- Melissa Petro is a freelance writer based in New York where she lives with her husband and two young children.
- In their marriage, Petro says she and her husband found themselves dividing household chores into stereotypical male and female responsibilities – and then struggled with what seemed like unequal workloads.
- Petro says her cooking and cleaning chores felt more important to her because they were done regularly, while her husband’s responsibilities of mowing the lawn and taking out the trash were fewer.
- During the pandemic, the couple worked to divide the chores more evenly by using a family to-do list, which made running their home a team effort.
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It’s hard to break a habit. Take feeding my family, for example: of all the chores I do, I actually enjoy cooking dinner – and I do it well. So what about my husband? Not so much, and so night after night I became the cook.
My husband, on the other hand, loves any excuse to put on a pair of headphones and drink beer in the middle of the afternoon, and so mowing the lawn landed on his list.
In the four years we were together, Arran and I had subconsciously divided everything into to-do lists for him and for her.
For the most part, this arrangement worked for us – except on Friday nights, when I came home late from work, voracious, to a husband plaintively asking “What’s for dinner?” Then there was the time Arran went out of town: the recycling didn’t happen, the dog didn’t get her medicine, and when it snowed, the kids and I were locked up.
And then there were those jobs on none of our lists: fixing the dishwasher, cleaning the basement, calling the bank for a lost check. Arran naturally assumed that stuff was my responsibility when I thought it was his, and so the tasks weren’t completed.
But since March, my husband has been working from home and my family is functioning better than ever. Part of the reason: We took expert advice and made a concerted effort to remove our “his” and “her” to-do lists. The effect has been profound: my husband and I are dividing the work more evenly, we appreciate each other’s contributions more, and those big projects that fell through the cracks? They are being made.
The sexual division of labor occurs at home, just as it does in the workplace.
Before having children, it was not so visible. Maybe I did the laundry and he did the dishes, so what? We both knew how to do both chores because we had done them ourselves before we got together. Our workload seemed equal and we both had plenty of time at the end of the day for each other as well as ourselves.
Then Oscar was born and I became a stay-at-home mom, working part-time when I could in addition to managing the house and taking care of the children. Old chores like laundry or washing up have tripled in size. Meanwhile, new responsibilities — arranging play dates, buying birthday presents, baking brownies to welcome a new neighbor — piled on my plate.
While my husband was at work, I cleaned and decorated the house. Like most moms, I ferried the kids to and from playgroups and doctor’s appointments. I kept our house stocked with everything from paper towels and diapers to paper clips and tape. I replaced children’s clothes every season, made parties magical, and planned family vacations.
My husband, on the other hand, did all the tasks that would typically qualify as a man’s job. He mowed the lawn, raked the leaves and shoveled the snow. He did all the errands, from finding a replacement pacifier in the middle of his workday to running for a pint of ice cream after the two kids had gone to bed. He took out the trash cans, emptied the Diaper Genie, hung the curtains, killed spiders and other “manly” jobs. He “manages” the thermostat, runs the technology, and does who knows what in the garage, plus a million other things besides a full-time hard job.
When heterosexual couples allow work to “naturally” divide, women get a rough ride.
Of course, my husband had a “to-do” list. But mine was twice as long.
If research is any indication, I was probably right: among heterosexual couples with children, polls indicate it is typical for the woman to take care of the house and the care of the children more than the man, especially the little-known but indispensable, easily overlooked tasks that keep home and family life afloat. Not only do women do far more household chores than men, but the chores we do are arguably worse.
According to Claire Cain Miller, a New York Times correspondent who writes about gender, families and the future of work, the household chores women do the most are indoors, such as cleaning and cooking, while men do more work outside and considered recreational, such as yard work. Another reason why he feels unequal, she saidthis is because men’s chores happen weekly or less often, while women’s chores happen daily or several times a day.
His to-do lists and to-do lists are bad for a marriage, and especially problematic when you’re raising kids.
Gemma Hartley’s book “Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward” powerfully expresses the resentments many women feel when the work we do around the house goes unrecognized. Looking back, I realize that the anger and sadness I felt early in motherhood was, in part, a consequence of traditional gender roles that my husband and I had inadvertently adapted. If I had the choice, I would have preferred a paid job to a monotonous housewife. In couples therapy, I learned that my husband had his own resentments and also felt taken for granted.
When Arran went on a work trip, I couldn’t function independently because things like plugging in my phone and even turning on the TV had become “his” job. I felt exhausted, but too nervous to take a much needed “momcation”.
But the worst part of our situation was a nurturing suspicion that our traditional gender stereotypes at home (even if that was our preference) were having a negative impact on our children. According to at least one to studymy fears were well-founded: data from a 31-year panel study found that sons of parents who shared housework equally were more likely to participate in routine household chores as adults, while the employment of the mother during the early years of their daughters proved to be an important factor. predictor of the distribution of household chores in her adult household.
Swapping to-do lists can upset your family dynamics.
When the pandemic hit and Arran started working from home, my husband naturally gained a greater respect for what I did all day. Instead of shutting himself behind an office door, Arran remained involved in family life. He saw my fight and found time in his day to relieve it.
These days, it’s not at all unusual for Arran to take a mid-morning break to tame a tantrum or use his entire lunch break to nap one or both children. He loads and unloads the dishwasher as often as I do and folds most of the laundry during
meetings. Now that we’re in each other’s space all day, I also have a better idea of what my husband does, both professionally and at home.
Sometimes change happens naturally. On the mornings when he rushes to put recycling on the curb after struggling with Oscar in a diaper, I’m more than happy to do “his” job and walk the dogs. Other times we have to make a conscious effort to shake it off.
While I’m happier cooking than forcing meals in Arran, none of us want our children to think it’s only a woman’s job to cook, clean and take care of the house. family – and we also don’t want Oscar to think he can’t enjoy cooking and cooking because he’s a boy – so I’m going to run an errand that I would normally impose on my husband while he finds enough to feed his hungry crowd.
Slowly but surely our “family to-do list” is being tackled.
.A few months into the quarantine, we had more evenly distributed daily tasks, but there was still a list of things that weren’t happening – one-time tasks not essential to everyday life but still important. At a family reunion, we investigated why neither of us had taken the initiative to clean the gutters and realized that “his” and “her” were to blame: I had assumed that ‘Arran would find someone to hire because it was garden work. , when he had assumed that I was taking care of it because hiring people was usually part of my job.
Since then, we’ve kept a list of “family chores” posted on the bulletin board in the kitchen and divide the chores evenly as we find the time. Unlike my job or his, running our home has become more of a team effort. It’s easier, but it’s not easy.
Come to think of it, I’ve still never mowed the lawn.