Housework: Who should do it?

After I wrote my rant about my husband’s humongous laundry pile, someone emailed me and told me that I was “spoiled.”

She wrote: “All I can say, quite honestly, is I should have such problems as you do. A cleaning lady AND a husband who not only does the laundry but folds it too? You are seriously spoiled, girlfriend. I would KILL for either.”

At first I was miffed. I almost wrote back and said, “Do you realize I earn more than 4 times as much as my husband? I’ve earned that cleaning lady!”

But I didn’t because this woman emails me almost daily. I like her, and I know she meant no harm in it.

I also didn’t because it wasn’t the point. What I should have emailed back is this: “You should kill for either. No one deserves to feel taken advantage of and unappreciated. No one—not even stay at home moms—should do 100 percent of the housework and parenting. No one deserves to drown in a sea of housework. No one.”

It really doesn’t matter if I’m the breadwinner. It doesn’t matter that I’m a working mom. It doesn’t.

What matters is that I need help. In a marriage, when one person needs help, the loving response is to step up to the plate and be there. It’s not about fairness. It’s about love.

Let’s look at some examples:

One spouse has a long-term illness and is on disability. Does it make sense for that spouse—who is not working—to do all of the housework? I didn’t think so. The loving response is to step in and help, even if the working spouse is doing way, way, way more than half of the work.

Both spouses are working. Should the woman do most of the housework and parenting, just because this is what women do? Um, if you said, “Yes!” I hope your cheeks are burning because I just reached into cyberspace and smacked both of them 10 times each.

One spouse works. The other stays home. Does it make sense that the working spouse should be able to come home and put his feet up because he “worked hard” all day? Before you answer, think about what the stay at home spouse did all day. She cooked, cleaned, wiped bottoms, played with Legos, listened to whining, and, over and over again, prevented small children from touching a hot stove, sticking forks in electrical sockets, jumping from too high places, and generally doing themselves in. Didn’t the stay at home spouse work hard all day, too? Seems to me that both spouses should be doing housework and parenting at night and on the weekends.

Both spouses work, but one is doing something on the side. Maybe she’s going back to school. Should they both equally split the household stuff? Maybe, maybe not. It really all depends. This is a situation where it might be fair and loving for one spouse to do 80 percent for a while, so the other has enough energy and creativity to accomplish this important life goal.

So you see, in my mind, fair isn’t always about splitting things down the middle. Fair is about supporting one another. It’s about who is more exhausted and why. It’s about my husband saying, “I know you’ve been pushing yourself hard to reach this dream, and I know small annoyances like my ever growing laundry pile can be really big annoyances to you right now. So you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to fold the laundry into little piles, just for you.”

He didn’t say that, by the way. It sure would be nice if he would. Maybe someday he will.

But what he DID do was this: He left work early last night so he could be home with us. That was really nice. It meant that I could cook dinner without my daughter in the kitchen asking to “help.”

He also asked me about my day. I really like when he does that.

And you know what I did for him? I saw he was really comfortable in the La-Z-Boy and that he was out of beer. I went down into the basement (where we keep the beer), and I poured him another one, so he wouldn’t have to get up. That was really nice of me, now, wasn’t it?

And, later, after we watched TV together, we both realized that kitchen was still a mess. Technically, I’d made the mess. I was the one who’d cooked, after all. I’d had time to clean it up after dinner, but I’d worked at my computer instead. He didn’t mention any of that. We cleaned it up together.

And you know what? That meant that we could crawl into bed together, too.


* Don’t worry about doing just half. Instead, focus on what your partner needs. Sometimes your partner needs more than half.

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