Household Division of Labor: Who Does What?

Who Does What?As I write this post, my husband is downstairs washing supper dishes while simultaneously having a dance party with our 2-year-old daughter. Soon, they’ll head upstairs for the bedtime routine and before they rock and sing songs, he will bring her in to say goodnight to me. Now before you think I am sitting on a throne with my husband as my servant, rewind to last week when my husband worked late due to a last-minute issue at the office. After I picked my daughter up from daycare, we came home, played and cooked together. After we ate, I put a plate for my husband in the fridge, cleaned up everything (including her), and had her pajamas on before daddy got home after 7 p.m.

And so it goes in our household – finding the balance of “who does what” with two parents who work outside the home, one spunky 2-year-old daughter (and a baby on the way), a house to maintain and improve, a garden to tend to, appointments to keep, friends to see, family to visit, health to maintain and improve, activities to do… the list goes on.

The balance hasn’t always been easy or natural for us. When we were first married, I had the habit of telling my husband how to “help me” in the kitchen: how to slice a pepper correctly, what temperature the burner should be on, how to put the dishes away in “my kitchen.” Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m OCD (which would be partially correct), hear me out. Growing up, the only time I saw my dad in the kitchen was as he passed through on his way out the back door to do chores. The kitchen was mom’s zone. It was quite literally “HER kitchen,” and to this day, she still refers to it as such. It was completely unnatural to me to have a husband who wanted to (and could) cook and who saw that duty not as mine, but as ours. It took me awhile to get used to the idea of a man in my our kitchen, but when I finally did, it was refreshing (and my mom has told me numerous times how blessed I am that I have a husband who cooks – I wholeheartedly agree!).

Over time, there are a few duties that have become “his” and “hers” in our house:

His: mowing the lawn, composting, taking out the trash and recycling, vacuuming, managing long-term finances, our daughter’s bath time

Hers: laundry, grocery shopping, other shopping (necessities, household goods), dusting, sorting the mail, paying weekly/monthly bills

We never sat down to discuss or make a list. We took ownership of some things because we have strength or a high level of interest/passion for certain things. For example, my husband loves yard work and has gotten very good at it. I enjoy shopping for groceries and am great at finding deals/discounts. We also took responsibility for the chores that the other person doesn’t have the same preferences for: I am very particular about laundry, but my husband just wants clean socks and T-shirts, so I do it. My husband knows I hate taking the trash out, but he doesn’t mind, so he does it.

Pretty much everything else that’s not on the above list, we both do: caring for our daughter (doctor’s appointments, diaper changing, playing, bedtime routine, activities, daycare drop off/pick up, play dates), cooking all meals, gardening, general cleaning, organizing, meal planning, loading/unloading the dishwasher, home improvement projects (large and small), balancing our schedules (daily, weekly, monthly). It’s not always a 50/50 split. In fact, we make an effort not to focus on the division of labor being “even Steven,” because it’s not productive, and frankly, not possible. We have gotten into disagreements where we each end up listing the things we did that day to keep our household running, and it’s a never-ending – and never fair – argument.

How we divide up the “who does what” in our house (and how others do it in theirs) is fascinating to me. Do we both share most of the duties because we have to, as two parents working outside the home? Do we do it naturally because we got married in our 30s and had become accustomed to doing everything on our own for so long? Have expectations changed because of generational differences? Shifts in religious beliefs or the changing gender equality landscape?

As our daughter gets older, we’re involving her in the “who does what” around the house with small chores (unloading the silverware basket in the dishwasher, setting the table, putting the recycling in the bin, picking up her toys, helping in the garden). With a second child on the way, I’m sure we’ll have to re-assess our current balance and make adjustments for evolving needs of our children, our home and one another. Regardless, our main goal through how we manage our household tasks is to help our children learn that the “who does what” isn’t about gender, age, available time or “even Steven,” it’s about serving one another and being a loving, supportive family member.

Hi, friends! I’m Erin and I've called Kansas City home for over nine years. I am the girl who always thought I’d have kids by the time I turned twenty-five and swore I’d never meet my husband in a bar. I moved to KC right after college and lived it up for several years as a single, working woman for a wee little greeting card company here in town. Not only did I not have kids according to my self-imposed timeline, I ended up meeting my now-husband Eric at O'Dowd's on the Plaza! I have lived all over the metro and have explored the city as a single gal, a married woman, and now as a mama to my daughter, Lilly (born October 2012) and Baby #2 (due June 2015). This city has something for everyone—artists, musicians, farmers, athletes, technologists, families, innovators, and more—which is why I love it! I now live in western Shawnee, KS where my husband and I tend to a 500 square foot vegetable garden, host barbecues on our deck, cheer for the Chiefs, and pray for the day when Glacé or BRGR open locations that are closer than thirty minutes away.