Sometimes I feel like the last surviving 1950s housewife. I iron my husband’s shirts. I pack him a sandwich every day. I make every meal, wash every dish, do all the laundry, scrub all the toilets, change (almost) all the diapers. My husband works and drops our big boy off at school and comes home and lets the little ones climb all over him. I love my life.
I really do! This division of labor works because I genuinely like it. Okay—I don’t always like making the sandwich, but I do like how it saves us money so we can do other fun things I do like. I don’t really like changing (almost) all the diapers, but I am the one at home most of the time so it makes sense. I don’t love scrubbing the toilets. . . okay, sometimes I actually DO like scrubbing the toilets if it means I have a minute of quiet in the bathroom while my husband wrestles the boys. Brian has offered to hire someone to come help with cleaning, but I’m just too cheap and self-conscious to think that would mean anything relaxing or helpful in my life.
I remember at one point dragging my husband into the kitchen to squash a large bug for me. He reminded me that I am an actual adult and fully capable of squashing my own bugs. I reminded him that if I wanted to squash my own bugs I would have stayed single. This birthed the expression in our marriage, “I didn’t get married to squash my own bugs.” This has been said many times from both of us, i.e. “I didn’t get married to have to drag the trashcan to the curb.” (from me) “I didn’t get married to have to pretreat my own stains.” (from him) So yeah, we’re pretty 1950s.
There are moments of discontent for me when I see how other couples divide up labor. This husband does the dishes. That husband loves to cook. I see dads at the park with the kids by himself. I see other arrangement where men are being more “helpful” and sometimes that makes me get a little grumpy with how things run around here.
I also have to balance this perspective by having a conversation with my mom. She talks about my dad never once changing a diaper, I can’t imagine him preparing food beyond pouring his own cereal, and I honestly can’t remember a time where my dad watched us while my mom went out. Like, not once. It probably happened, but I don’t remember it. . .and I think even saying “it probably happened” is a little generous. My mom went out, but my older sister always watched us or it happened while we were at school or at a friend’s. My mom said she felt those things were all her responsibility and she loved figuring out how to balance it all.
So which of these arrangements is ideal? Whatever one works for you and your family.
There are times I realize something that’s become a habit in our marriage doesn’t work anymore. There was a time when I could get our kids ready for church without any help, but at this point I really need my husband to come zip a jacket and tie a shoe so we can get somewhere on time. Could he always have been helping? Yes, but I really did enjoy getting them ready on my own. It was a fun challenge. We’re still working the kinks out of our morning routine that seems overly heavy on me, but needs to account for his pre-work preparations. I don’t like how often Brian isn’t able to eat dinner with us because he was late leaving the office, but I do appreciate how he does bedtime with the kids on those nights. It’s not a perfect system yet, but it works.
I don’t think every system is created equally. When we try to find what “works” for us, it can’t necessarily just be the path of least resistance. I can see how the division of labor my mom and dad worked out did work for them, but I think we kids lost out in not getting to have quality time with my dad and not seeing him in a nurturing roll. I think that’s something the women of my generation are passionate about providing for our children. It is important to me that my kids get to spend time with their daddy. Even if my husband is tired or has nights where he’s working late, we work really hard to be sure that happens. While I may think I know best how to give the kids their baths or fix my daughter’s hair, I want to give my husband an opportunity to bond with them in their daily rituals.
So I’m happy to be the last 1950s housewife. . . with a few modifications. A little help here and there and a husband who is genuinely engaged with his kids feels like progress. I have learned that when you strip away the romance and social pressure, marriage is essentially a partnership. It has to have give and take from both people and will always have it’s strengths and weaknesses. Whether that means your marriage is a 50/50 arrangement of labor and childcare or more of a 1950s arrangement, if it works for you and your family you’re doing it right.