Alan and I want one of us to stay at home full-time with Moses and Hazel when they’re young, and because Alan’s able to earn enough to support all of us, he’s the one who brings home the bacon, and I’m the one who stays home with the kids. This arrangement involves sacrifice for both of us: Alan only gets 2-3 hours each weekday with Mo and Hazel, whereas I get more like 12 hours (fewer with Mo when he’s at preschool). And for me, I spend most of my time thinking about kid stuff, which, a lot of the time, is “both too much and too little” (as Kim Brooks so perfectly describes it in this article): Overwhelming and challenging at the same time as being tedious and simple. It also involves good things for both of us: Alan gets to hang out with adults a lot, and I get to lie in the sun in a park on surprisingly warm winter days eating zaatar and scrolls with two adorable children (for just one example each).
At this stage of our lives his job is earning the money, my job is keeping the kids alive, and the housework is separate to both of these things and is therefore shared. Which is great, but it’s also hard: we have to communicate and negotiate far more than we would if all house things were assigned to only one person, for instance, and communicating and negotiating can be difficult. Also, Alan and I have different standards: I have a problem with things being dirty but I can handle things being messy; Alan has a problem with things being messy, but doesn’t seem to notice dirt. I want things to be done thoroughly, even if that means the mess gets worse before it gets better and it takes three hours to tidy up; Alan would happily shove piles of crap into a cupboard and close the door if that meant he could have an immediately uncluttered room. Not only that, but our circumstances have changed over the years, meaning we’ve needed to continually rethink who does what; we never had to worry about who’d mow the lawn before we moved into a place with a yard, for example. And, finally, how do you know if it’s shared fairly?
We’d had an okay system before Hazel was born/Alan changed jobs/we moved here, but since all of those changes there’d been no renegotiation, and after a particularly heated fight recently about the appropriate attachment needed to vacuum a tiled room (sadly, it’s not the first time we’ve had this argument. I say: the wide brush designed for tiled rooms; Alan says: the tiny non-brush designed for carpeted corners), it became clear that I’d become less okay with the current division of labour in our house than I’d previously thought I was. It was a helpful thing to discover, though it would have been nicer to notice this before I found myself waving a vacuum cleaner handle around at Alan and swearing a lot.
In this post (under Myth #8), Rachel Held Evans mentions a study which found that when two people were given exactly the same task, both (when asked afterwards) felt as though they’d done more than the other person. I feel like this is true of housework, and over the years I’ve tried to keep it in mind and ask myself whether we actually are doing different percentages of housework or whether it just feels as though we’re doing different percentages of housework. Our new system, though, requires none of this self-analysis because it’s all written down and then divided up so it’s clear each person is doing as much as the other.
I’d loved the idea of the Shulmans’ “marriage contract” when I heard about it (through this article), so that’s what we’ve done. I don’t think it should be called a marriage contract, though, as if us staying married depends on it (although I’m sure in many ways the health of our marriage does); I’m just calling ours a “job roster.” Also unlike the Shulmans, our roster doesn’t divide the work completely in half, but it’s close enough to 50-50 to keep Alan and me happy, and getting closer would require letting go of other things that work for us at the moment; I’d rather do all of the weekday cooking and keep our routine to what it is now than, say, cook only for the kids and then share the preparation of a later, after-the-kids-are-in-bed meal with Alan, for example.
(Now that the housework’s split, there are other things we have to figure out how to divvy up: time off is a big one we still have many unanswered questions about. If looking after the kids is counted as work for me, does it count as work when Alan does it on weekends and I have time off? And given that a break from workspace contributes to the feeling of rest, how do we balance it a little better given Alan gets two days away from his workplace, and for me it’s more often like two hours away from mine. Does it make any difference that he’s an extrovert and I’m not? And so on.)
We’re into our fifth week of the job roster, and thus far it’s working so well that I can’t believe we never implemented something like it before now. (Alan says he hasn’t noticed a difference, but he does remember that last week he took the bins out and cleaned the floor on a night when I was supposed to do it.) There are lots of benefits (consistently cleaner house, better relationship, etc.) but the one I like most is that because it’s clear which job belongs to whom each day/night, doing the other person’s job as well as your own means it’s clear you’re choosing to help the other person, whereas before you’d just do both jobs thinking, “I always do these jobs, and Alan/Annelise never does them. Life’s so unfair.” Or you wouldn’t do the jobs, and you’d think, “I’m not going to do those jobs because I’m always the one who does them. Life’s so unfair.” But now the jobs get done and each person has the same number of turns at them, so there’s no always- or never-ing. It’s very good. I highly recommend it. I give this housework system 100 out of 100 Magic Erasers.
Moses has a few jobs now too, like opening the blinds in the morning, watering the plants, and clearing and setting the table before dinner. He thinks he’s been wholly gypped by the new arrangement, and gives the roster 1 out of 100 Magic Erasers.
Oh, and if you haven’t seen Photoshop Troll’s Mirror Spots post, it’s worth a look. I give that post 100 out of 100 Magic Erasers too.