Finding common ground on housework
Last week in The Everett Herald (May 11, 2015) there was a sad story about a woman who allegedly fired a gun at her husband over housework! I am sure there was more to her tale. But I bet that there are more than a few women who have felt fed up over their husband’s lack of household help.
The division of household labor is a problem for many families. While men are more involved in family work today than they were 20 years ago, we still have a long way to go. Studies have shown that the division of household labor is among the top contenders for a happy marriage, a close third behind fidelity and sex.
A number of surveys have shown that women feel they are doing the lion’s share of laundry, mopping, vacuuming, cooking, cleaning, and childcare. Interestingly, both men and women tend to overestimate their contributions to the work of family life. Overall, both men and women think that they are doing more than their partner!
As a psychologist, I hear more stories from women who are frustrated with their husband’s lack of help around the house. “Hey, I do all of the yard work,” says Joe. “And if something needs to be repaired, I’m the one that rolls up my sleeves”. His wife Mary is quick to note that yard work is seasonal and not a daily task like laundry, shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Sure Joe reads to the kids at night---while she is folding their laundry. They are spending equal time with childcare, but Mary feels that her husband has the better job.
It’s one thing if Mary was a stay-at-home mom. But she has a full-time job too. And there’s the rub. Increasingly, to make ends meet, there are two full time working parents in the home. And what about full-time working single parents! They have all of the day –to- day responsibilities of housework and childcare on top of working a full time job. Single parents are the 8th wonder of the world!
It gets even more complicated. Since Jill likes the kitchen cleaned a certain way, she does most of the cooking and cleaning up after meals. Jim offers to help, but she doesn’t appreciate the way he cleans the counters. She wants him to do it, “her way.”
The bottom line—we all have too much to do! Many adults just feel overwhelmed between the demands of their job, their children, keeping the family train running on time, and making meals every day. No wonder Americans eat out so much!
So what should parents do?
Sit down regularly and discuss the division of labor. Communication is the key. Go over the list of tasks and divide them up. Make clear agreements with each other. Revisit these agreements regularly. Nothing is ever strictly “equal” in life. It’s more important that it’s “agreeable” to both. If you feel that it’s unfair, negotiate harder. I hate cleaning bathrooms, but enjoy mopping the kitchen floor. My wife is happy to clean up when I cook. We both like to go grocery shopping together.
Be specific! If Joe is going to put the dishes away, which days? How soon after the meal? If Mary is going to do bedtimes, which nights? Remember, the devil is in the details.
Don’t expect that your partner will do things the way you do. I might fold laundry a little differently than my wife. If I’m folding, she needs to accept that it may not be done “her way.”
How do you conquer housework in your home?