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Division of labor: our family’s solution

March 17th, 2004 · 8 Comments

This morning Phil commented on my post The sexiest man alive:

As an unmarried male I admit to wondering about the use of the word “help” in regard to males doing household chores. It may be a question of semantics, but it seems to me the use of the word “help” implies the activity is an extra or optional activity, rather than something expected.

I’ve heard a complaint expressed by females before that males often expect special recognition for doing something that their wife does every day.

I guess I’m of the opinion that chores are something that should be shared, and a male doing them shouldn’t really justify special recognition. (But having said that I think both husband & wife should be vocalising their appreciation for what the other does around their home. But then again, what do I know, I’m not married. :-))

I would be interested in female thoughts on this issue.

Perhaps I should explain my perspective. I am not employed. Ted is working full-time. We do have a division of labor, chores each of us is responsible to do. But since he is employed and spends 40 + (some jobs have taken 80) hours a week on work, I think it is only fair that I take on the majority of the household chores (which take much less time and energy than 40 hours a week to do). I am grateful that his work allows me to be at home with the kids full-time. Being able to be at home with children all day is a gift. A treat! I’m glad that he is willing to work so that I can care for our family and homeschool the girls. This arrangement has been woven into our relationship; it’s what we discussed doing before we got married. It is what we both wanted: our plans for our family when we had kids. I chose it and he did too. It’s working out wonderfully, in my opinion. So I am happy to return my appreciation by working on the home.

I think there is a difference between maintaining the home and caring for the children. Maintaining the home is work we could do or we could outsource (although I’ve described how I value housework in a previous post). I’m happy to clean the house, cook, do dishes, laundry etc. since he is the one working to pay the bills. Ted has his work and I have mine. Mine is keeping the house in reasonable condition. Making sure we have clothes to wear, food to eat and a home we can enjoy. If I do my job well, we have more time and energy together as a family. I’d rather go have fun and play that have us both working around the house during Ted’s time off. My work doesn’t take a lot of time or energy. Not as much as Ted’s employer asks of him. I get the easy deal at the moment.

I should mention that one area where Ted puts in a lot of time for our family is our finances. I pay the bills and do bank transactions. I have some idea where we are as a family financially. But Ted is the one who enters everything into the software program and compares it to our budget. He spends a lot of time managing our money. He does our taxes. I organize and proofread. But he’s the one spending the time typing the numbers. I’m grateful.

I think I should say too that our division of labor has changed with time. When we married, we were both employed (at that time I was bringing home more bacon than he was). We shared chores 50:50 or closer to it than now. But how we live together has evolved through our marriage. As we’ve moved, changed jobs, changed careers and goals. As we’ve added children.

Caring for the children is different. That’s not chores like scrubbing the floor. Sure there are things like bathing that can take time. But to me caring for the children is emotional and spiritual as well as physical work. Both parents should participate. It’s more than just wiping faces and bottoms. Ted is very involved. Even though I spend more time with the kids during the day, Ted and I spend a lot of time together on our marriage and parenting. We work as a team navigating our family in spiritual and emotional directions. Since we are homeschooling, I share with Ted how it’s going and together we solve problems and discuss issues. I value Ted’s guidance with academics and attitudes. And he does some teaching too. I’m amazed at how he fits “lessons” into everyday life, while driving the car or eating lunch. We work through issues together. We are a twosome even though only one of us is able to be with the girls most of the day.

Since Ted works at home, he is more involved with the family than he would be if he worked outside the home, especially if he commuted to the city from the island where we live. He will often come out of his office to help me with a conflict. Or he’ll come out and encourage the kids. He’s done that a few times today. Ted eats meals with us. After his work day has finished, he spends time with the family, helping with the household chores, taking care of the children.

If I were employed outside the home, I might have different expectations and we might have a different understanding for our marriage. But for where we are right now, I don’t expect Ted to do a lot of the housework. I don’t think that is fair.

Not to say that I don’t have my days when I wish I could disappear into an office. Or that Ted doesn’t have days when he’d rather play with the kids than go to work. But I think this is human nature: who feels satisfied and content with a job – or anything in life – 24/7?

It’s possible that in the future I might work and Ted might be at home. But for the moment, and probably as long as we have children at home, we will stay with these choices: they are working well for us for a number of reasons. The division of labor and responsibility is clear and it is giving us the freedom and peace we want to have in our home.

So if he wants to help me with something that is my responsibility, I feel that is a gift! If he does something he doesn’t have to do, like scrubbing dirty dishes, his generosity turns into my generosity….;)

This is what has worked for our family. Each family has to find its own solution. Not everyone would agree with what I’ve written here.

I’ve probably missed some points in this post (it’s quite an extensive topic I think) but I wanted to try to share a little more of my perspective, to describe more why doing dishes can make my man seem sexy.

As Phil did, I’d like to invite other opinions. I’d be interested to hear what works for other families.

Tags: marriage

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Katherine // Mar 17, 2004 at 5:05 pm

    Julie, I absolutely CANNOT BELIEVE that you said, “My work doesn’t take a lot of time or energy.” I am totally mind-boggled and agape in wondering awe. I find that being a mother and wife and homemaker takes a titanic amount of time and energy. I think I agree with everything else you said, though! I still can’t believe that isn’t a typo. You must be the real wonder woman of legend and lore. I am still shaking my head in amazement.

  • 2 Julie // Mar 18, 2004 at 1:43 am


    Okay, okay…time for another explanation…Oops…When I wrote that “my work doesn’t take a lot of time or energy” what I meant was that keeping the house in reasonable order, meals on the table and clothes in the closet doesn’t take as much time and energy as being employed 40+ hours a week. Now I wouldn’t sponsor a white glove test or invite certain domestic deities to come inspect. I wouldn’t eat off the floor. But I feel that to keep the house in order so that life can function and the family can have fun sometimes doesn’t take much time or at least as much time as I thought it took. (Then again, I’m not creating quilts from scraps or turning our turf into a vegetable garden or recovering antique furniture or any number of other homemaking skills…)

    Now being a mom is different. And being a wife is different. Both of those are incredible commitments and intense passions. Both of those require much more than employment. You are right to use the word “titanic”.

    So maybe it was a typo. What I was trying to write about, in context, was the homemaking and only that. I am also feeling much more relaxed about life right now, for the first time in many years, due to a number of reasons. I can’t/won’t elaborate on them all in this comment space, but suffice it to say, for one, that after years of taking care of babies, feeding or carrying them, I find myself with a huge energy level now that the girls are growing up! Our life is also pretty quiet, unusually quiet for us at the moment, so I can focus more on what I’m doing for my family and home. Taking care of the home does seem easy to me right now, because I think I’ve been doing weight training for years! But maybe I am deluded or deceiving myself. Or just having a particularly good time at the moment.

    Sorry for any confusion or misunderstanding. I am no legend. 😉

  • 3 tania // Mar 18, 2004 at 12:15 pm

    hey julie,
    it’s funny because i see childcare as my job and the household chores as things we share. he works 12-9 or 7-9 and i work 6.30 to 7.30pm. we share the chores and natalie during the left over. perhaps it’s my need to see caring for natalie as a job rather than taking care of the house. since i traded my job to stay home with her. i channel the same research, intellect and intensity i put into my work into my time with her. i often wonder what other rationale women need to make to make their arrangements work. i appreciate yours being that caring for them is a spritual and emotional task.

  • 4 tania // Mar 18, 2004 at 12:19 pm

    i appreciate your response to katherine. it seems a little bit more “sane”. i think i am often overwhelmed with the demands of running the house and family and hence have to just tell myself that only natalie is “my job”. i look forward to the time when everything will seem to fall in place and be quiet like your household.

  • 5 Julie // Mar 18, 2004 at 10:58 pm


    Thanks for your comments. Although the word “job” doesn’t come to mind when I think about taking care of my kids during the day, I can see your perspective. If anything perhaps the word “teacher” comes to mind for me, since that is why my 5 year old is at home still. I think it’s wonderful the intensity you pour into your parenting. I learn a lot from reading your blog!

    This post also was written as an answer to Phil’s question about division of labor so that’s the angle I used to approach this (huge!) topic. I started off by talking about my expectations for Ted. I do expect him to spend time with the children, which he does, but I see many of the domestic chores as “my work”. Our household is unusually quiet now; perhaps that’s why I feel the way I do. The past few years were particularly hectic in many ways. I’m grateful for the calm. Seasons come and go…

    Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective! It’s good to dialogue and share what works for our families, what we’re thinking and reasoning…

  • 6 Katherine // Mar 19, 2004 at 12:49 am

    Julie, thanks for the explanation…I kind of knew that was what you meant (as you say, from the context), but i still couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Maybe it’s because I have a 4th grader and 1st grader and after schooling them (electromagnetism and World War I and the past progressive tense and the legends of King Arthur, etc.) I have so little energy/interest for a task I never liked in the first place – cooking. I manage to get the laundry done, but meals for some reason are a big deal for me. Every mother has different likes and dislikes, fortes and weaknesses…and there are a zillion styles of homemaking and parenting. I think I’ll just try to stop comparing myself to you and be happy with who I am. Sounds like a grown-up idea. (yes, I know, you never invited anyone to compare themselves with you and you’re horrified at the idea; my brain came up with it all by its sick self)

  • 7 tania // Mar 19, 2004 at 9:42 am

    i totally get your deal with cooking too. and i am pretty inclined to homeschooling too, so if and when i do, i can’t imagine myself having much energy for anything else. if i do homeschool, teacher is definitely a “job” for me. Perhaps i see the word “job” more as a role, a calling.
    anyway thanks for your both perspectives.

  • 8 Tamara // Mar 20, 2004 at 5:31 pm

    Just from what I read tonight, I think your girls are very helpful with chores. I’m sure that helps keep things on track.

    I am of the philosophy that housework and other shared lifetasks evolve over time.

    There are weeks and months (and occasionally years) when it would not be logical to expect my husband to contribute at much as I do (since I’m at home).

    There are other days and weeks (not usually months or years though 🙂 ) when he is not as occupied and I enjoy sharing the load with him.

    He may not be the neatest guy, but he’s willing to contribute and that goes a long way. I don’t consider that “help” though, just the ebb and flow of living.