Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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Here's where we keep you updated on news about parenting as it relates to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions, work/life balance, and legislative and grass-roots movements toward equality or better choices for families. We'll also throw in our opinions of life as equal parents in a nonequal world, regardless of what's in the news.

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Equality Blog

Monday, March 12, 2007

How Clean is Clean Enough?
As more women become primary or co-primary breadwinners, you would think that their male partners would be doing more of the housework. Think again. Most data point to a slight overall rise in men's housework time per week, but that isn't necessarily correlated within the homes where Mom is earning more or spending more time at work. The norm, unfortunately, is for the mother to work all day and then clean the house all night until she drops, while the father relaxes after a full day at work or with the kids.

Why are these supermoms doing this? Because they can't let go, according to this interesting article in the Boston Globe. The article explains that women usually care more about how the house looks because a dirty or messy house reflects far more on the woman than on the man in our society. The solution proposed in the article is for women to lower their standards and accept a less-than-perfect house, and to go on strike from housework while demanding that their husbands step up.

I can go along with the lowering of standards (to a point, of course), but when was the last time you put your heart into a task that someone demanded you do? You may do it once, maybe even twice, but sooner or later you'll stop doing it because you never actually owned it.

We propose an alternate solution to this dilemma. The answer lies in are communication and courage. Couples need to have the hard, seemingly petty (but really not) discussions that iron out what exactly constitutes a clean house. They need to negotiate and come to agreement on what needs to be done to achieve this level of cleanliness, how much time it takes each week or day, and then divide up who will do what or how they will share a specific task. The discussions need to come not from the vantage of complaining or anger, but from the team approach to what's best for the family. Solutions need to be truly negotiations rather than the typical man deferring to his wife's standards.

Here's an example from our life: Amy likes the laundry done as soon as there is enough dirty stuff for a load. I like the option of waiting until we will actually need the clothes cleaned. Although we both agreed to split doing the laundry early on, Amy soon found herself doing 90% of it because of her standards. When she noticed this, she pointed it out to me. We figured out what was going on and renegotiated the deal. Now, I do 'darks' and she does 'whites'. It is now a 50:50 split and we can each work at our own pace. Amy likes to joke that if the darks pile up, she might need to buy more jeans and dark socks. But neither of us is demanding anything with regards to laundry, and peace reigns.

Sharing housework in peace succeeds because of the details. Once the couple agrees on a reasonable level of cleanliness for each task, the person who cares more about a sparkling house has no grounds to complain unless that level has not been met by his/her partner. Say your wife wants the kitchen floor scrubbed twice a week but you've negotiated together at once a month. If she presses for additional scrubbing, she can scrub away herself - and count the time toward her recreation domain instead! There is no pay-off gotten by complaining that her husband doesn't pull his weight, so the choice is hers - scrub or read a book or play tennis or have lunch with a friend. Hmmm...what will it be?

Want more info? Check out our Housework Equality Scale and our essays on Housework equality benefits/challenges and tips/tricks.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laundry is 50/50 unless you have more whites than darks (or vice versa). You'd better count those socks!

And what is this "count the time toward her recreation domain."

How long do you both spend tracking whether everything is "equal"?

I see your point in spirit but it seems rigid!

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous - thanks for your comment. Our laundry discussion was probably about 2 minutes in duration. The whites/darks division happens to work out close enough for each of us. This laundry division is just an example; there are many other tasks that we split in different ways other than right down the middle.

The key point is that we believe a couple should agree on how clean is good enough for a particular task. Avoiding this discussion and then stewing or blaming your partner for not doing a task up to par can lead to so many negative conversations later on. Once the couple can agree on the set point for 'clean', they can move beyond picking at each other.

If after the set point has been determined, one person wants to take it upon him/herself to do more, we truly do think this counts as 'recreation' for that person. Anything else is just trying to 'get your own way' after negotiation has happened.

The bottom line is that when one person of a couple is dissatisfied with the division of labor in the household, the couple can either negotiate things differently or the unhappy partner can stew until boiling (or until he/she simply accepts the inequality). We think the time spent discussing how to tackle things together is well spent, and that communication is a part of a good marriage.

We certainly don't aim for nitpicky rigidity! For more on not being picky but still dividing things equally, see one of our Question of the Week answers from January 2007.

7:15 PM  

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