My friend Jessie…

My friend Jessie just pointed me to a NY Times article on shared parenting, which seems to draw primarily from the book I keep plugging, Halving it All. REALLY REALLY recommend the article for anyone co-parenting, especially if both parents work outside the home, especially heterosexual couples. Also good for any couples, parents or not, sharing a home.

Kevin and I are trying our friend Ben's chore chart. Kevin was pretty resistant at first -- he, like a lot of other people responding to the Times article, seemed to feel that micro-accounting the tasks would lead to niggly resentments. It'd be nice to think that in a good partnership, where both people are trying to do their fair share, generosity and good will would be enough. I think a lot of people in good partnerships feel that way. But that viewpoint misses a couple points: That much of women's domestic labor is invisible to men -- they literally don't see it, because they're culturally trained not to see it. With the best intentions in the world, they still have no idea how hard their wives are working, unless it's laid out for them, in concrete detail.

Worse, women don't even track the labor they do themselves -- they've internalized it to such an extent that they just do it automatically, and it doesn't even register for them as labor. Most women don't realize how much more time they spend on housework than their male partners. And so on one level, they're happy -- they think their partner is pulling his fair share of the load. But in actuality, the woman is doing ten, fifteen, twenty hours more of domestic labor every week (often in tiny increments -- a phone call to a doctor here, five minutes of clothes pick-up there). It's not fair. Sometimes, she even knows it, on a deep subconscious level that breeds resentment and bitterness. Sometimes she doesn't know it -- but it still has an effect, in the amount of time she has available to put into grad school or a career or even just resting and relaxing. Long-term, that skewed labor has a immense negative effect on her, and on women's opportunities in our society overall. Is that what you want for your daughters?

So to try to find out just how skewed our labor is (even with both of us generally honestly trying to do our fair share and help each other out), we went to the chore chart, a simple, objective measurement. We've collected a week of data so far. This week, I did 95.5 points of chores. This doesn't mean anything unless you know what our chore point allocation is, I guess. Here's the current list, which is about to be revised. Kevin hasn't totalled his scores yet, but we're expecting them to be fairly even, since we tried to divide the chores evenly. None of this includes general daytime baby-watching, which we allocate separately, pretty much 50/50 + babysitter. We came up with the points based on a joint discussion of how much we liked/hated various chores, how long they took to do, how tiring they were, etc. It took about an hour.


  • week of meals, planning, shopping, cooking (20) (alternating weeks)
  • Ellie's area poop clean-up (3)
  • taking garbage out (1)
  • errands run (2/hr)
  • special projects (i.e., clean out and reorganize disgusting and unusable pantry) (2/hr)


  • Kavi bath/bed (3)
  • evening Ellie walk (2)
  • diaper pails empty and out (3)
  • night dishes (3)
  • pick-up after baby at night (2)
  • wipe counters/stove (1)
  • manage finances (6 weekly)
  • fix tech stuff (3 weekly)


  • morning watch baby (2)
  • morning Ellie walk (2)
  • empty dishwasher (1)
  • laundry load (wash/dry/put away) (5)
  • phone call (1-3, depending on how irritating/long)
  • write monthly checks (1)
  • pick up during the day (1)
  • water plants (1/2)
Set A is for either of us; Set B is nominally Kevin's, and Set C is nominally mine, but we sometimes do each others' chores (and get to both count the points for it and feel extra virtuous). We tried to divide up B/C fairly evenly (there are 2-3 loads/laundry for week, which gives us roughly 20-25 points/week there)

I can already see a couple of areas we need to fine-tune. No one likes cleaning the stovetop (it's mostly not been done all week), so that needs to be its own task, with its own point. And I need to separate watering the plants into three groups: indoor, outdoor, and roof. With more points allocated to each set, because it's time-consuming and a bit tedious. Kevin will probably want to adjust some things too. I don't think we're likely to keep this up long-term, but it's definitely interesting to do for a few weeks at least, to see what the division of labor actually is.

I'd be curious to know whether there are chores in your household that don't make it onto our list. We have a condo, not a house, so I'm sure there a bunch of house-related chores that we don't have to deal with yet. But are there other things we do that maybe are so automatic that we're not even thinking of them?

I would go so far as to say PLEASE read that article above. I'm begging you. And then come back and tell me what the division of labor is in your household. I am intensely curious how people are doing with this stuff, especially if you have both parents trying to do at least some work outside the home. Are you more equal than us? Less? Do you care if it's unequal? Does it breed festering resentment in the partner who's doing more, or are you cheerful and okay with it? Do you want more time for your career? Would it make a difference if you liked your career more?

God, I'm getting really obsessed with this, aren't I?

6 thoughts on “My friend Jessie…”

  1. I’m glad you liked it, and thanks for making the connection to Deutsch’s book. I just requested it from the library. And I’m very glad you (and Ben) are talking about this so much, because I’m thinking about it again and realizing that none of these things will be resolved in my household until our childcare division is fixed. So I’ll talk about that:

    We both work full time, T. at a software company and me as a graduate student, writing my diss. and teaching. We have childcare 3 full days and two half days per week. At first I had Friday afternoons and Thursday mornings, and that almost killed me. Last semester I had to teach on Thursday mornings so T., my mother and Violet’s best pseudo-uncle took over and it was SO GREAT. So we’re maintaining that but I do one Thursday morning a month.

    It’s a big problem. T. has already cut back on his hours and WAY back on his travel, and I make almost nothing, so we’ve let the situation go on even though it’s the focus for all our resentment. Which means, oddly, that I definitely do more house chores and it doesn’t register because I’m already so much in the hole. Weird! Anyway, over the summer I don’t teach so it feels like I have a ton of time (false but calming) and in the fall, FULL-TIME DAYCARE BEGINS!!!

  2. Here are a few more things to add to the list: sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming floors; dusting; cleaning tubs, toilets, mirrors, and windows. I do it all in my house, but that’s only because I don’t have a job outside the home.

  3. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Angie, that’s almost all stuff we outsource — which means it only gets done once a month, since that’s all the budget allows for cleaning. I think we’re at the point where we are willing to pay people to clean as much as possible; it’s just that there a ton of chores that we can’t seem to outsource because they need to be done daily, and we are so far from having a live-in! I do sweep pretty often, though. Maybe that needs to go on the list! 🙂

    Jessie, full-time daycare sounds very exciting. I think it’s particularly tough when one of you isn’t bringing in money (or much money) to justify the time, but the question I keep asking myself is this — if I *were* working as many hours on my career as Kevin, would it make a significant difference in how much money I was earning now (or would earn in the future)? And I’m pretty damn sure the answer is yes.

    I’m not sure how much daycare we want to do — maybe I’m just overly nervous about it because we haven’t tried Kavi in any yet. She’s so used to just hanging out at home. But it’s getting to be time. This summer we’ll both be home a lot, and Jarmila will be babysitting some. But in the fall…well, we’ll see.

  4. Ooo, I’m so excited that you’re trying out our system! Seriously! Esther teases me about how I proselytize it (with relatively meager success as measured in terms of number of converts…)

    I would think sweeping should count. Making beds?

    Jessie, I did not really follow your description of the childcare divsion problem. “I definitely do more house chores and it doesn’t register because I’m already so much in the hole.” Why are you in the hole?

  5. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    You assume we actually make our bed. We never make our bed. We have the Bed of Tangled Sheets ™.

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