters, then do the floor — and then write it down. (Or to write down at the end of the day all the things you did.) It becomes automatic, and it’s actually satisfying to write things down, and heartening to have physical evidence of how much you’re doing.

    And the feeling of freedom is enormous –whether you know for sure, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are behind and it’s time to get your butt in gear… or know for sure that you are ahead and it’s time for sweetie to get their butt in gear. The certainty that things are fair is priceless.

  4. (Also, I have to say, I would not assume to hastily that you are falsely perceiving an unfair division of labor. There is a huge amount of subtle social mechanisms to make it invisible that women are doing more housework; in a mixed-gender household, unless you are actually negotiating what’s fair and then measuring it, the chance that it will just happen to turn out to be fair merely by everyone trying their best are, I believe, slim.)

  5. “And it’s always, always, always the woman who takes on the bulk of the household chores and compromises more of her career.”

    *falls over convulsing with laughter*

    No. No, it isn’t always like that. It really, really isn’t.

  6. (Suppose I should expand a bit on that — if you’d said “it’s usually always the women,” I’d tend to agree… but that “always, always, always” rather startled me. I’ve known *many* couples where that simply wasn’t true, many with stay-at-home Dads while the moms pursued their careers. And others, too, where the guys were simply more inclined to do chores/housework/repairs/cooking, and so did more of them.)

  7. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I should perhaps have clarified that I meant *in the book*, it was always the women. I don’t know why that would be, or why it wouldn’t map onto your or others’ personal experiences. Although I expect the real answer is something like: the kind of couples you’re talking about are an extremely small percentage of the general population, and just end up not being statistically significant — she may well not have encountered any, even in a pretty broad-based study, especially given that she clearly tried to sample across class lines (i.e., lots of blue-collar families, in additional to white-collar, etc.).

    I’d say in my own acquaintance, for example, stay-at-home dads comprise maybe 1% of the parenting population — and I run in seriously liberal circles. And men who do more housework than their female partners — maybe 5%? Tops?

  8. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Plus, should note that lots of pretty equal housework couples I knew skewed very unequal once they had kids, especially if you count all the mental work of keeping track of the household (doctor’s appointments, that kind of thing).

    So I’m not so much looking at non-parents in the housework generalizations; I think it’s much less of an extreme issue there.

  9. Ah, gotcha, I misunderstood — that’s what I get for trying to read and comprehend with a baby on my lap gnawing on my keyboard!

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