One of my readers reached out the other day (hi there!) to ask that I write about how my husband and I split home responsibilities, and how that’s changed over the years. I thought that was a great idea, so that’s the subject of today’s post. Note – do you have an idea for an article, or something you’d love to see me write about? Drop me a note at email@example.com. I love hearing from my readers!
I mentioned this once before when I talked about preparing for kids as a breadwinning mom, but one of the keys here is going to be flexibility, adaptability, and openness to change. You may initially make some decisions that you find don’t work for your family, and have to make changes. Or you might have one arrangement and need to change it due to work or life circumstances beyond your control.
So let me tell you my story first, and then I’ll talk a bit about some tips I have for other moms.
How We’ve Divided Household Responsibilities For Nearly 20 Years
My husband and I are approaching our 17th wedding anniversary in September, and we lived together for almost two years before we were married. In that time we’ve been through a number of phases, trials and errors, and changes (some voluntary and some not so much).
- In 2000 – 2003, we were engaged and then married with no kids, so all we had to take care of was ourselves. We split the minimal household responsibilities roughly equally. We would both take out the garbage when it was full, I would do most of the cooking but taught him how to cook (when we first got together he literally could not cook beyond cereal & spaghetti). I was going to school full time and working full time, so much of the time I wasn’t home and he fended for himself. I do remember that I would pay the bills and handled the financial side of things, what little there was to handle back then
- 2003 was when I finished my bachleors degree and we had our oldest son. At first my husband worked third shift (overnight) while I worked full time at my relatively new day job in IT. We quickly found that didn’t work, because he had no time to sleep. So he left that job and found one doing some condo remodeling evenings and weekends instead. He did all the child care while I was gone, and I did it when he was gone. Household chores were split a bit differently, although I still did the evening cooking. Since he was home more than I was, he did more of the cleaning.
- In 2005 he went back to work full time (second shift this time, so evenings instead of overnight) and we resumed a more even split of chores.
- In 2006 we moved into the house we still live in, and in 2007 our now-middle son was born. We split things evenly still, although all daytime activities were coordinated by him simply because he was the one home. So preschool, library activities, and the like were all on him.j
- In 2009 his factory closed and he lost his job. Since it was the Great Recession no one was hiring, particularly for factory jobs in CT. This is also when I started my MBA, so I wasn’t home. He stepped into a much more doing-everything role, since he was the one home. Cooking, cleaning, caring for kids – it was all on him.
- In 2012 he almost died of septic shock, as I talk about in my story about going into crisis mode. Suddenly I was still working full time and getting my MBA, and I had to do all the childcare arrangements/grocery shopping/cooking/cleaning/mow the lawn/take out the trash/et all. Our kids were only seven and four at the time, so they couldn’t help except with the most basic of chores. I can actually remember having a near-breakdown because I didn’t know what day to put the garbage out. My brother in law came over to mow the lawn because I didn’t know how to start it.
- After this, I insisted on knowing how to do everything around the house just in case. How to start the snowblower, mow the lawn, blow the leaves, repair things, and when the garbage needed to go out.
- I had to do everything for nearly a year on and off. The septic shock, where my husband was hospitalized in the ICU and later in a rehabilitation center for over a month, was only the start. There were months more of visiting nurses, doctor appointments, physical therapy, etc. Another surgery later in the year (an ileostomy reversal for my doctor friends out there) meant more recovery time. It was only in 2013 that he had regained enough health and strength do help out around the house again
- In 2013 – 2014, he got stronger and took over the household responsibilities. I finished my MBA in 2013 and was able to pitch in more in the evenings. In 2014 he got a part-time job with UPS to get back into the workforce and build up his strength. It seemed to help and he loved the job. With him working early mornings, I took over getting the kids ready for school and getting them on the bus
- In 2015 our youngest son was born, and this coincided with my husband being told he needed to stop working. His abdominal wall had failed because of all the prior issues, resulting in the need for a major reconstructive operation. In September 2015 he underwent the seven hour reconstructive surgery, which again involved major recovery for several months. I of course took over most of the day-to-day chores, although since our boys were older they were able to do things like help with the garbage/recycling and feed the dog.
- In 2016 – today, he’s taken over the house again as a full-time stay at home dad. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, child care, errands – he does it all while I work full time. This enables me to spend evenings, weekends, and early mornings on this site, spending time with the boys, and working on my hobbies instead of doing errands. Although I do still enjoy cooking and baking.
So as you can see, over the years our arrangement has varied quite a bit with our family situation as well as our work situations. When we both worked full time the household chores were split more evenly than when my husband is home full-time. We don’t split chores according to gender, but according to interest and ability. And now that my boys are older (14 and 10) they help out a lot by cleaning and doing chores.
Some Tips And Tricks
The only thing that’s probably “unique” about our arrangement is just how much of the household responsibility my husband takes on (pretty much all of it). We do more of our split based on time spent on work outside the home, and interest/ability, rather than gender roles and who earns more. The thought being that we each contribute roughly the same number of hours to the success of our family, whether that’s through paid work or running the house.
So here are a few tips that I hope will help:
- Don’t be constrained by gender. If you’re a woman who hates to cook, your husband can take that on. If you’re a man who hates mowing lawns, maybe your wife would love it. Maybe you’re like my family where it’s the woman who does all the financial tracking/investing, because of interest and ability. Talk to each other about what you like to do and don’t like to do, and don’t let traditional gender roles dictate how you split responsibilities. What if you both hate something? Split it evenly.
- Don’t do it all yourself. So many women fall into the trap of doing everything themselves because they feel someone else won’t do it “right”. This is how you end up doing laundry forever. Two notes here:
- Sometimes it can feel faster to do things yourself rather than teach a spouse or child to do it, but this is short sighted. Yes, it’s easier today, but then they will never learn. You need to take the time to teach and let them learn, then let them take over
- Just because they do it differently doesn’t mean they are doing it wrong. If the laundry is folded and put away, let go of the fact that it wasn’t done the way you would have done it. Lower your standards so you don’t end up doing everything, and if something is really wrong, have a conversation about it instead of just taking it back
- Learn to do it all. OK I just said not to do it all yourself, but this isn’t a contradiction, I promise. I do want you to know how do do all the household chores, in case anything ever happens to your spouse. So if there’s something you don’t do, and you don’t know how to do it, have your spouse teach you. In my case it was the lawn mower, snow blower, and leaf blower – my husband had done those chores since we moved into the house, so I frankly didn’t know how to start the machines. Now I do, and I make sure to learn how to use every new tool coming into the house. This way if needed I can take over without needing to pay someone to do it for me.
- Do what you’re good at, financially speaking, but make sure the other one learns the ropes. One spouse might be good at paying bills, investing, tracking net worth, etc. They enjoy it, it comes naturally to them, and the other spouse may be disinterested. Sounds great, huh? Well it’s not so great if the other party is ignorant of the situation. Not only because of those horror stories you sometimes hear about (when, say, a husband takes off with all the wealth) but also because it’s important both partners are well informed financially. If something happens to the family CFO, the partner needs to know where all the money is, where the insurance policies are, how to access the accounts, and what to do in general. So every month, quarter, and year be sure to have a family financial meeting to go over the books with one another. You’ll both be informed, can make joint decisions, set family goals, and if the worst happens you’ll both be OK (financially speaking).
I Want To Hear From You!
I’d love to hear more from you about how responsibilities are divided in your household, how that’s changed over time, and other tips you might have for couples looking into this. Be sure to leave a comment!
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