Monday, April 09, 2012

Women, Men, Chores, and Relationships

Over the last few weeks, a weird sort of "almost conversation" has played out in my blog reader, with bloggers I read writing about relationships and what happens to them when the chores aren't split equitably. It was clear that at least some of the writers were reading each others' posts, but no one was linking to the other posts, possibly because everyone was looking at a different aspect of the issue. Whatever the reason they did not want the dots connected, I'll respect that and won't link back here, either. But if you are curious and want to see the links, let me know and I'll send them to you.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I have some thoughts on the subject of chore division and relationships. As I wrote most recently, I struggle to understand the dynamics at work when a smart, educated woman- a woman who is not, or at least does not need to be, financially dependent on her partner- tolerates an inequitable arrangement at home, but is clearly unhappy about it, because she writes posts or comments about it on the internet.

Occasionally, I try to ask a question about this on a post similar to the ones I've been reading lately, but it doesn't really go well. Either the blogger and commenters are as puzzled as I am, or the mere act of asking that question provokes ire, and I am told that asking it is offensive and/or boring. Or a symptom of my privilege. Or that if I read more feminist theory I would understand. Or any number of other codes for "go away." I believe strongly that people should be able to write about whatever they want on their own blogs, and if they send someone away, that person should go- so I go. But I feel like we're missing an opportunity to learn something important.

I think the problem is that I have been asking the question in the wrong places. Most posts on this topic are too polarized to host an open discussion. One side or the other is clearly painted as "right" and there is usually an undercurrent of implication (or even an explicit statement) that if you disagree, you aren't really a feminist. I don't think that is true. I have read posts written by feminists with opposing viewpoints. I think that perhaps this is one topic that can be looked at from multiple feminist viewpoints. And maybe they are all valid- but they aren't getting at the questions I have, so I'm frustrated.

Therefore, I've decided to try to ask my question here. I acknowledge that given my past posts, this might not seem like a neutral place, either. But it is the best I have, so all I can do is try, promise to be open to different viewpoints and respectful in the discussion, and explicitly ask my commenters to do the same.

To help keep things neutral, I've decided to lay out the scenario with invented people. To keep the discussion focused, I want to stipulate that we're talking about fairly privileged women here: professionals with the means to leave their partners if they wanted to without plunging themselves or their children into poverty. I do this for a couple of reasons: (1) if the most privileged and powerful women among us can't sort this out, how will we sort it out more generally? (2) It decreases the chance that the whole thing will derail into a discussion of my privilege- something I readily admit I have in spades, but which I don't think is germane to this discussion, since I see the dynamic I'm talking about played out most prominently among women with every bit as much privilege as I have.

I'm also setting this up as being about heterosexual couples- this is primarily because I do not feel qualified at all to comment about whether or not this dynamic also plays out in homosexual couples. I think that would be a fascinating question to explore, though, and if anyone wants to do so in the comments, please feel free. I'd love to read your thoughts.

Anyway, here is the scenario: Consider two couples, Janet + Steve and Joan + Tom. Both are dual career couples with a couple of kids. Both are genuinely loving couples. Janet and Joan both consider themselves feminists, and if asked, both Steve and Tom would say that they consider their partners to be their equals, and that they think men and women in general are equal. However, Janet and Steve have an equitable home arrangement, while Joan and Tom do not, and Joan is unhappy about this. Joan and Tom argue about it with some frequency, but the issue never resolves between them, leaving Joan quite frustrated. Janet and Steve argue about the chores from time to time, too- after all, chores basically suck and most people would rather be doing something else- but for some reason, their arguments resolve the issue at hand, and Janet is pretty happy about her home arrangement.

What do you think? Why can't Joan and Tom resolve the chores issue, but Janet and Steve can? Is the different dynamic within these two couples due to a difference between Janet and Joan or a difference between Steve and Tom? Or is it something external to the couples? Or are there multiple differences at work? What might they be? For instance, do you think the amount of money that each partner makes plays a role?

I'm most interested in why Joan and Janet's situations play out so differently. I am less interested in the cultural influences that make us tend to see the woman as the lesser partner in a relationship, except to the extent that these influences inform the different outcomes. Remember- Janet isn't living in a bubble, and neither is Steve. They're exposed to these cultural influences, too, so that can't be the whole story. Why do the influences have different effects on Janet and Steve versus Joan and Tom?

Anyone who has read my unicorn post knows that I identify more with Janet than Joan. So why do I care about this? Isn't this essentially a solved problem in my own life?

I care because of the message we're sending to the young women coming up behind us. Every once and awhile, I get an email from a young woman who has stumbled on my blog and doesn't quite believe what she is reading. She wants to know, how do I arrange my life so that I can "have it all?" because most of what she reads these days tells her she can't have it all, or at least not all at once. And how do I "make" my husband pull his fair share of the work around the house, because she has correctly intuited that this may be an important component of "having it all" (a phrase I actually dislike-what is "it all", anyway?- but am using as a convenient short hand).

I wrote my "logistics of having it all" post in answer to the first question. But I have no answer to the second question, because any answer I can come up with runs afoul of the fact that different women- who seem to be very similar to me- have a completely different dynamic in their relationships, and I have no idea why.

These young women are scared. Our cultural vibe these days is telling them that they can't aim high in their careers and also have a family. And even on feminist blogs, they overwhelmingly read that the uneven split in chores is cultural, is bigger than any choice they might make, except, I suppose to choose to stay single and child free.

Hell, if I thought that, I'd be scared, too. When I thought that, I was scared. I've written before about how the constant message about the "impossibility" of combining a career in science and motherhood almost scared me away from the life I'm now leading (and loving). We seem to have taken that meme and extended it to all careers, now, and I don't think good things will come of that.

I don't know how to balance this concern with the fact that women must be free to speak their truths about their relationships, except by speaking my different truth. I am not blind to the cultural forces that seek to dictate how we arrange our relationships. I know that they are strong and pervasive. But I also know that they are not all powerful, and they do not necessarily overwhelm individual's choices, because couples like Janet and Steve do actually exist. I am half of one.

The fact that I do see the cultural influences on relationships is another reason I care about this topic. I want to change those influences. The most powerful way I see to do that is to change the dynamic within our own relationships. It is to find a way to swim against those cultural influences, and show our kids what an equitable relationship looks like. Sure, we should also call out the sexism and false assumptions in our TV shows and ads- but the sexism is there because it sells, and it sells because it resonates as true to a lot of people. I think we have to figure out how to change that, and maybe the way is to make the sexism false in more cases.

But I don't really know the answers, and I don't want to pretend that I do. I want you all (or at least the ten of you who are still reading!) to help me find them. Post your answers to the questions I've posed here. Post if you identify with Janet. But also, please post if you identify with Joan. Know that I am not trying to "fix" your relationship- I assume that it is working for you. I am not judging you, and I do not think you are stupid or weak. I may not understand your choices, but my assumption is that you have good reasons for making them. I want to hear what those reasons are. So comment. Comment anonymously if you want to. And any men reading out there, I'd love to hear your viewpoint, too. You are the other half of the equation, and my own husband has been singularly unhelpful in helping me understand why his behavior is different from so many of his peers. He says it is just "obvious" that it should be so. But clearly it is not obvious, so please- enlighten me.


I'll be reading and responding to comments, and in the unlikely event someone gets mean or rude, I will step in to moderate. But remember, I have a day job, and they don't pay me to blog! So there may be a time lag. 


Update 4/30/12: I wrote a follow up post summarizing what I learned from this discussion.


  1. I'll start things off with a couple votes from Twitter:

    @OneTiredEma says it essentially comes down to money in their case. (But she's also basically happy w/their arrangement.)

    @SquintMom wonders if it is caused in part by the fact that young kids have strong preferences for care from their primary caregiver- usually the mom. (We saw that, too, definitely. We balance it by pivoting more chores to my husband during those times, which sucks all around, but is temporary.)

  2. I do not have an equitable arrangment at home and I am totally fine with it. My husband and I are both lawyers with a 21 month old son and 2 English bulldogs. My husband is the first to say that I do 99% of the work around the house. I handle daycare drop off/pick up, cook, clean, grocery shop, meal plan, take of the kid, the dogs, etc. The reason that I do so much more is simple, I am home more. My husband is not phsycially present to help out as much. He works much longer hours than I do (I am in house) and travels for work. I have to be the one cooking dinner for our son or else he wouldn't eat!

    This arrangement really started a year ago when my husband took a more demanding job. We knew what we were getting into and we both agreed to this arrangment. We've had to work out some kinks (like we finally hired a houskeeper) but so far it is working just fine. I am also very type A and a slight control freak, so I actually enjoy running the household.

    I should note that while my husband does not do much physical labor around the house, he does manage our finances and does all our vacation planning and funding. These are things that I have no interest in doing so I am glad he handles them.

    That is a description of my personal siutation. It works for us, it definitely would not work for everyone. And I admit, I did not read every word of your post because I just sat down for the first time today and it is 10:30pm (husband is out of state again!), so I hope my comment makes sense and is responsive.

    1. No worries about not reading the whole thing. It is pretty long. I struggle with brevity. :)

      I should have explicitly identified a third couple, let's call them Alice and Bob, where the chore distribution is inequitable for one reason or another, and Alice doesn't mind. It sounds like you identify with that couple.

  3. I think I am mostly post-Joan moving onto Janet, but it hasn't always been easy. I don't think I started well because I wanted to play housemaker when we first lived together then got married and I do have a different standard of clean and tidy to my husband. He just doesn't seem to see the mess. He can and does do the basics like washing up, stacking the dishwasher etc but putting things away rather than just letting them pile up any old how just doesn't seem to occur to him. Which irritates me no end. I like clean empty spaces, which is near impossible with two children.

    He is usually quite willing to do his share around the house, but he prefers to be guided in this somewhat. Again this may be because I am a bit particular but also because when he gets home he switches off. He had a demanding job and needs his downtime, but sometimes I do feel that is a bit of an excuse.

    Also, I don't think he realised how busy and stressed I was with two small children because he wasn't home to see it. His job has always been the one that supports us, we made that decision as a couple before we had kids and it is one that I am happy with mostly. Now that the kids are in school I am building up my career again and it is easier for us to negotiate work and time away.

    I only told him a few months ago that I wasn't going to do his washing for him anymore after a huge argument. At first he thought this meant we were having marriage issues, after a few weeks he said he didn't know why I hadn't done it ten years ago. I don't think we ever really thought about the assumptions we were bringing to the relationship.

    I do know that some people think I don't care as much as I should because he does his own washing and ironing, as if I'm not the wife I should be. (not bloggers mostly more family and acquaintances)

  4. Anonymous11:36 PM

    Speaking of cultural influences... do you think being married to a foreigner has anything to do with it? (Your husband is a New Zealander, right?) I'm married to a European scientist who's a total unicorn - he might actually do even more around the house than I do - and I thank my lucky stars every day. I've been wondering in my case if it might have a cultural component - he also grew up on a farm, so he also has the chores-before-play mentality - so I was wondering if in your experience, if you think the non-American part plays a role at all in gender divisions of chores.

    1. EngineeringElf11:09 AM

      Having grown up on a farm I think that plays very much into everyone pulling their own weight. I am one of four siblings and both genders of kids were expected to help out in the barns and in the house.

  5. @Anon 11.36pm - I know quite a few Kiwi men now - and honestly, as a group - they *do* seem pretty well house trained. You just have to put up with a quite a bit of rugby watching and beer/whisky drinking. *joking*

    Seriously though, I think one of the things people in any relationship have to be careful about is change. Sometimes, an arrangement that starts out quite well for both partners won't be working out quite so well in a couple of years time. If you don't talk about it/acknowledge things have changed, resentment can build up.

    1. I thought that at one point, but then some Kiwi women I know set me straight. Kiwi men are no more likely to be "Steves" than American men are.

    2. Oops, meant that reply to be on the previous comment!

      I think you are right that we have to watch out for change. Adding kids to the mix seems to be the big break factor for a lot of people.

  6. I think it depends on both the men and women are involved. I have been in a relationship with a man who was far tidier than me and was always telling me off for not being clean and tidy. So it could be that Steve is simply a tidier person than Tom and is happy to do his share.

    However, I've seen the Joan and Tom scenario play out so many times with friends of mine and when I suggest the one thing that would sort their problem out - pay for a cleaner, the response is either 'we can't afford it' or the woman refuses to have another person come into their house to clean because they believe it is their job.

    Many men simply do not have the same standards of cleaning as women, and I personally believe the person with the higher standards should do the lion's share, since it isn't right to expect someone else to break their back living up to your standards. I hire a cleaner as I refuse to waste my time cleaning but so many women won't do this and the words 'rod' and 'back' spring to mind.

  7. Just a few thoughts while I'm waiting for my morning coffee to kick in --

    I identify more with Janet. I thank my in-laws, honestly, for they raised my husband in a family where both Mom and Dad both did their share (as much as possible, since my father-in-law traveled a lot for work). My husband's aunt has even told me how cutting edge it seemed to her at the time, back in 1970s France: look, a dad who's pushing a baby stroller!

    I also credit my own dad who always pulled his weight around the house, so that I never questioned whether I would expect the same contribution from my own partner as an adult.

    What you model to your kids matters, I think, more than any other single factor in what they will bring to and what they will expect from a relationship as adults.

    So my husband and I have a pretty equitable (and natural -- no spreadsheets or schedules) division of housework and child care. But just this weekend I started throwing a fit because I hadn't even started vacuuming before my husband came back from the store on Saturday morning. The usual deal is that he takes our toddler to the store so that I have time to vacuum and clean the bathroom on Saturday morning without interruption, but since that also involves a good deal of preliminary tidying (we live in a small space), I hadn't even gotten the vacuum cleaner out yet after an hour. I started screaming about how all unfair it all was. So my husband got out the vacuum cleaner himself and said, "Tell me what you want to have done," and did it.

    Once upon a time I would have stopped him, claiming he didn't know how to do it right or something, or just feeling like somehow my pride and my ability to "do it all" was in play. But this time, no: I just let him do it. And my son helped. And they did a very good job.

    This brings me to my second point: I think that women, even feminist women raised by feminist moms as I was, place a whole lot of their self-worth in a tidy house. Maybe I'm wrong -- maybe I'm incorrectly labeling as "cultural" something that's mostly just me. I tend to feel that if my house isn't perfectly neat, there's something wrong with me; it's a personal failure. (Ever since kids came along, especially the second, I've learned to let go of this big time... but it hasn't been easy.) I doubt that men fall into the same trap.

    Anyway, I know Cloud was interested in talking about the personal reasons more than the cultural ones, but I'm curious to know if this "house perfectionism" I suffer from is personal or cultural... or a little of both?

    1. I think it is at least possibly cultural, but that some people feel that cultural influence more than others.

      And @Nicoleandmaggie have a post about this coming up, which I'm looking forward to!

    2. It's probably going to be a big anti-climax. I think the comments we've left on other blogs on the topic are probably better written (being pithier) and have sparked more conversation.

      But come by anyway. :) April 19th because we can only handle being deliberately controversial about once a month.

    3. I think this is cultural, which becomes personal as well. Think of all the magazines / blogs aimed at women that showcase pretty, clean houses and decor!

    4. I do remember my mom talking a lot about how terrible my dad was at vacuuming... I mean, how can you be terrible at vacuuming??

  8. I agree with the comment that it depends on the men and women who are involved.

    My husband does the cooking and food shopping, and I do the cleaning and washing. It has always been that way since we were married almost 6 years ago. Now that I am on maternity leave the arrangement is still pretty much the same, although I would hope that at some point in the future, when I am working again, we will be able to afford a cleaner. It's a source of stress for me as I find it impossible to keep on top of it with a baby in the house.

    I wonder if Tom really does consider Joan to be his equal, or if he has some deeply-held beliefs about the role of women when it comes to the home. Maybe it is one thing to encourage Joan in her professional life, but quite another when it comes to the issue of their private space.

  9. Anonymous3:43 AM

    I suspect that Joan has decided that she wants the relationship more than she wants to share the chores equally. This decision didn't happen at a fixed time, or recently - it crept up on her as the relationship developed.

    Probably, Tom was not raised to think consciously that women should do most of the background work, but grew up in an environment where in fact they did. He therefore notices mess/things needing done in the house less than Joan does, because it's not something he's used to looking out for. Of course, he'll never change this if Joan continues to do things for him.

    Joan's background is similar, so she automatically picks up the mess, and proactively organises all the background things that make life go smoothly. After all, she's very independent and capable, and always did these things for herself before Tom came along - so it's easy to assume these responsibilities for others.

    Joan doesn't think she should have to do this for her partner, and gets frustrated about it. However, at this point, it would take more time and effort to train him into doing it than to just do it herself. When they first dated, it didn't seem as much of an issue - he made more of an effort to do chores, she was partly blinded to the potential issues by the positives of the new and deepening relationship, and - crucially - both had more free time.

    1. I'm pretty much just joining this thread, and I'd say my husband and I are definitely in a Joan and Tom dynamic and always have been. We have an 18 month old son. I could have written what you wrote here anonymous, but maybe not as eloquently. My MIL has always done EVERYTHING around the house with the father not lifting a finger unless it was heavy lifting, like chopping wood or yardwork (which you'll note is sporadic rather than DAILY like dishes, laundry, etc.) My FIL doesn't even clear his plate after dinner, or say thank you to my MIL for cooking. It INFURIATES me and I think elevates our Joan&Tom dynamic to the level of I WILL NOT STAY WITH YOU IF YOU TURN INTO YOUR FATHER. I was raised by a single dad who did everything and was always hounding me to help out more around the house :)

      I really think that children absorb all of these roles subconsciously. They watch the things we do and say very carefully and file it away for later use. BUT I do think these things are NOT set in stone so we shouldn't feel all guilty about it if the dynamic in our households isn't ideal. As long as we are talking about it, and working on it, that's a GOOD THING. Whereas my MIL complains about it to no end to all of us (and did it to my husband and SIL as children, to the point where they were often telling her to leave him...) she says NOTHING to her husband about how she feels. SO I try to remember the dynamic he came from when I'm frustrated with my hubbie.

    2. chall9:21 AM

      This pretty much sums it up as I had it thought out in my head ;) Epsecially the
      "However, at this point, it would take more time and effort to train him into doing it than to just do it herself". Linked to this though is a disparity between "what needs to be done" and "what needs to be done so I feel happy with it" - also known in my house as "I asked you to do the salad, I don't have any say in how you do it".

    3. @chall- my husband struggles with this, as in he gets frustrated because I don't do some things "right". He's an engineer and likes to optimize. I like to optimize, too, but I optimize on different parameters. :)

    4. I think I forgot to write that my husband and I are definitely working towards the Janet and Steve dynamic- my husband is wonderful in many ways, we just need to communicate better. Generally what is always lurking in the background (or often the forefront) of our fights is our lack of money, and all the stress that comes with that. But I digress. This is a really cool post, Cloud, and great discussion.

    5. Thanks, @Vacationland Mom! I'm so happy with the response. I feel like I'm finally learning what I wanted to know.

      I think the lack of money adds stresses on a lot of levels, to an extent that those of us who have money often forget.

    6. the milliner6:07 PM

      @cloud, Optimization! That's the word I've been looking for. We definitely optimize on different things around here. This always brings a challenge to the chores dynamic. Especially when the way the other person optimizes (or doesn't) on something that ultimately everyone has to live with, is in a way that makes you crazy. It's a continuous exercise for me to balance the need for optimization with the need for compromise and understanding the other person's POV.

  10. Don't have any kids but have been working on the shift from J&T to J&S partly in preparation. The issue for us is that while my partner is pretty good at 'helping out' or covering areas he's solely responsible for (he does all the cooking, e.g., which is not a small thing) he considers any area which he has not agreed is his responsibility to be, well, not his responsibility. So: car, yes, dinner, yes, making sure the house is ready for his parents' visit tomorrow, no, black mould appearing on the ceiling, no. And so on.

    This is a really hard thing to change - how do you learn to 'think more about everything and everyone's needs, and then do the stuff which needs doing' if you haven't been trained (as I have, as his sisters have) to do this from childhood? (Seriously: anyone with an idea, do tell me)

    It's the model both our parents use - woman does a full-time, equally demanding job plus household management, man does full-time, better-paid job and 'helps out' at home.

    I think there are systemic issues at work here. In our case:
    (1) low pay in female-dominated industries which means that, with the best will in the world, as one job earns twice as much for the same amount of work, it's hard not to value that job (and therefore that earner) more and protect that job (and that earner) to ensure the income keeps rolling in.
    (2) inherited expectations, not just from the family but wider ones, e.g. what we see modelled on TV and in adverts. If we do it without thinking, we still divide chores up as though we're in a 1950s soap commercial.
    (3) social pressure for mothers to stay home, fathers to work including...
    (4) maternity leave being 52 weeks, paternity leave being 2. I'm in the UK, and yes, I think it's brilliant that we get this at all but the inflexibility of it means that if my partner wants to be the primary carer for our (future) children early on, he'll have to quit his job whereas the costs of childcare + commute + issue (1) mean that there probably wouldn't be much cost difference (right now this minute) between me working or not working if we had a child under one year. This results (in relationships I've seen) in a massive skills gap between parents which can take years to be overcome and means the home-stay-er (usually the mother) winds up doing more of the child-work because they do it so much more efficiently and automatically. It may actually be less of a problem in families where both parents are back at work by the time the infant is out of first-size diapers.

    1. On how to help your partner make the shift to seeing everyone's needs, what has worked for us is to talk about it. I am as guilty as he is, it turns out, just in different areas. We talked about it (OK, argued about it) over beers one night, and while that made that particular night really suck, it has helped us get better about seeing all the chores.

      Another trick I've heard from other people is to write a giant chores list together. List every single chore you think needs doing, and have your partner do the same.

      On the black mold- hey, we have that on some walls! It turns out, we need more insulation. We're in the process of getting that fixed and I'm so excited that I just have to share. :)

      It is interesting to think about the role of the extended maternity leave. I'll have to think more on that. But there are plenty of Americans with the Joan/Tom dynamic and we have some seriously crappy leave! (I got 3 months, but only because I live in CA- in other states, only have of that would have been paid.)

    2. There's some good actual research done on Sweden (mostly Time-use studies interacted with mandatory paternity leave). Yes, mandated paternity leave causes men to be more involved with all aspects of the house and child-rearing. Voluntary paternity leave does not do that because men don't take it (unless there's also mandatory paternity leave, then men are more likely to take some of the voluntary as well).

    3. p.s. I got 1 week off (plus 1 week of Christmas break + 1 week of a freak snowstorm that shut the university down, 3 weeks total). Not much different from what my mom got when my sister was born almost 30 years ago. But a bit better than what she got for me (she had to pay her own substitute)...

    4. @ Cloud, oh yes, we've talked about it. We've been together 7 years, and have been talking about it on and off that whole time. It would probably help if, like for you, the neglect was equal and varied but he's (so far!) uncritical about the chores I do / don't do - he'd mostly like for me to stop initiating these conversations, as they make us both feel bad.

      As someone clarified for me below - it's the 'master organiser' bit which is causing the problem and chore lists, rotas and all that only make the MO's work easier if everything is going smoothly. And it's this aspect which I want / need to be able to hand over.

    5. I'm in a similar situation as Elizabeth. My husband will do the chores he agreed to do, at some point a while ago when we discussed it, but it's certainly less than half. One big issue for me is cooking -- I do like to cook and thus do it almost every day, but because I "like it" it doesn't count as a chore for him. I haven't managed to make him understand that everyday cooking isn't necessarily fun...

      I have thought about making a long list of chores that need to be done, and how often they need to be done (see chopping wood above), but I'm a little afraid of the discussion. As several people pointed out above, the effort it would take now to change this dynamic is considerable, and, I admit, I'm shying away from the controversy. If anyone had an idea of how to discuss the issue without both of us getting angry, please advise...

    6. @Amelie, I can tell you what has worked best for me and my husband: discussing logistics like this over beers after the kids are in bed. Sitting and having a beer together kind of bumps us into a happy place- we used to drop by our local pub for a drink now and then, and we both remember that as producing some great conversations. So I think that helps us keep things friendly.

      If you don't drink, look for the thing you're doing when you have the best conversations, and have this one while you're doing that.

      For instance, when Pumpkin was little we'd sometimes go on long family walks for her naptime (she napped best in her stroller, so we had a lot of rolling naps back then). That would have been a good time for us to discuss chores, too- but it wasn't much of an issue back then. For us, it was the second kid that pushed us into difficult waters.

      Another tip I read somewhere and have had luck applying is to be careful to keep the discussion non-accusatory. So, one of us will say "I feel like I'm not getting enough time to do X" rather than "Dammit, why don't you ever do Y?" And then we can problem solve together to get the unhappy person what he or she really wants- time for X. The solution may or may not involve the other person doing Y.

      Of course, sometimes the issue really is about doing Y. When Pumpkin was little and would have diaper blowouts at day care, I found that I was ALWAYS the one who had to clean up the clothes at night. I eventually mentioned it to my husband, and he got a little sheepish and admitted that doing it made him gag. Now, I don't love cleaning up diaper blowouts, not by a long shot. But it doesn't make me gag, so we traded some other chore for that (I can't remember what!) and were both reasonably happy.

  11. As you'll see in our deliberately controversial post that we probably shouldn't have pushed off until April 19 given all the buzz we've missed and links we could have had, I imagine that in the inequitable couple, they have a wider disparity between what they think clean looks like compared to the more equitable couple.

    Though I'm sure that's not the only reason some folks are passive-aggressive about their relationships rather than working as a team with a joint mindset.

    I identify with one of the guys, not with Janet or Joan. Probably Steve.

    1. Oh, I'll link to your post when it goes up! I'm really interested to read your take on it.

      And I love the idea that some women might identify with one of the guys in my scenarios. I think that REALLY gets overlooked in the broader discussion.

    2. N&M, I have been waiting for that post a long long time!

    3. N&M -- my husband is much pickier on what qualifies for "clean" than I am. But that doesn't mean he'll do it. Now, when he says "someone should clean this" I usually just say "yes, someone should".

  12. Agree with Elizabeth on the systemic issues 1-3.

    Unlike Cortney, I do NOT feel that simply being around more means that everything is my job. When my husband was beginning his career (pre-kids) and had a busy season (Jan-Apr) and worked very long hours, yes, that is what happened--because my job was 8-4, never a minute over, and I came home to...nothing.

    But as he progressed *every* season was busy season, and I was on-call pretty much 24/7 with the kids (quit my job, as our hostess noted, because financially it did not make sense to work in a low paying field with high childcare costs in my city; plus I found being home with them really valuable for a lot of reasons). Now I work at home about 20 hrs a week and the rest of my days are childcare, carting them around, errands, and the errata of suburban life. My husband just switched jobs and his hours are not as terrible (yay!), but the fact remains that at 10pm we are both dead tired and nobody really wants to take the dog out/do the dishes/take out the garbage.

    I am happy to cover all kitchen stuff (shopping/cooking/cleaning). My husband deals with things that are less frequent (gardening, auto repair, etc) in part because they are less frequent, but also because we live abroad and his language skills outstrip mine by a lot.

    We argue about regular cleaning. While I am ok with whipping out a broom or a toilet brush, he is by far the better organizer--I tend to just move the piles of crap around, which doesn't make anyone happy. We both have a pretty high tolerance for clutter (which doesn't equal dirt), but when we have guests I like to at least appear that we don't belong on Hoarders.

    The culture to which we've moved does not seem to collect stuff. We can't part with our books or a certain amount of kid crap (toys + memories). We can't compete with the neighbors whose house is ALWAYS pristine (despite having MORE kids that we do), but I would at least to be able to invite someone in to borrow an egg without feeling embarrassed.

    Culturally, it's a mess. On the one hand, men in my circles are expected to pitch in. There is very little that is seen as "men's" vs "women's" chores. On the other hand, I think women are seen as the driving force behind the home and how it operates. If there are no clean clothes? Mom's fault. I also run with a fair number of women like me--who work PT and deal with kids for the balance of the day (school ends earlier in the day) and somehow that means we shoulder more chores. But I definitely know couples who both work FT, out of house, who I think *must* split things fairly evenly or it would never all get done.

  13. I think it's also and maybe even more about how much two people want their house to be clean and especially whether those expectations match. And I think this is not only true for two people living together but also (to a lesser extent) for people that share another space together on a daily basis, let's say a lab. I think in my house our expectations match pretty well; our house is not particularly sterile, but it looks clean and we both put an approximately equal effort into it.
    And in case your expectations don't match, as I see with a lot of my friends, where mostly the women want to have the house cleaner than the men, you'll have to find a way to deal with that. Some people solve it by hiring a cleaner, others will try to persuade their husband to do more, and others will learn to live in a house that's not as clean as they would like it to be. And the last option is to keep arguing about it indefinitely, which I think is the least desirable option.

    1. The milliner6:22 PM

      ITA with your description of the whole expectations thing. Sometimes the expectations are there because of natural inclinations, and sometimes there are differences for cultural reasons. And maybe in some cases a bit of both. But ultimately the question you ask is "Is this something we can work on and I can find enough of a balance for it to be manageable, or is it something that will totally overshadow the things in our relationship that work really well, and I will be miserable?"

  14. Anonymous5:43 AM

    Well, I married an American, and I think he's a unicorn too... so to the commenters upstream: it's not just the non-US folks who are unicorns. In which cultures unicorns are more frequent obviously requires better statistics.

    W're a pretty evenly balanced relationship both in terms of work status and house keeping (we don't have kids). I probably do *slightly* more household chores than he does, simply because the chores he hates doing (dishes + kitty litter) are daily things that I don't mind taking care of, and the chores that I hate doing (vacuuming + bath room + dusting) but he doesn't mind doing are more of the ~weekly chores. We both hate doing laundry, so we split it evenly- usually by one of us whining "But I did laundry last time..." Chore-splitting comes natural to us as well- so I am also baffled by women who are unhappy with the chore split, to the point of verbal arguments with their spouse, and don't do anything about it. Maybe as unhappy as they are, they still love their spouse enough, that it's just not a deal-breaker for them?

    Anyways, I look forward to more comments from people who don't have even housekeeping duties, and are *unhappy* about it...

    1. Anonymous10:59 AM

      Haha, upstream commenter here. Wondering if various foreign cultures have different cultures of men helping or not helping around the house is of course very different than saying it's only the non-US folk who are unicorns (which no one said). Of course even within the US there are various regional cultures (South vs Midwest vs East Coast vs NorCal vs SoCal etc - as my foreigner husband points out, it seems like a stretch to culturally call all US folk "Americans", when various states might as well be different countries in the EU for how different they are). Anyway, I'm still curious about if different cultures have generally different cultural expectations for men helping around the house, if anyone has any thoughts.

    2. i wrote a little bit about cultural expectations below (what I've observed growing up and @ work).

    3. I do think there are differences in the cultural expectations in different countries and regions. I doubt that is the whole story, though, because the Joan + Tom dynamic seems to occur in a lot of different places.

      Nicoleandmaggie had an interesting comment or post once, too, about different personality types, which might lead to different job choices, and how that correlates with all this. I think they argued for marrying an engineer. My one data point is in support of that!

    4. Short and sweet:

      Engineers are the BEST!

  15. Even though my husband realistically does do about half of the actual chores, I still identify with Joan, because he will not do them unless I organize the doing of them, and ask him to do what he does. Every. Single. Time. And believe me, he's not exactly whistling while he works half the time, either. It's like asking a sullen teenager to pitch in. But I will not give in to the voice in my head that says it is just easier/more harmonious to do it myself.

    As emotional as this may sound, if both Joan and Janet's husbands know how much is their fair share, I truly believe that it comes down to love. If it's there, your husband is neither going to treat you as a beast of burden nor force you into the role of army general/pit boss.

    So why would a Joan put up with it? For me, it's because I would feel stupid getting divorced (particularly with 5 kids) over chores, given how many other, worse transgressions I put up with. Which probably goes back to thinking that there's probably not much that's better out there.

    Wow, this is.... pessimistic. Sorry to be such a downer!

    1. No worries- this is just the sort of comment I was hoping to get!

      I can understand deciding that it is not worth divorcing over. But I think it is sad that your husband doesn't see how much this issue hurts you. I have to confess, that in one particularly vehement argument about how we split our time, I told me husband (loudly) that I'd leave rather than give up the "me" time I need, and so we'd have to figure out how to fix the problem. We increased our cleaner's hours not long after that (he'd been arguing against doing that on monetary grounds).

  16. I think it is important to acknowledge a few things about our backgrounds: We were both raised to do chores, and in fact my husband lived in a religious community for seven years where he did chores.

    We also both had emotional baggage about chores - we both came from families where the chores were not reasonably calmly integrated into daily life, but were huge fights/arguments that arrived at (to a child) random intervals.

    So neither of us really had tools for good discussions about chores.

    And my thing about a battleground is to battle, and my husband's is to withdraw. I feel like I tried all the strategies that you are supposed to.

    None of it really worked. In one memorable instance my husband was in charge of the bills and we had our electricity shut off.

    So I was Joan and I was miserable, unhappy Joan and that was making my husband more miserable and unhappy and quite honestly I did feel like he was disrespecting me, ignoring things that were important to me, and that we would have to separate.


    Contiguous to this chores argument I was also coughing up PTSD trauma every night, going through a career change, and dealing with some serious family issues. While my husband was not doing chores he was generally being a rock in the middle of my whirlpool.

    So since I was in therapy, after the trauma bits abated a bit, I talked about the chores. And feminism. And divorce. And I had to decide if I was going to present my husband with basically this scenario: "You have been my best friend, a super-considerate lover, and a support in every area of life but the maintenance of our home and so that is not enough."

    We did not have kids yet.

    That didn't sit right with me. I do see a marriage as having to be mutually beneficial over time. I did feel that our RESPONSES to the chores were culturally driven. I was mad as heck. But I couldn't really see leaving because the floor was sticky.

    So I formulated a plan which was this. I was spending A TON of energy on trying to get equitable chore behaviour. I decided to try to define my husband in my mind as chores-disabled. If he were in a wheelchair, I would get these things done somehow.

    So for a year I concentrated my efforts on figuring out a) which chores were important and when and b) perfecting my ability to do them efficiently. If I wanted a tool, I bought it.

    I found out that when you don't have kids, it actually -- given our house's makeup, not a lot of carpet, etc. -- wasn't that bad.

    So I just did all the chores and over time my resentment _mostly_ dissipated. It wasn't a complete process.

    After a few years of that, my husband -- who, I should have said, is not a slob and picks up after himself -- slowly started to do chores now and then.

    Then, we brought our son home and the chores and the childrearing got inequitable. When I went back to work full time, my husband jumped in on the childrearing, so that was good.

    But the chores remained. And frankly at that point I started to get resentful again because when you have kids it is messier! Harder! And you also have exponentially less free time to be zen about it!

    But I stuck to my deal in my mind. And then one day my son turned to my husband about some chore and said "That's a MUMMY job."

    Since then my husband has increased the chores he does every month. When I was on bedrest he did everything - shopping, cooking, childcare, cleaning. Right now he cleans the kitchen every day and we all do the other chores together, more or less. was risky but it worked. I guess what I have to contribute to the conversation is yes, it is possible to have inequality of chores and still have a solid relationship, but both people have to CHOOSE that and that is hard to see, that you do have choices.

    1. This is a great comment. Thanks for leaving it!

      And it is wonderful that your husband decided to change when he heard his son call chores "mummy jobs".

    2. I was really glad. :)

  17. This is fascinating. I was brought up in a house with a stay-at-home mom who did all the traditional female chores, and a father who was in charge of the lawn and the bbq. There was a lot of my father & brother going off to watch the game after dinner while I helped my mother clean up. Oddly enough as a child I looked at this scenario and decided that when I grew up and got married, I wanted to have my father's role in the relationship, because my mom's role didn't look like any fun at all.
    Then I grew up and spent many years in a Joan and Tom style relationship. I took over paying all the bills because my ex couldn't be trusted to remember them, I did the cooking and the washing up because he would really rather order in pizza even when we couldn't afford it. He would even order in pizza if I cooked a dinner he wasn't in the mood for! And yet he was seriously of the opinion that he was contributing half of the work around the house because he 'organized our social lives' (I'm an extreme introvert) and kept things tidy (not clean mind you, but tidy). We eventually broke up, I'm sure all of this contributed, but mostly we just had very different ideas about what kinds of lives we wanted to lead.
    Now I'm in a Janet & Steve style relationship. We have slightly different ideas about what exactly constitutes a 'tidy' house - I'm much messier than he is - but when my mess starts to become annoying I will come home to a tidy pile and a polite request to deal with it ASAP. Prior to the arrival of a small person, I did almost all of the cooking because I enjoy cooking, and was significantly better at it. Once he decided to stay home full time, he decided that he should be in charge of the cooking, and we had a few months of really lousy dinners, and now he's turned in to a totally awesome cook with his very own repertoire of favorite recipes.

    So I think there's a lot going on. You've got to have similar ideas about what constitutes doing a good job of a particular chore - sometimes this is obvious (bills must be paid on time) and sometimes not (does dinner need to be delicious or merely edible? Can you ignore dust bunnies in the corners as long as the toilet is clean?). Many of these jobs have a learning curve, and one person happens to be better than the other - can you handle the investment required to get the other person up to speed? And never forget that keeping track of all the chores is a chore in and of itself.
    I love Shandra's comment about how her husband increased the chores he was doing in response to their son mentally dividing things into Mummy & Daddy jobs. A partner who is willing to work on the inequality when they see the effects it is having on people they love is a partner to hang on to.

  18. My husband and I (both in grad school, 1 dog, no kids) have a pretty equitable arrangement for now. We 50/50 split cooking/dishes, he is happy to sort and process laundry but won't fold it, so I fold. He grocery shops because I hate it, I clean bathrooms because he hates that.

    This has worked well for us for a few years, with occasional lapses and fights. We're also pretty good about picking up the other person's slack when one or the other of us has a big project/talk/conference/whatever that results in not doing a fair share. However, I totally think that when things change up (like finishing school and getting real jobs, or having kids) there will be some rough adjustments and renegotiations. I guess what annoys me most, though, is that I'm still the master-organizer and the conversation initiator on these points, but this is a pretty small complaint that certainly doesn't trouble me more than occasionally.

    1. Anonymous9:13 AM

      I think the master-organizer bit actually becomes quite crucial when you have kids, especially once they're doing activities (even if you limit activities) and if you're still working. That mental juggle tends to fall on the women and resentment can build up.

    2. I think the key to not resenting the master-organizer role is to recognize it and talk about it as a real responsibility. I think we women tend to shoulder this chore but don't really "count" it until we're so overwhelmed we explode. But it is a real chore and if you can get your partner to recognize that, it works ok.

    3. @Anandi- YES! Count it as a real chore. We do that, and we also try to put systems in place to help us share it. Someone recommended a white board on the fridge in a comment on an earlier post and my god, that is genius. We both write on it, we both do things from the list. We don't even have to talk about it.

    4. Google Calendar works great for us too because we can see it @ home, on our phones and @ work.

    5. I don't know--I am the mental organizer (esp with regard to kids and their activities, appts, etc, by virtue of being the "at home" parent) but my husband is the physical organizer of what stuff goes where.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. Google calendar is the bomb! We have an "Alethea" calendar, a "husband" calendar and a "both of us" calendar so that we can see what we're up to all the time and schedule things and not end up forgetting to mention them later! And I do count it, but I wonder if he does. I should ask.

    8. Postdoc11:13 AM

      @Cloud - I was the "fridge whiteboard" commenter - so happy to hear that it's helping you guys out and that you love it as much as we do! Honestly, sometimes I'm like "Why do I bother commenting on blogs?" so it's awesome to know that it really can and does make a difference in people's lives sometimes. :) Thanks for an interesting post and discussion in the comments here!

    9. The whiteboard on the fridge is awesome! Best home process optimization I've made in ages. Also, best $5 I've spent in ages...

    10. Zenmoo8:19 PM

      I agree on the whiteboard on the fridge thing - we've got a calendar there too now. It has really helped with managing and making explicit all the stuff that needs doing. So, x2 on thanks for that comment!

    11. It's this 'master organiser' work which is a big issue for us. For various reasons (including being out of the house 12h+ each day for work) I can't do it right now, so it's not getting done which causes all kinds of chaos & unpleasantness. Still have the utilities on though, thanks to automatic payments. I don't know how to teach someone to do this!

    12. @Elizabeth, I suspect it is sort of like teaching someone to project manage, which I have to do from time to time at work. I break down the things I do to stay organize into little tasks. And I emphasize the glory of the list!

      Actually, I have successfully transferred some of the "master controller" role to my husband, although we both still count this as one of my chores. We use lists A LOT and that helps. He is starting to add things to the list himself instead of telling me.

      We also divide up responsibility for appointments. I do hair, he does teeth. We split doctor's appointments. That sort of thing.

    13. @Cloud Hmm, that is interesting! Partner can project manage at work, trick is bringing the skills home. Still, I have hope!

  19. I was a Joan even before I had a Tom. I lived with various roommates for over 10 years before I met and moved in with my Tom, and every single roommate I had (with the exception of one) would drive me nuts with their "slovenliness." But even then I enjoyed having a roommate more than the prospect of living alone, so I may have been unhappy with that aspect of our relationship but was willing to tolerate it as a necessary cost.

    Somewhere along the way, however, I turned into a Janet. After so many roommates, I realized that I just had higher standards of cleanliness (my mom is a neat freak, I blame her). If dust bothers me more than the next person, then I, of course, should be responsible for dusting. And when I do do more housework, I reason that if I lived alone I would do almost as much housework, whereas I would not get the benefits that my roommates (and now my husband) bring to the table.

    Now, however, I work full time and go to school part time. My Tom, who does neither, has stepped up his game and become more of a Steve. He doesn't quite meet my normal standards, but I don't have time to be my normal neat freak, so I've had to lower my expectations and learn to live with some mess. And guess what? The world hasn't ended. So it's been a good experience for me. That's not to say I don't still have my moments, but those pass, and overall we are happy.

    1. I'm glad you guys are finding an arrangement that works for you. I think that lowering standards is harder than we make it out to be sometimes, too. Some things just bug you! But I've learned to focus only on the things that bug me the most (i.e., dirty toilets) and let other things (cluttered counters) go. I'm not sure my husband has quite gotten there yet- but he is learning, too. (We have different things that bug us.)

  20. Alas, I have no time to leave a long comment, but here: My sons are going to grow up thinking that only mamas go grocery shopping, and only daddies do dishes. And there are, truly, worse things. If anything, I do far less than half of all house-work, but far more than half of all child-wrangling.

    1. Pumpkin at one point announced that "Daddies mow the lawn." So we had to explain to her that some mommies do, too, but that her particular mommy has bad asthma and mowing the lawn might send her to the hospital!

      My husband and I lump child-wrangling (the work part, not the fun part) and chores together, and figure equality across the whole thing. While the kids are young and going through mommy-only phases, I think that really helps. When we're in a phase where it just makes life easier if I do more of the child care, he does more of the chores. The dishes don't care who does them! This sucks for both of us- he'd rather do more child care, I'd rather not feel like my child was an extra appendage of mine... but we know from going through it with Pumpkin that this ends, so we get through it.

    2. the milliner6:34 PM

      Soooo glad to know the extra appendage part ends.

  21. I think part of what keeps Joans and Toms both together and not talking about the problem constructively is the perceived insignificance of the problem. It's JUST chores. If he could JUST do his laundry. Maybe she doubts the legitimacy of her anger over such a "minor" thing, or maybe she thinks such a "minor" thing should be easily fixed, or maybe he doesn't understand why she's so upset over such a "minor" thing.

    For my own anecdata: we're mostly Janet & Steve. When any resentment comes up on my part a discussion is usually enough to clear it. Having said that, though, it seems to be happening more often lately since baby #2 came along last year. I find it really difficult to talk about, either to vent or to problem-solve with my husband, mostly because I am never quite sure that I'm justified. Am I being ungrateful? Am I being irrational? Am I exaggerating something? Am I just tired? And I really don't know where this comes from. I mean, there are many douchebags out there who will gaslight you with those insecurities, but my husband is not one of them.

    1. FWIW, we found the adjustment after having the second kid hard, too. It was what finally tipped us over into having the cleaner come twice, and we have argued more about chores since Petunia came along than we did when it was just us and Pumpkin. I put that down to the amount of work going up so much, and since Pumpkin was still quite little when Petunia was born (just 2.5 years old), the amount of child care work seemed to go through the roof. That has settled down now, as both kids have gotten older and we have figured out how to combine child care tasks more.

    2. Aaagh, this is freaking me out for when baby #2 shows up in October!! We've just gotten to an ok point now in the balance of kid stuff and chores. On the bright side, hubby is now without a job (by choice) so maybe that'll even it out a bit...

      Cloud - not to rathole on a tiny detail but does your cleaner come weekly?

    3. Don't worry, @Anandi. The adjustment period only lasted a few months for us. We're quite happy now! I'm sure the sudden return of severe sleep deprivation had something to do with the general grumpiness, too.

      Our cleaner comes every two weeks. That works for us. Sometimes I give the toilets a quick scrub on the off weeks, and sometimes (most times, really) my husband does a thorough sweeping in the living room on the off weeks.

  22. I think pre-kids, my relationship was more equitable. After kids, it becomes more challenging. I think many women who work start feeling inequities. If they stay home for a while and breastfeed, and the child sees them as primary, it's very easy to fall into a certain pattern. Even if the husband stays home, many women seem to take on the role of household management, which can be cultural if you think of all the women magazines/blogs that focus on organization, cleaning, childcare, meal planning etc.. My husband has been home a lot but he isn't as interested in reading about childcare and it's not something he talks about with his friends, so as we approach milestones in terms of food, potty training, school, it's more up to me to take the lead.

    Of course I don't think I have the same experiences as you or many of your commenters because we are solidly lower middle class in an expensive part of the country. I'm the full-timer and my husband is the freelancer so he has to take on more household duties by default. Sometimes I don't think it's enough but he probably does more than he would if he had a 9to5 job!

    Some people may think it's strange that we're hiring a cleaner because he is home a lot but despite trying to lower my expectations of a clean house, I end up folding laundry on the weekends and no one is doing the hated chores like mopping the floor or scrubbing the tub! In other words, we're using money to solve this problem.

    I also think that my husband truly thinks he does 50%; I don't always agree, or at least I have to mentally manage some things whereas most men I know with spouses at home are less involved. Therein lies the dilemma!

  23. I will list a few factors that I can think of.

    Before I do, let me say this about myself. I married a man who can clean, and who does more of those chores than I do. I was very spoiled as a child, my mom cleaned up after me, and we also had a cleaning service. I absolutely hate doing chores. I do, however, enjoy cooking. I do the grocery shopping, meal planning and preparing (including making my daugther lunches for daycare), and I also have always worked more and earned more money than my husband. My husband does more cleaning. But, lately he has gotten a raise and more responsibilities at work. I still make more money, and I feel that I Have an easier schedule. But, I have been pitching in more, as I have noticed him getting grumpier about household duties. I have been trying to convince him that we need to hire a house cleaner to come in every 3-4 weeks just to do some deep cleaning, now that he is more busy. I don't want to spend my free time cleaning. I am willing to pay for it. So far, though, he is not on board.

    Anyway, that is our situation. But, I have lots of female friends who are my collegue that generally do much more housework. Here is what I have heard them say:

    1. Their husbands were spoiled by their mothers, and never learned to clean up after themselves (HA - this is MY problem, too). I have found this to be esp. true in certain cultures. On the flip side, my husband had a terrible mother and he had to fend for himself.

    2. Their husbands did clean in the beginning, but didn't do it "right". Of course, this led to nagging, and eventually the husbands stopped trying at all (very typical, and even I have had to keep myself from doing it - maybe that is why my husband still cleans!)

    3. Their husbands maybe make more money and/or work more hours. The husbands often feel less inclined to say no at work, where the wives very often CHOOSE to put house/family first. This is exactly the case in my situation right now. I have been cutting back at work, saying my family is my priority. I changed jobs in order to make this happen. It has altered my career path. I have turned down clients and job interviews, because my goal is to be with my daugther more. I would like another child, and would even like to work part-time if I can. My husband, on the other hand, is pursuing a career he thinks could have a big payoff. If that means we need to move to another part of the country, or he needs to travel for work, or work weekends, he signs up for it. That is how he feels like he is contributing to family, whereas I want the TIME. I think this is a common difference between men and women. For example, a father might say "wow, I am a great dad because I spend 2 hours a day with my child. A mother in the same situation might say "wow, I am a horrible mother, because I only spend 2 hours a day with my child". This is the difference between my husband and I, and is a common thread between most other couples that I know. For me, it's not just culture, but it's what I want. I WANT to spend less time working. Financially I don't have that choice. But if I could, I would parent more than I work. My husband, on the other hand, would absolultely hate to stay home, and can really only handle parenting in small increments.

    to be cont.....

    1. .....cont'd from above.....

      Now, I think you come across resistence when you suggest these women can just up and leave their husbands just because of housework. I think, most women would not want to do that. I personally would never threaten divorce over anything unless I really meant to walk away. Threatening to leave, in my opinion, is one of the quickest ways to destroy the very fragile foundation of trust that lies at the bottome of all marriages. It's simply to easy to leave our spouses these days. If someone told me they got divorced over housework, I would really question that. Most people love their spouses despite these types of differences. But, spending some time complaining and commiserating is just a way to vent those feelings.

      No one is perfect. Marriage is difficult. But to me, it's for the long haul. I have a family with this man. I hope he feels the same way about me. I would be devasted if he threatened divorce if I didn't start doing more laundry. It would make me question his love for me. But, the dialogue has to be there. You have to be able to talk about these inequities and come to a solution. That is why I have stepped it up. But whether that solution is hiring someone to help you (my favorite), or learning to live in more of a mess than you wish (more appropriate for some), you have to find it. But divorce because of chores....come on.

    2. See, I really WOULD leave if we couldn't find a home arrangement that worked for me. Because if we didn't, I wouldn't have time to do the other things that matter to me, and keep me sane. So it would feel a bit like a survival thing to me.

      Luckily, my husband and I have found an arrangement that works for both of us, so it isn't an issue.

      But yes, I could see divorcing someone over chores.

    3. Wow, I made an error. I meant to say HE has an easier schedule than I do. Mainly because I have a long, LA commute, and because I have to sit in the office for 8 hours per day no matter how much work I have to do, while DH has control over his schedule.

      Anyway, I think the fact that you would divorce over chores, and others would not, is the biggest reason that you are not able to relate to people with this issue. If other people feel that chores don't constitute as a deal breaker, then that is where the disconnect is.

      I think what SHOULD be the deal breaker, is not chores, but the fact that if you have stated your case of why you are unhappy, the other person doesn't want to work with you to fix it. That would be a lack of respect, which is probably much bigger than just chores. For all we know, these other bloggers either don't talk about it with their spouses, or enjoy complaining but don't really want to make a change. I mean, some women stay in abusive relationships for reasons I will never comprehend. My own mother stayed in an emotionally abusive marriage for 19 years before she got the courage to leave my father. The dynamics within a relationship are just too complicated to boil down to - why doesn't she just leave him.

    4. Yes, the deal breaker would be the lack of respect, not the dirty dishes. I should have made that more clear. If something is making me miserable and my partner won't work with me to find a solution... then I would walk. Not immediately, not cavalierly. But if we couldn't fix it- and he wouldn't even try- I couldn't stay.

      And to me, unequal chores would be a big deal, because chores take time, and we all deserve to have time to do what we love. Kids take a bit chunk of that, but I find that as long as we split things equally, my husband and I both get the time we need.

    5. @Joanna you write, "For me, it's not just culture, but it's what I want. I WANT to spend less time working. Financially I don't have that choice. But if I could, I would parent more than I work. My husband, on the other hand, would absolultely hate to stay home, and can really only handle parenting in small increments." Which, OK, no problem that this is, in fact, what you and your DH want. But I for one definitely have not wanted more time parenting while my DS (same age as Cloud's Pumpkin) is little. That is starting to change a bit as he gets older. But this is definitely not just a male/female thing: I would (to date) much rather be a WOHM than a SAHM. Which is not to say I don't adore the time I do spend parenting, but there is plenty, plenty, plenty of that available to me relative to how much I want. Though as noted that may be changing now that DS is becoming less an extra appendage and more an accomplice.

      As for "discussing divorce," my DH and I do this all the time, perhaps because his last marriage ended in divorce (so the concept and its nuts and bolts are far from remote or unfamiliar). Honestly either he or I would be loathe to do such a thing (actually divorce, not discuss divorce) entirely independent of our feelings about each other because of our views about how that would affect our son, but we certainly don't treat it as something outside the parameters of normal discussion. Not to say you should, but neither do I think that it is inherently the case that unless the topic is off limits it is there as a threat.

    6. @Alexicographer- yes, I'm another woman who doesn't want more parenting time! I love the time I have with my kids. And I love the time I have away from them. If something changed so that I worked less at my current job, I suspect I would add more from my side projects rather than more consistent parenting time. But I might do more random "mommy and me" days- I did a couple of those when I was laid off, and they were really fun. But I don't think I would find them fun if every day was a "mommy and me" day!

    7. My situation is that of Janet and Steve. It is surprising sometimes how people evolve based on their family histories. Commentators upthread mention how 'Tom' probably learned to be that way because of his parents. I find that my 'Steve' is a unicorn because he hated how much more work his mother had to do (Classic dynamic of working dad who does not lift a finger in the house with stay at home mom). I am grateful!

      But it certainly is culturally expected that women should be moms and wives first, and individuals later (if that)! I got into hot hot water with my family when I made an offhand comment about how I love the daycare folks and could not imagine dealing with my kid all day, everyday!! I don't think my mom (a single mom, working professional herself) has completely forgiven me for that comment! And this despite being from a progressive, supportive family! So I can see why even if you don't have a unicorn, one would try to make do, adjust, fix it as much as you can, and try to accept/fume when you can't, in the absence of any other emotional/financial/day-to-day support in living your life and raising your kids.

    8. Anonymous5:25 AM

      I also have a Janet and Steve relationship with my husband - but we both grew up in houses with stay-at-home moms who did everything. His mom still does everything although my dad has become slightly more enlightened over the years.

      The strange thing is that all of our siblings are much more the Joan/Tom relationship. But neither one of us could even imagine being in a marriage like that.

    9. Just as a for-what-it's-worth data point: both my husband & I would choose to spend more time with our kids & at our homes. We both like our unpaid work more than our paid work. Now, that's not to say either of us spend much time or energy complaining about our jobs--we are very lucky, & not having more ecstatic job-relations is entirely due to our own lacks of ambition. We are lucky to have jobs that support us & don't eat up too much of our time (me) & energy (him, mostly). & even though he's the full-timer, he's also the one who cooks most & does most of bedtime, & more. I'm easily the slacker in the house, except for when it comes to that master-scheduler stuff y'all discussed upthread.

      Again, I don't know that we are the kind of couples you are focusing on here, as we aren't in absorbing/super-rewarding job paths. But I believe equitability can certainly be found out there in all sorts of strange places.

    10. @eta- thanks for commenting! Your perspective is very much appreciated. I only limited my scope initially to avoid the privilege-calling that could have derailed the entire discussion. I think this issue is one couples of all income levels and career-interest levels face and solve.

  24. Also, as I've mentioned elsewhere, I think there's a certain pressure to have this problem solved in order to be a "successful" couple of the modern age, and that makes the problem difficult to own. And when people feel forced to pull their punches in order to present that front, it makes honest conversation (either problem-solving at home or out in a public arena like this one) very difficult.

    1. That may be why I am often accused of lying about this topic. Or being deluded. Which is a shame- I think a successful couple is a happy one, regardless of how they arrange their chores.

  25. Anonymous9:30 AM

    I really would love to hear the male viewpoint too.

    1. Me, too! Unfortunately, most of my readers are women. Feel free to send some men this way, though.

    2. Anonymous2:12 PM

      Hello. Penis owner here.

      I did almost no chores as a child. I think that by itself made a big difference. My parents had a cleaner, and my dad did the very traditional auto repair, gardening, shelf-fixing and finances. Neither parent involved me in any of these processes, they just happened invisibly around me.

      Talking about this "master organizer" role, I would be very interested if *anyone* knew of a man taking on this role in the home. It seems like everywhere I've read it's either the woman or, at "best", done jointly. It seems like a chore like any other that can be divvied up, on one hand, but on the other hand, not knowing everything that should be going on is clearly problematic. It seems hard to put a weight to it. How many hours cleaning is it worth?

      Currently we live with another couple and a friend, so the amount of chores to do are limited. I feel like I do more total hours in the week (cooking, grocery shopping, driving her to the train station so she doesn't have to cycle there, a bit of laundry). She does the bulk of the laundry and definitely owns the organization role and wants us to share that, but I am struggling to get the necessary mindset to stick.

    3. Hi, @anonymous! Thanks for stopping by. It is great to get at least one man's perspective on all this!

      On men doing the "master organizer" role... well, single dads must do it, right? So it is possible.

      I think that just seeing it (and related things, like the work that goes into planning a family vacation) as a chore is a huge step forward. In terms of how much cleaning it trades for... well, that probably depends on the couple, and how much each of them minds doing the various chores, how long they take, etc. My husband and I aim for roughly equivalent amounts of chores time, and roughly equivalent amounts of chores annoyance.

  26. Wow, 30 comments! This thread could get to 100. Then Cloud will quit her job and become a full-time blogger. The problem? Working from home will mean she'll do more of the chores...

    Anyhow... My husband and I do not fight about housework much. I get mad when he stares at the dishwasher and asks an idiotic question like "is this clean?" but my housekeeping standards certainly aren't higher than his. Both of us probably like a cleaner house than we are ever personally going to devote the time to, which is why we hired a housekeeper to come twice a week. (Insert mandatory comment on privilege here).

    I'm actually currently feeling like my husband devotes more time to chores than I'd like. We decided not to re-up the lawn service, as he wanted to mow and weed and mulch and garden himself. The idea is that he could be in the yard with the kids but I don't think he supervises them as closely as they need. Our arguments tend to be more about the childcare than the housework. The two do not always get the same split. I know some reverse-traditional couples where a major early argument has been that the house isn't clean and dinner isn't made when mom walks in the door. Dad argues that he signed on to be a stay-at-home parent, not June Cleaver.

    1. I came across an article or a blog post about the different expectations of stay at home dads vs. stay at home moms once. I wonder if I can dredge it up? But it covered exactly what you're talking about- the SAHDs saw their job as child care, full stop. The SAHMs also included the housework.

      My opinion on what I'd consider fair (for me) is somewhere in between. Child care is real work, and therefore it is not fair to expect the person staying home to do it to also do ALL of the other chores. It would be an interesting situation for me to negotiate, I think, but not one I've had to sort out, so I can't be sure what would happen.

    2. Irisevelyn4:55 AM

      I think a more logical and fair division of labor would be to have the sahp do the household chores and split the childcare as evenly as possible - this way both parents can bond with the kid.

      I'm in a J&S situation, but here (Germany) it is both socially unacceptable and (thus) practically impossible to get childcare for under one year olds. But the government replaces a big chunk of the lost income for the stahp for up to 14 months. So hubby stayed home with our first son for his first year while I worked. Basically, when I was home, I had the baby, and he did all the chores. (He took over some of the nightfeedings after a while though).
      Now said son is 2.5 years, and in daycare part time and I'm staying home with his 5 month old brother. I have to admit that now hubby pitches in with the household much more than I did two years ago, but he also doesn't take both kids at the same time as often as both of us would like. (It's hard to take care of both and it's hard to do chores with a baby! How can one single person do both??)

      I think part of the way in which J&T dynamics develop is that the woman has higher standards and thus does a bit more, but it's not a big deal for anyone. And then the kids come and suddenly there is soo much more work than anticipated, but since everyone is used to her taking care of more than her fair share it's difficult to balance things out. Especially in the grumpy and sleepdeprived time after the baby arrived.

  27. I've observed the Joan + Tom dynamic a lot with work colleagues (usually I'm friends with Joan). What I've noticed is a couple of things:

    1. The couple is from a different culture (usually Asian) where the woman is expected to take care of house + child stuff primarily, regardless of whether she is working full time or not. This is a frequent topic of discontent on our "anonymous parenting questions" alias at work. In addition, divorce is usually not acceptable in those cultures (except maybe in extreme cases of abuse, infidelity etc), so women feel stuck in their situation.

    Note - it's not always Asian cultures either. I have some friends from a specific North American culture who seem to have very traditional roles in marriage regardless of who's working - it just seems accepted as "how things are".

    2. I think a lot more people complain about it as a sign of solidarity/bonding, but it's not important enough for them to actively seek change in their relationship. I find this is a sort of common topic amongst some Indian women I know - the "sigh, aren't our husbands useless at doing xyz in the house?" sort of thing. It's again, acceptance of "how things are" and just helps them get through their annoyance, I guess. Also note - I see this with my friends from that other North American culture as well.

    For me, it's a different story. I was born and raised in the US and married a white American guy so my expectations are totally different. And in fact, I work part-time, so I do handle a lot more of the miscellany, but it's because i'm good at it and want to. He more than pulls his weight in child care (omg this week while I'm sick and we're on vacation he has been a veritable saint, doing EVERYTHING).

    My parents, and many of my (non-American) colleagues at work are amazed at how this works in our house.

    So I think a lot of it is about cultural expectations too and it might not just be about coming from a different country - it could be about being a certain religion, or just your own family's "culture" - girls do x, while boys do y. Who cleans up after Thanksgiving dinner, and who vegetates in front of the football game, etc.

  28. Oh, and I also handle all of the finances - just had to throw that in so I don't seem too lazy ;)

  29. Anonymous10:06 AM

    First, I would love to be sent the links - I am very interested in this topic, and these are obviously not the blogs that are on my reader (yet)!

    As for me ... At the moment, our chores distribution is decidedly not equal, and while that doesn't make me the happiest, I am OK with it, because it is for a limited time with an expiration date (End of May! WOOT!) and for a specific reason. I am doing nearly everything at the moment - but, if the positions were reversed in the future (which they might be in a couple of years), I would expect my husband to do the same. And he has said that he would (which I'll hold him to!)

    Prior to having our baby, the chores were pretty equitably split - I did cooking and grocery shopping, he did cleaning and buying of cleaning supplies, etc. We both did our own laundry. We both did the "big" cleaning days together when we scoured all the surfaces, etc, in preparation for parent's visits, etc. We pretty evenly split the dog walking and care (though I always did the morning walk, since I am a morning person...) This was a fairly organic division, since I *like* to cook (and doing the food shopping just makes sense when you're the one cooking) and my husband is abysmal at it. On the cleaning end, HE'S the one who sees the dirt much more than I do, so he takes care of that, since he has the higher standards (not that I'm filthy or anything, but I am also not down on my hands and knees scrubbing at the corners every day, either)

    Having our baby shifted things such that I assumed a lot more of the chores - mostly because we kept the same division of old chores, for the most part, but I added on nearly all baby-care to my end... Some of it because it was simply necessary for me, being the one with the boobs, to do. And some of it because I LOVE being a mom and all that comes with it - baby-related chores included. And, yes, some of it because apparently my husband does have some inherited preconceptions about child-rearing chores (as I mention below)

    And then we come to now, where due to circumstances with my husband's job, I've assumed almost everything (hated cleaning included) for a few months. In two months, we will re-evaluate and come to a new division... And likely, at that juncture, I will try to be more of a Janet than I have been this past year since the arrival of our daughter. Though that will be a discussion (one we've been having on and off for the past year) - because while we were pretty even on chores before and so it was never an issue (barring the occasional fight about whether cleaning the dishes after cooking was part of "cleaning" or part of "cooking" and so the back-and-forth with this chore), it has come up that my husband's perspective on child-rearing chores is slightly less equitable than on others (he was raised by a working father and housewife mother, for background) and we are working on changing this inherited prejudice (i.e. talking about how the division he was raised with makes sense in that context, but since we are both working, it doesn't make sense for us)

    1. Anonymous10:32 AM

      A few more thoughts - first, we live in an apartment in NYC, so there are no car/yard/house chores... yet... And we shall have to see how this splits when we get there (I actually imagine it will go with him in the garden/yard and me in the garage, since he babies our houseplants and I build our furniture). Other chores - we split bills 50/50. He does the taxes because his job is the one that makes them complicated. And those are the only other chores I can think of right now!

    2. On the child care distribution- I think this gets easier as the kid gets older. And weans. And finishes with the rounds of separation anxiety. And all that.

      But I also think that a lot of dads miss out on some great stuff because they think it is mom's work. My husband helped me appreciate that more- that it isn't just about what is easiest, but also about giving him the chance to bond deeply with our kids. So we work on this aspect, even now, when our 2.5 year old prefers me for just about every caring task (bathtime, bedtime, etc). (She prefers Daddy for play time.)

    3. the milliner6:48 PM

      This is where we're at now. Trying to work out the balance of stuff to do so that DH takes on more of the child rearing. Yes, it's a break for me, but more importantly, it's more opportunity for DH & DS to bond.

    4. My oldest was definitely a daddy's boy. I was very happy that I could at least provide milk from time to time. Without that, childcare would have been much more uneven.

      We also had a rule: I was in charge of inputs, DH was in charge of outputs. Nursing is much more pleasant than diaper changes, IMHO.

  30. My distribution is more equitable than it used to be, but if you ask my husband he thinks he does everything! We have 3 kids, ages 12, 5 and 9 months. I do the lion's share of childcare, especially the drudgery parts -- taking them to the doctors (all the freakin' time, on average once a week this past winter), wiping butts etc. I am up with them on the weekends while hub sleeps in. I also do all the cooking, grocery shopping, dishes, organization of playdates, holidays, communication with schools etc. Husband does laundry on the weekends, nowblowing/lawn mowing, and he does a lot of the vacuuming and dusting.

    The laundry and cleaning he picked up a few years ago when I simply stopped doing it due to pure exhaustion and lack of time. Our workload was very unbalanced where I did most of the work and he was happy; now I would call it balanced and he would say he does everything and I don't do enough; he's a neat freak and would like me to do more cleaning. We have a big house (3400 sq ft) and it takes 2 days to clean it top to bottom, which I used to do when I was a wee assistant prof and we had only 1 kid, but I just can't (and won't!) any more now that we have 3 kids and I am so much more busy at work.

    I would not divorce him over chores, but his sleeping till 1-2 pm on weekends and my not cleaning enough are a source of friction. (It's not so much cleanliness as it is clutter after 3 kids). I wish we could hire someone to clean, but Hub is opposed to it. Maybe I should do it anyway.

    We were both brought up in a fairly patriarchal culture where the woman does everything and this undoubtedly influences our dynamics. However, the fact that I make twice what he does relieves some of the guilt I feel for not being the maid. Also, I have no time for myself -- all the time not with kids or cooking/cleaning, I work; he on the other hand spends countless hours weekly on World of Warcraft and reading for pleasure (when I bring this up, he says "Well, all you do is work!" cause I am lame for not having hobbies.)

    Anyway, there is friction in the chores department but mostly because he thinks I should do more just because, and I have grown to give less of a fuck about what he wants and more about what I want/can pull off within my time constraints. Overall we are more balanced than before. I wish our house was tidier overall, but I am beyond killing myself to do it.

    As you can see, there are issues but we have a workable quasi-equilibrium where we are both periodically grumpy (as opposed to just me all the time, which was the case early in our marriage). We are quite busy and stressed out, but we love each other and our kids, so it all comes out good. Never a dull moment, that's for sure.

    1. mom2boy11:04 AM

      "I would not divorce him over chores, but his sleeping till 1-2 pm on weekends." Oh that would drive me batty and never ever work for me. I'm up early by nature but about 30 minutes of me time and an hour of kid and me time is all I'll happily tolerate. After that my partner needs to get up and join our day.

      I had a whole Janet and Jane post but it got lost or I don't see it. Anyway, we don't argue about chores in my house. I think we do what we like, what is necessary and most efficient and make sure the other person always feels appreciate for her contribution. And Tate does his share, too. He's an awesome poop scooper.

    2. @mom2boy- I'm sorry your post got eaten! I went and checked my spam folder, and it wasn't there.

      It is great once the kids start helping, isn't it?

    3. You know, having both partners be the occasional instigators of arguments about chores may be one of the best signs around for an arrangement that is equal or at least on the path to becoming equal!

  31. Anonymous11:32 AM

    I identify with Janet + Steve. At this point we don't have any kids - so I don't know whats going to happen once childcare comes into play. However to even get here, here are some the things I had to do:

    1. Not feel bad when I talk to other women who work full-time and still cook, clean,etc full time - who can imply that I am not being a 'good wife', that I am not taking care of my man properly. My gut reaction used to be - he's a grown up - why would I have to take care of my husband? & I would get upset guilty etc? However I have learned to not read anything into their comments and say to myself "to each their own". This may be a cultural expectation of a 'good wife' which seems to be drilled into us women?

    2. Apart from work and house, I have other activities and hobbies I am passionate about (cycling, photography). So I had to bring myself to not feel guilty when I made time for other things which I need for my sanity at the cost of cooking / home care / chores ... after all, my husband doesn't feel guilty doing his stuff - so why should I? However I had to actively work at not feeling guilty. Maybe this is cultural too?

    3. Increase my tolerance to things not being done, and try to come up with ways to get the point across -e.g. I used to get quite frustrated when I would open the fridge & the milk was over - & my husband who knew it, never even thought he should let me know, let alone go buy some from the store. For such issues where I think a response should be instinctive, but hubbie dear doesn't even register, I had to basically turn on my evil side :) So I did what he did for a while. He needs coffee in the morning I don't - so if there is no milk in the house, guess who suffers more? After doing this a couple of times, we moved to him announcing to me that "Oh, milk is almost getting over". At this point Phase II entered - I would ask him "So?". A few times of this and the point is made and now we take turns with groceries. I think that when I make sure that I drop the ball sometimes, and then say "Oh..sorry..I was so busy / stressed out..why don't you do this since it is important to you? I don't know when I'll get to it since its not that high on my priority list?" and keep doing it till the message gets across technique works - of course this cuts both ways. If I find something important - but he doesn't, then of course, I get to do it.

    Overall though, these things work for me because overall he is a great person, and does not believe that homecare is a woman's domain and is willing to pitch in with chores.

    I also feel that money is a big thing. I feel that if I weren't earning well, then probably what I wanted to do / be would take a back seat... not that I blame him for it..I think it is human condition that the money bringer gets to make the decisions and gets to do lesser work because they bring in more money....

    1. I think it is smart to try to sort out a solid foundation in this area before having kids. Kids multiply the work, throw everyone into a sleep deprived state that (at least in our house) increases the grumpiness level of any discussion, and add a big emotional component.

    2. The not feeling guilty part is so key for me too. I'm in a biomedical doctoral program but husband is in a theological school in prep to become a preacher/pastor-type dude. There is a mountain of screwed up expectations about pastors' wives (think 1950s housewife, long hair, modest and feminine dress, cooks, cleans, raises kids, only appropriate careers are nursing or teaching...)! mohawk-having, PhD-getting, non-grocery-shopping self gets a lot of passive-aggressive guilt tripping in social circles related to his school and sometimes it gets to me when I hear enough of it.

      Fortunately, my own social circles are saner, but it can be really stressful to have snide remarks made behind (and sometimes in front of) my back by other pastors' wives, his administrators, his classmates, etc. (Note: Husband is totally supportive of my mohawk and my doctorate, and holds out fervent hope that church culture will continue to change for the better when it comes to womens' issues).

    3. Think this is really interesting "I make sure that I drop the ball sometimes, and then say "Oh..sorry..I was so busy / stressed out..why don't you do this since it is important to you?[...] If I find something important - but he doesn't, then of course, I get to do it."

      My concerns are:
      1) How far would you (either the person I quoted or anyone who has a thought!) take it? there are fairly major opportunity costs (cash, wasted time, etc) to doing it with anything much more important than milk.
      3) Do you worry about the precedent it sets? Seems to me it could lead to complications down the road if each person only does the things they care more about "you care more that the kids eat healthily so you cook...and shop...and wash up so you can cook again" "I only care about my clothes being clean so I didn't do yours" etc
      4) Doesn't it lead to more rows, when the ball does get dropped? Or is that avoided by carefully choosing which balls to drop? And if so, isn't that more effort? I think it would be for me!

    4. @Elizabeth, I'm puzzling over this one and having a hard time coming up with "serious consequences." Like what?

      Issues where I would never do this: automotive safety (maintenance, etc.), actual childcare (making sure DS is adequately supervised), paying bills.

      Issues where I do this all the time: cleaning house (there are entire areas, like floors, the cleanliness of which I am indifferent to, so saying to DH, "The dog hair on the floor isn't bothering me," isn't a big deal. Don't worry, there are other things he ignores that bother me; they balance out but don't lead to rows.); washing vehicles (he cares that his is clean, I don't care about mine); yard maintenance; grocery shopping (DH and I split this haphazardly but aren't above eating a meal out or having "breakfast for dinner" if goods are sparse; cooking in general (my policy: if you don't enjoy the meals I prepare, you are welcome to take over food prep, conversely, if you prepare the meal I will thank you and eat it graciously); vacation planning (I manage this, and DH grumbles about my choices, usually at the micro level, i.e., should have stayed 4 nights here and only 3 there, reserving that campsite would have been better than reserving this one -- though he is generally consulted -- and I always tell him he's welcome to take over trip planning). Laundry, I cannot imagine a scenario in which either of us would literally have "nothing to wear," even though what we wanted to wear might be unavailable.

    5. @Alex I was partly thinking of bills. But it seems like everything gets a lot more expensive if you wait - parking tickets triple if you don't pay them in 14 days, flights go up by £100 in a week, train tickets similarly (our families are quite far away but this does not mean we can persuade them to move weddings to when it is cheap to go!), late fees for credit cards (maybe those are bills?) or DVD rentals, takeaway / corner shop food instead of supermarket ingredients, pub lunch instead of taking a sandwich, losing the deposit on a flat... all kinds of things, from big to tiny.

      Plus, if there's not a cash-cost, there may be a time/energy/fun cost or an argument cost or a social cost (disappointed friends / family, e.g.) -- I guess what I'm saying is, I don't know how you do it (I believe you do though) without the negative effects affecting you as much as him.

    6. Alexicographer9:48 AM

      @Elizabeth -- ah, yes, I guess the bills would be a problem. This has totally never (touch wood) been an issue for us; he pays some, I pay some, we each stay on top of what we are supposed to do. I mean, I'm not saying we've never had a crisis or made a mistake, but not systematically where one of us isn't staying on top of stuff. And, we leave (rightly or wrongly) enough wiggle room in our budget that modest meals out rarely create conflict for us, aren't really arguers, and as noted I'm pretty oblivious to mess. So in different circumstances or for different people (tighter and/or more rigid budget(ing), different personalities, different social concerns), I can see where just letting things slide would create problems, but we muddle along.

      Actually, my mother and father did run into the problem you raise, as his approach was to do nothing and allow her to manage and/or pick up the pieces, which she did ably for years before finally saying "enough." But honestly in that case, the issue wasn't how she did (or didn't) respond, it was my dad being (essentially) a bum and a jerk. So in that case, really, there's nothing she could have done differently that would have made a difference.

  32. It's interesting to read these comments. I don't have any answers for the original question, but I suspect that where a couple is on the J/S-J/T spectrum depends on where they are in their life. We've been married almost 18 years (gaasp!) and fought about chores much more early on in our relationship. We both came from "traditional" families where Mom stays home and manages the household and Dad works outside the home and does the lawn. And, we were poor struggling students, which added to the stress. It's taken us years to work out an equitable split that we both feel OK about, and even now, things come up that will throw a wrench in our balance (that's life!). When it comes down to it, I think that the thing that has helped balance the load for us is money! We now have a housecleaner who comes every two weeks (say Hallelujah!), my husband sends most of his work clothes to the cleaners, we hire people to do the yard, etc. Even though I'd love to have all of that extra cash on hand, I LOVE LOVE LOVE not having to worry about any of those chores, so the trade-off is totally worth it to me. And I FULLY understand that we are very privileged.

    A random thought - the way we choose to live our life probably affects how dirty the house is, too. Until last week :( we had a big, hairy dog (the house is already looking cleaner and it breaks my heart!), we have a nanny who brings her two kids while she watches our two kids, etc. If we took the kids to daycare so no one was home making messes during the day, maybe the mess level would be lower?

    1. I'm sorry about your dog. How sad for you!

      On the kids at day care vs at home and messiness front- our house is equally messy at the end of a day care day and a weekend day. The kids are very adept at creating huge messes in the time between getting home and bed!

  33. I suppose I'm somewhere between Janet and Joan. My partner and I both have demanding jobs. We share cooking, and errands, but I end up taking care of most of the household cleaning/laundry type chores purely because I am more irritated by mess than he is. A sink full of dishes or a dirty bathroom just doesn't phase my partner; however, these things cause me great stress. If I ask him to take care of something or if I start cleaning he will help, but he doesn't feel the same impetus to initiate chores that I do. I think when we hit the next stages of our careers (and thus next stages of salary) we will hire help to take care of the heavy cleaning for us, which will help.

  34. I don't know that I really identify with either Joan or Janet. Or sometimes I identify with Joan and other times with Janet. Relationships aren't static and sometimes my husband is great about things and other times not so great. Sometimes I'm better about picking up the slack on chores and other times I'm exhausted. Sometimes we're both too exhausted!

    Right now, my husband is in his second year of starting a business and our family depends almost fully on my income. Sometimes I find myself feeling that this entitles me to have a lower share of the household chores, but it turns out that isn't a really helpful attitude to take. :)

    Ultimately, I think this is an issue that everyone struggles with at different times. When I'm struggling, I try to remember overarching priorities in my life - like I married a guy with a big heart who loves the outdoors and takes me on cool adventures now and then. If my house isn't as perfect as I want, that's really a minor detail in the grand scheme of things. (I also try to convince myself that not caring about how my house looks is one of the gifts that feminism gives us.)

    The main piece of advice I hear ringing in my ears is to ask for what you really want. Sometimes I want to be grumbly and think that the division of labor should be different and that my husband should just volunteer for the obviously household deficiencies. But what I really want is help with dinner or the dishes or whichever specific task. If I ask for a specific thing like "Can you help with dinner tonight?" (or, more likely, "can you do dinner tonight?") I've had a better response.

  35. I'm neither Janet nor Joan, but then, that's partly because my situation is different. I work full time and my freelancer husband is a SAHD. He's also ADD & has a touch of obsessiveness over cleaning. Me? I'm in the "as long as it's not filthy, I have better things to do than worry about the dust on the baseboards" camp. He thinks (rightly, I'm sad to say) that I don't care about chores as much as he does, but he feels like I *SHOULD* care about them as much as he does. It's caused us a fair amount of stress since my version of clean will never, not ever, live up to his.

    But part of my argument is that we each have things that are our "breaking point" issues. For me, it's clean, folded, hung up laundry (since, you know, I have to go to an office in actual clothes). For him, it's the kitchen counters. But it took us a LONG time to recognize that our various breaking points weren't the same, but also had similar validity. It also took him a long time to realize that while I might not be cleaning the bathrooms as often as he does, he also doesn't do our taxes or plan every detail of our calendars or keep up with all our daycare obligations or any of the other scheduling, financial, and planning details. Those aren't little things, even if they're not the same as daily chores.

    And I think that's part of what goes missing in some of the relationship problems. YES, this all has to get done. But to assume that your partner views each of the tasks with the same passion you do is probably not a great starting point. Maybe he worries more about the car while you worry more about the finances. Maybe he focuses more on the kitchen while you focus more on the laundry. That's not to say that the truly hands off partners don't exist (I know they do), but sometimes it's a matter of perspective within your own relationship--what is he doing that I'm not seeing, and vice versa.

    The other things that I see happen:

    1) I see women who feel like men "won't do it right" so don't let them do anything. Whether it's a martyr thing, or a need to be important or a true case of your partner not being able to do things correctly, I know (from experience) that after being told enough times that you won't do something right anyway--you stop even trying.
    2)I have seen in a lot of cases the "my husband's so useless" game. You know, the one where a group of women get together and laughingly joke about how their poor husband doesn't even know how to change a diaper or can't figure out where the toilet paper is or some other small but charged statement. I've seen this in some regions & cultures more than others, though I'll be honest, I've seen it from coast to coast and from every level of the financial spectrum. Where this gets hard is knowing whether these are actually deal breakers, or real problems, or if this is just complaining for the social sport of it. And if it's the latter, how much can you play that game before you start to believe it?

    But the biggest thing I see: 3) Women aren't willing to tell their partners what they need. They want a mind reader, they want their husband to JUST KNOW. Because can't you SEE that the dishes are dirty? Well, I'll tell you, as the one who never pays attention: sometimes, no. No you can't. Maybe that's selfish, but I'll tell you what, I'd rather have my husband remind me (or, we got a chore board for a while until it became habit) than to always be angry because I didn't see what he saw.

    Wow, this got long, and I'm not sure I even answered anything. And at the end of it all, I think: a ton of it just comes down to personalities, backgrounds, and what someone is willing to accept.

    1. Ooh, that last item fits really well with relationship lessons we have learned: ... lots of good advice in the comments.

    2. Thanks for commenting! I think your perspective is a really valuable one.

      And I totally agree with your point #3. People, in general, cannot read minds!

    3. Also very much agree with point #3!

    4. What @mom2boy said! Amen, @Ginger!

  36. the milliner7:31 PM

    I think that in general if the chores issue can't be resolved, it's because the chores issues are just the symptoms of deeper issues (i.e. not being heard by your partner etc). So my guess is that Joan and Tom are stuck in some type of argument that they've always had in one way or another. They have to solve that base issue before they can move on (split chores more evenly or be OK to living with the inequity, but working on it, etc.

    That being said, I think there is a lot of weight to the whole expectations thing as mentioned several times up thread. And the better we, as couples, can get at communicating about these expectations, the easier it is to resolve any issues around a mismatch.

    I don't know if I identify more with Joan or Janet. Probably both at different times. Sometimes I am completely exasperated by our differing expectations in regards to the balance of chores and child rearing. We are so different people in this regard (expectations regarding chores & child wrangling) and on top, DH is not someone who enjoys having lengthy discussions on the details. It's constant work for me to tease apart a difference in expectations, managing my own perfectionism so my expectations are realistic, and to also make sure I speak up when I can feel resentment building. It's a fine line. Ultimately though, over the years, I see concrete examples on both sides of us trying and working at making things better for each other. I think ultimately it's what counts most for me and I can even rely on this when the going gets tough, and it's hard to see the other person's POV.

    The other dynamic that comes into play for us is DH's increasing (and unexpected) hospital visits. We're in one of those years again where he's already had 3 random hospital overnight stays. We're more or less pretty calm about everything. But after 16 years of a transplant (his), you begin to get a little twitchy when random symptoms show up out of the blue. You can't help but wonder 'is this it?'. I'm bringing this up to say that every time we have these periods (as we have now since Dec 30, 211) it takes us sooooo long to recover on the home routine front. We're more adept at it now than we used to be. But it throws a wrench in from all angles. As much as we get back to the mechanics of the routine, the fact is that we're all a little emotionally fragile, and we're tired. With this last one I've just realised that these unexpected hospital stays take a lot out of us. It makes i very difficult to work on improving things when I always feel like we're re-starting. Of course, this is the problem I'd rather have than having the health problems.

    1. The "random luck of the circumstances" angle is something I completely left out. I've been a bit like the proverbial physicist going into biology ("assume a round cow...") but it was helpful for getting to some core issues, I think.

      Still, as you bring up, health issues, a special needs kid, any number of other circumstances that aren't "the norm" can add whole new layers to the issue.

      But I think the first part of your comment is really interesting, too- that the chores thing might be more of a symptom than a cause of problems a couple is facing.

  37. Great discussion! We are definitely the Janet/Steve couple here, if anything my husband does more around the house than I do, certainly the non kid stuff. However, like someone mentioned before, I had a string of roommates who put me in Joan's shoes. One even said to me "what I love about this place is how clean it is". She just had no idea how much cleaning I was doing, despite the fact that she must clearly have seen me cleaning the bathroom every week. Or they'd announce proudly that they'd cleaned the bathroom- this month. They had not grown up with an awareness that houses need to be cleaned- it had always just been done, either by a cleaner or by parents. This is one thing I'm actually worried about since we have a cleaner; what if my boys end up like the roommates?? I know they still see plenty of cleaning being done, but still. Anyway, the roommate problem was clearly a communication one. Most likely all I had to do was actually point out the problem, but back then I preferred to avoid confrontation and just hope it would go away. They were otherwise good roommates, so it wasn't something to 'divorce over'.

    Which I think is an interesting point for discussion- what is worth divorcing over? The point about financial stability and having the practical ability to go it alone is really important. I try to visualise going it alone from time to time, to give myself that feeling of being able to walk away if I need to. I even pulled that card recently in an on-going argument completely unrelated to chores. But thinking about it later I wasn't sure if I could really follow through. I would hate to have to, and that resentment would make me frustrated and angry, and so I can certainly relate to Joan.

    As a final anecdata regarding my 'Steve', his father does absolutely nothing around the house, and never has, yet both my husband and his brother ended up being really equal partners. I suspect it has a lot to do with the one who is doing the chores involving the children, and making them aware of what needs to be done. As in, my husband and his brother identified more with their mum than with their dad when it came to imagining their future roles in the household, if that makes sense. So I think the role modeling can work in unexpected ways.

    1. You can always pare back the cleaner as you get your boys to pick up more chores of their own. My grandparents had a weekly cleaner when they had little kids, then shifted it to biweekly and then monthly and then just a quarterly deep clean as their 4 children got old enough to do their own laundry, vacuum their own rooms, take turns on bathroom cleaning, etc. (Alas, my family was always too poor for a cleaner when I was a kid!)

  38. Anonymous8:35 AM

    I could write about the specifics of my situation (briefly: roughly 55/45 or 60/40, weighted toward me -- but my fiance is a workaholic and he works the balance -- I am okay with that at this point in time, and if I were ever to become unhappy with it, I'm sure he would work toward an equal balance since he feels strongly about this, or I would convince him that we should pay for some extra help).

    However, it occurred to me that maybe this is a good time to make/remake a point. As a new stepmom fumbling in the new world of motherhood, I'm appreciating how hard it is to do the right thing. However, one thing my partner and I try really hard to do is to involve the kids (a boy and girl) in household chores. This is not always easy. My partner is great at it since he's great at managing people in general. I, on the other hand, am a perfectionist, and therefore have more difficulty having others do a sub-par job. I am an okay teacher, but when I do teach, this is an all-consuming process as I want to teach my 'student' to do everything correctly so that I can trust that they will oversee the task properly (i.e., to my standards or higher) in the future... so it takes a lot of energy on my part to teach a task rather than just do it myself. But I'm trying to get over this, and it's rewarding when the teaching pays off! The point being that it is really important to put in the effort to teach kids to help around the house, and to insist that they do so, despite protests and guilt and busy schedules. If kids are not brought up this way, the chances that they will jump into a roommate situation or a marriage and step up to the plate in managing the household and chores are much worse. This applies to boys and girls alike. If all parents taught these values and skills, then the next generation would be okay. I hope I'm not preaching to the converted, but I've seen many good conscientious parents spoil their kids and not force them to learn these skills or pitch in equally in the household. I need to keep reminding myself to do the same, especially when I keep finding myself thinking how much EASIER it is to just do the work myself and let the kids go play...

  39. I definitely in a Janet/Steve situation, and most of the women I know in some version of Joan/Tom. (I'm in academia, so I see higher numbers of couple where both think of themselves as some kind of feminist.) Since Cloud has posited this as a hypothetical, and because there are IRL so many potential variations and gradations of inequality (and structural complexities built into what came make inequalities happen), I'm going to take a more general perspective. That is, I'm going to assume that Joan faces substantial inequalities that aren't working for her, and a partner who will not take her complaints seriously. I know many women in this situation, and I think there are several factors, including how women are raised and socialized (the martyr factor, discussed upthread). Basically, I think most of the women I know are more conventional than I am, whether or not they are conscious of it, whether or not they think of themselves as equals or feminists or whatever. They are generally satisfied with the status quo - usually because they've adopted some kind of postfeminist attitude where they think it doesn't matter. Then there are women like me, whom I think of as "radicalized". I know women - maybe even some of your readers - will object to this term, but bear with me. What I mean by that is not some political radical feminism. To me, it just means saying, you know the status quo is not quo (to quote Dr. Horrible) - it is *not okay* the ways in which women continue to be subjected and treated without equality, in personal relationships, in society, in the workplace. And to add, I'm not having it! I will not accept this inequality and I will strive to shatter it where ever I can. Some people think this conscious, others unconsciously. For me it was absolutely conscious and I knew without a doubt that the person I was going to marry was going to be a true partner, and that I wasn't going to settle for anything less. As a litmus test, I had a non-negotiable demand: when we had children, the children were going to have my name, and my name only. No hyphens. (I know that's not an appropriate litmus test for all couples; it just happened to be something I felt very strongly about.) My partner had zero issues with this, not even a murmur, precisely because he is also someone who is not conventional, who does not just accept the necessity of something (like patronymics) based on tradition or the way things are always done. He thinks differently about himself and his place in the world. (And he comes from an extremely conventional family.) Sometimes equality between partners happens by accident, but I bet this is not usually the case. People have to make conscious choices to have a different dynamic, what is acceptable and not acceptable.

    The Joan-and-Toms I know are much less likely to have that moment of upheaving the status quo. (Ie, the women discussed above who sit around laughing and eye rolling about useless men are - I find that discourse troubling, and even offensive. Men are not children! your husband should not be a child! My partner had never touched a baby before our son was born, but there he was, doing all the diaper changing, bathing, clothes changing, and any non-boob related soothing.)

    1. Interesting! I would never think of myself as radicalized by the usual sense of the word, but your definition resonates with me.

      Our kids got my husband's last name, but we discussed it ahead of time- before we married, actually, and my husband was the one who brought it up. I actually argued for his name, because it is easy to spell and pronounce and yet still not super common. My last name is very common. Email addresses, logins, etc., are all a PITA to get. My husband on the other hand just uses [first initial][last initial]. I wanted that for my kids. (You can now laugh about the strange things that happen when geeks procreate....)

      I am finding the theme that's come up in several of the comments about how important this issue is to the different women really interesting. I made an assumption I now see is pretty stupid- that if you'll bother to complain in a post of comment section about it, it is as important to you as it is to me. In retrospect, it is blindingly obvious that this is not true and I can't believe it took this much to get me to see that.

      I now feel like I have something to answer to the young women who write to me- i.e., if you care enough about this issue that you'd be willing to walk away from a relationship over it, you will probably find a solution, because your partner loves you and will want to fix any problem that is that big. (And if he won't... maybe that is a symptom of something bigger.)

      The interesting question is figuring out what lower levels of caring would be enough to force a solution? And are there people out there who care that much, but have convinced themselves it is silly to care so much about "just chores". Lots to think about.

      I'll probably write a follow up post sometime next week, summarizing the things I've learned from this comment thread. I've learned a lot!

    2. Er, that would be [first initial][last NAME]. Obviously.

    3. Oh, darn. I was pretty impressed that your DH's first initial/last initial combo could be unusual enough that was all he needed. Now I feel a bit let down!

    4. I've been pondering my response to your comment for a bit. Because in a way I agree with you - and in a way I don't.

      I'm not sure where I fit on the radical feminist spectrum - I'm a bisexual, women's-centre-starting take-back-the-night marching feminist literature studying woman who works for a less-egregious-than-average-but-still-mainstream magazine which produces both long form journalism and has a style section, and which is not invested in women being home (it's pretty career and philanthropy focused, no home decor, etc). So I dunno where I am on the spectrum, except that I like it.

      And yet when you say "For me it was absolutely conscious and I knew without a doubt that the person I was going to marry was going to be a true partner, and that I wasn't going to settle for anything less" that was precisely the core of my personal struggle: to define "true partner."

      And for me at the time, I have to say that I think I defined it right - on my side. I didn't do the chores because I thought my spouse was hapless or because I had a uterus. I freely admit that I am a product of my environment and culture in that I cared whether they got done more. I felt more judged. But if I had decided that was the measure of a true partner, I think I would have made different choices.

      It sort of seemed to me if I'd reversed it and said "As a woman growing up with a mother who screamed about chores was so damaging that I just can't handle them," that would have been seen as a kind of freeing act. So not extending that possibility to my husband seemed kind of wrong, even if it wasn't the "feminist" thing to do.

      It was hard - really, really hard - that he was not able to understand just how important it was to me.

      And yet when I just did the chores myself -- as I would have as a single person -- I also _personally_ came to see that I had not seen how it wasn't quite as awful as I had made it out to be. It was time and life energy that did not go into other things, yes, but not really that much (before kids) least not much in that some of it, like gardening and cooking, was stuff I wanted to do anyway.

      With kids it really is different though. Time is a premium and if I hadn't had time for me, like Cloud, I would have gone insane. And it was interesting that my particular DH really HEARD it when it came out of our son's mouth.

  40. This was an interesting thread. But, I must say that a fair bit of judgment still radiates from a number of comments, as in "if he loves you he will fix whatever problem comes up" etc. Nobody knows what anyone else's marriage is like, or how much people do or don't love each other. The tiny glimpses into people's lives on the internet are just that -- tiny glimpses, and they often aren't even real.

    I have three kids. No other man would love my kids as much as their father does. My husband would have to do something absolutely horrible and make me or the kids really miserable for me to leave him and to deprive the kids of growing up with a father.

    My husband does not cheat on me, does not abuse anyone, does not have crippling addictions, is a responsible adult who earns his paycheck and is devoted to his family. Cheating, abuse, addiction, refusal to work or irresponsibility with money -- those would be grounds for leaving in my book.

    My husband is not perfect, but neither am I. He is a good husband and father, he's been very supportive of my career, he loves me and the kids dearly, those are the things that count. So to me chores are really just chores... I may be a hopeless victim of the patriarchy, but I would not leave someone with whom I have kids over chores.

    1. Ooh. Sorry if any judgment radiated out of my latest comments. I think more in terms of most loving husbands would be willing to work on a problem that was making their wife contemplate leaving.

      If the chores issue doesn't rise to that level with you, then I don't think that makes you a hopeless victim of the patriarchy. It makes you a real woman who has decided what matters to her, and is willing to let some other suboptimal stuff slide.

      We all do that- it is just what issues rise to level of extreme importance are different. Also, a lot probably also depends on just how suboptimal things are.

      For me, the chores issue could very well rise to a level that I'd contemplate divorce, because it is really more about time than the actual chores. I need a certain amount of time that isn't work and isn't chores and isn't child care, and I will protect that because if I lose it I start to lose my mind.

      But I don't want to judge anyone's choices in this regard. I just wanted to better understand them!

    2. One thing I *still* don't understand (even after 110+ comments). Sure, the internet persona you present only shows snapshots and snippets. But why do some folks only choose to focus on the negative aspects? The bad parts of the husband, the bad parts of the job... if someone isn't truly miserable, why have a web presence that makes it seem like one is? Does that somehow help bring happiness IRL?

      Given what I know about cognitive restructuring, I would think it would be the opposite.

    3. I think some people like to pour out their negative side on a blog but are probably more balanced in real life. I also read some very happy blogs (cup of jo, oh happy day) and while I like those a lot, sometimes I wonder if they have down days!? Note:Recently, Cup Of Jo posted about a year of depression but had hidden it with her many happy posts during that time.

      I think I try to be balanced but my writing probably is more melancholy than my real life.

    4. Sorry if any judgment radiated out of my latest comments.

      Cloud, I didn't mean you. There are comments upthread I was referring to... You are one of the most balanced and considerate bloggers I know.

      if someone isn't truly miserable, why have a web presence that makes it seem like one is?

      And why not? You can be whatever you want online. Who knows why people write what they write? For some people blogging is about venting (like me). For me, venting/complaining does in fact increase my happiness IRL because I don't have any close friends nearby and my poor husband deserves to get a break every once in a while. I am a complainer by nature and venting to me is a very important mechanism to cope with stress and frustration. When I pour it all out, I feel much better.

      The good parts of life are good, so I simply enjoy them. I personally don't want to share too much of the good stuff online because it sounds like I am bragging, shoving my good fortune or good choices down people's throats, or (I have been told this) I sound downright condescending. So I generally don't write much about the good stuff. The good stuff also often makes a boring read.

      I don't mind people complaining online, actually commiseration a better bonding glue than most. I mind more -- in real life and online -- people who insist that everything is pitch perfect, that they are always ecstatically happy, that they do everything impeccably, and that they never have any doubts or regrets about themselves or anything they do. Perfect people do not exist; insisting in earnest on maintaining that perfect facade (we all know many such bloggers; I also know a few such specimens IRL, and I assure you they all have serious flaws of which they are or pretend to be oblivious) makes me think that the person either lacks the capability for introspection or that they are disingenuous and therefore not to be trusted.

    5. I can see why we're off your blog-roll, GMP!

      But that's ok, we actually do enjoy life and we're perfectly happy radiating awesomeness even if people don't want to hear about it and think we're not to be trusted (oooooh). Perhaps we're oblivious and have serious flaws, but they're not bothering US. Not even *gasp* IRL. Introspection is over-rated. Pragmatism is where it's at.

      I do really hate it when people on the internet tell me I'm not allowed to be happy or to tell people I'm happy and that I'm lying and I'm imperfect and a bad person. I mean, seriously? Why ya gotta bring everyone else down too? Just because I'm awesome doesn't mean you're not awesome. There's enough awesomeness to go around. No rule of conservation of awesome. We're not taking it all for ourselves. (And we're both from the Midwest and raised Catholic, so direct lying is quite difficult.)

      A little counterbalance to that is needed from time to time since, as we noted recently ( ), there seems to be a pretty serious push on the internet to make people insist that they pretend that their lives suck.

      We share the good stuff online so that other people feel like they can do the same. (Though that probably is counter-balanced by folks calling us liars... hence we gotta counter the, no, sorry, we're not actually secretly miserable. Because, we're not.) No reason to give into the people who are jealous of good fortune. Better a rising tide than crabs in a bucket. We also enjoy the occasional rant, but there's a reason we have a rule that we have to have 1 joy for every two grumbles.

    6. Actually... what really bugs me about the previous comment is not the implication that we at grumpy rumblings (who have publicly said we're awesome and perfect) are secretly miserable liars who have no sense of reality (because that's both silly given our reality and at the same time sad for the person who believes nobody could possibly be happy, which is possibly not a nice thing to say, but I'm taking a day off from being nice)...

      It's the part where (paraphrasing):
      I only say depressing things on the internet because when I tried to say joyful things I got shot down. Therefore I shoot down those other people who say joyful things on the internet. Only depressing things will be tolerated.

      That's the whole cultural phenomenon on the internet (and the NYTimes) that drives me batty. It's like a disease. We HAVE to make sure all other moms working or otherwise feel guilty and feel harried and feel terrible and if they don't then they're either lying or there's something wrong with them and we all have to toe this party line so everybody knows this is the appropriate culture. Bragging means you get taken down because women aren't allowed to do that, especially once they have kids.

      Ladies, you do NOT have to feel guilty. You do not have to feel like if you think your life is going pretty well there must be something wrong with you. You don't even have to keep your mouths shut about your joys and your accomplishments. That's ridiculous. It doesn't even make sense, at least not outside the internet or insulated social circles.

    7. I'm sorry people complained when you wrote about the good things! That sucks. I think strong, confident women scare a lot of people, especially men. But also some less strong and confident women, who maybe feel threatened by us.

      I have a post about that percolating. It may take awhile before I can get it out, though.

      In the meantime, you can stop by here and talk about how great you are anytime you want! Because you ARE great, and I like to read about other strong, confident women and how great they are.

    8. Here's a post on why I personally whine

      I can see why we're off your blog-roll, GMP!

      If you must know, I took you off when you let me know I wasn't welcome on your blog (after a post on giftedness).

    9. @nicoleandmaggie - I really see your point about the need to own your own awesomeness - because it is a social norm for women *not to*. But, from the point of view of a much more self depreciating culture, it always sounds so hilariously, stereotypically American in the way you put it! I get this little sound show going in my head with two voices... "you're awesome", "no, you're awesome" "no *you're* *awe*some" in an American Idol judges kind of voice.

      & @GMP, I have a category on my blog called "General Whinging". 'nuff said.

    10. Ah, the post where we said that on our blog we did not allow people to say that other people's children were not gifted, especially not without proof, or to make fun of parents for saying nice things about their own kids.

      Because our blog is a safe place for people to feel good about themselves and to talk about the challenges as well of the joys of having gifted kids, among other things.

      That's part and parcel of the whole thing. People are attacked for having happy lives and for being happy, for being self-confident, for having great kids, or just having kids who are smart even if that produces challenges, and so on. We don't allow that to happen on our blog, so no, people who attack folks who say their kids are gifted or just good kids in our comments section really aren't welcome on our blog. If people want to comment, that's a rule they're going to have to follow.

  41. My situation is that of Janet and Steve. It is surprising sometimes how people evolve based on their family histories. Commentators upthread mention how 'Tom' probably learned to be that way because of his parents. I find that my 'Steve' is a unicorn because he hated how much more work his mother had to do (Classic dynamic of working dad who does not lift a finger in the house with stay at home mom). I am grateful!

    But it certainly is culturally expected that women should be moms and wives first, and individuals later (if that)! I got into hot hot water with my family when I made an offhand comment about how I love the daycare folks and could not imagine dealing with my kid all day, everyday!! I don't think my mom (a single, professional herself) has completely forgiven me for that comment! And this despite being from a progressive, supportive family! So I can see why even if you don't have a unicorn, one would try to make do, adjust, fix it as much as you can, and try to accept/fume when you can't, in the absence of any other emotional/financial/day-to-day support in living your life and raising your kids.

  42. (another) former academic12:47 AM

    How Not To Have To Dry the Dishes
    By Shel Silverstein

    If you have to dry the dishes
    (Such an awful, boring chore)
    If you have to dry the dishes
    (‘Stead of going to the store)
    If you have to dry the dishes
    And you drop one on the floor—
    Maybe they won’t let you
    Dry the dishes anymore.

    Which is why I've always been suspicious of the 'if it bothers you, you do it' method of chore division. My partner and I have had modest, partial success by making a list of chores by frequency - things that have to be done every day, weekly, monthly, etc. and then balancing each person's load accordingly. For us, it helps move things out of the adversarial, 'yeah, well, you never ...' mode and into a more productive discussion (well, sometimes).

    1. Zenmoo5:56 PM

      The poem reminds me of a time when my younger sister was drying the dishes (unwillingly) and my parents heard the crash of a plate breaking in the kitchen and studiously ignored it because they'd had enough of yelling at her for one day... until my Dad walked into the kitchen later and almost cut his foot on the shards of broken plate. When asked/yelled at as to why she hadn't cleaned up the broken dish - my sister replied that "cleaning up broken dishes wasn't part of the job description of drying dishes" Funny now - but infuriating at the time. (Note: she did not grow up to be a lawyer, but is now doing a PhD in psychology...)

  43. Whenever I read one of nicoleandmaggie’s comments where they proclaim their awesomeness, I always think of that character from SNL several years ago: Stuart Smalley and his daily affirmations. I think everyone understands that when you are truly awesome, the last thing you need to go around doing is proclaiming your awesomeness.

    1. I think they are trying to counteract the "you can't have it all" crap that is everywhere these days. I doubt they go around saying that IRL.

      Please, lets keep the discussion away from personal attacks. This issue gets so much mud flying usually, and I really want to keep the discussion about the issues here. You can argue with the statement without judging the person who made it.

  44. I'm coming into this late, having traveled here via comments in Mom 101's most recent post. I'll admit I haven't read all the comments (don't have time this morning), but perhaps I'll come back and do so later.

    With regards to your question, I would say that I identify more with Janet than with Joan. I think the reason that things feel equitable and fair in our home is that we've both fallen into roles that we are comfortable with in the home. The chores I really hate or am really bad at are the ones my partner does. The chores he really hates or is really bad at are the ones that I do. We were married for eight years before we had kids, so we had a long time to develop and finesse that rhythm and division.

    I think in some cases, the women who end up in Joan's situation may have landed there out of love (e.g. wanting to do things around the home for their loved one as a way of expressing their love in the same way that the husband bringing home flowers might) or out of a need to control things (e.g. he doesn't do a good enough job cleaning the toilet, he puts the dishes away in the wrong place, he shrunk my favourite blouse). Once those patterns are established, it is hard to backtrack and get to a place where things are more equitable.

    But, it could also be because they both love the same chores and hate the same chores. To a great extent, I think we are lucky that our talents and interests in the home are quite different. If we both loved cooking and both hated cleaning, we might not be in such a great place with regards to distribution of chores.

    1. That's a good point about the luck factor in having the chores you hate not be the same ones.

      I also wonder whether having a longish period of time together before the kids come along helps. I'll have to think about that.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  45. I think @Ginger nailed it: "3) Women aren't willing to tell their partners what they need. They want a mind reader, they want their husband to JUST KNOW." Substitute the genders and you have how me and my DH used to interact.

    I'm a female Steve and my DH is a male Janet/Unicorn. He has always been the one to bring up any unequal housework grievances - he does more of it. After spinning our wheels with the same chore arguments over time, DH suggested we use a professional counselor, who we saw for a few sessions, and who led us to a book by John Gottman that had, among other useful ideas, a chore exercise to help us problem-solve. Guess what? The problem soon was solved. That sounds flippant. But seriously. It was not terribly hard once we had a functional framework for communicating.

    Based on my history, I think some Joans and Toms are blocked by some unspoken beliefs that are not being mutually acknowledged, and that act as silent barriers to achieving any meaningful resolution. DH had an unspoken belief he figured out and overcame - it was "I was raised in a messy, chaotic home" so the sight of mess in our home was triggering some serious childhood pain for him. I was oblivious to the mess and how it was triggering his issues. He was doing it all and I was not giving him enough credit - reverse of the typical hetero dynamic.

    So obviously, I see these problems as highly solvable, but you must truly communicate and understand each other. That's why I love therapy and the books out there to help us broach these topics, they provide a solid framework.

    I've seen the "unspoken belief as rationale for having no dialogue in the relationship" thing play out all over the cultural/political map. It can be rooted in old school misogyny (all housework is "women's work;" rendering invisible the real work that women do) but I've even heard it expressed in some brands of feminism ("the one who raises the topic of chore inequality is the one who lacks power in the relationship" and "it's actually a feminist act to engage in relationship conflict in a hetero union"). Both narratives normalize the perpetual state of non-resolution of the conflict in a way that I find troubling.

  46. I would like to read all of the comments tonight, but alas I need to get our taxes done, so there isn't time.

    First, I want to say that despite my lack of posting comments I have really been enjoying your blog lately. I'm an architect (field dominated by men) with a daughter starting kindergarten this fall and a son a little older than your younger child. I find a lot of agreement in what you write (my unemployment even overlapped yours) and enjoy your perspective.

    Second, when the kids were younger, especially when one of them was in a mommy phase, I felt like we were Joan and Tom. I was just stretched way too thin and it didn't seem to occur to my husband to help me by doing chores when he couldn't help me with the kids because they wanted me only.

    I think we've developed more into Alice and Bob from the early example in the comments. Some might find our distribution to be unequal, but I think it is working for us and I'm not unhappy. I'm currently working to better organize the house so the kids can easily do more for themselves and so the house can stay straighter without so much effort. Once we get a tiny bit further in the process, I plan to present a plan to husband for someone to clean once a month. Or maybe twice.

    I think we have the daily stuff pretty well settled. And the things I do that other people might divy up are things that my husband doesn't have the patience to do well. Example, when washing the kid clothes, I check every piece for stains that need to be sprayed. I have a good stain remover, but it only works if you spray the stains. Which he doesn't do. And I'm not willing to have half their clothes be ruined because daddy does the laundry.

    When it comes to the things that need to be done less often (dusting, vacuuming, etc) - they bother me a lot sooner than they bother him. These are the things I want to hire someone to do. He only does them if we're having guests and my kids will help me, but only for about 10 minutes. He doesn't really like when I do these chores in lieu of spending time with the family, so I don't think there will be much of a fight when I suggest cleaning help.

    To wrap up, my husband is extremely equal when it comes to kid care, he does all of the driving to and from daycare, he does all of the winter shoveling, he takes out the trash, he arranges for work to be done on the house and he will contribute to the household in other ways when asked.

    Also, I have continued to do some of the freelance work that I picked up while I was unemployed. So he tends to do a little more kid-care than I do because of my extra work time. And the enjoyment I get from that work balances (for me) the daily household workload.

    1. Thanks for reading! And for the nice comment. I'm glad you're liking my blog- it is always nice to hear that someone does.

      I am not sure if my husband just automatically started doing more housework when Pumpkin was little and so very mommy-centric, or if there might have been an incident in which I melted down into a puddle of tears that prompted it... it was a long time ago and there was a lot of melting downing into puddles of tears in my life at that time! But he has kept it up, and although he doesn't like it- he'd rather get more of the cuddles/clinginess, we've both accepted it as how it has to be right now.

      BUT- I think that if you're happy now, then it is all good. Different people need different things out of their home life, and as long as both partners are getting what they need, the rest of us should STFU.

      One practical idea for you: my husband would never, ever go through and spray stains on laundry day. Frankly, I couldn't remember to do it, either, and we were, as you say, ending up with a lot of stained clothes. So we hit on the idea of buying a stain remover that you spray on as soon as you take the clothes off. And we can both remember to do THAT as part of our bathtime routine. That and the brainstorm to replace our one big hamper with three smaller ones that allow us to sort into our three regular loads as we go has pretty much eliminated laundry angst here. The hamper thing, I'm ashamed to admit, didn't occur to either of us until sometime last year.

  47. Hey, there. So first I want to state that I do know several homosexual couples, and in particular a lesbian couple in which both partners have science PhDs. One half of that couple is working as a career scientist; the other has a very credible career in industry. And from what I've seen, their relationship is very equitable. In particular, because there is no clear gender line regarding who does what (plumbing? mending? floors? baking? carpentry? tree trimming?) they really do get to sit down and figure out who would _rather_ do what.

    For myself: I think I err on Janet's side. I didn't always? But I think rather than cultural influences, we need to look at individual situations, and which lead to great susceptibility to those roles. In particular, I would like to cite 1.) each individual partner's internal neatness level 2.) parents and familial expectations, which carry more weight then generic "cultural" expectatations, and 3.) random life events like major depression.

    And personality. I think some people are just more susceptible to external demands than others. Myself, I'm extremely susceptible to reverse psychology. God help me if my Mom ever really figures that out. But in the mean time, it makes me as nearly immune as possible to passive-aggressive comments by disappointed family or guests regarding the state of my household...

    1. @Jackie- I only know one gay couple well enough to judge this, and they do have a fairly equal split, although money dynamics seem to be playing out there (one partner earns a lot more than the other). But I didn't feel that one data point was enough to even base a hypothesis on. Still, I wonder if we straight people could learn something by looking at how chores are handled in gay relationships, where presumably gender is less of an issue.

      I wrote this post specifically hoping to try to get at some of the variables acting in this issue. I think you've pointed out some big ones. Thanks for commenting!

  48. The difference between Steve and Tom is certainly relevant, and frankly one thing you might tell those young scared women coming up and wondering about what their future will look like, is to *select for* partners with a willingness to fight sexism in the kitchen as well as on the rhetorical level. Of course, sure, it isn't entirely in your power who you fall in love with, who falls in love with you, etc., and it doesn't need to be a litmus test, but going into a relationship, and making decisions about its permanence, with your eyes open about these types of consequences, is something that you can concretely due to help.

    Actually, while from the perspective of Joan's mate-selection "the difference between Steve and Tom" is relevant, after that point in time it's misleading. Because this isn't just Joan's problem, nor is it just Tom's problem. It is also Steve's problem, if Steve is not currently saying to Tom, "Tom, you are being an asshole."

    Just as those young-women-comin'-up need to be encouraged to demand chore-equity as a condition of mating, so those young-me-comin'-up need to be told, the physical environment you live in matters; your agency as a person who lives in a physical environment matters; the example you are setting for your children and peers matters; and believe me, as much as it sucks to clean the kitchen counters, it sucks a lot more to know in the back of your mind that you are exploiting the person you love.

    Now, Tom may actually not care any less, or be any less enlightened, about the matter. It could also be that Tom is lacking in skills -- that he can't actually tell when it's untidy, because he was miseducated by sexism (and Steve had someone at home who had the patience to get him to do his chores). It may be that Tom and Joan's communication skills are lacking here, so that when Tom tries to do what Joan wants, he does it wrong in her eyes, and so she precipitously and resentfully takes over and they both end up in a huff. It could be a lot of things.

    My wife said, when we were dating, "if we are going to have kids, you are going to have to work part time." This blew my mind, I was a young silicon valley software startup guy working 70-hour weeks. I had no picture of all of how that would even work. It was one of the best and most helpful things she ever did for me.

    Sexism makes this extremely hard. It's extremely hard even to perceive the inequality. One thing that helps greatly is metrics. If you take the time to *actually measure* the work you are doing at home, and to figure out a way that seems fair to you to do so, you will learn a hell of a lot. And in the long run you will be much, much happier for it. That's what I would tell both Joan AND (maybe particularly) Tom.

    Here's what we do, more or less:

    1. Thanks for commenting! You doubled the number of men commenting on this thread. :)

      First of all, your post on chores is awesome. I love watching people apply the tools of our profession to home. We definitely do it to: I have an old post with my Thanksgiving dinner GANNT chart, and my husband and I had a project plan and a guest probability model in a spreadsheet for our wedding.

      I think you point about the responsibility of the Steves is interesting. I am 99.9% sure my husband has never called another man on his sexist arrangement at home. But you are right, until men start normalizing equality at home, it will not truly break through to become widespread.

      I agree wholeheartedly with your point about selecting your partner carefully. I do give young women who ask me that advice. I occasionally get flak about that from other women, though, who think that you can't really tell ahead of time.

  49. Anonymous3:49 PM

    My boyfriend and I have a Joan/Tom relationship but I have been striving for a Janet/Steve relationship. My boyfriend works and I am in college. His job is more physically tolling and more hours than my schooling, so I don't mind doing a little more chores than he does. The problem is that I have to tell him to do his chores, he does not do them on his own. We have had discussions about this, but it has not helped. I've tried to make schedules, but his work hours varies so it is difficult. His main chore is dishes. If I don't tell him to do them, they pile up until literally every dish is dirty and they have overflowed the sink and are all over the counters. I have tried to be nice when asking, I have tried to be more forceful. After one of our discussions, things will be better for a day or two, then he falls back into his old ways. I hate nagging him, but that's the only way to get him to do it. i think the reasons are that his mother did not make him do chores, laziness, and lack of being aware of messes. I love him so much and do not want to end our relationship over dishes, but I want to resolve this issue before getting married and starting a family. Should I be more demanding and give him an ultimatium? It seems extreme, but everything else I've tried has failed. I don't want to have to mother him for the rest of our lives. I don't think it is too much to ask that the sink/counters aren't constantly piled with dishes.

    1. I obviously can't tell you what to do- you've got to decide for yourself what matters most to you. But I will say that having kids makes this issue much, much harder, because the amount of work that needs to be done just explodes, and because a lot of babies and toddlers go through phases where they have a strong preference for mommy over daddy for some things- and it takes a firm resolve indeed to push the issue with a baby in the middle of the night. I can't do it- I just give the kid whatever she wants so that we can all go back to sleep. And if you breastfeed, then obviously you are making the food. Even if you pump some so your partner can give a bottle, you have to spend the time pumping. So to have an equal relationship on the home front once there are kids involved, you have to be able to find alternative solutions with your partner, where you trade chores for each other, and just generally listen to what each partner needs so that even if things don't balance out in any given day or week, they feel equal to both partners in the long run.

      So I strongly recommend that you figure this out before you commit to having a family with your boyfriend. I have never heard anyone say that having kids made this stuff easier.

      I'll also say, that there is a lot of middle ground between issuing an ultimatum and accepting the status quo. I would try sitting down with him when you aren't mad about the issue, and explaining why it matters to you, and how much it matters. And then listen really carefully to what he says in return. I suspect he'll be willing to work on the issue, because he probably loves you, too, and doesn't want to do things that make you unhappy.

      And if he doesn't want to work on this issue after you've explained how much it matters to you and why... then yeah, I'd say ask yourself what you think that means, and how much ground you are willing to give on this issue. Maybe read Shandra's comments above, and also Ginger and Hush's, for some perspective from a woman who decided to accept an imbalance (Shandra) and from women who were once in a role sort of like your boyfriend is in now (Hush and Ginger). And then you have to decide: how important is it to you? There ARE men out there who will do their half of the housework without much fuss. But there is no guarantee you'll meet and fall in love with one. For me, I'd rather be alone than be with a man who wouldn't work with me on this issue. But that is just me. What matters is what YOU think.

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