Division of Labor

I’ve written before about how my husband and I are both hopelessly messy.  After reading about it, a girlfriend asked how we divide the chores in our home.  I was unsure how to respond.  My situation is unique.  I am fairly pampered as a stay-at-home mom with (for the next few months anyway) only one child to tend to.  As demanding as parenting is, I really DO find myself with much more leisure time than most of my piers.  I finally told her that, in our situation, I just do all the chores and let my husband focus on his place of employment.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized maybe that’s not true.  For example, while my hubby very rarely picks up a duster or the vacuum cleaner, he’s more than happy to carry copious amounts of diaper trash with him as he walks out the door.  While my husband doesn’t really do grocery shopping, (nor would I WANT him to!  I’m very picky about my groceries!) he takes his day off work every week to hang out with our son and let ME have the day off child care.  (On these days, I do ANYTHING I want, whether that’s grocery shopping or browsing the local bookstore with my favorite vanilla latte in hand!  Mmmm!)  And while my husband knows just enough about our finances to handle things in an emergency, he’s the one that spends countless hours on the phone with our cable service making sure the internet I pay our bills on is working properly.

When we first married and were both working full time, we worked out an extensive chart detailing who would do what and making sure all responsibilities were even.  This may work well for some families, but through five or six versions of this chart, none held staying power for us.  It wasn’t until I dropped out the work force that I just quit keeping score.  Only recently, I’ve realized how much my husband really DOES do around the house and how he ACTUALLY may be carrying MORE weight than me!  Things like diapers totally gross him out, but he takes pride in taking turns changing, especially when my hands are tied up in other tasks.  I hate all those nagging software updates and bits of maintenance our personal electronics require,  but that’s his bread and butter!  And the cars, of course.  He’s meticulous about making sure those oil changes and tire rotations happen in a timely manner.

Honestly, I’ve been known to scoff at other people’s spouses.  When my husband is so willing to watch kids in his free time, how come my girlfriend can’t get out of the house for girl’s night?  It’s only as I think of their tidy home, I realize they may very well be saying similar things about my husband when she sees my mountains of unfinished laundry!  If we tend to think of the household responsibilities as one size fits all, or as limited specifically to domestics, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

Even if we divide the labor in terms of general “chores”, be it inside or outside of the home, it is important to think about those items that do not require much time or physical energy, but improve the household nonetheless.  Our home environment benefits substantially when my husband makes time for some emotional “self care”.  Those nourishing habits like exercise, reading, or getting away for a trip with his dad may temporarily inconvenience me, but the personal growth that develops through these activities offers me and our children benefits that far outweigh minor scheduling difficulties.  (Also, the more my husband experiences these benefits, himself, the more passionate he becomes about making sure I have time for the same soul nourishing activities!)

I was reminded of these less tangible benefits earlier this week at a doctor’s visit.  I always schedule my prenatal appointments for my husband’s day off, as it would be difficult to wrangle my toddler at the obstetrician’s office.  I left them at the breakfast table and headed out alone to my appointment in the neighboring town.   Imagine my surprise at the end of the visit to find my husband and son in the waiting room!  “Let’s do lunch!” and, with that, we had an impromptu family date.  Later, a friend reminded me that not only was this a sweet gesture on the part of my husband, but simple acts like this are important ways fathers show our little ones how to treat their mothers, and women in general.  Those are the kind of “household chores” that just can’t be delegated!

So, I suggest this: stop and appreciate your spouse today.  Lay off the expectations and requests for a week or so, and do your best to create the home life you want as if it all depends on you.  (By the way, this attitude is at the very heart of what it means to be a SmartyPants.)  Be willing to let go of perfectionism and see what household tasks he gravitates to naturally… even if it’s not exactly the way YOU would have done it!  Taking a little time to chill and see how things would go on their own may just solve a world of home-keeping problems for you, and grow your marriage by leaps and bounds!  I won’t pretend that my own hubby is not unusually wonderful, but I think most of us would be surprised to see the many ways our husbands jump in when it’s no longer a demand.

I write my article with the assumption that most of our spouses genuinely want to help…  I still recommend giving it a break for a couple weeks, but if you’re still having trouble, there’s plenty of other resources available on this topic.  I ran across this one just today!  Now tell me a good story of how your partner or other family members helped bless YOUR home!

Categories: Uncategorized | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Division of Labor

  1. whimsygirl

    I try very hard to make all family duties gender neutral. This includes a HUGE pet peeve of mine… who drives the family car when we’re all together. Even though it’s very important to me to send the message to my children that it’s not just assumed that the man drives when men and women are in the car together, I sometimes hate being such a stickler on this point because I HATE driving! My kids know this and always remind me of this fact those times when I ask my husband just to drive.

  2. MacisMessy

    Hm… I have a feeling all four of us fall in different parts of the spectrum when it comes to the importance of modeling or not modeling specific gender roles. That would make for a great podcast in the future!

    But, I must say, I hate to drive, too! It’s ironic that you post this, because Marcus and I just had a spat about it last night! Maybe this also has to do with the fact that I’m only raising boys, but I just never thought which parent does the driving was an important message either way. With a lot of these gender equality issues, I just tend to think we’ve already won the war. We DO do everything. We CAN have it all. Some things just come more naturally to individuals with more testosterone, and some things just come more naturally to individuals with more estrogen. I guess I don’t feel like I need to fight it. It seems like I’ve heard lots of women say they hate driving. Never heard a guy say it, though.

    • whimsygirl

      Hmmm. Maybe we SHOULD do a podcast on this issue. Just thinking as I type here… I guess you could say I’m oober sensitive when it comes to reinforcing gender norms… At some times, I almost wonder if I should just assume the battle’s won and move one, but then I worry I’m just letting something go-which I cannot stand! Hmmm, again… Wonder what the readers think…

      • MacisMessy

        It’s probably one of these deals where people like me get to relax about it because people like you are staying vigilant on it! I feel that way about a lot of my political apathy! LOL

  3. Stephanie

    Hmm.. I feel like throwing a wrench in here. Guys are better drivers. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but generally speaking, it seems to prove itself over and over. My husband’s reactions are way quicker than mine, and he seems to see and notice things on the roadto which I am oblivious. Anytime someone in front of us is doing something stupid, 9 times out of 10 it turns out to be a woman behind the wheel. When you see a vehicle parked with its front wheels turned, you can almost always bet a chick parked it, as all guys seem to intuitively know that not straightening your wheels after parking presents a possible hazard when you back the car out of the spot later. I know this probably gets some people’s blood boiling, but I’ve been paying attention to these things for the last 10 years, and have VERY RARELY seen an exception to anything I’ve mentioned here. What do we do with that?

    • whimsygirl

      I could mention research on observational impressions contrary to statistical data, but who needs another “works cited” from this Whimsygirl?! Instead, I guess we’ll just agree to disagree on this one. 😉

    • I heard another “Crazy woman driver” story today at church. It got me thinking: the facts are, men are in more accidents. Otherwise, why would car insurance rates be higher when a male is the primary driver of the vehicle?

      However, in almost every instance I’ve observed, men ARE better with the hand/eye coordination stuff that driving requires. You could argue, in that sense, men ARE better at driving. However, women are, by nature, more cautious and less aggressive, so women, in that sense, ARE better drivers, if you judge one’s skill by their ability to avoid a collision.

      To me, the important thing to recognize is that men and women have inherent differences, and that should be celebrated, rather than ignored. We celebrate cultural and ethnic diversity, but that doesn’t mean I should force a Chinese person to like American food, any more than I should force an American person to like Chinese food. When I think about modeling gender roles, we just don’t think about too much at my house. We just do what comes naturally. And to me, that is as it should be.

  4. Stephanie

    That being said, my husband is a far better housekeeper than I am and I do all of the grilling.

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