When it comes to splitting household chores, does the wife really have to do all the housework if she stays at home?
Every Monday I like to try to answer a Reader Question, and today I’ve got two quite similar ones from two frustrated moms who feel that their husbands expect them to do all of the housework. One writes:
I heard the broadcast on Focus on the Family, and did it ever validate some of the things I’ve been feeling! I am also a homeschool mom, and I really struggle with the line of “his work and her work”. When the wife stays home, whether she homeschools or not, is all the housework her responsibility? I see a lot of discussion about homes where the wife also works, but not about homes where the wives stay home.
Here’s another woman:
I’ve recently became a stay at home mom. My husband was all for the idea of me being home with our boys and I was overjoyed, too, but here is my issue: When I ask my husband to do the tiniest thing (take trash out, Wash the dishes, change a diaper), he makes a statement such as “well you’re a stay at home mom now” or “Do you want to grade papers or do lessons plans for me?”, and doesn’t do the thing I asked of him OR he makes requests that are adding to my Daily tasks–such as feeding the dog both evening and morning, watering plants, or things he used to to. I’m just starting out being home and I don’t want to resent it. But I also don’t want to drown with daily “chores” and “tasks” and not be able to spend the time with our boys like I had intended. Please help me get my husband to understand that I don’t want to do it all on my own.
I get asked these sorts of questions a lot, and I actually wrote a book about exactly this–To Love, Honor and Vacuum. What do you do when you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother? I’ve got all sorts of tips in there about how to divide household chores or at least how to talk about the issues, and so if you’re really struggling like this woman is, I’d really recommend getting the book, which goes into so much more detail than I can in this post.
But I’m going to share some general principles today which I hope can get people thinking and talking about it.
Story #1: Not Understanding How Much Work Being a Great Mom Is!
I was 28 years old and my husband was a resident at the Hospital for Sick Children in pediatrics. I was at home with a one-year-old and a three-year-old.
I went to a social function with all of the other residents and spouses, and one particular woman often talked to me because she had kids the same age as mine. The difference was that she and her husband were both residents (doctors in training), so they had hired a nanny to care for the kids.
She was venting and complaining to me that day that her nanny didn’t do enough housework. The nanny had dinner made every night, but the floors weren’t mopped and the laundry wasn’t always folded.
And I thought to myself: I’m at home all day and my floors aren’t always mopped and my laundry isn’t always folded either. Why? Because I do stuff with my kids. We go to the park. We go to gymnastics at the Y. We go to the library. And getting all that housework done with two kids underfoot is really hard. If she wanted a nanny who did all that housework, then she wanted a nanny who would ignore the kids.
Story #2: When You Stay at Home, You Home Is Messier
When my kids were about 3 and 5 I was involved in a small group at church with a bunch of other couples with young kids. One night we went over to one couple’s house for dessert. The house was spotless. Flowers everywhere; magazines fanned on the coffee table; toys in lovely wicker baskets in the corner of the living room.
My home NEVER looked like that.
I was despondent on the drive home, and then my husband reminded me: both parents work. They leave the house at 7:15 and drop the kids in day care, and get home at 6:00. The kids are in bed by 7:30. They don’t have time to mess up the house because they’re very rarely there!
And I did feel better.
The moral of the story? The house gets messier when it is lived in constantly, and being with kids is a busy job, in and of itself, if you want to actually spend time with kids, create memories, and teach them things.
General Principles for Dividing up Household Chores
There’s No Substitute for Talking
Sometimes people write in and I get the feeling that they’re looking for a MAGIC answer–that magic thing they can say that will change everything.
There really isn’t any such thing as magic.
You have to talk about how busy and overwhelmed you feel. You have to talk about what goes into running a house, and decide what is the fairest way to divide that up. I hope I can give you some direction in WHAT to talk about and HOW to talk about it, but you do have to talk.
Here are some possible ways that you can frame that conversation:
Talk About His and Her Work Hours
I’m a firm believer that being a stay at home mom is hard work. But at the same time, if we’re honest, we know that we don’t always take it seriously. I think we could get a lot more done during the day if we did decide to treat stay at home motherhood like a job, with things we wanted to get done.
But when you are a stay at home mom, what adds to the exhaustion is the fact that you are never off duty. So it’s not always WHAT you do–it’s the fact that you never get to breathe on your own.
So let’s talk work week. Let’s say your husband works 50 hours a week. Then you should really work 50 hours a week, too. And what counts as work? Any time you’re doing something that contributes to the family as a whole. If go on Facebook for an hour while the kids nap, that’s not work. But taking them to the library, mopping the floors, fixing dinner–that’s work.
If you had an hour and a half to yourself today during the day, then it really is okay to let him sit on his butt for an hour and a half in the evening while you make dinner and clean up. Don’t resent him for that.
But if you spend the entire evening working, and he really does nothing, then it’s time to have that talk about how long your work days are and what you can do to even it out a bit. Again, don’t measure minutes–you’ll only end up in fights and it will be hurtful. But saying, “I need an hour of downtime at night, away from the kids, while you clean up dinner and give bath time” is perfectly reasonable.
Work Together in Short Bursts
My grandmother had a rule, “When Momma’s working, everybody’s working”, and I adopted that, too. If I was cleaning the kitchen, everybody else had better be cleaning something as well! So we’d set the timer for 15 minutes and see how much we could get done (you can get a LOT done in 15 minutes when all hands are on deck).
If you have a general routine where for 15 minutes after dinner everybody cleans something (you can give everybody a different zone), and then after that you do something fun as a family, that can work well, too. “Come on, guys! Let’s beat the timer and get this all cleaned up, and then we get to play Life!”
Get Super Organized
I am a much better housekeeper today, at 45, then I was at 25. I’ve had more practice at housework. I’ve learned that it’s important to empty the dishwasher first thing every morning or my whole day is thrown off. I’ve learned to fold the laundry as it comes out of the dryer rather than dumping it on the floor (or the bed).
So learn how to be as productive and organized as you can be!
My husband has always worked long hours, and quite frankly, when he was home I didn’t want him cleaning. I wanted to goof off with him and have fun with the kids! So my goal was always to see how much I could get done on my own, during the day, so that he wouldn’t have to do stuff at night–because then I wouldn’t have to do stuff, either!
Sometimes the house got out of control and we’d all have a cleaning day. And we did that 15 minute thing a lot. But my goal was just, “get it done as fast as I can” so that we can have family time at night. When the kids were really little that did mean that Keith had to watch them while I did the big cleaning. But I got better at it, and it didn’t take much time when I knew there was a reward at the other end: spending time together!
So I wouldn’t get too upset about watering the plants and feeding the dog–if you’re still spending time together having fun as a family. But if you aren’t enjoying family time, that’s a different story.
Take Some Time to Yourself
I know some moms who NEVER have themselves in their profile pics on Facebook. Their profile pics are always of their kids, as if the kids are their whole identity. And sometimes moms take no time away from the kids.
Your kids need to see that you have an identity outside of them, and your husband needs to see that you are still your own woman.
If your husband just will not help with anything, and you really are run off your feet, then may I suggest that you take one evening a week and say, “I’m going to take this for myself, and you can put the kids to bed”? Go to a woman’s Bible study. Take a craft evening class at a community college (ours offers quilting, cooking, painting, and more). Or take another course–like computers, investing, pilates. Do something that gets you out of the house for two hours a week. Besides, your husband needs to watch the kids and develop his own relationship with them.
I really don’t believe that there is “his work” or “her work”. But I do believe in two big principles:
- Both spouses should be contributing to the family at roughly equal amounts;
- Both spouses should have their own relationship with the kids
And of those two things, #2, in my mind, is the most important. I never cared about doing most of the housework if it meant that when we were together, Keith got to be with the kids. So let’s not count chores, but let’s put in the most effort we can when we are working. And if there’s a big imbalance, then you just have to talk about it.
If you’re a stay at home mom, how did you decide on splitting household chores? Let us know in the comments!