All is fair in love and chores.
“For fifty years there was not a day that I didn’t cook dinner for your grandpa,” my grandmother sometimes says. When I say that I don’t remember a day when I did cook for my own husband, she dubiously shakes her head.
Sure, once in a while I have made something from a box that required being baked or mixed, but I don’t remember a situation when I waited in the kitchen with an appetizer, a two course dinner and a dessert, accompanied by a warm Donna Reed-like smile. (Because we all know a wife’s tired face might cause digestive discomfort for her husband. Best to make it look joyfully effortless.)
Joking aside, my grandmother’s comment got me thinking about a subject that gets made fun of a lot on modern TV shows, but is actually pretty important in real life: The division of household duties.
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I’ve often felt that the division of labor doesn’t necessarily need to be equal, like cutting something exactly in half with a ruler. (The idea that if you do the dishes today, I have to do them tomorrow.) Because, of course, not every couple is the same, so different marriages need different theoretical chore charts. But the division does need to reasonable and fair in other aspects to maintain healthy relationship. (The idea that if you have more work than I do today, no problem; I’ll take care of the groceries.)
The danger is when all “household” duties—which includes child-rearing—are automatically assigned to women. Stay-at-home mom or not.
It’s surprising, but in this century, many of us still hear excuses and half-joking remarks from men like “cooking is a woman’s job,” or “changing diapers isn’t manly,” or “don’t women love to clean, though?” And every time I just think … really? What could be manlier than a man who literally (not just financially) puts food on the table for his family, who is a strong role model for his children, or keeps his home well-kept and safe for all who live in it?
Yes, the era when a wife was always waiting for her husband to return home from work with dinner and smiling children are long gone. Today we sometimes have husbands who wait for their wives to return. But neither one should feel like the entire household burden falls to one person, who must pretend to sing cheerily like Cinderella all the while.
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In my house, we divvy up the household and family responsibilities as reasonably balanced as we can. And it truly keeps me sane. So I made up a little pro-list of all the benefits I see from tackling domestic life together as a team, if unequally:
My husband will not die of hunger…
… when I leave for a few days on a business trip or, say, if I wound up in a hospital. Perfectly familiar with the secrets of our kitchen, my husband will not call me every fifteen minutes asking, “where do we keep the frying pan?” And there is a good chance that our child won’t just eat scrambled eggs for a month for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I’m not around. (As a side note, the effect of my grandfather being spoiled by my grandmother is the fact that today he only knows how to boil water for tea and make scrambled eggs.)
My child has parents who are both totally present
My child has a father. A one hundred percent flesh and blood great dad, who was with him from the first breath, the first changed diaper, the first bath, the first tooth, the first sleepless night. I still encounter the opinion that in the first stage of a child’s life a mother is the most important parent, or that the baby bonds with the mom because, “hey, it’s not like a father can breastfeed.” No, he cannot. But he can console a crying baby just as well. I’m a firm believer that a father needs to be there—an active participant—to establish a full and healthy relationship with his child … and that won’t happen if he shirks diaper duty or toothfairy night, only to suddenly pays attention at three or five-years-old.
Our home is truly ours
If both a woman and a man work professionally, then why would only the woman have extra work to do when she comes home in the form of caring for the house and children? After all, your partner enjoys the benefits of the same house you do. And, sorry, but in or house, paying the bills does not count as fulfillment of domestic duties like laundry. I’m just as likely to clean the garage as he is to clean the kitchen.
And kids notice those type of things. Culturally, so many of us are pushing for little boys and girls to play with whatever toys they want, and grow up to be whatever they want, regardless of gender. So why would we model anything different for them in our own homes? Dad and mom are equally capable of many tasks and pursuits. Our friends’ daughter, for example, loves playing with blocks, cars and light sabers. In the same vein, I hope she grows up to see nothing wrong with taking out the trash while her husband does the dishes.
I have time for myself!
I absolutely and directly benefit from sharing common household and child-rearing responsibilities with my husband (and yes, it goes both ways). I know mothers who for years have not gone out to have their hair done, didn’t go shopping (baby or back-to-school clothes don’t count), and never had a spare minute to meet friends for coffee or wine. But a house with divided labor and care means “me-time” for both of us. Again, it’s not always exactly equal and there’s no scorecard, but we can sense when the other needs a break, and we take one for the team.
Of course, your marriage is likely different from mine, but I hope that when you think about it, it feels just as fair and respectful. Because sharing responsibilities together can only strengthen and cement your relationship … and maybe give you time to take a nap or have a quiet glass of wine every once in a while.
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