Communication — 02 November 2003
His,her chores: Is it fair?

Have you ever felt that you do more than your fair share of the
household tasks? Have you ever felt resentful about not having your
efforts appreciated enough? If so, you have experienced the avoidable
frustrations many partners feel.

Many couples report feeling overwhelmed by the demands of their jobs,
childcare, household chores and life tasks which drain their energy.
Fatigue, exhaustion and irritability are common symptoms of these

overworked partners. The non-relenting nature of these demands often
renders the couple powerless and even despondent at finding a solution.

It is thus likely that two extremely stressed people may resort to
struggling over one more task, which neither feels able to squeeze into
his or her already overburdened schedule. It is also predictable that
each may view his own efforts as greater than his partner’s. When we are
stretched too thinly, our judgment falters and we see only our own
perspective.

Some of this seemingly unmanageable state is due to the fact that 70% of
marriages consist of two wage earners. In the 1950_s, most households
were composed of a breadwinner, usually the man, and a homemaker who
devoted her time to the home and the children. Research shows that today
women still do two thirds of the household chores, while holding full
time jobs. Though men are sharing more and more of the household tasks,
they would have to increase their home labor contribution by 60% to
achieve an equal level with women.

So how do some couples manage to do it all- lovingly? How do they avoid
resenting each other? How are they spared the battles of who does more
and what is fair?
They do it as a team. And they bring goodwill and clarity to their mission.

If you use a business model _you may divide a two career couple with
children into a five departments concern: His career, her career, the
children, the home (cleaning, maintenance, bills), and social
/recreational departments.

The mission statement of this “business” is to love each other and the
children while doing the supportive tasks necessary to maintain it. The
jobs generate income and self-esteem, the home provides the warm shelter
and the social and recreational activities enrich the families
connections within it and with others.

When the emphasis is on intimacy and love and not on the draining tasks,
the proper perspective leads to the obvious solutions. It is not to say
that balancing all the “departments” is an easy task, but it is much
more doable with clear goals. All life’s tasks support the family- they
do not run it. When couples forget this, they end up overwhelmed and lost.

Now you know what is wrong with these commonly heard statements: “We are so tired after work that we don’t even have much energy left for
the kids”, “we rarely talk to each other because we have to clean and
cook, do laundry and pay bills”, “how can we have fun when there is so
much to do?”

The best way to manage the “home department”, is by a team approach. All
the members of the family, even the young ones, are participants of the
team. Each one has his own level of skills and unique inclinations. As
in business, an efficient utilization of talent is crucial. Yet, most
employees also perform some less desirable aspects of their jobs.

The kids select the tasks they feel able to do, which empowers them as
members of the team. The verbal accolades they receive from their
parents, strengthen their sense of contribution. They learn to share,
cooperate and take turns doing some less desirable chores. Children are
proud to help their parents and practice grown-up tasks.

Parents also benefit from the children’s efforts and from the intimacy
cooperative activities creates. Making “clean-up time” fun, changes the
atmosphere from burdensome to joyful.

A weekly family meeting to review the progress of the “department” can
be another educational and intimate event. Children may vent their
frustrations, even if their chores end up unchanged. They benefit from
being heard, having their feelings validated and they feel honored by
the attention to their concerns.

The parents, as well as the children, benefit from a lighter and loving
approach to household chores sharing. The parents may list all else that
needs work and volunteer their appropriate talents. It is wise to divide
the tasks so each partner is solely responsible for one aspect of it.
The greater the clarity about task division _ the less likely it is that
the partners will experience ensuing resentments. It also allows for
autonomy, responsibility and an opportunity to receive kudos for a job
well done.

Life is sweeter and more manageable with the following reminders:

  •  Life’s tasks are needed to support love, intimacy and connection and
    not vice versa.
  • Tasks can be fun if done as a team and with a playful attitude.
  • You can choose whether or not to feel victimized by life’s demands.
  • Chores can be delightful educational and maturational opportunities
    for children.
  • Bring your good will to chore sharing with your partner- and your love
    will grow.
  • Stroke your partner regularly for his /her competency in doing tasks.
    Remember that every chore done by him- spares your energy.
  • If some chores don’t get done, the family can still thrive.
  • Do the least of the undesirable and most of the intimate _ to be
    fulfilled.
  •  Ask yourself if this task will matter in five years. If it won’t, prioritize it. Health, safety, education and intimacy issues often do.

All that matters requires energy- some things matter more and forever.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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