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Who should do the chores?

The raging debate yesterday--both on the web and in my home thanks to The Daddy Files--was about the division of domestic labor. He took the somewhat controversial stance that the one staying home with the kids should also be doing the housework. An idea, it seems to me, that would come across as utterly sexist, demeaning, and horrible if it were said of stay at home moms in particular. But it was actually a fairly thought-provoking piece even if I disagree and I don't think he meant to be demeaning. Which is why we're tackling it here.

But let's get something out of the way first things first. The real people who should be doing the household chores are the kids. They should earn their keep and I look forward to the day when I can use my son as slave labor to do dishes, sort laundry (rather than play with it), and vacuum. The vacuuming he loves to do now, but it's mostly with an inflatable thunder stick that he roams around the house with pretending. And I don't quite mean slave labor--I'm not a Republican advocating a reduction in child labor laws here. I actually believe in rewarding kids for helping around the house. Maybe not with an allowance, per se. But they should learn the value of money and know that work must be done to get the things we want and need.

Moving on.

I just as easily could make here the argument that the "working parent" needs to just keep doing the work. Why do we assume it is the one taking care of the kids who should have the chores done? Their job is to labor for the money, why not just keep their labor going at home as all-time laborer. Silly? I agree.

The true answer is that we all do what we must to keep the house running. Not to say that a family can't decide that the best answer for them is one or the other--maybe taking care of the kids goes hand in hand with dishes. Maybe not. Maybe the working parent is more motivated by physical activity and thus gets the job done at home as well. Those are fine solutions if they work for you.

I'm guessing most of us are somewhere in between, however. Kelly recently traded me all-time dishes in exchange for her always cleaning the bathroom. Something I willingly accepted because I really don't mind dishes but cleaning the tub is one of the worst jobs on the planet in my personality type. And she and I have an uneasy peace over the laundry. I do my clothes, the kids' clothes, and I put away mine. The kids'--fair trade--are hers to put away. She takes care of everything hers. Not that I'm not willing to do her laundry. It would just make the task more of an activity needing time set aside free from me watching the kids. Whereas with the little ones and mine I can pop downstairs for a load or two and have it done.

Notice none of this is gender based or even role based by who is taking care of the kids versus working. That's a red herring.

Who takes the dog out depends on who has to be up when for work, who did it last, what else is going on, who just came inside and took their shoes off, who is dressed. It's a big negotiation.

I suppose my larger point is that a relationship is a series of negotiations though. It's about being able to say no firmly, sometimes say yes when you don't want to, and communicate very, very well. That's why the divorce rate is so high. It isn't just "try harder." It's, frankly, that people are mismatched in terms of perception and ability. If one person sees hard and firm roles and another person sees opportunity for adjustment, it isn't going to work.

Reality is always somewhere in the middle and who does the chores is just one battle in a larger war for identity as a couple. And the rules of engagement matter.

Who has it easier--parent at home or parent working? Wrong question.