Division of Labor | Seventh Generation
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Division of Labor

Author: abbybrooks

I remember a game we played at our wedding reception almost nine years ago -- the shoe game. My new husband and I sat back to back and each of us traded a shoe to the other. Then the DJ asked questions about the two of us and we were to answer by raising the appropriate shoe. I was the ballet slipper and my husband was the shiny black shoe. Everyone laughed at how in (or out of) synch we were. There was a series of questions about household duties and who was responsible...the ballet slipper went up an awful lot: "Who pays the bills?" Slipper. "Who does the dishes?" Slipper. "Who goes food shopping?" Slipper. "Who cooks?" Slipper. You get the idea. My husband actually shouted out, "You're making me look bad!" Looking back, it might have been this silly game that led to some changes in the division of labor in our household!

It has been a gradual migration to 50/50, or close to it. For the first six years of our marriage, we both worked outside the home. In those early days, the labor was divided by brick: outside the house was his job, inside was my job. I was pretty happy to accept the agreement, mostly because there is no way I would EVER crawl under the house to check on pipes!

Of course everything changed when our daughter was born. We decided I would resign from my position at work to stay at home and care for her. At first, I felt an overwhelming sense of duty to make up for the lost income, I wanted to do everything around the house. Soon enough, I figured out that childcare is a job, and a fulltime one at that. Dressing, feeding, changing diapers, washing clothes, playing, teaching, bathing, potty training (my current Mount Everest), and on and on. This list of child care duties probably sounds simple to an outsider, but it requires more of me than my "real job" ever did! So, something had to give, and that was housework.

Fortunately, I am blessed with a husband who has developed a true love for cooking. After we enjoy the meal he prepares, I do the dishes. To be sure he has everything he needs, he also does the grocery shopping! (Oh how I smile as the black shoe goes up!) I'd rather visit the dentist without anesthesia than go to the grocery store. Occasionally I make a quick trip, and I am embarrassingly out of place. I wander around trying to find the items on my list and end up darting back and forth from one end of the store to the other because I don't know where anything is!

Here's how the shoe game would look today:

Ballet slipper:
Daughter care
Manage bills

Black shoe:

Maintenance/repairs inside and outside
Cooking/Grocery shopping

Of course things aren't perfect, and sometimes I do more than my fair share. But most of the time, we approach this as teamwork -- we know we're in it together.

I'm curious...how do other Seventh Generation households divide the work?

photo: _e.t


rachiti picture
Unfortunately my fiance and I are forced to live apart most of the time, so division of labor gets a bit tricky. I still pay the bills and manage the finances and he still helps me with anything technical (even if it's writing step-by-step instructions on how to change the ignition switch on our car so I can do it). As for cooking/cleaning/laundry - when we are together we share duties. As long as I initiate the cleaning and laundry, he has zero trouble helping. He also does most of the cooking because I have to bring work home from the office while he does not. We grocery shop together as 'family time' just as I used to do with my mother years ago. Personally, though, I would NEVER EVER date a man that couldn't/wouldn't cook because it shows to me that he has no intention of living in the 21st century in terms of division of labor.
amysinis picture
My husband had been in the military years ago, and he had also not been in a serious relationship for several years before he and I met, so he had a lot of time where he had to do for himself--cooking, shopping, laundry, cleaning, etc. I came along at the right time, since he was self-sufficient and also relatively free of emotional/past relationship baggage. Today, we have a very fair division of labor. We have no children, but we do own a house, and our tendency is I clean inside and he mows/shovels, etc. outside--though there is also room for changes (he is better at cooking eggs than I am, so those are his department; I help shovel and do yardwork when there is a lot to be done, etc.). Luckily, neither of us really subscribes to gender-based stereotypes about the "work" of maintaining a household, so this never gets thrown in anyone's face.
apbaione picture
My husband came from a culturally traditional family where chores did themselves (i.e. his mom worked endlessly)while my family of 6 always pitched in every Saturday morning to do all the housework before heading off to games, playing with friends, etc. Both of our moms and dads worked outside the home and we both had siblings. Thankfully, my husband quickly realized that he had learned no skills to care for himself and he wanted our children to know how to cook, clean, and manage bills when they became adults. A year ago I divided the chores into zones (kitchen, living areas, outside) and wrote a manual explaining how to clean each zone. In great detail, I explain everything from how to load the dishwasher to how to scrub a toilet and how to mow the lawn. Not only does this give my kids the knowledge for doing the chore but also it sets an expectation for what the area should look like when the job is complete. On our family schedule, I break down each zone for each child into daily chores and I swap zones each week. My husband and I handle cooking, paying bills, home repairs and caring for the cars and we include the kids on these jobs when we can to give them knowledge. I've found this method successfully shares the household responsibilities among all family members, educates my children, and takes away the nagging I felt I was always doing.
elizabeth karre picture
elizabeth karre
Everyone should read Equally Shared Parenting. It's about division of labor overall, not just parenting. Even if you aren't looking for a super even split of childcare, household, and income earning like most of the couples in the book, it's still very thought-provoking. It opened our eyes to some ways we could be more flexible with our family arrangements and some of the emotional issues that were tied up in how we assumed things should be done.
sherilyn Siy picture
sherilyn Siy
My husband loves doing the laundry. He loves the fresh, clean smell filling the room as he takes out clothes from the washing machine (we have the washing machine inside our flat in Tokyo and we have to hang our clothes to dry indoors on rainy days). When I do the cooking, he does the dishes without my asking. He loves to give our baby a bath and change her diapers and he was the one who started our baby on the toilet at 5 weeks old. I remember a Hallmark Valentine's Day humor book with a picture of a man doing housework and the caption was "Women's porn". I do find myself falling more in love with my husband when he has absolutely no qualms about helping around the house with traditionally women's chores. Love it, love it, love it! Thanks for sharing this article. Enjoyed reading it.