Sunday, October 22, 2006

Splitting Household Work

In response to Laura at 11D:

For the record, before I start, I do consider myself a liberal feminist! I work very part-time, so the house and family is my main job. I married a good guy, and agree that’s #1 in importance on the list of how to avoid getting stuck with all the drudgery when there are children in the picture. I’d say #2 is to have a division of labor, stick to it, and don’t nag the other about their work. My observation is that this is very difficult for some people!

At our house we have a fairly traditional distribution of the workload. He works all week (plus 2 part-time jobs as a firefighter and EMT). I take care of the kids, shopping, meals, money, and the cleaning and organizing inside the house. He takes care of the yard work (except gardening, which at our house is optional) and other outside work (gutters, etc.). He fixes stuff that he can fix, mounts things to the wall, etc. He generally handles the kids’ sports events on weekends. In addition to the fairly tradition breakdown of jobs, he folds all the laundry (often on Sundays, in front of the football game), and (sort of) takes care of one bathroom. We occasionally chip in on the other’s job. There are definitely things that don’t get done, or at least not as often as they probably should. My priority (and I think our priority) is a happy family life, and organizing closets comes second (or tenth). I crisis clean for guests, but I’m not generally in a panic about the state of the house. It’s undeniably lived in, but far from squalor. It’s our medium, and it wouldn’t fit everyone.

For better or worse tradition often exists because it worked in some way. We didn’t plan a traditional division of labor, but it works for us. Also, I believe that routine and a general understanding of who does what job leads to less nagging and stress. It may be that the lawn hasn’t been mowed for three weeks, but he knows it, and it’s not my job, so I try to keep my mouth shut about it. I certainly don’t want him telling me how to clean the house.

I think he does feel some stress at being responsible for the family income. When I was early in our pregnancy with our third and he was very unhappy at his job I said he could quit, we’d cancel the addition we planned to build (we had money saved for it), and I would get a job. He didn’t take me up on it. It was a limited time offer, as I wanted to be home with the baby. If he wanted to switch roles now, I would do my best to figure that out (the baby is two-and-a-half and doesn’t need Mama 24x7 anymore). I think having a parent with time for the house and the kids is a good lifestyle, and I’m willing to cut costs if necessary to keep it. If we get to the point where we aren’t willing to cut costs, then I’m willing to try to find more work – I hope it wouldn’t be full-time, though.

I do worry about what my sons will think about the traditional division of labor, so we try to mix it up every now and then. He can cook a meal, and I can mow the lawn or use a power tool and we do it occasionally. We want to show them that we are both capable of doing whatever needs to be done. I think in general we both believe that, and I hope that that attitude is picked up by the kids.

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