Here is a story of my Domestic Delinquency; An episode where I failed to do my share of the work around the house, and left it to my wife, who was working longer hours than me. I was sleeping in.
My last post was Husbands: If Your Working Wives Are Doing Too Much Housework, That’s On You. In my mind it is a matter of fairness. You both have full-time jobs so you should share the work when you get home. I would say to men, if the shoe was on the other foot, and you were coming home and doing most of the work, would you think that is fair?
I’m far from perfect, and to expect other men to change with out acknowledging my own faults would be pointless. So I’m sharing an event that sticks in my memory.
My wife was pregnant with our third child and I was working part-time, having scaled back my hours after our first child was born. My wife’s sister and her family arrived for a visit one afternoon and my wife didn’t return from a business trip until later that evening.
She got up early the next morning to look after our toddlers. My sister-in-law made a passing comment about her not getting to sleep-in.
My wife repeated the conversation with me. It became an entree into a wider discussion about me stepping up. She was pregnant, starting in a big new job and we were about to move from Los Angeles to Chicago. I was quitting my job as a result of the move so it was my responsibility to manage all the non-work related stuff.
And she was right.
Our relationship was moving towards a much more defined separation of roles. She was about to make the biggest leap of her career, and I was about to assume the role of full-time homemaker. If anything in that moment I should have more time on my hands, as it was my last week at work. I suddenly had an extra 18 hours at my disposal, although as anyone who has run a household knows 18 hours can disappear rather quickly.
Years later she has no recollection of this conversation, but I was chastened by it. I distinctly remember putting myself in my wife’s shoes and looking at it from her perspective. When I did that there was no disguising that she had gotten the raw deal. It is an exercise I’ve often repeated over the years, but a lesson I’m still prone to forget.
The reason this particular story stuck with me goes back to the early 1990s. In college I read a chapter of Arlie Hothschild’s The Second Shift. Her research found that even after they entered the workforce women still take care of most of the household and childcare responsibilities. I vowed to never be one of those guys, so being confronted with that reality hurt.
Today, I am a stay-at-home dad and the dynamic between myself and my wife is different to that of a couple where both partners are employed. The basic logic of fairness is harder to apply. Whether one partner is doing more than his or her share of the work, both paid and domestic, can only be discerned within the particular relationship.
It’s tempting to make simple division between one works outside the home and the other within it. This is no solution. That approach might benefit a man who thinks that the workweek ends on Friday evening, but fails to account for the life work that his wife does through Saturday and Sunday.
The second pitfall of comparing the contributions of a homemaker with that of a “gainfully employed” partner is we tend to undervalue domestic work. Running a household, raising kids and doing the volunteer work that knits communities together can easily add up to a full-time equivalent job, but it is seldom given the same status as paid work.
It’s not hard to imagine a working spouse coming home and saying I’ve had a long day at the office and I just want to relax. But try the reverse; Good luck to the homemaker who declares “I’m done,” at 6pm!
My wife works hard. She has a well of internal energy that I still can’t quite fathom. She’ll come home and say she’s had a long day at the office, pour herself a wine and ask for her dinner. That is usually followed up by the declaration that she has a hundred emails to catch up on because she’s been in meetings all day.
Tonight, I’ve cooked, done laundry, and put the kids to bed. I’ve finished my working day, and all I can hear from the next room is the click, click, click of my wife furiously putting her keyboard through another stress test.
There are times I feel frustrated, where I would like a little more help, but it is seldom because my wife is expecting me to wait on her while she binge watches “The Gilmore Girls”.
If I remind myself to walk in my wife’s shoes, I realize that she is doing more than her fair share of the work required to keep our family functioning.
And, so far, my wife hasn’t had to ask me to up my game since that morning. (That was her edit by the way.)