Sharing Household Duties When Both Spouses Work

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Uneven household responsibilities

March 2012

My husband and I both work more or less full time and we make about the same amount of money. However, my job is way less demanding than his is, and I work from home. I have a lot more time to take care of common household tasks like maintaining our car, paying bills, scheduling appointments and meeting with maintenance folks (the plumber, the carpet cleaner, etc.) I also schedule medical care for our high- needs baby and take her to appointments. I take care of grocery shopping, and care for our baby when I am not working (I have help when I am working). I cook dinner almost every night. We went to couples' counseling for a long time before we got married because I felt resentful about how uneven our household labor was/is. The difference is that before we were married, he was also unemployed, so I was super resentful. At least now he's making money. For folks in relationships that are similarly uneven in terms of who does what, I wonder, how do you make it work? Do you just try to suppress your feelings of frustration and focus on the good things in your relationship? Do you have interventions periodically? When I get upset and tell him about my frustrations, it does make a difference for a little while but then things revert to the norm. I've given him just 2-3 concrete tasks (like scheduling someone to clean the roof gutters) and he doesn't do it. Then I get mad when it rains and our gutters are obviously clogged up (just to name one of many examples). He's tired on the weekends and seems to have less energy than I do for taking care of things over the weekend. I struggle between trying to change myself by trying to be more accepting and grateful for all that I have and feeling mad at how unbalanced this partnership feels. Any advice appreciated! Confused


We also had a huge problem with uneven household responsibilities until I hit a breaking point. We both work FT. I discovered that for us these two things don't work: asking him specifically to help for one instance (annoying for me because I neither want to ''manage'' him nor do I want to ''nag'' him) or hoping that he'll just do some household stuff (which caused me to be resentful because this never happened). Over time I discovered that he was very helpful (without my interaction) when he had specific things he, alone, was in charge of. The kitchen being clean was one of those things. So I basically haven't cleaned/dealt with the kitchen since (and I cook lots). And I got the incredible satisfaction of him saying several months into this new arrangement ''I never realized how much time it takes to keep the kitchen clean.'' Wow, that was the best. I'd like to add that for us it was important that his realms/tasks were things that would drive him crazy if they didn't get done. Otherwise, they still wouldn't get done (like the trash didn't work for us - out of sight out of mind I suppose.) But the kitchen was a winner for us, as was general picking up, and a couple others. And now I totally feel like we're pretty closed to balanced on the household tasks thing. -figure out what works and stick to it


Dear Confused,

The only thing that worked for me was to stop doing everything and live with the consequences. The consequences have been 1. a house less clean than I like; 2. more eating out; 3. my husband choosing very odd times to chip in, like starting to do dishes right before we have plans to meet someone; 4. frantic last minute cleaning when guests are coming over; 5. poorly managed finances including occasional late fees; 6. awkward timing for plumber visits, etc etc etc. I am irked by these inconveniences but I am less resentful than I was. There was a period of extreme discomfort for me as I got used to his way of doing things (or sometimes nobody doing things). I realized that my lack of comfort with his slowness to act was playing along with his general lethargy for the result of my doing everything and then being resentful. So I prefer the ways things are now. I'm less angry and our house functions below optimal. just not doing it


I am totally where you are, except I only work from home 1 day/week, so I have less time for household work. My husband was previously unemployed too, so I share that resentment. I'm really hoping you get some useful feedback. However, I think this is a REALLY common problem. I think we are parents have a duty to the next generation (and I'm not trying to be sexist-this is based on LOTS of examples) to raise boys to be equal partners at home. I've heard all too many stories of women being the household managers-and men not participating much, but when women ask them to, being dismissed as ''nagging.'' Or, just tuning out, leading the women to simply do the work themselves in order have it done. I'm not talking about women having higher standards but the really basic, day-to- day stuff. I'd really like to hear from men who admit to this behavior and why they do it. How they were raised? Genetics? I even have friends where mom has a high-powered job and dad stays home, and she STILL has to make all the doctor's appts., make sure there's food in the house, etc. because the dad (and he's a wonderful dad) simply will not or does not take care of basic household responsibilities. For families who have successfully negotiated this (I'm talking about 2-job couples where you don't have $ for outside help), how did you do it? Also frustrated


I really resonated with your posting. I also work from home and, as fortunate as I feel to be able to do so, I also struggle with setting boundaries around household responsibilities with my husband. We also shared some time before having a child that I was working much more than he was.

The biggest obstacle to satisfying change seems to be my learning how to effectively communicate what I am experiencing to my husband without blaming him for 'not getting it' on his own. Sooo much easier said than done, I know. To get to this point, I have found great resources in Marshall Rosenburg's 'Non-violent Communicate'/'Compassionate Communication'. I have also begun doing a practice of self-reflection/self-empathy on a daily basis. With this support from myself and the NVC community, I am finally starting to transform the energy that was going into resentment/anger and channel it to make positive changes in my life.

For example, the other day, when a chore came up that I would have usually done resentfully, or refused to do (with anger) I said to my husband 'I'm having a hard time figuring out how to do this without feeling resentful. I'm not sure what to do'. It was an uncomfortable moment for both of us since he wasn't immediately getting what he asked for and it took everything I had to not just go along grumpily. But by communicating my feelings/needs without invalidating his, and leaving some space for creative thinking, we were able to quickly figure out a solution that wouldn't get us caught up in a resentment/defensive cycle. He later thanked me for *not* doing a chore.

Feel free to contact me if you'd like more info about NVC. It has helped me so much, I've become a bit of an evangelist for it. But, whatever you find that supports you, good luck! I share your struggle. ssb411


Hire help and hire as much as you can afford, it is the best investment ever. My opinion is that it is a lot cheaper and a lot more effective than counseling. Also realize that most women are in the same boat you are (see the stats), we still have a lot to advance in this regard! EP


I read the first half of this question to my husband. He thought I was lying that I didn't write it myself. We're in the same boat - exactly (he's always been employed, but the rest if pretty spot on).

I think he just can't see it. I keep telling him over and over again that I need help, I blow up when I feel like I'm doing it all (even after he comes home from work - we have a toddler), then I withdraw to get ''strong'' and just do it without having a fight. He gets better about it for a few days then we're back at square one.

He thinks I'm nitpicking when I keep asking him if he completed his ''assigned'' chores, but that's the only way I can know we're not going to accrue late fines or that his dad has planned his trip.

Anyway, one of his most recent assigned chores is to find us a therapist so we can have someone mediate this problem for us. He's three weeks in and nothing yet.

Other than that, the only thing that works is to give him clear instructions on what I need - it still doesn't always work - and I don't want to feel like his boss. I feel ya. Gigi


Well, I don't have answers, and never really figured it out for my own relationship, but I did want to chime in that we can't always blame the men's upbringing. My husband was raised doing lots of household chores (yes, including the stereotypical ''girl'' ones like washing dishes), but still doesn't spontaneously contribute much, and doesn't seem to have internalized the lesson that we all live here, so we should all contribute to the household needs. His attitude is - ''I did all that stuff a lot when I was a kid, I hated it then, I hate it even more now, so I'd rather hire help than do any of it.'' On the other hand, he DID absorb the strong preference for a clean and tidy house (which his sibling did not, so there are no guarantees...!) - just as long as someone else makes it that way. anon.


I only had one period of brief success with this - a counselor suggested I make a list of household chores, and my husband checked off the ones he was willing to do. He checked off a generous half. Not that he did all the chores on his list, but at least they were off my list of things to do, which was grand. Only taking out the trash was a bone of contention, so I put that back on my list, and gave him something else to not do.

It was great until I stopped working to have a baby and told him he didn't have to do housework anymore, because I had no clue how much housework a child would generate. Now I'm afraid to return to work. Historically, men are only dimly aware of ''women's work'', and this women's lib thing is a recent development that will probably slip away if we all stop burning our bras. My darling is a man for equal rights - in theory. - hope this helps -


Resentful about unfair split of work at home

Feb 2010

I find my self so frequently mad and resentful about the way my husband and I share all of the household work. We both work and have two young children. I have the more stressful job and make a lot more money than he does. And yet I find myself doing a lot more at home too. He actually does a lot at home (more than a lot of husbands I know) yet why should I settled for anything less than 50%?

I feel like we have a pretty good split on immediate tasks - putting kids to bed, cooking etc - but it's all the extra stuff (dealing with preschool, planning meals etc etc) that he doesn't do without being asked. Also, he will get on the computer after say he's put the kids to bed and I'm out grocery shopping, even though there are still lunches to be made etc etc.

I've tried listing all the tasks out and splitting them (you plan meals one week I do the next) but it only lasts so long. I know that there are probably women like this out there everywhere (I really wonder if there is a single man in our boat). But I need a route out of this - it is a recurring source of angst in our household - me mad and him not liking getting bitched at all the time.

my husband is actually a great guy and does a lot but how do I either learn to (a) get him to do more in a sustained way or (b) get happy with essentially being the breadwinner and the driving force at home too.

need a way out of this rut


After I had my first kid, I realized I was doing almost 100% of parenting and housework. I quit my job as an architect and started working out of my house as a translator. We suffered (still suffer) financially, but I would do the same if I had to do it over again. My husband grew up in a prototypical 50's family where the mom did (and still does) everything and dad watches TV after coming home from work. Though I try, I find it almost impossible to change the pattern that was so deeply ingrained into my husband. His excuse for not doing as much around the house is that he has a stressful job and makes more money. Though that may be true, I feel it doesn't lessen the importance of my job or the money I bring in.

Now that my kids are older, I find that they are more reliable and helpful than he is. There was some study that was done a while ago that said that women do over 90% of all the work in the world while owning less than 10% of property. I'm training my son so that he will grow up to do his fair share of work in the world. I guess this isn't an advice, but a voice that says you're not alone. Sympathethic


I don't have a solution for you, but just wanted to tell you you are not alone. Actually, given the statistics and books like ''The Second Shift'' by Hochschild & Machun, we are just the average in terms of our hubbies doing less (we are probably not the average in terms of making more and/or having better jobs).

My hubby also helps with a lot of the immediate things (taking kids to school, cooking, taking the kids to the park), has a hard time doing house chores other than cooking (like laundry, cleaning, washing dishes, etc.) and does virtually nothing that is not concrete in terms of family life (doctor's appointments, travel, taxes, bills, social events, PTA, etc.).

Sometimes I feel resentful and others I can focus on what he does, the fact that he is a good dad who adores his children and loves me... one thing we negotiated is that he wakes up first (he is an early raiser) and takes care of the kids so I have a few more minutes to sleep in the morning. This alone has made a world of difference to me! Balance is not easy


I have the same issues (including the breadwinner part-and so do most of my girlfriends), but I've long ago learned to let it go. First and foremost, just because you make more money than he does, doesn't mean anything. It really shouldn't be part of the equation.You will always do more because you are the mother, and a woman, whether or not you earn more money or not. Period. Not because your husband is lazy (although some are) or because he or you thinks its your job to do more at home (I'm not saying you think this, I'm just putting it out there) but because your kids probably want you more, and maybe because you are the type of woman who gets things done and he's the type of man who's not into the details and tends to compartmentalize everything. That's how so many men think. Women are the timekeepers, lunchmakers, homework coaches, etc. because that's how we think. If you want him to make their lunches while you are grocery shopping, tell him before you go. don't expect him to do it and get mad when he doesn't. does your husband open up every cabinet or drawer in the kitchen looking for something and then forgets to close them like mine does? He's not into the details, he's focused on one thing. That's how they are most of the time. He's checking his email because he's expecting his word of the day from Dictionary.com or whatever, not because he doesn't want to help, or doesn't want the kids to have a bath... he just hasn't thought about it yet. Be specific with him with what you want and when he's done with that, be specific again. Works for us. been there


Yep, women work the second shift - it's just how it is a lot of the time. I also work full time with two kids and do the lion's share. Sometimes I can be zen about it, sometimes I get resentful and annoyed. Ultimately I try to accept it. The truth of the matter is that I create a lot of work for myself. My husband doesn't care if the kids eat dinner at 9 pm or wear wrinkled clothes out of the laundry basket. He doesn't fret about signing them up for lessons or classes. He doesn't pay attention to dirty dishes in the sink or a litter box that needs to be changed. He is a minimalist when it comes to holidays or birthdays. I have let myself become the sole leader of the domestic sphere because *I* want to live my life in a particular way that is neater, more organized, and slightly more child-centered than the way my husband would choose to live if it were up to him. And since I can't seem to let go of this lifestyle, my goal is to accept my role in our family and stop resenting my husband for ''failing'' to meet the standards I have singlehandedly set for our life. He just attaches less importance to all the domestic stuff than I do. And eventually, I hope to truly be okay with that. It's a process


Hello fellow over do-er! This is classic. I have a few thoughts.

1. Why is the amount of money you make playing into the equation at all? Does he have a real job, make money you are ok with (i.e. the time he puts in is equivelant to what he brings home, not a slacker job, etc.) If so, let that part go. It's obviously adding to your resentment, I think it's not part of the problem at all. unless of course, if he made more, than you should do extra house work? I don't think so.

2. Why does the great system only work for so long? Things slide eventually, right? Here's some hard advice you may not like: If you are the one with the problem, you need to work a little harder to fix it. As in, don't let things slide. Make the split chores list, and keep on top of it. This isn't completely fair, I know. But, think about this for a second. Hear me out. Men are simply not wired to do some of these things. His brain is literally not wired to think about tomorrow's lunch. But yours is. It's simple neurology.I'm no ''boy job, girl job'' woman, but I'm not a feminist either. I think we let our logic outweigh our chemical make ups.

If you want him to do it, make it happen. If he slumps in front of the computer while you put the kids down, and you come out, ask if he did whatever it is he committed to. If not, ''please make sure you do it before you go to bed.'' If he does it, but just in his own way, let it go. Decide what you can live with, and then knock one more thing off the list. How often does the floor really need to be vaccuumed? Add one more day. Things will still be afloat, believe me. It sucks to be so overwhelmed, but sometimes the only answer is to let a little more go. Then you guys have time to cuddle together when the kids are in bed, and let the rest fall where it may.

And lastly, share with him. Tell him in a communicative way that you are overwhelmed. Ask what his ideas are to even things out. Let him lead. And be content with his solutions for awhile. Remember you are partners, but with different qualities. It's not your fault that you are a woman and we are simply perfect! Let him try. anon


I feel like i could have written your posting myself. We too are struggling with these same issues. My husband also does way more than most. But I still get frustrated when he too, turns on the computer when there is still so much laundry, lunches, cleaning etc. to do. What I try to do is remind myself that men are different creatures than women. While it is hard for us to relax when there is work to be done, they can do it no problem. I wish I had an answer to this, but sometimes just hearing you are not alone helps. Try to make time to do things together outside the house and away from the kids. People always say, the chores can wait; but really they cant. So I dont buy that. I cant relax in a messy house. But you can do a little bit each night so it doesnt get overwhelming. Good luck.

working mama


well, all i can say is you are not alone. i fell this way all the time, and sway between being extremely angry and upset about it to letting it go ( but mostly im pretty mad about it). i try to be more zen... whats the point of fighting something that isnt going to change? but then i think...why cant it change? this is ridiculous! and all i can come up with is that we are wired differently. women (generally) are much better at multi tasking, and just have a better grip on ''all the things'' that need to get done while men tend to just get ''the list'' done and dont see there is always, always! more. we have even been in therapy about this. he feels we are just fighting over petty things, i feel its the little things that can make all the difference to us not fighting. we have made a list and divided everything up as you have done. it works for a bit and then not so much. we just have to keep getting on track. i can suggest putting every single little thing you can think of on that list so there isnt a bunch left that you end up doing.

so, in the end- what to do? all i can really say is let it go as best you can. be thankful you have a good man and realize you are the mom and woman and (sometimes unfortunately) it comes with the territory, though in reality i wouldnt want to change it for a second. moms do it all


No easy solutions here but a couple of suggestion. First, just try to accept it. Every woman I know runs the home front. 50/50 may be a lovely ideal but I've never seen it in action. Bitching only makes it worse. Accepting an uneven split isn't anti-feminist - think of it rather as empowering yourself out of a bad situation. I prefer to just unload the dishwasher rather than dwell on the fact that I'm apparently the only one who knows how to run it. (Seriously, we had a new dishwasher for six weeks b/4 my husband asked me how to run it.) There are some really great things to being the driving force at home, like getting to make a lot of decisions your way, taking pride in creating a good home environment, and bossing everyone else around. Two, think hard about whether the things that you do really need to be done. Or done when and how you want them. What happens if you don't make lunch - the kids eat school food? What if you go grocery shopping during clean up time instead of waiting until the kids are asleep? Maybe if you lower the standards and let the consequences fall as they will, your husband will step up if it's important enough to him. Or, you may recognize that it's so important to you that you're willing to put up with it being unfair. Third, changing the way you communicate about it could be helpful. When I told my husband that I wanted us to cook together because it was fun and I missed that - and told him that cooking for me was how I felt loved by him - it took away a huge amount of the resentment for both of us. Now cooking is more fun for him and he will do it on his own(infrequently, but willingly), and he usually volunteers to help out when he's around. It's not just something that automatically starts a fight between us. One other communication thing - you could frame it as ''Do you want to do the dishes or do you want to make lunch?'' Put it out there what needs to be done and the expectation that you'll both do it. Yes you will need to be the one to always be organizing and managing it - but once you accept that, you can embrace it and use it to your advantage. Look at it this way - women really do run the world. It's our little secret. -the boss at home


In answer to your question, you have to settle for less than 50% because your idea of 100% is different than your husband's. I have a similar situation and have tried the things you mention (i.e. task listings and meal planning), but given our ft jobs, two small kids and little or no outside help with the cooking/housework/shopping, it honestly isn’t possible to have all things done the way I would have them done, plus I have to accept that my husband’s idea of keeping house doesn’t exactly match mine. So I really work on appreciating all that we are managing to do and enjoying my family as it is as this point and easing up on the -ugh- nagging. Our house doesn’t look like a pottery barn catalog, the laundry isn’t always put away, we may not know what we’re having for dinner tonight–but that will change at some point, like when my kids have left for college. So for now we prioritize and split the tasks that have to get done (bill paying, lunch making, loading/unloading the dishwasher, baths, getting the kids dressed), contribute to the ongoing work (cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping), get to other work as we are inspired and have the energy (yardwork, special meal preparation) and then let each other put extra effort into what comes more naturally to us (I do most birthday/holiday/social planning and shopping; he does more reading and imaginative play with the kids). It’s not perfect and occasionally I feel overwhelmed and upset by all I feel there is to do that isn’t getting done, but that’s my issue as no one else is responsible for my feelings and expectations. It sounds like the energy you’re putting into trying to get more out of your husband might be better spent on option (b)-being more content with him, your household and with what your job means to your family life. Then get a massage, do exercise or other things you enjoy. You work really hard so treat yourself to some “you” time. too hard to do it all


Like you, I used to have be very frustrated about how the household responsibilities were divided between my husband and me. And like you, he was good at doing the day-to-day chores, but didn't seem aware of everything required to keep the family afloat.

After having tension on this issue for about 8 years, we finally arrived at a solution. We sat down together and listed out all of the things that need to be accomplished to make our household run, including the care of our child. It was an interesting exercise- the list was pretty extensive. Then, we grouped items so that the list was not too long and detailed. For example, instead of listing out all of the duties required to maintain the car, we just put ''car maintenance.'' When the list was complete, we had about 40 total duties.

After this step, we rated them all on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least time intensive and 5 being the most time intensive. Next, we picked what activities we would like to do and made sure that the point total was equal.

While this may sound overly mathematic, it has worked very well. For us, it has allowed us to do the kind of things that we prefer. For example, my husband has a greater number of responsibilities, but they tend to be less time consuming (e.g. take out recycling or remembering to get cash for house cleaner). I have fewer responsibilities, but they tend to be more time consuming (e.g. planning family vacation, organizing major house projects.)

I can't say the ''system'' has been perfect. However, when I am feeling like I am starting to do more, we revisit our list. Usually, this reminds me of how much he is doing and makes the process feel collaborative rather than hopeless, which it did before. This also freed me up to stop managing the process. Now, I try to just focus on what I am supposed to do and not worry whether or not he is doing his fair share. Work in Progress


This is typical. If you do a google search, you'll find many women complaining about the same thing. Take note, women with boys. Teach them to do housework! I find it exasperating that I and other women have to ask their partners to help, that they have to be the big bosses, the house managers. ''Ok, now we have to make lunches, now it's time to make dinner, someone needs to go shopping, the kids need a bath.'' Can't men figure this stuff out by themselves and just do it? And where do they get off being annoyed when their wives ''nag'' them to help? They should feel sheepish and apologetic when they are messing around on the computer instead of making the kids' lunches, not annoyed as in ''how dare you ask me to do my fair share!'' Would they act that way at work, that is, shirk tasks and let their work partner take up the slack?

On the other hand, I think it's not too healthy to keep score and make sure it's exactly 50/50. There is a good thread on BPN about keeping score.

The main thing is getting what you need. If you need some time to yourself each day (e.g. drink a tea) and go out weekly (e.g. yoga), then plan it out and do it. If the lunches aren't made when you get back from shopping, instead of getting angry and telling him that he isn't doing his share, just make your tea, sit down, and just state the obvious. ''Oh, the lunches haven't been made yet.'' Tone is very important. Then let drop it. Let him figure out what happens if the lunches aren't made the next day. - men!


I get super resentful - my husband is not involved in any of the household chores - including the cleaning, bills, schools, birthdays, nothing. BUT, he wasn't involved before we had kids. He works and he comes home and relaxes. I think the kid thing throws all of us into confusion about our expectations. We all want equity, but children make our lives so unpredictable, it is sometimes a give and take. I realize I can be right or happy. I do more work, I deserve...something. For me, my resentfulness recedes when I am appreciated. It's all I can hope for at this chaotic time in my life. Good luck. cup half-full


I am in your situation exactly--primary breadwinner (meaning make well more than spouse and have real benefits) with a demanding and exhausting job that is doing well over 51% of household chores/Child rearing. Oh, except one thing...I am the dad/husband of my family.

Every weekday I drive my son to preschool and pick him up. I shop, cook and clean up dinner every night, pack the lunch and oversee bedtime ritual. I usually watch my son all day saturday and we have Sundays as Family Day. Sometimes I feel like a single dad but I wanted this great son of mine and am willing to do what it takes to get through each day. My wife is self-employed, always 'on' and super motivated and does not like it when anything else gets in her way. She loves to spend quality time with my son and I cant deny that, so I just finish the work that needs to get done so she can spend some time with him at night.

Overall my advice is to deal with it or hire the help you need to get through. I am sure you could find someone to assist you a few hours on weeknights. In my case, i thought my wife would rebel at the idea of hiring help to replace her but she supported it. I now have one night per week to do my own thing and also time on the weekends. Sometimes I use that to help the family, no resentment building here.

So, announce to your spouse that you are interviewing for a night nanny, since you make well more than him you can afford it I presume. If he asks why, then you can lay out your concerns and see where he is willing to go. Left unchecked, resentment is very unhealthy for everyone in your family. Dad who has Been There


This issue is so interesting.. and I wanted to chime to say it's not just a male/female thing. I'm a lesbian and have the same issue with my partner! She's a wonderful person and an awesome mom.. but just isn't focused on the house stuff. Some ways we've dealt with it: talking about it - it REALLY helps that she acknowledges that I do more and feels a little bad about it! I acknowledge that because I really like a tidy house, that I'll have to do more. I've turned over certain tasks to her completely - ALL the laundry and trash, for example. When I feel resentful, I try to take time to do something on my own. I've also noticed that she's nearly always willing to help if I ask for a concrete task, ''Would you please clean the bathroom this weekend?''. I just have to accept that she'll never see the hair on the floor, the toothpaste smeared around the sink and the ring around the tub. Must be nice.. anon


Soooo much empathy here too! I just wanted to pipe in and say that, although we certainly haven't solved this issue at our house, we've made a lot of progress by outsourcing as many domestic chores as possible. I realize not everyone can do that as much as we do, but we're glad that we've made it a financial priority. We send out a lot of laundry, we get takeout or delivery often, we have groceries delivered, we do most of our shopping on Amazon, we have a weekly housekeeper tasked with ''picking up stuff,'' and we ask all our childcare providers to help with light housekeeping (and pay them accordingly). Every week, we have someone cook us a one-dish meal, and she makes a huge amount that we freeze and use periodically for the next couple of months. Another thing that has helped is using a label maker to label all the shelves in the kitchen cabinets, all the drawers in my daughter's room, and the catch-all containers in the bathroom, so that other people can more easily put things away. Lastly, I think my husband would be willing to watch our kid while I take some ''me-time'' much more often, and I find that when I make time to take care of myself, I'm much less resentful about taking care of other people. Don't D-I-Y


I see this dynamic in so many of my female friends, I just have to call y'all out a little--

1) Your salary is irrelevant. How would you respond to a man who pulled the primary breadwinner card re: household work?

2) Let your husband do things his way. If his job is to make lunches and he decides to get on the computer first, why is that your concern? Right this very minute, kid just went to bed and I myself (a mom) am on the computer and I have not made tomorrow's lunch OR cleaned up the kitchen yet. My husband is at a work meeting. I decided I wanted a break before tackling the next chore. My husband would not even think of coming in the door and asking me why the lunch is not made or the dishwasher loaded yet. (Nor would I react well if he did.) Sometimes, I decide sleep is more important and I get up 15 minutes early to make the lunch. Does my husband micro-manage me on this? no. If his job is to make the lunch, let him do it, EVEN IF IT IS NOT DONE ON YOUR TIMELINE OR TO YOUR EXACT SPECIFICATIONS. You might make the perfect healthy lunch, and he may throw some carrots and a PB&J in a bag. So?

3) He is the dad, not your domestic employee. This means you don't get to tell him how to do everything involving the kids and the house. This means his way of doing things is JUST AS LEGITIMATE AS YOUR WAY IS. Think of the last five times you told him either how to do something (dress the kid, bathe the kid, feed the kid, etc.) or that he had done it wrong. Then think of how you would react if he criticized you in these areas. Your way is not right just because you have different standards, or just because you are the mom. 4) Just a last thought on the gender role aspect of all of this--how many of the women complaining about this issue have fixed the car, mowed the lawn, or cleaned out the gutters recently? (I'm sure some have, not trying to start a gender war here, just make a point. ) For those who haven't, do you think your husband really gets together with his male friends and complains about how little you contribute in this area?

So let it go, and let him be an equal parent. Unless you married a complete idiot that you can't trust with the welfare of your children, he'll get them dressed and to school with lunch when it's his turn to do so, even without you looking over his shoulder. mom's way is not the only way


It bothered me that so many of the responses were variations on the theme, ''Men are like that.'' Well, no. Studies have shown that the behavioral differences between men and women, although real in the average sense, are dwarfed by individual variation. I think it's more likely learned behavior -- he has learned that you'll take over more of the unpleasant chores, and as a result, just decides not to do them (probably unconsciously). That tends to happen in a relationship; the two of you work out a division of labor, often somewhat unconsciously.

If you want to change your division of labor, you have to figure out how to motivate him to contribute more, just like, as a manager at work, you have to figure out how to motivate all your employees. Can you assign him responsibility for smaller, simpler tasks? For example, say, ''Since I coordinate the kids' after-school activities, I want you to do all the driving.'' Giving him full responsibility for *all* of a task will also make it easier for him to remember to do it (rather than thinking, ''is it my turn or hers to pick them up?'').

We have the same situation as you -- I am the primary breadwinner, and have a much more stressful, demanding job. In our house, we divide up the tasks this way. He hates paying bills, talking on the phone, or organizing the kids' schedule, so I take over all those tasks. In return, he does all the cooking. He knows he's always responsible for feeding us, so he handles all the elements of that task.

Just as managers have to learn to delegate -- and how to let go that the job won't be done exactly the way you would have done it -- I have learned to accept that some things will be done differently. For example, dinner won't be ready until 8pm. Rather than feeling resentful, as I used to, that we couldn't eat at 6pm, I feel grateful that he takes so much time to prepare delicious meals from scratch. Radically accepting home CEO


If you are feeling angry about it, you need to talk it out. there is no other way. That said, i would suggest you really think about why you are angry, and what your responsability in this organziation is. One of my friends is in your situation. Initially i felt really bad for her. Until i noticed that she is particular about how she wants things done and is not happy when her husband doesn't do it the same way. you are not the one who sets all standards and your husband should be allowed to do things his way too. If he chooses to go on the computer when the lunches aren't made and the kitchen not cleaned, it's not for you to say anything. All that matters is that the kitchen will be cleaned that evening and that the kids will have a lunch to take to school.

How would you like it if he micro-managed you like that? My husband makes way more money than me and would never dare to do that to me. It's controlling and you are not his boss. Many men feel superior eventually when they make more money than their wives. I don't think it's a gender thing..i think women experience the same thing. If he isn't pulling his weight it's one thing you can talk about and is completely detached from the $$. Howeve if it'sa matter of how he is doing it you need to back off. anon


The stress of keeping score at home

April 2005

My husband and I have a problem which I'm sure is not uncommon. We both work and have an infant son. We both tend to ''keep score'' about who gets up with him at night, who picks him up from day care, who did the laundry/dishes/walked the dog, who is working harder, etc. These ''conversations'' always degenerate into arguments ''I always/you never'' where no one wins and each person feels like they do more than the other. The truth is its probably pretty even overall, but it creates a lot of stress. I have tried to ''not keep score'' but it seems so ingrained. Anyone have any strategies to create a more positive environment and stop the points-counting? Anon


My husband and I had also falling into this trap of keeping score. What helped me is just to realize that we both are doing a lot and to appreciate my husband for everything that he does do EVEN if I feel like I have done more. I started going out of my way to acknowledge and thank my husband for walking the dog, getting up with the baby last night etc. In turn, he has started doing it too. Now he thanks me for making dinner even if all I did was heat up leftovers in the microwave! anon


I went through this with my husband as well for a short period during my son's infancy (I would say from about 3-10 months), so I know what you are talking about-- I think it is really bad for the relationship because you start seeing one another as 'enemies'. I think in our case it was mostly my fault (I would start the conversations) and was connected to my resentment about him having a life outside baby and me not having one. This may be totally different from your sitation, so it might not help, but I found that once I started going back to my old life (I am a student, so that means teaching and working on my dissertation), these conversations just vanished. The other thing is that at 10 months we let our son cry it out (miserable, but worked like magic) so that he started sleeping through the night for 12 hours and falling asleep on his own for regular naps, so dealing with him was not such a chore any more-- that made a huge difference, and I think as a result we stopped seeing our time with him so much as a sacrifice, and we were not in a terrible mood all the time from sleep deprivation. Oh yeah there is one more thing: we made up a schedule of who watches him when, we both know the hours are even, and we pretty much stick to it. Hope something in here helps! Former score keeper!


Try to look at it as a value thing. Daddy snuggles are as valueable as dinner prepared. Not to say that you shouldn't have time to just snuggle and read too, but if you have more time with them than he does, what has more value to them? Daddy bath, tooth brush and jammies while you clear up and laundry, or he do launry while you do kids? Probably one of you will prefer one over the other and you doing everything while he reads the paper has no value to your kids because you could be to grumpy to enjoy it.... This stuff evolves....


My partner and I have a four-month-old, and we keep track, as you say, also, but we do it in order to divide the childcare and other chores equally. We have arguments over other matters, but we want to keep things balanced as far as childcare at least, so it helps for one of us to say, ''I changed his diaper the past two times; it's your turn.'' Maybe you could keep track of who does what for a couple days to see if you are, in fact, doing the same amount of work? Or maybe there are hidden issues and the arguments over keeping track of this is covering up more serious disagreements? Lori


I think it's common to feel underappreciated. But I think someone has to start showing appreciation instead of wanting it. Instead of thinking about what *you* do, thank your husband for what *he* does.

To get him to help more, I have three suggestions: 1. tell him you need help (Men like to help) 2. ask politely, using ''will'' or ''would'' (just like he asked you in his marriage proposal. Now doesn't that make you smile?) 3. show appreciation (''thank you'' and a big kiss always help keep the spark alive) Good luck, anon


it takes two to play the score keeping game and even though its a habit to keep score in your head - you don't have to talk about it. marriage is not tit for tat, at least not in my experience. what it really sounds like is both of you feel a bit stretched and under appreciated by the other. next time your husband tells you he did something (he ''always...'') instead of responding in the usual way you can say how much you appreciate and notice his efforts and how nice it is to have someone around who really helps out - say it even if you don't really mean it. see what kind of reaction you get or simply change the subject to something that doesn't involve something you or he did or did not do. some news tidbit or what your kid did today... respond to the message, not the words


Try making a list of all the tasks. Split them up...who does what and on what days. Even do this weekly...a new list. Be sure you both agree and comprimise as you write the list. Post it in the kitchen or a common place where it is easily read. If one of you has more of a load one week, or month, be sure the other one takes more of the load next time. Hope this helps. Been there


Man, that's a tough one! I've also been there (we have a seven month old). What has helped us get past that is really getting to the root of the problem. In other words, it sounds like you both know the work is probably 50/50 - and you could even be doing a bit more- but so what? What is the message you really are trying to communicate when you say ''you always...''? From my experience, just before those words were about to come out, I had to stop and be really, really honest with myself and say ''ok...this may or may not be logical but I want him to acknowledge that I did this or know that I'm not getting what I need in this respect'' and then I had to actually say that to my husband. What was happening before was one of us would start with the ''you always/never...'' and the other would respond out of defensiveness and never actually hear what was *really* being said.It's so hard, especially when your blood is boiling but for the sake of the relationship it's worth making sure that you both stop and think about what you really want your partner to know before saying anything.(And when you when you really need to vent, call a friend first so you can let it all loose!) Partnership is always a work in progress


My husband and I used to (and sometimes still do) slip into ''keeping score.'' For us, it took us a really long time to get used to the big lifestyle change of having a kid... and both of us were sleep deprived, and neither of us had nearly enough time to ourselves. Before having a baby we both needed a lot of alone time.

I think it's a vicious cycle - or at least it was for us. We work really hard to do what needs to get done in our hectic lives - job, caring for our son, laundry, dishes, etc. and we want to be appreciated for what we do. We started not feeling appreciated because we were both overworked and overtired - and as soon as one person said ''I do this much, which is more than you do,'' then the other person would have to defend themself. The comparison just made both of us feel more and more unappreciated.

We don't do this so much anymore, and we're much happier and more supportive of each other. Several things really helped. One is that I started individual therapy, which let me talk out some of the frustrations that I was taking out on my husband... learning how to be a good parent as well as the vast change in lifestyle was very stressful for me, and I didn't always recognize what I needed from my husband: did I need him to relieve my stress by doing more of the baby care, or did I need him to be more emotionally supportive?

Another was, after a longer period of time when we were spiralling downward, we got into couples counseling. We realized that we had great communication skills that we were just not using... we'd gotten lazy about them and let them slide. The therapy really got us seeing each other as partners instead of rivals or antagonists. Now sometimes one of us will start with the ''I did all this and you haven't done your share of dishes,'' etc, etc. and the other will recognize that instead of getting defensive, what the other person is really saying is that they need support and appreciation and encouragement. When my husband says something like that I say ''You sound like you had a hard day and you did great'' or something like that, and the conversation is completely turned around.

Some of the tools we learned in therapy may be really helpful to you. One is very simple but really helps you feel like you are being listened to. It's called mirroring. You say to your partner that you need to have him mirror you, then say a simple sentence that encompasses what's bothering you - eg, ''I feel angry when you tell me I'm not doing the dishes as often as you, because to me it feels like the opposite.'' Your partner then says ''So it sounds like you're saying this:'' and then summarizes, or rephrases, what you said. If it's not exactly right, you correct him, and he repeats it until he's got it just right. That makes you feel like he's really listening, and makes him really look at it from your perspective. No one is trying to formulate a response before they even hear what their partner is saying. Simple but really powerful.

Another sort of fun thing is to make a list, with your partner, of all the little things that he does that make you feel loved - rubbing your back, giving you a kiss in the morning, etc - then you exchange lists, and each of you does a couple of things on the other person's list every day. Also very simple but it's amazing how well it thaws the chill.

Last thing we did that really helps with the keeping-score thing is something that just happened as time went on and we got more experienced at being efficient as parents. We fell into each doing certain things at certain times... the things that needed to get done became either his or my responsibility. I always put the boy-o to bed, and while I'm doing that, he always does the dishes and straightens the toy area... they equal out. He does the laundry by default because I have a 9-5 job, and he sometimes has work (at home) and sometimes doesn't. If he's been really busy and the laundry hasn't gotten done, I will sometimes do it, but usually not. I clean the house because I'm the one who cares, but the cat litter and dog walking are his responsibility. I do the grocery shopping, but it's time to myself so it feels like a bit of a privelege. This way we usually know whose job something is, and it usually gets done, and we don't have to get resentful about it.

Good luck - it is such a stressful, hard thing to have an infant and keep your relationship healthy... but you can do it! working together now


If you actually feel that it's pretty even overall, try to just catch yourself before you say anything, and ask yourself if it's really worth it, or if you'd have a nicer time if you just appreciated the good things about him. Or try to notice when he does do something, and ''keep score'' with yourself to notice how often you say nice things versus complaints. It won't always work, but sometimes it makes a temporary improvement. And you might start feeling like everythign does even out, then you can stop paying attention to it. The problem is that there's so much work to do and so little time. anon


Sounds familiar. My spouse and I don't do this as much now that our kids are older but still fall into it now and again. A few things we tried that sometimes worked was to keep acknowledging how much BOTH of us were doing and to allow one person to vent/complain at times and the other just listen. This too shall pass. Been there


Hi. I don't have any magic advice, but you are right to identify this as a key issue. When our kids were little, my husband and I were keeping score like crazy, and it got so bad that I was considering divorce (which makes no sense, given that then I'd have the same amount of work with only one parent much of the time!) When we were able to change this one dynamic, everything got SO much better.

How did we do it? We talked to friends and each other openly about it. We laughed bitterly that we used to have a marriage but now we were coworkers in an insanely overbooked business -- and when one took even a 10 minute break, the other suffered through covering for them. We booked a sitter to come to our house every other Saturday no matter what. Half the time when he came we were in a foul mood and not dressed to go out and had no plans -- but guess what? just to save face we got dressed and left the house, and then just ended up wandering around on Solono or taking a walk at the Marina. These dates did us a world of good and we would never have gone on them if they had to be arranged each time. Also, we tried really hard to appreciate each other and do little things for each other. One of the big problems of being overworked is that your mind gets totally stuck on you and how tired/abused you feel. If you can wrench it out of that path, you'll suddenly see how tired/abused your husband is, and that everything he does isn't just to make your life harder. My husband started making my tea in the morning so it was ready when I got up. A little thing, but not really, in the chaos of our house. One day I saw it for the act of love that it was and my heart just melted. Then I looked for something to do for him. One day when I said, ''you look tired, I'll take care of that diaper/bath/whatever,'' the same look of amazed appreciation bloomed on his face. Suddenly now we were doing the same amount of slave labor, but managing to format it as little favors for each other and appreciations for each other. It made all the difference.

Our kids are teens now. It does get much better, so have faith! anne


Been there. What worked for was transitioning to ''positive score keeping.'' In other words, instead of keeping score of what you did and the other didn't (which we did, minutely and with a vengeance) we now keep score of how much the other has done and how much we owe each other. I'll now say, ''why don't I take the boys to the playground so you can go to the gym?'' and he'll say ''no, you've been with them a lot, you should sleep in.'' (you get that we have different ideas of what to do with our free time!) In other words, it's the same score keeping except with a positive spin. Sometime it sounds really artificial and contrived (and sometimes it breaks down and we're back to the old game), but it really is more pleasant and has cut down on the amount of arguing in our home. It is simply more motivating to be recognized for what we do rather than harangued for what we didn't do. I know it sounds hopelessly Pollyannish, and believe me we are very cynical people and often laugh at ourselves for doing this. Also, we didn't consciously decide to do it, it was our reaction to the endless bickering and it seems to work. Also, we take a lot of pride in the fact that it is really important for us to have an equal relationship with equal resposibilities for work/home/children.

positively sharing


While I think that some score-keeping is probably inevitable (especially the ''I got up with him at 4:00 am yesterday'' one), it can be reduced. In terms of concrete strategies, I suggest the following: First, I created a ''master'' schedule for my husband and I just to establish a written routine for what time we each go into work, who drops off and picks up the kids each day, and what time, who makes dinner that night, and other schedule stuff. This makes it really concrete who is doing what on which days, and also helps us keep on top of the hectic week. Second, there are some tasks that have evolved to be mine and some that have evolved to be my husband's responsibility, so maybe writing those out as well would be useful, so that you can see whether it is in fact equal or whether there is an imbalance. For a while, I felt resentful that I was always the one to go to the grocery store and cook dinner, but when I took a step back I realized that I actually really LIKE doing those tasks, much more than paying the bills, dealing with the trash/recycling, and feeding the cats, which my husband does.

Lastly, I think it's good to take a step back and have this conversation with your partner when you both are not frustrated or angry and really talk about what the core issue is.

Good luck! anon


boy can I relate! On one hand, I think things naturally get better as your child gets older and you establish more of a routine. On the other hand, when you're both stressed out, feeling put upon, and retreating to your corners, it's a downward spiral. Everybody argues about parenting, housework and chores, but it's never really about those things - it's about feeling tired or anxious and wanting support, love and appreciation. When you're keeping score, you're using criticism as an indirect way of asking for/demanding help and you're no longer communicating. Although you may be feeling hurt, you're probably expressing anger. It's such an easy trap to fall into! We were at a point a few short months ago when I was hard- pressed to find a single thing I liked about my husband - I was just so full of resentment and all we did was fight. What helped us was couples counseling. (I know - such a cliche, but it's really made all the difference!) We've learned a lot about ourselves and each other and we've learned some useful tools to avoid/deal with areas of disagreement. Things that used to be major landmines for us are not such a big deal anymore, and I have to say, it's really nice to feel like you're working towards a future together instead of bogged down in the present (and past) all the time! The fact that you can both recognize what is going on means you're already on your way to changing it. good luck!


I know what you mean! My wife and I did that for about a year, I think, after our first baby came. We are getting better now but still have rematches.

I think a reason I did it was I felt my wife was not acknowledging the difficulties I had. I wanted some recognition of the truly hard work I was doing. But all I heard about was how hard her duties were. Of course, she felt the same as I did for the same reasons. So we kept score.

It is hard to compliment your partner about their terrific job dealing with all the stress and lack of sleep and getting a lot of valuable work done, while you are tired and overworked and underappreciated as well. The appreciation has to start somewhere. So you have to tell your husband that you appreciate his sacrifices and tell him that he is doing great. If he does not reciprocate, tell him he has to reciprocate once in a while. That's communication. It is not easy.

It will get better with time, and with more sleep. Until then you will have to be the one to start. Your husband will also have to be the one to start.

And don't give compliments like ''I know it's hard for you and you're doing great today, but.....'' !!!

Now I need to remember to take my own advice today.

just another parent/spouse


Hi there, I totally understand what you're going through. I have been having this kind of discussions with my husband for ages...One day we had a huge argument that left us both very upset. We were determined to stop wasting energy on discussing who shoud so what and discussed a resolution that included a clear division of duties. We don't leave it to the day by day situations anymore, we have clear division and everyday is pretty much the same unless one of us is unusually tired in which case the other one is extra helpful. So now for he cooks dinner, does the colored laundry, drops off our baby..etc... I pick her up, make all the food and snaks and pack the diaper bag and clean up the dishes from dinner...etc. We take turns to do the grocery shopping. I swear it works, no more argments: we just do what we said we'd do! Life is so much easier. You should give it a try, don't leave it to improvisation!