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His and Hers in Finding Equality

When author Karen Bridson and I first talked about her writing a guest blog about the revolution of the women's movement and bringing equality to the household, she wrote of how giving birth to her son six years ago left her feeling like she had "somehow woken up in 1956. ... Soon it became apparent to me that I was expected to be the ‘default parent,’ the one the baby came back to once he was done ‘visiting’ with his father." But rather than just hear her side of the story, I asked Karen and her husband to write point and counterpoint. Here's their story:

She Said...

By Karen Bridson

My husband has touched a toilet brush twice that I know of in the last six and a half years.

For some reason, once our child was born, he stopped cleaning the bathrooms. For the longest time, in fact, he stopped cleaning all together. When my son was three and saw me on my hands and knees scrubbing away one day, he asked me, "Are you the cleaning lady in this house, Mommy?" To which I responded with an emphatic, "NO!" And he replied, "But you’re the only one who cleans."

My husband and I have had a pretty rocky road through parenthood, trying to find a balance so that neither one of us would feel unfairly burdened by the drudgery work of family life. All the way along, he’s done more housework and childcare than most fathers I know. But, I had to fight him the whole way. I honestly feel that he would have let me do most of the traditional ‘women’s work’ if I hadn’t insisted on fairness.

I suspect my husband was so overwhelmed by all the new duties that fatherhood put on his plate that he decided to throw a bunch of others chores back onto the table, with only me to pick up the slack. He saw his workload go up, so he started fighting for more time and space to himself. I did the same.

It was so hard for us to figure out who really was doing more, between my part-time, freelance work hours and having to compare tasks and workloads that didn’t lend themselves to easy comparison and tabulation.

For quite some time now, though, we’ve had what I consider a truly equal division of labor. We’ve worked it out. And our marriage has blossomed since that time. I’m happier in my relationship now than I was when we were newlyweds.

But I remain sensitive to the fact that many "traditional" jobs around the house still fall to me. I have to drag my husband to our son’s doctor’s appointments and teacher interviews. He has to be asked to trim the child’s nails and hair. He’s only recently learned how to take a shower AND care for the child at the same time. And when I go away for the weekend, he gets miffed if I haven’t arranged playdates and babysitters to help him in my absence. Yet he doesn’t do the same for me when he leaves town.

It honestly does feel fair now; it does. But as long as I’m the only one cleaning the toilets, I’m going to have my dukes up, ready for a fight.

He Said ...

By Robert Boyczuk

My wife is right. She's almost always is. But then, so am I. How can we both be right when we're discussing issues as contentious as child-rearing and toilet cleaning?

Turns out it's pretty easy since most of us are convinced we're right most of the time -- even in the face of evidence to the contrary. I mean, when was the last time you met someone who admitted he or she was wrong most of the time? Well, I am no exception.

So my first inclination was to respond, point-by-point, to my wife's blog by citing critical bits of information she slyly omitted that would place my insensitive lack of toilet cleaning into the correct (and larger) context. But as I started composing my rebuttal, it occurred to me that I was falling into the same old trap that jammed us up in the first place. We both felt overwhelmed and under-appreciated. We both felt that we were doing more than our fair share. And we were both as likely right as we were wrong.

So instead of starting a flame war with my wife, I thought I'd pass on what I believe to be the root cause of those early bumps in our child-rearing years: the unwavering belief we had in our own spin on the situation. At the best of times it's hard to be objective about yourself. Throw your partner and child into the mix and objectivity flies out the window. At a reading my wife gave recently, I saw people nodding in agreement as she read passages about the unjust division of home labor, and I realized that some of those bobbing heads were blissfully unaware that my wife's words applied to them. They just couldn't see it.

So how do you determine what's an equitable division of labor? You could create spreadsheets and pie charts (which we did), or set up a video camera to collect objective evidence (which we didn't do, although both of us threatened it). You definitely have to talk it through in a calm, rationale manner -- and revisit the issue frequently since those pesky children and their needs change every few months. I suspect, though, what's most important, and by far the most difficult, is that you have to believe a little less passionately in your own heartfelt, but less than objective, convictions. I think this is, in part, why my wife felt compelled to write a book -- and to research it as rigorously as she did. She wanted to win the argument by providing dispassionate evidence that women suffer from an unfair division of labor when it comes to household chores and child-rearing responsibilities. In this, at least, she's convinced me she's right. ...

Karen Bridson is author of Stunned: The New Generation of Women Having Babies, Getting Angry and Creating a Mothers’ Movement. She writes the blog Angrymamas.

Robert Boyczuk is a computer science professor at Seneca College in Toronto. He’s also the author of Horror Story and Other Horror Stories

By Stacey Garfinkle |  June 10, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Work/Life Balance
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Comments


One picky question- Karen, why do you think you need both parents to do the teacher meetings and doctor visits? Sounds to me like something one parent could do.

Posted by: bubba777 | June 10, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

I can't imagine how life must be with a score-keeping spouse. I have several friends who also are very focused on making everything fair and equal and I can only assume that it's an elusive goal because they never achieve it and spend a lot of time whining about it..honestly, what in life is fair and equal? Do what needs to be done and move on. I don't think marriage is about "fairness", it's a balance...some times and in some aspects of life the balance favors one person, in other times and other aspects, the other. To keep a scorecard seems really petty and, to me, misses the point.

Posted by: mlc2 | June 10, 2009 9:17 AM | Report abuse

So, what DO you do when both parents are overwhelmed and under appreciated???

Posted by: ishgebibble | June 10, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

the division of labor in our house was discussed and generally agreed upon before we started breeding.

since my career has more upward mobility and i make more money, mine takes priority. so wife has to take time off for doctor appt, sick days, etc. a burden for sure and i help out here and there, but that's the deal.

household stuff basically remained the same. fairly equal division of labor and we're both pretty happy.

a unique aspect of our division is the following: wife gives me credit for the hours it takes to: keep the home network and computers running, organize digital photos and home movies, program the dvr, etc.

i don't hear a lot of other wives agree that this is significant, so i appreciate my wife's understanding that taking 1/2 day off to meet the directv guy is the same as her trips to the pediatrician.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | June 10, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

I always think a great exercise for parents is for each of them to make a list of everything they do in regards to childcare, chores, and so forth. Inevitably what happens is that when they look at the other person's list, they see a bunch of things the other person does that they don't even think about. Or they know their partner does them but don't realize how much time they actually take. When my wife and I did it, I didn't realize how much time she spends on meal planning and she didn't realize how much time I spend on managing the finances.

It's a great way to see if there really is a disparity in the amount of work each partner is doing.

Posted by: dennis5 | June 10, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

It must be tiring to be an "angry mama" - I think that is probably like the martyr mom but for the new millenium.

Sometimes I wonder if women who are so obsessed with total equality in everything little part of their relationship have time to just enjoy being with their partner. Very few relationships, whether they be marriages or not, are COMPLETELY equal. Yes, I may do more of our housework, but you also won't see me mowing the lawn or taking out the trash, fixing or installing anything, etc. Perhaps these chores don't divide up equally but who has time to care or keep score? If you have a relationship built on respect and love than it shouldn't be that difficult to simply talk through with your spouse anything that is overwhelming you and work it out - without having to write a book to prove you are right.

Posted by: JJ321 | June 10, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Assigning a division of labor...sounds like micro-communism to me, a surefire means to substandard outcomes.

Posted by: 06902 | June 10, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

i agree that it must be exhausting to be constantly frustrated with your S.O.'s lack of contribution or their seemingly constant nagging.

wife hears it from her girlfriends constantly - how overworked and under appreciated they all are. some even go as far as to admonish wife for the agreements we've made as if they want to pull her down into their btch-session. sad.

a nice 'thank-you' and a little effort goes a long way to making everyone feel appreciated in our house.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | June 10, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

My gosh, nothing like a couple that bickers over their division of labor, and they only have 1 kid. Sounds like they spend more time complaining about the crap they have to do than the time they spend doing it. Whining over petty stuff like scrubbing toilets, dishes, etc... doesn't go over well in the Whacky household and will often get a response like, "Know your role and play your part!"

I have no problem helping out with the household chores. In fact, Just the other day I brought my supper dish over to the sink *AND* rinsed it off before setting it down on the counter for somebody else to put in the dishwasher. And no, I didn't expect a pat on the back or any recognition that I'm one of those new age, equal opportunaty husbands that these modern career oriented women go so ga-ga over nowadays.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | June 10, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Well, I'm going to chime in on Karen's behalf. And, I find the comments posted thus far to really unbelievable. Most of you are attributing the score keeping and other division of labor frustrations only to the mom when the husband ALSO indicated that equality is lacking: "We both felt that we were doing more than our fair share."

So why jump just on Karen here? Or isn't she allowed to complain?

Posted by: liledjen4901 | June 10, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I guess if your a man and you grow up in a house where mom does pretty much everything (usually how it works) and you have been conditioned to have no sense of guilt or responsbility about child care and household chores, then your only alternative here is to paint the woman who expects you to act like a fair-minded adult as an angry scorekeeper.

Unfortunately, the argument that someone who truly loves you shouldn't be keeping score goes both ways. Someone who truly loves you should also be care about whether you feel loved, appreiciated, and treated fairly. Believe it or not fellows, just because your mom was content to be a treated like a slave doesn't mean your wife is going to settle for this.

What is with you guys, didn't it bother you, at least a little bit, to see you mother play the daily martyr to your father's selfishness. Do you not want something better for your own daughters?

My husband is a grown up and a team player so I have not had to deal with this selfish little boy attitude myself, but I can certainly see, given some of these comments, why so many women end up initiating their divorces.

Posted by: pinkoleander | June 10, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I have no idea if our chores are divided equally or not. I suspect not. I do what bugs me and leave the rest of it alone. He does the chores that he agreed to do before the children were on the scene.

The 2 things that bug me that have nothing to do with equality....

If I just cleaned up an area and put your crap away... take a hint and put something away after you used it. The 100th time of putting the same item away over and over again does not endear me to you. I mean seriously... it can't be that complicated to put your razor away in the medicine cabinet... can it? And if you can't take the hint... don't get pissed when I ask you to put your things away. I am not the maid of the house.

The second thing is actually really puzzling and I am completely confused by it. I am the stepmother and you are the parent. If I can take the kids to the park, the library, the pool, art class, swimming lessons and whatever else is needed/wanted by myself because he doesn't want to go with us... why is he completely incapable of doing this on your own? I kid you not. It is a rare moment that he does anything with the kids by himself. Instead, either I go with them or the kids don't do whatever they were hoping to do.

Posted by: Billie_R | June 10, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

The problem with painting a woman as an "angry scorekeeper" when she notices that she's the only one cleaning the toilet is that you're not acknowledging that cleaning the toilet is fundamentally demeaning, debasing and humiliating in a way that few other things are. If the guy says, "Well, I organize the videotapes and she cleans the toilet and so therefore we're both helping around around the house" he's ignoring the fact that one job is significantly more unpleasant than another. This is about a grown man suggesting that someone else should be basically assigned the job of wiping his bum. It goes to that whole 1950's ideal of the woman being the caretaker and the man being "taken care of." When someone else hangs up your clothes, washes your clothes for you, buys your underwear and cleans up your yucky toilet, you're basically refusing to grow up and be a big boy. THe fact that you mow the lawn is irrelevant. Make your own damned coffee! I'm not your mother.

Posted by: Justsaying4 | June 10, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

"And when I go away for the weekend, he gets miffed if I haven’t arranged playdates and babysitters to help him in my absence. Yet he doesn’t do the same for me when he leaves town."

This comment is the one that bothered me the most. As if somehow a guy can't be a full time parent for a weekend, but a woman can. This is were it is not score keeping, but stepping up to the plate. The other parent isn't there and you can't parent by yourself?, but you expect the other parent to?

Posted by: mom_of_1 | June 10, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Pinkoleander makes a really interesting point and it's something that strikes me on a personal level - my mom was definitely the martyr in our household growing up and I hated it. I've never really thought about how it may have impacted my current outlook or how my husband and I manage things now, but it probably did. I have never been a fan of the martyr thing and I think it prompted me to be very direct in my communications about roles and expectations from the minute I got involved with my husband. For me, it was just always a given that we'd take turn covering "life stuff" - pre-kids, that meant taking turns to drop the car off to get the oil changed or staying at home for a repair guy to show up. Post kids, it's all that plus the doctor's visits, parent teacher conferences and school parties and programs. He's always been on board. For awhile we did struggle a little over housecleaning chores and we had candid conversations about how much he had time to take on that kind of stuff - to date, he's had his own company with a lot of responsibility (and he also makes considerably more than I do). But we figured out a way to negotiate outsourcing a lot of that so that I'm not the only one contributing but he doesn't have too much on his plate between work and contributing to house chores...it's an ongoing dialogue and one we'll continue to adjust (esp as he soon may know longer own the company but may be an employee of a larger company) but we make sure to build in breaks for each other and we also just talk a lot about the issues when things seem more difficult for one reason or another.

Posted by: stephs98 | June 10, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

"THe fact that you mow the lawn is irrelevant. Make your own damned coffee! I'm not your mother."

Bitter much? I'm willing to bet you never mow the lawn. I, for one, would rather take a 1/2 hour to clean the toilets in the nice air conditioned house than mow the lawn for three hours in 100 degree heat while being attacked by biting flies that eat "OFF" for breakfast. I guess it's how different people perceive different things.

Also, is he allowed to say to you, "You mow the damn lawn -- I'm not your dad!"? I doubt it.

Posted by: bluetear | June 10, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

my wife will absolutely call me to tell me the a/c isn't working (and that i should take care of it), but i would never call her to tell her that the laundry needs to be done. it works fine for us, and i don't mind it, but it does make me chuckle.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | June 10, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

OK, first post got held, so trying again in two parts.

Posted by: dennis5 | June 10, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Dennis, that's a great idea. I think Karen's frustration doesn't come from some sense that he does 49% to her 51%, but (a) the unstated assumption that childcare and home-related stuff falls to her, and (b) that her husband didn't seem to get how much she was already doing. I know if my husband had reacted to DD's birth by trying to dump some of his existing chores, that would have sent me through the roof.

I think an open discussion of these issues is much better than just picking up the slack while silently stewing. My DH and I sometimes see things fundamentally differently, and neither one is right or wrong. For ex., I do the cooking and my husband does cleanup. But we define these differently: when I say "I do the cooking," I define that as basically "food-gathering-and-prep" -- plan meals, do grocery shopping, prepare food, put on table; on the other hand, when he says "I do the dishes," he means that if a dish is rinsed and stacked in the sink, he will put it in the dishwasher.

Posted by: laura33 | June 10, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Part 2:

And then my job takes a lot more of time and mental energy. We both think it's fair; since I generally like cooking and he hates dishes, the relative annoyance factors balance things out. But then work got really busy, and I tried to explain how the cooking was getting a little overwhelming, and I needed some help. He didn't get it, so I explained that it's not just the cooking, it's the grocery shopping, etc. He said, "ok, make a list, and I'll go do the grocery shopping" (engineer: grocery shopping is problem, ok, I do shopping, problem solved). And that frustrated me, because the actual shopping is the easy part -- it's the "make a list" that's hard! Because that involves: (a) figuring out multiple new recipes (DH likes variety above all else) that everyone will eat, that are reasonably healthy, that make efficient use of things we have or things I will buy, and that I can make in the time between getting home and the kids' heads spinning 360 from hunger; (b) figuring out what we have and what I will need to buy; and (c) keeping track of all of the staples (so DH doesn't tell me the next day that he's out of deodorant or shampoo). It's just this constant to-do list in your head. Since it's not his area, he doesn't get what it feels like.

In the end, we've worked our way through it and met in the middle. We've clarified that I am food-girl, and he is dish-boy, and my sphere of responsibility ends when the food lands on the table. :-) We've outsourced table-setting and -clearing to kids. We started a list next to the fridge, where we both write down staples as we think of them. I still cook, but he does the occasional shop. He understands that when I'm very busy, or have just run out of time or patience to try that new Thai recipe, he's gonna eat a hot dog and not complain about it. I've accepted that the occasional hot dog or Papa Johns delivery is not going to damn my kids to a lifetime of ill-health and obesity. And -- most importantly -- I've learned from him to claim time off when I need it, instead of using every spare second to take care of one of those other 800 things that need to be done (or feel guilty about not doing it).

Posted by: laura33 | June 10, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Boyczuk wrote: We both felt overwhelmed and under-appreciated. We both felt that we were doing more than our fair share. And we were both as likely right as we were wrong.

Perfect! I run a business that follows each parent over a two-week period--at the office, the house, shopping, taking the children on outings.... At the end of the two weeks we compile a report that lists degrees of commitment, percentages of household work performed, comparisons of daily stress for each individual, comparisons of monetary worth derived from daily activities, plus a number of other factors. For relationships with high levels of inequality, we maintain a database of substitute partners who would be willing to step up to the plate as a more equitable replacement partner.

Posted by: davemarks | June 10, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

totally.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | June 10, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Laura, that's exactly my point. There are a lot of "hidden tasks" that we all do that our partners often don't realize. So when you write it out plainly that you spend 2 hours finding recipes, 1 hour doing the shopping, and 3 hours actually cooking every week or whatever it is, it really makes it easy to see. And most of them don't even take that long, but 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there adds up.

Posted by: dennis5 | June 10, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

It's the eternal battle, but it's also related to income and work. When I was married to my two son's father, he earned almost all the money. I was resentful doing the majority of the housework, esp as I'm not a terribly neat person, but I had the freedom to stay home with my children, go to the doctor without rearranging my life, run over to the school for issues and write during nap time or school hours except when I waitressed a couple nights a week.

When I was single for seven years, well, I did everything of course.

In my second marriage, the rules were clear before he moved in. And in some ways, it's easier though now there are three more boys to deal with though luckily only one is full time and one of mine is an adult and has long moved out. My new husband picks up after himself and his kids, I pick up after myself and my kids. I do the laundry for myself and my children. He does the laundry for himself and his children. Since we're both not terribly neat people, the house is often cluttered but not disease ridden.

I DID get resentful cleaning the toilet floors after two sons, three step-sons and a husband when I've never peed on the floor in my life. So I put my foot down.

A simple, "you deal with it" solved that as he'd hand the mop I handed him to the guilty kid.

If we have time, we'll both go to parent teacher meetings, but sometimes just the parent of the child will go. He takes his kid to the doctor/dentist/chiropractor, I take mine.

Although I seem to always be the one grocery shopping and planning meals (both my husband and son come home for lunch every day at different times and I make it for both of them) I do it, because if something needs to be fixed, painted, wired, he does it. I sure don't know how.

But it's much easier in this second marriage, because we both had first marriages and don't have children together so it's easier to divide up the child care and to discuss how we see what's going on in the household and how to tackle the annoying cleaning crap. Yes, I'm still the one who dusts and almost always vacuums but I'm the one who works at home as a full time author/editor and notices more.
But since he's the one with the bigger income, he treats when we go out on the town.

We see the bigger picture, getting along and enjoying our lives and careers and that helps a lot.

I don't think anyone is going to agree about gender roles and responsibilities but I think my second husband has really stepped up to the plate with his own child that he took custody of. But of course, I was the one that stood firm to enforce that he did.....

Posted by: SepheraGiron | June 10, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I meant to say that I have one teenager and my husband has one eleven year old that live with us full time right now.

Posted by: SepheraGiron | June 10, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

dennis5, yep. And I should clarify that it goes both ways -- when he built our table and benches, he spent hours designing it, planning things out, getting the material, etc. The stuff I notice is when he's actually in the shop -- not the hours he's behind me in the family room making the list of things he needs from Home Depot while we watch TV, or the evenings on the computer drawing it out (what? you mean it wasn't just hours on gizmodo?). :-)

Hmmm, come to think of it, that's what I should've done -- "honey, just imagine my cooking as you making a table." :-)

Posted by: laura33 | June 10, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

"a nice 'thank-you' and a little effort goes a long way..."

And a bouquet of flowers will get a man a round trip ticket in the business class section, if you know what I mean...

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | June 10, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

This is kinda funny. I clean the bathroom. Because it needs to be done. And it makes my wife happy. I'd clean the neighbor's bathroom if it made my wife happy.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | June 10, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Didn't read the responses, but at first glance I have to say Robert seems much more level headed than Karen. I didn't care for her tone and the remark about landing back in 1956 in the intro immediately aliented me.

Who said life, parenting or housework was fair? I saw a lot of bomb throwing from Karen, despite her claims that their marriage has thrived lately. From Robert I saw an inability to say, hey honey - you may have been right at first but knock it off now. Who knows what their actual situation is, but the potrayal of this couple looks uncomfortable, at best.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | June 10, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

For all the angry mamas... Clorox has this revolutionary new invention, I believe it is called the toilet wand. Pop the refill on the wand and your toilet is clean in 2 minutes - if there are some drips then whip out a clorox wipe and you are done in total of 3 minutes. This is probably the least aggravating chore in our house, I don't understand why so many think it is "demeaning, debasing" etc. How long are you people waiting in between cleanings??

Posted by: JJ321 | June 10, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

My husband and I haven't had any problems with household equality. We work opposite schedules, so when he's home, he's on child/cleaning duty. When I'm home, it's my turn. When we're both home, we don't do chores, because we prefer to spend that time just being together with or without the kids.

He handles vacuuming/dusting/ mopping during the week while I'm at work, and I'm on weekend duty. He runs the washer and dryer and folds the clothes and put them away. I do the dishes, he puts them away. Our older two kids (6 and 4) have to keep their rooms clean on their own. Our 2-year old shares a room with the 4-year old, so she's learning to help. I keep the baby's room clean.

I take care of doctor appointments, school activities, homework, finances, and shopping. I set out clothes for all four kids for the next day. He takes care of yard work, car care, fixing things. He has the house picked up every day when I get home so that I can focus on the kids for the rest of the evening.

We just each do our part to make the day a little less stressful for each other. If you do things simply because you know it will make your spouse happy, then it doesn't seem like such a chore.

Posted by: MEALmama | June 10, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I have worked out a division of labor that is neither equal nor consistent. On any given day, one of us may be doing more physical work (toilets) and the other may be doing more emotional work (dealing with kids' issues). It flows back and forth. She's been a stay at home mom which makes calculating chores a useless task. We just accept that this is how we are operating for now. If/when she goes back to work, we'll shift again.

As for the toilets and much of the rest of our housekeeping, we decided to just let things go for now. The lawn will still be there next week but the kids want to play Go Fish right now.

Posted by: KS100H | June 10, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I used to feel sorry for the women whose partners dumped all the housework and childrearing duties on them. Then I realized: 1) they picked those partners; 2) these are often the same women wanting to treat their partners like it is 1956; and 3) THEY PICKED THEM! Little to no sympathy from me. Household chores are split probably 60-70% DH, 30-40% me for most of the time. DH travels extensively, and when that happens, it is 100% me, so we both feel it balances out. I think a lot of the misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and aggravations would be solved if people actually grew up before they got married and got used to being married before they had kids.

Posted by: Ga_gal | June 10, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

I put a new roll of toilet paper on the dispenser TWICE last week! We're an "over" family if anybody wants to know.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | June 10, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Whacky, we are unders! Hey if you go looking to find unfairness, guess what you are gonna find, unfairness. Life in inherently unfair. I'm frankly getting tired of overeducated, white gals with super flexible careers complain about how hard their lives are. Guess, what, toilets need to be cleaned - taking care of your home and your family is only demeaning if you think it is. Is lawn care demeaning to men because we make an assumption that they cannot nurture and are only good for physical tasks? If you cannot stand the housekeeping ask your dh to swap for the lawn and maintenance tasks or hire a housekeeper, but for the love of God, please stop talking about how oppressed you are while sipping your late and typing on your iBook. Really it does nothing to advance us as women and you complaining about housekeeping does nothing to advance the women who could really use a hand getting ahead.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | June 10, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I gotta say that I understand Karen's point of view, although thankfully my husband is a gem when it comes to doing his share. I would have been really ticked off if my husband had tried to offload his chores on me after our children were born.

And interestingly enough, Robert does admit that Karen was right, but that he was so invested in his particular point of view that he could not see it at the time. He admits that she was right in a kind of roundabout way, but ultimately, he does admit it.

I am a little surprised at the backlash against moms who complain. I think this is part of the expectation that women just suck it up and not make waves. And I admit that some women might find it easier to be quiet and take up the slack, but for some others, this might be impossible. Simmering resentment can end a marriage as easily, and perhaps more insidiously, than angry confrontations.

So good for Karen for making her points and fighting for them. In the end, it seems that her marriage is the better for it. And good for her husband for finally listening and making appropriate changes.

Posted by: emily8 | June 10, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Whoa! No one said life is fair, sure - but I think the point is that as a society, we continue to grapple with stereotypical assumptions about what men and women should each contribute to the household and to raising a family together. And while one would think that "hey, this is 2009, we've really come a long ways from decades past," the reality is that for many, there continues to be a big struggle to overcome such stereotypical behaviors and assumed roles. I see it all the time - this is a discussion (or at least I thought it was) about how to best move away from that and how to foster healthy, productive relationships and families.

Posted by: stephs98 | June 10, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the poster who said we pick our partners... true. And this is a reality lesson I learned in my second marriage. The things that get on my nerves, hey I picked them! (harsh reality check)

Now, at the risk of saying too much, I know Karen and Robert and I think some of the issues towards this cleaning stuff stem from their age difference. Robert is much older than Karen and despite how liberated we all think we are, I do indeed think it makes a difference. He had a well established likely rather well paying career and owned his own home long before he met Karen. He probably gets lots of medical benefits that Karen's freelance work doesn't get her. I know my writer jobs give me no benefits except tax write offs. They didn't have the newly wed struggling to buy and home and set up careers that couples who are both in their twenties have. So in this alone, there may be a difference of opinion and attitude no matter how liberated or respectful they are trying to be to each other.

Yes, money shouldn't matter but it does.

In my own case, my second husband is much younger than me, and that is perhaps why we are able to split things up a bit more easily. As well as the fact that I put my foot down that I'm not the maid BEFORE he moved in. And when he went for custody of his kid, I told him he's the custodial parent, I'm already swamped with two of my own.

I'm driving my son to extra curricular activities and his job every single day of the week, seven days a week now that his natural father left the country a year ago.

I even drive my adult son to various appts, help him shop, etc. because I chose to have children and that's just what you do.

My parents came to help me out for a day a couple of weeks ago while I was recovering from surgery and mom cleaned my kitchen while I rested. I didn't ask her too, she did and darn, I wish she lived closer!!! My parents have a great balance in their marriage. They both do everything and always have no matter what it involves.

On the other side of things, I have a friend on her second marriage with two adult children. She works 8 to 5 every single day, likely makes slightly more than her new husband, and does EVERYTHING. cooks, cleans, gardening, painting, etc. even for her adult children who are in school and work and could indeed help her but she likes it that way. She feels useful and needed I think.

Her deal is when we talk is that if I don't like something (ie. why doesn't he clean up this or that?) that I should either do it myself or shut up cos I picked him or hire a maid.

I'm not sure anyone will get to the bottom of what's right and wrong and what the magic way to juggle family, chores, and jobs is. We all have to find what works for us and hope for the best.

Posted by: SepheraGiron | June 10, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

"I'm frankly getting tired of overeducated, white gals with super flexible careers complain about how hard their lives are."

amen, Moxie!

I try to actively be grateful all the time that I live in my time and location and class, which affords me the following:
dishwashers
clothes washer and dryer
disposable diapers
ready-made clothes (yes, other people actually make their own!)
toilet wand
vacuum cleaner
and a thousand other things which make my life easier.

So when I hear people complaining about how their spouse refuses to put dishes in the dishwasher, my first thought is, "Be glad you aren't hand-washing it in a river, you spoiled brat!"

Most people in the world today, and throughout all of history, have had tremendously difficult lives. It's pathetic that so much complaining is going on in the midst of such luxury.

Posted by: newslinks1 | June 10, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I know Karen and Robert and I think some of the issues towards this cleaning stuff stem from their age difference. Robert is much older than Karen and despite how liberated we all think we are, I do indeed think it makes a difference. He had a well established likely rather well paying career and owned his own home long before he met Karen.

Posted by: SepheraGiron | June 10, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Ah, a trophy wife.....

Posted by: jezebel3 | June 10, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

No, she's not a trophy wife though she is very beautiful! She's a hard worker and so is he. He's just further ahead career wise because he's older, was the point I think I was trying to make.

Posted by: SepheraGiron | June 10, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

So when I hear people complaining about how their spouse refuses to put dishes in the dishwasher, my first thought is, "Be glad you aren't hand-washing it in a river, you spoiled brat!"

You guys are really pushing my buttons. So what you are saying is that women should just acquiesce to unfair divisions of labor because we have dishwashers, washing machines, electric stoves, etc? This makes it ok? How about some more reasons we should excuse our husbands from chores. How about, "At least he isn't running around on you." Or "Oh, he's a good provider. He deserves to rest after work." Or "He doesn't know how to do laundry or dishes. He's a man, after all>"

OK, so these may be a little extreme. But my point is, so what if we have dishwashers and appliances and it is easier now to do chores than in colonial days? So what if our husbands work - many of us also work. By not holding our husbands accountable, we are agreeing to maintain those stereotypical duties that have been historically relegated to women. By agreeing to this, we are agreeing that somehow, the tasks of childrearing and housekeeping are somehow women's tasks. And I think we need to get beyond this, even if we are latte sipping, coach toting, Prada wearing moms who have flexible, high paying jobs and amazing educations. If we don't have the wherewithal to stand up for ourselves, then how do we expect any other women, from less privileged backgrounds, to do the same? By accepting the status quo, even at our priveleged level, we are saying that the status quo is ok, and that women somehow don't deserve the same consideration as men. This translates into so many things other than household duties and childcare. Women need to stand up and require that they be compensated fairly in all aspects of their lives - home and work. We need to make sure we get the corner offices when we deserve them, along with the money and other accoutrements that come with power when we have earned them. We need to stop selling ourselves short.

Posted by: emily8 | June 10, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Well Moxie, it appears as though we are complete opposites, but you know what they say about opposites. :-)

And as long as this topic is in the twirwlybowl...

Moms, if you have daughters of the marrying type and want to do the next generation a favor, you need to tell them that young men are somewhat akin to overgrown babies and need to be treated as such. when they move in with their husbands and share a bathroom, one of the first things a woman should do in her best interest (and that of the relationship also) is put him through her potty training program. This includes practising keeping the seat down, wiping when he misses, how to put a roll of toilet paper on the bar (over/under is woman's choice), how to properly fold towels, where to keep the razor, soap, what to do with his dirty underwear etc.

I suggest that you instruct your daughters to be consistent, patient, and most importantly of all, let him work at his own pace in this matter. YMMV.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | June 10, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Fascinating!!!! Thanks everyone for your comments.

I guess our decision - doing the "Leave it to Beaver" household once we had kids - was right for us. Of course, we did a gender swap, so DH is handling June's role (insert vaccuuming while cross-dressing joke here), and I'm walking in Ward's shoes. It may be 1956 in our house, but living in the 21st century means we both know and appreciate the other's responsibilities.

When we're overwhelmed, we can ask each other for help and get it. As the kids have grown, they've taken on more responsibilities too. And we share a lot of chores in the evenings and week ends, because it makes any chore go faster when two, or more, people work together, and it's more fun (or at least less unpleasant) when you have someone else to talk to rather than working on chores all alone.

Posted by: SueMc | June 10, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I am a little surprised at the backlash against moms who complain. I think this is part of the expectation that women just suck it up and not make waves.

Posted by: emily8 | June 10, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Uh no, it's part of the annoyance with people (usually women) who complain constantly about their spouse not doing enough around the house. They knew how this person was before they got married and chose to marry them anyway.

And if you don't feel you're spouse is pulling their load, then talk to them like adults and work out a solution. Complaining about it to your friends isn't going to help any.

Posted by: dennis5 | June 10, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Whacky - I have a better suggestion. Mothers and fathers need to train their sons so that they can fend for themselves. If parents did it more often, this chore would not have to go to the wives. I for one, would advise my daughter against marrying any man who is in need of such basic training. She has better things to do than teach a grown man how to fold a towel or wipe pee off the toilet.
Egads, Whacky - you have daughters. Don't you wish for something better for them?

Posted by: emily8 | June 10, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

i actually love the classic "men should keep the seat down" proclamation. why exactly?

from karen's blog:
"The University of Wisconsin's National Survey of Families and Households found that the wife does 31 hours a week on average of housework..."

31 hours? i guess if you're cooking a full meal every night and doing it all yourself you could get to 31. But on average? it also says that the men were doing 14 hours.

am i forgetting to do something at home? no way i could come up with 45 hours a week of housework unless i remodeled our house or had 2 more kids!

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | June 10, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

fr Sephira:

>...I'm driving my son to extra curricular activities and his job every single day of the week, seven days a week now that his natural father left the country a year ago.

I even drive my adult son to various appts, help him shop, etc. because I chose to have children and that's just what you do....

Um, just curious, how far is your son's job that he can't get there himself, or take public transit (If it's in your area)? Same with your adult son, unless he's challenged in some way, shouldn't he be responsible for getting to work, appts and shopping?

Posted by: Alex511 | June 10, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, emily -- I was trying to come up with a response, but you did it better.

newslinks -- I am surprised that your first "spoiled brat" thought wouldn't be about the spouse who couldn't manage to put his or her own dishes in the dishwasher; after all, since modern conveniences have made it so much simpler to pick up after ourselves, one would have to be particular spoiled and entitled not to be willing to do even so much.

Your comparison is also not fair. Am I happy I don't have to wax the floors on my hands and knees for 4 hrs like my Granny did? You bet your bootie. But my Granny didn't also hold down a full-time job out of the house. Laundry may have taken her all day; it takes me an hour -- but the other 7 I'm in the office. Am I grateful? Again, you bet your bootie -- I'd much rather be in a nice air-conditioned office than working the wringer. But that still doesn't get the dishes done.

The day I sit around eating bon-bons and complaining about how much my husband doesn't do, feel free to jump all over me. But I don't know anyone like that. What I see every day is women like me, who put in anywhere from 6-10 hrs at the office, then go home and do the same there. And if one of their husbands can't even be bothered to put his dish in the sink, well, you know which one I'd consider to be the spoiled brat.

Posted by: laura33 | June 10, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

"So what you are saying is that women should just acquiesce to unfair divisions of labor because we have dishwashers, washing machines, electric stoves, etc? This makes it ok?"

No, Emily, I'm saying that we should be grateful for how good we have it. There's a world of difference between being grateful for what you have and relinquishing all power in your life. The problem is NOT the inequity--the problem is the complaining. You're an equal in this. You set the parameters. So go DO it!

I guess my point is, if you're seriously spending time arguing over whose turn it is to clean the toilet, you have some pretty massive issues. DH and I agreed on equitable chores early on--and if he suddenly stopped doing some of them, I would NOT wait THREE YEARS to fix it, while complaining bitterly about it to my friends.

If you were equal partners in a business with someone who was slacking off, wouldn't those performance issues get addressed right away? Under-performers at work are often more a result of their poor managers than their own capabilities.

So the fact that all this public complaining is happening indicates a lack of responsibility on the part of the complainer. Suck it up and discuss these things and fix the situation. You always have the power to do so.

And in the meantime, instead of being shockingly, publicly bitter, recognize that things in fact could be way worse.

Posted by: newslinks1 | June 10, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

"Uh no, it's part of the annoyance with people (usually women) who complain constantly about their spouse not doing enough around the house. They knew how this person was before they got married and chose to marry them anyway."

They may not have known how their spouse was before marriage. Sometimes, these things do not come to light after you begin living together.

Look, I agree you should choose your spouse as carefully and wisely as possible. But does that mean that certain things can't be renegotiated after the fact, according to changes in circumstances. If a husband and wife decide that the wife will stay home and care for the family, does this mean that she never has to consider working, even if something happens that makes it necessary for her to work outside the home? Does that mean that for the rest of the marriage, the husband, no matter what, has to be the wage earner? This does not sound fair. The same thing goes for household chores, childrearing, etc. Both people have to be flexible and responsive to the needs of the family, even if arrangements were different in the past. Just because something was done a certain way in the past does not mean that they must continue in the same way forever.

As for Sue's comment. No, it is not 1956 in your home. It is more like 2020. Because your family had the courage to do things differently in a manner appropriate for your family. It doesn't matter so much who does what. What matters is that you are willing to make those decisions based on the needs and temperaments of those involved, and regardless of societal expectations. Kudos to you.

Posted by: emily8 | June 10, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

"I would NOT wait THREE YEARS to fix it, while complaining bitterly about it to my friends."

I just did not find Karen to be so "shockingly bitter." And sometimes, issues do take a while to work out. Unless of course you are willing to divorce your partner over a dirty toilet. I just don't see Karen as bitterly complaining while failing to address the problem. The problem, apparently has been addressed, and her marriage is the better for it now.

Posted by: emily8 | June 10, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

"As for Sue's comment. No, it is not 1956 in your home. It is more like 2020. Because your family had the courage to do things differently in a manner appropriate for your family. It doesn't matter so much who does what."

Emily, you're contradicting yourself! You claim you want equity, then you say Sue's self-described Cleaver house is "like 2020" simply because the man is the put-upon wife!!!

Posted by: newslinks1 | June 10, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

No contradiction whatsoever. Sue does not sound like an oppressive wife. She and her husband just switched roles according to their particular needs and temperaments. It seems like a pretty equal partnership to me, where both parties pitch in as necessary to get things done, and they don't do it based on gender roles. They do it based on their own specific circumstances.

Posted by: emily8 | June 10, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

newslinks, don't think emily has ever said she's against having a SAHP. She just objects to the stereotypes that assume that it has to be the mom.

I don't see any contradiction at all. "Fair" or "equitable" does not mean "50/50 vs. 51/49." It means that each person bears a fair share of the overall work (paid, unpaid, etc.) -- and that the work is allocated according to each person's ability and desires vs. unstated assumptions about gender roles.

Posted by: laura33 | June 10, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

my vote for post of the day:

This is kinda funny. I clean the bathroom. Because it needs to be done. And it makes my wife happy. I'd clean the neighbor's bathroom if it made my wife happy.
Posted by: NoVAHockey

:)

Posted by: newslinks1 | June 10, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Why does a woman need to "teach" a husband how to wipe pee off a toilet? Reminds me of a Brian Reagan (the comic) bit on the instructions on toasting a poptart, it is a 4 step process, starting with "open the package" - DUH! Just wipe the pee, no instruction necessary.

What needs to be taught to all kids, regardless of gender, is simple manners, picking up after yourself, household basics. It's not hard to raise common sense kids with basic knowledge and being open to help others.

As for age differences of the writers, explains a lot. My dad is not the best at household work, he always did the yard and heavy lifting stuff. Despite their "traditional" roles, now that my dad is retired he has taken to vacuuming, dusting, laundry - he loves it all! Maybe once Robert retires he will find his true love of housework as well.

Let's face it, my generation is much more acclimated to sharing parental and household duties and the next will be even more so. Sharing duties is making a comeback (not sure from where), so wringing our collective hands over outdated gender inequities is really just hogwash. For anyone that wants to keep fighting these wars, then marries a slob or someone they know is going to tick them off because of pee on a seat - you got what you deserved.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | June 10, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Whacky - I have a better suggestion. Mothers and fathers need to train their sons so that they can fend for themselves. If parents did it more often, this chore would not have to go to the wives. I for one, would advise my daughter against marrying any man who is in need of such basic training. She has better things to do than teach a grown man how to fold a towel or wipe pee off the toilet.
Egads, Whacky - you have daughters. Don't you wish for something better for them?

Posted by: emily8 | June 10, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse


I've dated a number of men who served in the military and we're taught this stuff. It didn't stick. They would live in squalor without cleaning services or wives.

Posted by: jezebel3 | June 10, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Today's post is really timely for me. Four months ago, I probably would have typed out a smug little comment about how the division of labor in my household is unequal but not unfair and how all I need to do is remember how hard DH works and blah blah blah sunshine and puppies.

Then we had a second child, and now? I'm drowning. It seems like I spend every waking hour tending to the needs of one or both of the kids, then the second I have two free hands, I'm racing around trying to keep the household stuff on track (for the record, I've been trying to type this comment since 1 pm, have been interrupted no fewer than six times, and am only now getting it typed with one hand while feeding the baby in the other). DH's life, on the other hand, hasn't changed at all. I've told him I need more help, and all he has to offer is "you can hire a cleaning service," a useless answer if ever I've heard one. I can feel the resentment rising with the tide of clutter and unfinished tasks, and right now no amount of walking in his shoes is helping. But today's post at least reminds me not to wait three years to re-negotiate the balance in our household.

Posted by: newsahm | June 10, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

When my boys were little, (fifteen months apart) my husband and were going crazy. We hit upon the idea of trading days. One day he did everything (except nursing), the next day I did everything. Over two weeks, everything was even. Only rule was no complaining about what the other did on their day - ie mismatched clothes, food, etc.

That gradually went away by itself as we were then clued in to what it took to do everything. When our daughter showed up five years later, and now, nineteen years later, we have no arguments about who does what. Without lists or resentment, everything gets done.

Posted by: ABQ33 | June 10, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

We live in the suburbs so I have to drive the one son either right to his activities or to the transit to get there. His job isn't transit accessible and he does walk when he has more then ten minutes to get from school to the job.

And yes, I do have an adult child who needs me to help him now and again. Not all the time, but he does need to be checked in on because not all of us are blessed with "normal" children.

I don't mind dealing with my children at all. I chose to have them and will help them whenever I can, and yes, that includes teaching them to be independent and self-functioning.

I still hate housework, though.

Posted by: SepheraGiron | June 10, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

I've dated a number of men who served in the military and we're taught this stuff. It didn't stick. They would live in squalor without cleaning services or wives.


Posted by: jezebel3 | June 10, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse


Correction: were taught this stuff.

Posted by: jezebel3 | June 10, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

"I've been trying to type this comment since 1 pm, have been interrupted no fewer than six times, and am only now getting it typed with one hand while feeding the baby in the other"

Newsahm - Just be thankful you have a computer, a beautiful baby to care for, food to feed your child, and well, for your hands as well. After all, you could be living in Afghanistan where people have it really bad.
:)

Posted by: emily8 | June 10, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

First, Hi Emily, how's the baby? Amen Newslinks.

Second, I was in no way saying women should aquiesce and accept their fate, but complaining to the world about your husband's shortcomings doesn't seem like the best way to remedy the situation.

No one can take advantage of you without your permission! (wise words from my mom)

If your husband doesn't behave the way you would like him to it is yours and his responsibility to change the situation to make it better, you are not a victim of patriarchy because your husband won't put the dishes away. These women who work all day and do everything at home do that by choice. Its no more his fault than it is yours. How about this, I'm tired of women painting themselves as victims, how's that for a typical female role? Seriously a WHOLE book on housework? It took them YEARS to sort this out? Were they mapping the human genome at the same time?


If we were talking about women who were denied projects or promotions because they took maternity leave then I think we'd have a valid feminist rallying point. In this case we are talking about a toilet. It is NOT a symbol of female oppression, it is a wonderful advancement for mankind and a marvelous convenience that needs to be cleaned, period.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | June 10, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Just to be completely fair and honest here, we might not argue about unfair distribution of household jobs, but the house is CHAOS most of the time. CHAOS = Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome. I think I learned that acronym either on this blog or the old "On Balance" blog.

We get enough cleaning done that nobody's going to get sick, and the house won't be condemned by the City of Oakland. But once that's out of the way, we're off to something fun! Most people would be very uncomfortable living with as much mess and clutter as we do, but it's not a stressor for us because we just don't care about "spotless and immaculate" all that much.

Last person who cleaned the toilet at our house - about 2-3 weeks ago. DH started the job, and about that time I got home from work, so he handed me the brush and I finished, while he went to the kitchen and got dinner started.
(Yes, silly trolls, he washes his hands before preparing food - although, we still need to remind the boys about hand-washing whenever we have them helping in the kitchen.)

Posted by: SueMc | June 10, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Newsham - I know where you are and here is my unsolicited advice. #1 - Hire the cleaning service! It doesn't really matter WHO does the cleaning does it? Take him up on it.

#2 - I wonder (genuine question, no snark intended) if some of the stress comes from within. Does your husband expect everything to be perfect and done or do you expect that? My husband understood that I kind of had my hands full and didn't expect nice meals or a perfect home once I had the second one. I, however felt like I needed to do everything. Once I gave myself license to relax a little, step over the toys, dress the kids out of the laundry basket etc....it was much better. If you talk with him, he may not be expecting everything you are. Good luck - it is an immensely difficult time! But it will pass.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | June 10, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

newsahm, hang in there. It does get better. But that transition is tough -- in part because infants are tremendously demanding, and in part because you have already established a routine (which means he probably thinks he is doing his fair share, since he's executing what you've already agreed on).

My advice, FWIW: first, drop anything that you can afford to drop. I suspect that have certain expectations of yourself, based on life with one, and with the added weight of a second, you're now treading water as hard as you can to try to live up to those expectations. Stop. The best gift you can give yourself is accepting that many things that you could manage with one kid won't get done with two. (Some days, I held out for "fed," "clothed," and "no ER visits").

Second, when you talk to your husband, don't phrase it as "help." That implies that this is all rightfully your job, and that you need some temporary extras from him. It may all have been your job in the past, but your family just grew by 1/3. What you need now is a renegotiation, not a short-term hand.

Finally, when you do talk to your husband, think about how he likes to problem-solve, and try to talk his language. Some guys like to decide themselves, others like simply being assigned something. Mine's an engineer; he has no patience for discussions, just wants to solve the problem. So I figured out the solution I wanted, and our conversation ended up being:

Me: "which kid do you want?"
Him: "I kind of like things the way they are now."
Me: "Ha ha! No, really, which kid do you want."
Him: "I guess I'll take the boy."

15 seconds, no angst or trauma, done, both happy. YMMV, of course.

Posted by: laura33 | June 10, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

"Just be thankful you have a computer, a beautiful baby to care for, food to feed your child, and well, for your hands as well. After all, you could be living in Afghanistan where people have it really bad."

True. I try to remember every day to say a little word of thanks that my hands haven't fallen off. :-) And lord knows, I'm incredibly grateful to have this baby that I'm complaining about.

"I know where you are and here is my unsolicited advice. #1 - Hire the cleaning service! It doesn't really matter WHO does the cleaning does it? Take him up on it.

#2 - I wonder (genuine question, no snark intended) if some of the stress comes from within. Does your husband expect everything to be perfect and done or do you expect that? My husband understood that I kind of had my hands full and didn't expect nice meals or a perfect home once I had the second one. I, however felt like I needed to do everything. Once I gave myself license to relax a little, step over the toys, dress the kids out of the laundry basket etc....it was much better. If you talk with him, he may not be expecting everything you are. Good luck - it is an immensely difficult time! But it will pass.

Moxie,

It's a fair question. And when I'm not feeling stressed out, I can admit that there isn't much pressure coming from DH. He does expect that we will eat home-cooked food and that I'll plan meals that let him bring leftovers for lunch, but in this economy, that's entirely reasonable. Other than that, he's happy if the kids are well taken care of and he can see the floor in most rooms. (really, he's a good, hard-working, thoughtful guy. I'm just really cranky these days).

I'm the one making the pressure here. Even by my extremely low standards, my house is a disaster, and it's making me nuts. Even worse is the feeling that I just can't get any task finished without being interrupted.

As to hiring cleaners, I feel like right now it'd be more work to have them than not. I don't have the time to research, interview and hire someone, to say nothing of getting the entire house tidy enough that the cleaners could even do their job. The actual cleaning is such a tiny portion of what needs to be done that cleaners seem like nothing more than a bandaid.

And with that, I promise to stop being a brat. Heading offline now for some therapeutic baby snuggles.

Posted by: newsahm | June 10, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

newsahm - I was joking on the being thankful part. Although I recognize that a good attitude always helps. But sometimes, it also helps to vent a little, and to get some validation that you are being unreasonable in your thinking.

I do understand that with little ones, you are constantly interrupted. I remember thinking at one point that I could not even have a cup of coffee in peace without a little one trying to wriggle into my lap. And yesterday evening, even my 9 year old was vying for my lap, in competition with a very feisty 18 month old. It is a blessing, but sometimes, you just want to be alone, or at least not touching someone else. Sigh.

Try to find some time for only yourself, even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom for it. My husband and I both do that. Bathroom time is sacred. Just stock up on some magazines.

Posted by: emily8 | June 10, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Bridson and Boyczuk don't seem to *like* each other very much. Their writing is all about fairness and never mentions love.

They also don't seem to communicate very well. He gets freaked out by fatherhood, and instead of expressing that to her, he withdraws. She doesn't try to engage him about his freaking out, but devotes herself just to the allocation of chores. Both of them are focusing on symptoms rather than the problems themselves.

Posted by: tomtildrum | June 10, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

I agree it's no fun to listen to people complain to third parties when they should be talking about the problem with their spouse. But if you're the spouse I'd encourage you to listen!

Unequal divisions of labor -- perceived or real -- sink marriages. Failing to resolve this issue in my own marriage led in no small part to its demise.

To this day my life is vastly easier without the mess of a third overgrown child on top of my other parenting and professional responsibilities! Now he's taken up with a sweet young thing and she's already complaining to me about his habits. HA!!

I'd like to think my marital mistake was unique but it's not.

Posted by: annenh | June 10, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

SueMc said:
"we might not argue about unfair distribution of household jobs, but the house is CHAOS most of the time. CHAOS = Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome."

We decided to punt on that one. The house is a mess (unpainted walls, missing trim, the toilet!) but we have people over all the time. There's a proud tradition in my culture that after the kids grow up we will have an immaculate house and a lovely, weed-free lawn. Until then, we keep skirting the edge of being trailer trash.

Posted by: KS100H | June 10, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Things got better around here when I realized the major problem is that my husband has no initiative. It simply does not occur to him to do household chores (other than taking the trash out). I have to point things out to him.

Ironically, the toilet bothers me the least of most of the chores, since it only takes a minute and doesn't involve much bending over or heavy lifting. The one that I really hate is vacuuming the stairs.

Posted by: floof | June 10, 2009 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Where I'm coming from:
I'm a Mom of 1 year old twin boys. I run my own website design business and I'm a writer. I have Fibromyalgia and therefore am physically limited. He knew this when he married me almost 14 years ago. He's a teacher at a very rough "turnaround" high school, and a musician. We no not believe in, nor adhere to gender roles. More importantly, I DO NOT believe MEN SUCK.

When he went back to work we could not help but compare and compete over who had a worse/harder day. It's a horrible habit that sneaks up on you and can get petty very quickly. (Example, you are all stuck on this stupid toilet issue.) One day, my boys would NOT nap, they screamed all day keeping each other up and I was seriously frayed at the edges by 4pm. He came home from a day full of dealing with a SWAT team at the school making arrests and freaking everyone out in a lockdown. Obviously... my day was worse. Right? You can't compare stuff like that!

I started to feel like I had to play this role of WOMAN (carved out of the 50's) and resented it, but nobody forced it on me. It was a really strange emotion and can stick with you more than you know (maybe it came from my mom?). Perhaps, that's how Karen feels? I don't know. He suddenly felt more left out because I suddenly had ownership of my lion's den and things changed.

However, my physical strength was at an all time low and he did way more around the house than ever before. We realized we were comparing and fighting over things that could not be helped, and there's no comparing apples to oranges. Or, toilet brushes to pee stains, if you will.

From our experience, the best thing we could do was to promise each other that, "I will do my best." And we do, all the time, because we're a team and we'll get through this together. Not because he's an awesome man and I'm a determined woman, but because this is the life we chose to build together.

Try not to nitpick, instead look into why you're nitpicking.

Posted by: marcyitaliano | June 10, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

"the best thing we could do was to promise each other that, 'I will do my best.'"

That's perfect. And that's what was lacking in Bridson and Boyczuk's essays.

Posted by: tomtildrum | June 11, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Wow. I guess I'm lucky to have come from a family where the work was distributed across all members--including children. We all worked together. Saturday mornings there'd be a chore list on the table and we'd all work until things were done. I don't remember ever seeing my dad sitting around if my mom was working and vice-versa.

And if you'd like an egalitarian household be sure to teach your kids how to do chores also--I had several roommates who had never cleaned a bathroom before. We all took turns at the normal mundane chores as well as cooking dinner and doing the laundry. You're not doing your kids any favors if they go out into the world thinking that fairies magically make the world run.

Posted by: auntiemare | June 15, 2009 6:34 PM | Report abuse

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