Division of Household Labor: Always a Work in Progress

Bigstock--35211106---Vegan-CoupleI work from home. I write, edit, try to maintain websites. I take care of my daughter. I grocery shop. I try to cook a reasonably healthy dinner most days. And I try not to let the house become a total disaster.

That last one? I do not do such a hot job. Clutter is everywhere. I clean the toilets only when the grossness becomes really obvious. I can construct entire pugs out of the hair I sweep off the hardwoods on a weekly basis. I do not vacuum nearly as often as I should. I knew this, but it really hit home when my crawling daughter started scaling the stairs, and I discovered just how much dog hair lines the edges of the stairs. Oh my gosh, it’s a lot.

The book excerpt from yesterday—from Lisa Bloom’s Think: Straight Talk For Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World—talks about a) the ridiculousness of commercials that show how chores are so fun! b) how housework is a job best to pay professionals to do and c) how if you don’t have someone do it for you, at least divide it evenly at home. While her sources say that when a woman gets married she adds an additional seven hours of housework per week while the man’s burden decreases by an hour, a new article in Time magazine says that women and men are on pretty much equal footing when it comes to work. Women may do more around the house, but men are often putting in extra hours at the office.

My husband and I have had a few discussions since our daughter was born on the division of labor front when we were both feeling overworked and under-appreciated. We both felt like we were doing so much to keep the household running, keep our daughter happy, dry and fed, and keep our professional lives somewhat intact. When we pictured the day-to-day grind from the other person’s shoes, it really put things in perspective. We were both doing a freaking ton of work every day. My husband has to go into the office and put in long hours. I take care of my daughter all day, trying to write and get laundry done during naps. I may cook and do most of the grocery shopping, but he does all of the toilet-replacing and floor tiling and major home improvements. I mow; he runs the weedeater. We’re really a team. And when we both took a step back and really looked at the fact that we were both super busy doing really important things all day, we started appreciating the other a lot more. We both accepted the fact that the house likely would not ever look perfect as long as we have a kiddo running around, and we stopped keeping track of who was doing “more.” It’s made for a lot more peace in the house. After all, we both have an amazing lack of free time, and who wants to spend their precious free moments fighting about dishes anyway?

How do the chore wars shake down in your household? How do you split up the housework? —Erin

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  1. Kristen says:

    Our division of labor was pretty straightforward at first — whoever didn’t cook did dishes, I vacuumed, he dusted, etc. I did laundry, he took out garbage. But now that Jared travels extensively for work, it’s different. I handle all of it (albeit POORLY) while he’s gone, and then we try to split it up when he’s home. The only exception is the lawn — I do not mow and made that clear when we bought a house with a yard. I take care of the shrubs and any gardening, but either he mows or I pay someone to do it.

    It works fairly well, although there are times when I have to remember that, although in my mind he’s been living it up in hotels and not having to lift a finger so he should do it all when he gets home, in HIS mind, he misses being home and just wants a few minutes to relax and enjoy being here. Long as we both remember both sides, we’re good.

  2. Atisheh says:

    The thing that’s so tough and annoying about house work is that there’s never any progress. Yes, after a day of cleaning, you get a clean house — for, like, one hour. And then the chaos hits again. (I say this having spent yesterday cleaning with hubby, in anticipation of a family visit. The family have not even arrived, and things are already chaotic again, albeit on top of vacuumed floors.)

    With a lot of jobs, you get some sense of achievement. “I got this far on project X,” for example. And when it’s done, it’s done, and you get money for it. With housework, you’re just fighting chaos, and chaos will always win.

    So I think:

    1. Paying others to do it is a fabulous thing. I hired a cleaning service in the last month of my pregnancy, kept it going on a biweekly basis, and will continue to do so. It’s not just about how much my time is worth to me, but also the fact that professional cleaners do a much better job, much faster. They know the right tools to use for each job, they know how to organize their time, etc. One woman could, in six hours, do what it takes both me and my husband a day and a half to do. And considering that our time is really precious (we have major deadlines coming up), that’s just ridiculous.

    2. Also important: not feeling guilty about cleaning service (I’m working on that one), and not doing extensive cleaning *before* the cleaners come. There’s this perverse idea that people, and especially women-people, should be able to clean their own houses. But I have a full time job, and I also don’t feel particularly guilty for not sewing my own clothes or growing my own food or building my own house from scratch. Embrace modernity!

    3. Keep your glasses off. I’m only slightly shortsighted, so at home I almost never wear my glasses. When I do put them on around the house, I’m horrified by the dust bunnies I see were lurking everywhere. But I still keep them off. I think it’s good to embrace a little dirt. You just have to decide what’s important in your life: being able to enjoy your family, do your own work, get along with your spouse (who may really not see the dirt even with glasses on), or having a house your bitchiest neighbor would have nothing to smirk about in.