Monday, January 28, 2008

Division of Labor--what's equal? what's fair?

Mary Anne over at Chicago Mom's Blog posted about if her husband should do more housework and I think it's a question worth exploring. In her post she describes how this distribution of labor has evolved over time--relatively easy and equal at the beginning in a one-bedroom apartment to their current situation, where they have a little one and now she does 10-20 hrs more a week on household chores & errands.

I have already started to see a little bit of this creeping into our (DH & me) dynamic, so given our upcoming first baby I'm interested in figuring this Where I really notice it is on days I work from home (about once a week) and the days when DH works from home. Somehow when I'm at home all day, not only am I working, but I also typically manage to get a load or three through the wash, empty/load the dishwasher, and do a little bit of general straightening. When DH works from home it looks as if the house has been hit by a tornado of epic proportions. Hmmm...what's going on here? For the most part, though, I have little to complain about--we both work full-time outside the home and so we both pitch in around the house and we have a cleaning service 2x/month. Plus, I will be returning to work 3mos after having Little Bit, so we won't have the SAHM issue to add to this one. So I may be worrying unnecessarily (wouldn't be the first time...).

But, getting back to Mary Anne's blog...while I agree that the division of labor should be fair, not necessarily equal, she says a couple of things that stuck with me and made me think:

"...[he] really truly does not want to take on half of those extra hours of housework. He's already feeling pretty strapped for time and frayed. And given his resistance, even though it might be more fair to have him take on half, I think if I pushed him on that seriously, it would make life truly miserable for both of us. ..."
Now I realize that I'm not in her relationship, but what bothers me here is that it's easier for her to do 20 hrs of housework than have to deal with any attitude she'd get by pushing for a different solution. It bothers me, because I know I've used this same reasoning before on smaller tasks. Why do we let our mate's stubbornness and happiness determine how many extra tasks we take on ourselves?
"And it's not that he isn't helpful. If I ask him...'can you fold these towels and put them away?' he'll do it. But there's a problem with that dynamic, because it means that on some level in both our heads, it registers as him doing me a favor, every time I ask him to help out with a task. Which both he and I end up quietly resenting just a little bit. Rather than it just being part of his share of the household labor."

Oh, how I know what she's talking about. It feels like I'm asking a huge favor every time I "remind" DH to grab the trash on his way out to the garage or to take care of the litter box I'm forbidden to touch while pregnant. I end of feeling like I'm imposing on his time, even though these are things that we've pretty much agreed are his chores. What's a good solution for this? I feel like 2 adults shouldn't need a chore list like my mom put up when I was 10 to check off our to-dos. But if he doesn't or won't remember/notice that it's time again to do these things and I do...what are my other options besides reminding or asking him to do it? Why do I feel bad about reminding him, when I know he doesn't hesitate to mention that he's running out of black socks--thereby implying that I need to do a load of laundry. Do you think he worries about it feeling like he's asking me for a favor?

"In the end, we decided to make two changes...We'll see how it goes. I'm guessing he'll forget the sink on occasional nights, which is not a big deal. What's less clear is how much of a burden this will feel like to him -- how much of his work/personal time it seems like it's stealing away. Hopefully, not so much."
This ties into my last thoughts just above this quote...why are we so caught up in worrying about the burden sharing household work places on our husbands? Regardless of the work/SAHM situation, running the house affects the entire family and should therefore be shouldered by all those who are able to help--from kids who go to school and have homework to moms and dads who work all day. But I see a lot of us having the same worry Mary Anne does "Hopefully this won't make whoever unhappy to do a little bit more, so that Mom doesn't have to do it all." Why do we believe it's 1) our responsibility to do it all and 2) our fault if they feel a little bit inconvenienced by chipping in? How do we change this interaction to one that's healthier for everyone involved? I'm seriously looking for answers here, so please chime in!

"As a final note, I should say that I think Kevin does far more than many men I know -- he should get some credit for that. He does ten times more than either his father or mine did..."

For my last point, I want to say Yes, I do believe that most men today do more than their fathers did. And I believe my DH does more than some of his peers, as well. I think the point here is not what each mate does in comparison to others, historical or contemporary, but that each set of partners needs to find their own balance where they both feel like the division of labor is fair--not necessarily equal. Both people should feel like their contributions are noticed and appreciated and both should be concerned with the burdens of the other and open to constantly adjusting the balance. Where I worry is when the concern is all one-sided, which typically means the guilt is all one-sided as well.

In closing, again, please chime in. I'm really interested in knowing who has dealt with this already and what has/hasn't worked for you.

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