Splitting the Chores

"Does anyone have a tip on how to divvy up household chores and duties?" was a simple question that resulted in a truely PSP-style way: a lively and engaging discussion about egalitarian households, gender dynamics, work/life balance, and more.

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Original Poster:

"With the very tragic death of Dave Goldberg this past weekend I've been thinking about the whole "Lean In" movement and also the ability for Sheryl to put forth her call to women because of her strong bond and shared responsibilities with Dave.  Here's an article about it:

Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg split the chores. Most American couples don’t via The Washington Post:

“..Imbalance at home is bad for marriages: According to a 2007 Pew Research report, the sharing of household chores was among the top three high-ranking issues associated with a successful marriage -- below only faithfulness and a satisfying sexual relationship. Perhaps unsurprisingly, academic research shows that more balanced housework divisions are tied to women feeling less depressed and more satisfied in their marriages.

The article does acknowledge their ability to hire outside help to do some of the domestic chores and take care of kids.

Does anyone have a tip on how to divvy up household chores and duties?"


Summary Points:

  • Stop feeling guilty
  • Be organized: think a chart or schedule
  • Hold each other accountable
  • Outsource what you are financially able (check out PSP's great summary about that)
  • Keep in check the personal and the political
  • Weigh income contributions



Be realistic if you make any comparisons:

"Well in the case of their marriage.... they had a cook, live in nannies and live in maid(s). So divvying up whatever was left, sounds pretty painless. So my tip? Become a billionaire and outsource! I am not a big fan of the Lean In movement which focuses too much on the individual and "choice" and not enough on structural changes in the workplace. When workplaces acknowledge that parents are part of a talent pool and move to a flexible model, this will go a long way in fixing the equity both at home and at work. Asking women to lean in to a work model that was created for men with the idea of a partner at home...seems very old school. (No wonder Fortune 500s love her... she makes no demands on them)."


Don't frame it by splitting what needs to get done:

"This isn't a pragmatic how-to, but shortly before I was married, my wise grandmother told me: "Never think in terms of 50/50 when it comes to your marriage, the kids, or your home. You both have to do 100% of what needs to be done." Like I said, not practical, but knowing that we both believe we are working our hardest goes a long way in my house."


Stay organized and be accountable:

"We have a chart.
It was hard-won, but we have it. It hangs in the kitchen.
I work from home, and am the more avid/skilled cook. So I do grocery shopping, make dinner, pack lunches, dust, put away the laundry, and I'm pickier about clothes, so I do any laundry that can't be dropped off for wash 'n fold. I handle our daily budget and bills. It's the stuff that takes up more time during the day, basically.
My husband is the neatnick in our relationship (I'm the one who would step over towels five times and not see them), and works longer hours away from the home, so he does the things that are more after-hours or can be done weekly/on the weekend: he cleans the kitchen after dinner, handles laundry pickup/drop off, handles retirement investments, cleans the bathroom.
I have the flexibility to pick up the kid from preschool if she's sick or they're off early, but he has the paid sick days if we need to keep her home (I'm freelance, so days off=no pay).
It's not perfect - sometimes I get really tired of cooking, we still argue over who's responsible for cleaning out the fridge. But forcing ourselves to sit down, hammer out a list, post it on the wall, and hold each other (nicely) accountable for it was a game-changer."


Have a schedule:

"I'm lucky to have a 100% participating partner--if anything he does more than I do.
Chores are still a work in progress but one thing I've found helpful is to identify essentials (eg laundry) and schedule them each week to avoid decisions ("can I put it off another day?"). Then identify what stops it getting done and THAT goes on the schedule ("bag laundry for laundromat"). This one step only takes a few minutes but the rest of the chore flows from there.
How this worked for us: Laundry has traditionally been "his" chore. First sticking point was clothes all over the apartment--solution was more than one laundry hamper. Next, transferring clothes to the laundry bag. I have more patience for sorting and know which items I prefer to dryclean so I took over this part, we also bought a bigger bag which is kept in the same place so we're not hunting for it. Then having sorted, I found it more satisfying to just drop it off myself, though we're also looking into pickup options. In the meantime I was tempted to take responsibility for the whole chore, but then I realized that I don't like picking up laundry. Then he confessed he's never liked dropping off laundry. Who knows why, but now I drop off and he picks up and everyone wins.
Basically there were practical or emotional stumbling blocks that we could easily work round--no blame or guilt attached. Still working on putting the clean clothes away though!"


Stop feeling guilty, and ask for what you need/want:

"Really insightful discussion happening - thanks! I came across this article yesterday, and thought I'd add it into the mix. This [article] does a great job of articulating what's behind "mom guilt" - even if you do have a supportive partner. At least it resonated for me personally.
One part that really resonated with me was this:
"As long as we have the attitude that we can do it better, men probably won't step up, because what man enjoys feeling incompetent?"
I'm a mother of a 10 month old, and I went on a 4 day business trip when she was 8 months old. It was absolutely fine, but I am a little ashamed that I didn't fully trust my partner - even though he's amazing. (and actually does clean more than me!) It was really good for both of us. For me because it really forced me to examine if my "concerns" were valid. Pretty much no, on that front. And it was good for him because it made him appreciate how hard it is to do everything yourself in a way that he wouldn't have if he didn't actually do it. So he tries to get out of business trips as much as possible now for my benefit, which is really nice. But while I was there, I remember having a conversation with him where he said to me, "Stop feeling guilty! Enjoy yourself, make it count." I was actually on this trip for leadership training. There were ~60 people at this training, and 11 of them were women. At dinner, my male colleagues were *shocked* that I left my baby at home, and one actually said to me, "My wife would have never done that." I responded by saying, "Yeah it is really hard! I don't like being away from her, but unfortunately the company doesn't pay for her to come with me, and the only way I could take this opportunity was to come without her, so she's with her daddy." Isn't it funny how men are never asked if it's hard to leave their kids at home... (or at least I've never heard it)  On a side note, I had a job interview recently and they asked me if I was willing to travel.  We landed on "occasionally," but then I said, "If the company will pay for my nanny and daughter to travel with me, I'm willing to travel as much as you want." The recruiter said to me, "Can I just be candid with you right now? It is SO REFRESHING to hear a woman ask for what she needs in a job. I really want to help place women in our company, but I feel like they never ask for what they really need." So - there's that. This was a Fortune 500 company.
And lastly, I just want to say that I actually broke into tears when I read about the death of Dave Goldberg. I read Lean In, and while I didn't agree with everything, there's some really good stuff in there. It did inspire me. It is really tough to find a partner that is super supportive, and I know I would be devastated to lose mine. Millionaire (Billionaire?) or no, I feel for Sheryl.
Anyway - I know this post is a bit scattered, but it's just all that is on my mind regarding this topic!"


Understand what is political vs. personal. Know that no matter what you decide with your own family, there are things that need to happen on a structural level: effecting political change, changing cultural expectations, and writing new policies:

"Just to chime in, this neighborhood provides many examples of "non-traditional families" including same-sex couples, female-headed-households and female primary wage earner families dealing with the same issues of balancing work/family life without being defined by the traditional gender roles, and at very varied income levels.
In addition to straightening our own affairs, we real change needs advocacy for policies that provide child care and school age child support (day care, after school, longer school days etc) as well as for legislating workplace changes (paid sick days, flexible work schedules, and paid parental and eldercare leave) for all families.  Joan Williams was cited earlier in this thread and she has brilliantly looked at the workplace effects of what she has termed Caregiver Discrimination, as well as pregnancy and other forms of discrimination. Many women's rights non-profits are arguing similarly and let's hope that the presidential candidates (at least one of them?) gets out front on this issue, nearly 25 years after her husband passed the (unpaid, too short) Family and Medical Leave Act.
Feminism expounds that the personal is political.  So balancing mundane chores and/or providing vital child care and/or eldercare are personal choices with our spouses but let's not forget the solutions take more than achieving in-home equality.
I feel a lot of sorrow  for the Sandberg family and it's awkward that their tragedy launched this conversation but clearly it's one that has a lot to be talked about, and done about."


Find your own independence. But make sure everyone is heard and understood:

"When I was little my mother told me... you can be anything you want when you grow up as long at it is a career where you can easily support yourself and two kids without the need for a husband. So I did.
This is advice she gives everyone. When I was really little, I remember overhearing a conversation she was having on the phone with a friend who was a nurse and married to a man with a super high paying job. The woman was thinking about letting her nursing credentials/certification(?) expire and my mom was trying to convince her otherwise. She wasn't telling her to stay working if she didn't want to but was trying to explain how important it was that she kept the ability to be independent if needed. The reason is slightly different but I think it is relevant here.
That being said, I also have a fantastic husband who equally splits everything. And when things pile up on one person we talk openly about it. When my first child was born we had a very frank discussion about how I was taking on more of the work of child raising and we figured out ways where he could help. We still get on each others nerves about things.... like he definitely does more of the cooking and I do more of the cleaning. So it is a constant discussion on how to make each other feel heard and understood."


Variables like income need to be considered when examining the household balance:

"I'm not sure this is a tip but: become and stay aware of the weight of the surrounding and familial culture, even the untold, unconscious representations, in each partner and around them.
Against what I used to believe in, I will advise my daughter to choose a career mostly according to the expected income. My son, not so much.
Why is that?
The heterosexual couples with children I know where the woman isn't more in charge of the mundane chores and primary caregiver meet one of both of these criterias:
1. are very rich and outsource a lot
2. both partner have a comparable career level and income level
Except for two cases where
3. the husband is a well-raised / educated, not entitled individual AND has a lower professional workload...
My husband has a well-earning career, however we are not well-off yet to the point of outsourcing ; so I am stuck in charge of the everyday logistics and primary caregiver, without enough time left to advance my own professional life.

and similarly:

"Wow. Thank you so much for your input. I fall into the number 3 category and I actually consider myself to be quite fortunate for that. At the same time, it's been a handicap having one (relatively) strong income and one mediocre income. I have also always preached that someone should strongly prioritize income when deciding an occupation. I've never factored in gender and now I may give that a second thought."


Count things each partner does around the house - and talk about it:

"I will say this was a HUGE issue with us after our daughter was born. My husband has some OCD issues (diagnosed) and I'm a pretty messy person who thrives on chaos. Add in two FT working parents who can't afford to outsource and the whirling toy dervish that is toddlerhood, there just wasn't physically time in the day to clean to his anxiety's satisfaction (nor did I have any interest in doing so, frankly).  
It was really an eye-opener for both of us when we started counting how many things I did vs him around the house, in a good way -- I started realizing why I was always overwhelmed, he started realizing that it wasn't as equal as he thought.
I will say that I have definitely made a choice for my family as much as my career to work from home. Thankfully I'm in a field that lends itself to that (writing/editing/producing -- journalism + corporate content) and I enjoy being my own boss. I tip my hat to everyone who has to factor in two commutes far from the 'hood every day, and figuring it all out."


More thoughts on understanding the role of income:

"Tip #1: what [previous poster] said: make more money. Make enough money that the standard gender roles are necessarily challenged, and your time is so quantifiably valuable outside the home that working too much inside is a risk to your family's financial security.
Tip #2: marry a neat pro-feminist who doesn't need to be rehabilitated of his lifelong sexism (admittedly a bit tough to do this).
Tip #3: Workshop why one partner does more (often it's just that person's misperception of how much s/he is doing, but sometimes/often it is pure sexism) and also why specific chores pile up, and then try to make them more easily accomplishable.  Sometimes it's just that the need for it is invisible to one partner, or you don't have the right tool for the job, or even bc he doesn't know how to do a chore and is leaving it to you. I hate putting away laundry and put it off for days where my drawers get too full/messy. Husband hates dishes when the food dries on them. Husband also gets super grossed out by bathroom cleaning (but somehow not by using a filthy bathroom). I hate washing bottles because we don't have a bottle brush. These are problems that have solutions! That helps immensely.
Tip #4: Do not fall for the man who plays dumb about chores. Someone who can fit a Graco car seat onto a chicco stroller without a users manual should not need a demo to operate a toilet brush.


Thinking about the expectations, internationally:

"Food for thought: Many college educated women in Germany remain childless, while there are efficient public health insurance and financial help in Germany, or tend to have their children late, and to have one to two. The main reason, I believe, is that they are expected to be VERY available for their children during several years. ("college educated" isn't as related as here to the inherited wealth, since the universities are public).
French mothers are more expected to hold a job outside home, fewer of them remain childless (or childfree) and more have 3 children. It's not easy for them either, as many still endure the "double work day" (one shift at work, one shift at home), but the "motherly" and "wifely" workload and social expectations are lower than for their German neighbors."


Suggested reading and resources from parents:

"Based on your post, you might be interested in this book, Family Inc. by Caitlin and Andrew Friedman. They are Brooklyn parents with 10 year old twins. I’ve only read the first chapter but I liked the idea."

"I recommend Brigid Schulte's Overwhelmed book. Tons of interesting research and advice around this topic."

"I echo the endorsement for Schulte's book (and basically anything she writes)--it's really great. Also, since [a previous poster] brought up the structural side of things, thought you might be interested in Make It Work, a national campaign that is focused on getting many of these issues (affordable child care, paid family leave, paid sick days, etc) front and center in the run-up to the election next year. (Full disclosure: I'm one of the co-founders.)."

The Politics of Housework - a great article originally published in 1970


Related Reading on PSP:

 Work/Life Balance—The Conversation Begins

Parental Burnout

Time Management: An Urban Legend

Adventures in Delegating