Recently, a poll on the MKE Moms Blog Facebook page asked a simple question about housework: “How often do you do laundry?”
My answer? “Almost never. That’s my husband’s job.”
Sounds amazing, right? Never doing laundry again but always having clean laundry? That’s the dream. The reality is slightly less perfect, but we’re working on it.
A year or so ago, my Facebook feed blew up with links to “You Should’ve Asked,” an illustrated essay about how even when male partners think they’re doing their fare share of the housework, female partners tend to see things very differently. Many of my friends reported that they had shared the comic with their husbands, whose reactions had been — well, largely disappointing. Some got defensive, some just didn’t get it, and others made vague promises about trying to do better.
My husband’s response was encouraging. He really seemed to understand my perspective, especially about the “mental load” that women tend to bear. We had a good conversation about some ways we could better divide the housework.
Then, like it does, life happened. Chores and errands took up more and more of our childcare time, when I’m supposed to be running a business. Over the winter, I found myself overwhelmed. And stressed out. And angry.
This time, when I brought up the housework, I was very clear: This is not working. And we need to make some changes. Together.
And this time my husband really got it.
For us, the thing that made the most sense was to designate specific tasks as His Jobs. We picked things that:
- are achievable in small bites on a daily basis;
- can be easily recognized as Things That Need To Be Done (so I don’t have to ask him to do them); and/or
- are tough for me to do when I’m home with the kids.
Our laundry is located in the basement, which requires going downstairs and outside. So that’s his job. Same for taking out the trash and recycling. He’s also in charge of doing the dishes and managing our finances. And we take turns cooking.
Does this all go off without a hitch? Of course not. There are human beings involved. Sometimes he gets busy with work, and laundry and dishes pile up. Sometimes we have to rejigger the way tasks are delineated. (He gets the laundry washed, but it turns out it works better for me to fold it.)
What’s funny is that I occasionally feel pangs of guilt about asking him to do so much housework.
Can we unpack that for a second? My husband and I have basically the same level of education. We have similar professional accomplishments in our respective fields. I now work half-time, but I also make all the appointments, arrange all the activities, communicate with the doctors, set up the playdates, buy the clothing and toys and shoes and groceries and supplies, keep track of what needs to be cleaned and replaced and updated, and think ahead to what’s coming next (researching schools, finding a new dentist, scheduling childcare). In addition to cleaning any part of the house I want to be clean.
And for some reason I still find time now and then to feel badly that my husband is in charge of washing the dishes and worry that I’m not doing my fair share because I didn’t sweep all the stairs and reorganize the playroom.
Our division of housework will continue to evolve, especially as our children get older and are able to take on more responsibilities. It’s a work in progress. What’s important is that we keep talking about it so we both understand the workload and how we can manage it — together.