Splitting Home Responsibilities – Perspective From A Breadwinning Mom

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 liz@chiefmomofficer.org. 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.

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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!

 If you haven’t already, be sure to swing by my new one-stop shop page for Breadwinning moms, featuring all my prior articles and interviews (plus some updates on prior interviewees!). Question or suggestion? Drop me a note at liz@chiefmomofficer.org.

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chiefmomofficer

IT professional, MBA, working mother of three, avid reader, geek and personal finance nerd

18 thoughts on “Splitting Home Responsibilities – Perspective From A Breadwinning Mom

  • January 17, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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    I think the key to your success with your husband is flexibility. You guys have both been able to step in and take things over when it makes the most sense. Every time I hear the story of your husband’s septic shock, it just hammers home to me how grateful I am for Mr. ThreeYear’s health (and all our health). I’m sure your perspective on life, FI, and your goals was forever changed by going through that experience (actually those many related experiences, surgeries, etc).

    Mr. ThreeYear and I currently divide up the responsibilities roughly along these lines: I do 90% of the kid-related stuff. I take and pick them up from school (except for one day a week which is my early day when Mr. ThreeYear takes them), take them to their after-school activities, help them with homework, make them go outside and play on the weekends, and coach their DI teams. We take turns putting them to bed. I also cook dinner and generally, breakfast. I make lunches. Mr. ThreeYear cleans up the kitchen after dinner, vacuums, does the laundry, does all the ironing, and cleans the bathrooms on the weekend (we also have a housekeeper who comes in every other week to do the really deep cleaning). I do all the financial stuff, and to your point about the other partner knowing the ins and outs of the financials, I need to make Mr. ThreeYear pay more attention to our investments. Partner meeting!! He also does a fair bit of traveling for his job so he has a lot of driving and airplane-catching to do. If we plan trips, especially to Chile, he does most of that planning (he’s really good at researching and getting the best deal. I’m terrible at that). He also makes the coffee every morning, which is very, very important to me! 🙂 I’m a bit of a coffee fiend! We’re pretty happy with the division of labor, but we do have periodic discussions if something changes. For example, when I started to work more as an ESOL Teacher and take Master’s classes, we had to renegotiate the cleaning. If we take the time to talk things out, we generally find a pretty happy balance.

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    • January 17, 2018 at 1:08 pm
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      It’s so true that flexibility has been the key to making it work over the years. The septic shock time is by far the hardest time in my life-going to work, going to school for my MBA, taking care of the kids, and taking care of my husband all at once was so hard. The plus side is that everything else has been easy in comparison. And yes definitely have a partner meeting! I meet with my husband every quarter to talk money. Of course, most times he just says “wow, that’s cool” and then goes off to do something more interesting. 😀 He usually pretends the money isn’t there, because that works best for him.

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    • April 21, 2018 at 10:39 pm
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      Just buried my FIL. Of course the in-laws being in their 80s is part of the equation. However the things my MIL had left up to my FIL include driving in her large city, finances, and other crucial skills . She has lost important skills to such a degree that this fully mentally intact lady has us frightened to leave her without her son to act as chauffeur and I have taken on her finances. (At least I can do that remotely unlike driving her.) It reinforces my determination to keep driving at least 40% of the time including some of the hairier scarier routes that I prefer to leave to my spouse, since I don’t want to pay a driver should he be unavailable or if I need to, say, get him to an ER in a hurry. Consider this risk for yourself as well as check on whether the older generation in your family is making this error.

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  • January 17, 2018 at 8:03 pm
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    We just roll with it. There are probably things that we do more because of interests or talents, but honestly, with a baby now, it’s kind of whoever isn’t busy with him! (If I’m being totally honest, though, my husband does ALL the ironing! I’m so slow. And bad. And slow. Like really, really slow.)

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    • January 17, 2018 at 8:04 pm
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      I can iron. I just hate it and so buy a lot of clothes that require zero ironing. 😀

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  • January 17, 2018 at 8:29 pm
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    Oh my goodness yes: So many women fall into the trap of doing everything themselves because they feel someone else won’t do it “right”. I continually have to work on this one.

    We tend to have ‘set’ chores and that means less disagreements/resentments. I typically get our daughter ready in the morning and take her to daycare and pick her up, while my husband takes care of the dog. He usually makes dinner during the week and starts cleanup while I finish up bedtime, then I wrap up final cleaning once our daughter is in bed. Etc.

    You raise a good point about knowing how to do what your spouse handles. I manage the financial details, and have been working to slowly increase his knowledge and understanding in those areas. I should probably have him show me how to operate the lawn mower as I haven’t had to do that household chore in many years. 🙂

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    • January 17, 2018 at 8:43 pm
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      I would highly recommend learning to do each other’s “typical” chores! Not only can it be helpful in case the other person isn’t available for some reason, but if there’s an emergency it can be very valuable. And you’re right tons of women fall into this trap-I try to remember it might take a while to teach him what to do, but it will pay off in spades down the line.

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  • January 17, 2018 at 8:47 pm
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    We don’t own an iron because we’ve spent the last ten years slowly replacing clothes that need ironing with no-iron clothes. We share other chores down the “I care / I don’t care” line, and if it’s something we both care about (generally) then we split it according to strengths and time available. I do almost all the laundry, and I like it anyway, and I do most of the cooking which I enjoy as well. We both need to do a better job about making “our” things accessible to the other, though, that’s something I have to start soon.

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    • January 17, 2018 at 8:59 pm
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      Most of my clothes are “no iron” too-luckily we’re down to needing to break out the iron only a few times a year. I think your method of dividing responsibilities makes a lot of sense and is similar to what I do when our work responsibilities are about equal.

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  • January 17, 2018 at 10:32 pm
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    Yaaaaas! Gender constraints on chores are so 1950s. We also split chores by who prefers to do which activities. I tend to clean the floors, do laundry, care for the cat, make the beds, etc. Mr. Picky Pincher does the dishes and all outside stuff (not because he’s a man, but because I would rather eat a bug than do yardwork).

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    • January 17, 2018 at 11:26 pm
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      That’s great! My husband does the mowing and leaf blowing outside, but I do all the gardening because I enjoy it. And I wish I could do more of the cooking, but with work I only get a chance to do it on weekends.

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  • January 18, 2018 at 2:39 am
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    Another great article – thanks for sharing! It sounds like the MSW family is very similar, except for the gender role reversal. I typically handle the CFO and home maintenance responsibilities, while Mrs MSW sticks with the cooking – and all by choice. (We share cleanup!).

    As you stated, one thing that I think is important is learning how to do the tasks that you normally delegate. We struggle with that in our house, especially when it comes to finances. Mrs MSW is simply not interested in this kind of stuff, despite some close calls in the past – like when I was in the hospital for 3 weeks after my own major surgery, and unable to pay anything online. (Luckily I pay bills far in advance, so we didn’t miss any due dates – but still.) I like the idea of the family finance meeting, just not sure how effective it will be. I guess it’s just naturally tough to effectively learn something that you just don’t like very much.

    The other thing you mentioned that seems important is to share tasks with the kids as well as the spouse. My guess is that people in the FI community tend to be self-starters, which (if true) probably makes it more difficult for us to actually do this regularly. But accepting responsibility for adult tasks (and learning them too!) is an important part of growing up, so we owe it to them to make the effort!

    In our house, I make an effort to include my daughters whenever I perform a home or car repair, and found out that my oldest really enjoys that kind of stuff! She’s the only one of her friends that can easily do an automobile brake job, which she’s very proud of actually – despite the grief she’s gotten from some of her girlfriends from doing traditionally male tasks like this. (But that’s a different post…!) We also “in-source” yard maintenance to our daughters as well, which allows them to earn spending money (no allowances in our house) while also teaching them how to do it. It also helps develop / reinforce the good work ethic they have, which is nice to see!

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    • January 18, 2018 at 10:46 am
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      I think it’s great how you’re teaching your daughter to do car repair! I used to ask my father to show me how to do things to the car (like change the oil) and he always refused. Said I should pay someone to do it for me. I still wish I had those skills, so I know your daughter will be greatful.

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  • January 18, 2018 at 3:58 am
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    I think it’s so important to know all the household duties like you mentioned, especially when it comes to handling the finances. This always worries me about my parents. My mom has always worked and contributed financially but it is always my dad who pays the bills, tracks spending, etc. I’d love to see her more involved in case something happens to my dad.

    In my house we tend to split things up pretty evenly, but certainly have our own set of chores. Both of us work full time outside of the home (no kids though) so we’re usually at home together evenings and weekends to get things done. I really dislike cooking so my bf does that almost exclusively. He’s also the one that does most of the outdoor chores like mowing the lawn or shovelling snow. I tend to do more of the laundry and cleaning during the week but he pitches in when we do a more thorough clean.

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    • January 18, 2018 at 10:50 am
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      I hope your mom decides to get a bit more involved with the money-at least enough so she’s comfortable should something happen to your dad. I’ve heard too many horror stories about women who know nothing about the family money getting taken advantage of after their spouse falls ill or passes away.

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  • January 20, 2018 at 2:50 pm
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    When hubby and I got married we agreed he would do the cooking, while I would do the laundry 🙂 18 years later we still stick to that arrangement.
    However you are right – flexibility is key! We shift child taxi service responsibilities according to our work schedule that week. I usually do school drop offs while he does pickups.
    My one word of advice to mummies our there – don’t be control freaks. He might not do things exactly the way you would, but let him do them anyway. Go have a cup of tea and relax xxxx

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  • January 26, 2018 at 6:28 pm
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    Hi, back! Belated thanks for this. I appreciated hearing about your experience, and also shared it with my husband. It generated some useful conversations, and we both appreciated the emphasis on flexibility over time. Thanks again!

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    • January 26, 2018 at 10:32 pm
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      Glad it helped spur some conversation!

      Reply

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