Creative Ways Couples Are Divvying Up the Drudgery

Discussion in 'Working Women' started by Wall St Journal Reviewer, Jun 27, 2005.

  1. Wall St Journal Reviewer

    Wall St Journal Reviewer New IL'ite

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    This article appeared in 'The Wall Street Journal' in the 'Work and Family' section on June 9, 2005.

    A funny thing is happening on the way to sexual equality: Some quirky new strategies for dividing up housework are emerging.

    Women's expanding role as breadwinners is altering old ways of splitting up household chores. Now that home-and-hearth are no longer automatically women's lot, how should couples divide duties? "Short of a housekeeper," wonders Eric Wilcox, a Lexington Park, Md., information analyst who says chores are the main cause of arguments at his house, "are there any creative ideas out there?"
    Some couples are breaking new ground, based on email in response to my recent column on men stepping up their efforts around the house (and women not giving them credit): A sampling:

    Pay-to-Play: This rule holds that whoever makes more money gets more time off at home to relax. Research shows the larger a wife's contribution to household income, the more help she gets from her husband, says historian and author Stephanie Coontz in her 2005 book, "Marriage, a History."

    "Yes, she makes more than me," admits a Midland Park N.J., auto technician whose wife gives him a list of household chores. As a result, "before I go to sleep on Saturday night, in goes the laundry. Wake up, in the dryer [it goes] and next load in the wash. On to vacuuming. Done vacuuming. Fold clothes and next load in the dryer." He saves time to relax, he says, only by being more efficient than his wife, who he claims does housework more slowly.

    The Seven-Day Switchoff: Tara C. Woods and her husband, of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., make two lists of jobs, then alternate duties every week. One list includes drudgework "everybody despises," she says -- washing dishes, cleaning the counter and scrubbing the stove.

    The other list can be tackled every few days, mopping, sweeping or vacuuming. "This way, no one can complain," Ms. Woods says. "We still squabble on occasion, but the resentment factor has all but disappeared."

    The Time-Clock Technique: In Heidi and John Jason's Highlands Ranch, Colo., home, whoever spends more time at home does more chores. Ms. Jason works part-time as an attorney and does two-thirds to three-fourths of the housework, Mr. Jason says. After working full-time as a nurse on the night shift, he sometimes cares for their 4-year-old daughter all day; he gets chores done as he can, he says.

    One risk: Husbands sometimes use this rationale to justify their wives' cutting back on hard-earned careers. Also, a time-clock mentality risks transforming spouses into stopwatch-toting efficiency critics. One West Los Angeles, Calif., librarian admits to having hovered, eyes on her watch, while her husband cleaned the kitchen, thinking, " 'This will take about seven minutes.' And a half-hour later, he was still doing it." Her time-consciousness helps foster resentment, she admits.

    Specialization of Labor: This capitalist approach splits tasks based on skill. "My cooking skills end at frying and boiling things. I don't know how to make a quiche and I'm not sure I want to learn," says Martin Harris, a Brandon, Vt., architect. His wife, on the other hand, "never tried to learn wiring or plumbing or carpentry or roofing." One pitfall is that many householders now hire gardeners and contractors to do traditional male tasks. Thus men "don't uphold their end of the bargain. And that stinks," Mr. Harris says. Another risk: This strategy can perpetuate inequities, sticking women with drudgery like dishes and laundry.

    The Feudal Approach: A more egalitarian strategy is to give each partner hegemony in separate fiefdoms, says Francine M. Deutsch, a Mount Holyoke College professor and author of a book on splitting child care and housework. A man might control the laundry, for example, while the woman rules the kitchen. Partners have not only authority over how chores in their separate realms are handled, but the clout to pressure a spouse for help.

    This neutralizes a traditional female weapon in the chore wars -- control over how and when work is done. It affords men more satisfaction because they can steer at least a few outcomes. Also, men have to step up and bear consequences for slacking off -- such as kids hollering over a lack of clean clothes.

    Enlist the Kids: This oft-neglected strategy is my favorite. James Harrison's two daughters, ages 10 and 13, help with chores such as laundry, setting the dinner table and doing dishes. "Between the four of us, we can get the kitchen finished in five to 10 minutes, rather than one person taking 30 minutes," says Mr. Harrison, a Dallas attorney. This "reduces my wife's feeling of servitude and goes a long way toward avoiding resentment."

    In a variation called "Family Cleanup Time," Ms. Woods sets her cellphone alarm to ring at 8 p.m. nightly and has trained her husband and boys, ages 4 and 6, to stop what they're doing and clean the house for 15 minutes. "Before FCT, all of this fell to me," she says.

    Face-Time Foolery: I wouldn't advise this method, which isn't so much a strategy as a sleight-of-hand. Sensing their spouses' irritation over housework, some men become masters of appearing to be hard at work -- when they aren't. "Always look busy. Pick something up or carry a broom when going from room-to-room. Women hate to see an idle man," advises an Austin, Texas, architect. Plan to be seen doing chores at times of maximum impact. "It is better to be found folding a few pieces of laundry after spending the day watching football, than to be found watching football after spending all day doing chores." Above all, don't be seen enjoying housework, the architect advises: "Women [will] perceive that you're just playing."

  2. orion80

    orion80 Platinum IL'ite

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    Creative ways definitely but doubt the practicality.

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