Friday, June 20, 2008

Household Chores

I recently read an odd article in the New York Times (linked here) about couples who work really really hard to divide all housework and parenting duties exactly in half. The article explains that, while a majority of Americans agree theoretically to the concept of equal sharing of household responsibilities, the reality is that almost no one actually splits things that way. Study after study shows that, in households where both husband and wife have jobs outside of the home, the woman does approximately twice as much work around the house as the man does. It's been that way for decades, and the ratios haven't budged at all, feminism be damned. The article then describes the theory of "equally shared parenting," where a couple designs a careful regimen of responsibilities, designed to be exactly equal, to guarantee an even split. I found the whole thing odd because it seemed so formal. These people carefully track everything they do, to make sure that perfect equality is reached. It felt like listening to a bunch of 6-year-olds dividing things up. Bizarre.

But now I'm thinking, maybe I dismissed such a formal arrangement because, relative to your average stuck-with-all-the-housework American wife, I'm rather spoiled. S and I have naturally split things fairly evenly, without the need for charts and timers. Some of our splits are gender-stereotyped (I cook; he takes out the trash) but not all of them (I mow the lawn; he scrubs toilets). Most of them just play off our likes and our strengths (I pay all the bills, because arithmetic soothes me -- I'm weird that way. He does all the ironing because it soothes him -- he's weird, too). Basically, it comes down to this: S is an awesome husband. He does more work around the house than any other husband I know. We complement each other well -- the tasks that I hate tend to be the ones that he likes doing, and vice versa.

Last fall, when S had knee surgery and was laid up for several weeks, I took over most of his usual tasks, even though at the time, I was undergoing fertility treatments and was hardly in top shape myself. (Did I mention how much last September and October, in particular, really sucked?) Even though it was hardly his fault (nobody plans to seriously tear their ACL), I think he still felt a bit guilty about dumping everything on me at the worst possible time. So, once I was pregnant, he made up for it. I was exhausted and nauseous, and he totally stepped up, took all of his tasks back, as well as many of mine. And I was happy to let him do it, because holy cow I was tired.

So, I've been pregnant now for more than 6 months. And it didn't occur to me until just this past week, but he's been doing just about everything that entire time. After the first trimester, when I wasn't quite as tired and I wasn't really sick and I was feeling pretty darn close to normal, a good wife would have taken back her share of the housework. But me? I blithely let him keep doing it. And he never complained.

I only noticed it this past week because S has been gone for ~10 days, and I looked around the house and realized that almost nothing was getting done, because he wasn't here doing it. That's not to say that I've been doing nothing for 6 months. Just not nearly as much as I used to, without really even realizing it. Every once in a while I would offer to do something, and S's stock reply was, "Don't worry about it -- you're busy gestating."

So, while S has been gone, I've continued to do the things I normally do (grocery shopping, for instance, and cooking. I'm certainly very careful that I don't starve, I guess). The jobs that S has always done have been completely neglected (for instance, laundry -- for years, S has done all of our laundry, to the point that I never even think about it until yesterday, when I realized that I was out of clean underwear). But even the things that I normally do, but haven't done lately, haven't been done for more than a week. For instance, six months ago, S quietly and efficiently took over watering all of our plants, which I hadn't noticed until yesterday, when I suddenly saw the completely pathetic state of my favorite peace lily, not to mention several sadly drooping philodendron. Oops. Doesn't say much for my nurturing instincts, eh?

Bottom line: having no husband for two weeks has made me so much more appreciative of how much I rely on him as we run our household together. And he needs to come home soon and take over watering the plants again, because apparently, there are some things that I just suck at right now.


  1. I think you and S have a great relationship.

    On the article- I think my hubby would be slightly offended if I needed lists and schedules to have him help out. He does alot to help out but it is because he sees a need and does it, not because a schedule demands it. Just something to think about

  2. I read that article too. For Jeramy and I, the idea of sharing duties is nothing new. But I couldn't imagine being so formal about it. The one thing that got me was that in all of the cases listed, one or more often both partners worked part-time. Unfortunately we both work full-time, so that means neither of us have time to get anything done. Lucky us.

    The biggest problem for us, is that Jeramy has a much higher tolerance for a messy house than I do. And no amount of list making or chore sharing is going to change that. It just comes down to me letting to a bit, doing more house cleaning if that's what I want, and finding the activities he prefers or is better at.

  3. I read the article too. I'm impressed at how evenly balanced it sounds like the division of labor has been between you and S historically (even if out of whack right now). I fear P does more than I do around the house, though I suspect it's in part because I work more/longer hours than he does.

    I do think Jen makes a good point in noting that often how much tolerance one has for things not getting done plays a role in the division of labor.

  4. Your hubby sounds like a keeper! :)

  5. Wow! Can he come to teach my hubby a few things! Honestly I do a lot of the work at home but #1 I don't have a job outside of the home and #2 I am a total neat freak and most of the time feel more at peace when I just do things myself - so that is my fault! nclm


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