The Division of Labor, or Why Aren't My Clothes Nicer if I'm Living in the '50s?

Linda Sharps
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In my last post I talked about The Unending Sorrow of Housecleaning, and I thought one of the comments touched on something we've all thought about more than once:

"Shame on you - you wrote this because you feel guilty and you should - imagine the stress it adds to your husband who doesn't want to call you out on the fact that your house is a mess - do you think he should be cleaning it on His time off?"

Oh wait, no, that was from someone who apparently thinks I am married to God. Heh.

(Poor guy spends his day creating the heavens and the earth in all their vast array, comes home to relax, and it's like, what the hell—now I got to vacuum, too? WHAT AM I SOME KIND OF HOLY BEING?)

What I'm talking about is this:

"…this makes me sad, because however much I'd like to think we've left the 50s, women still bare the brunt of 'keeping the home,' even when we work just as hard as men. (…) it's our responsibility to manage a clean house on top of everything else we do as women, wives, moms. I wonder when we'll ever truly escape the 1950s mentality."

Now, judging by the first comment, it's clear that a few of us still happily embrace the notion that women should be solely in charge of keeping a tidy and husband-pleasing household (which also includes delivering a blow job and a dry martini at precisely 5:14 p.m. each day), but for the rest of us who grew up with this crazy idea of equality—well, yeah. It does sometimes feel like I'm working double duty over here.


I'm not saying my husband doesn't pull his weight, because he does. For one thing, he takes care of all the handyman-type tasks, including the recent job of wedging himself in the creepy spider-infested crawlspace under the house in order to inspect a foul odor that only I could smell. He manages our finances, he clears the table and cleans up the kitchen after dinner, he's in charge of toilets, he mows the lawn, and so on.


But back to that smell. It's not that I have superhuman olfactory powers, it's that there was honestly the scent of rotting rat corpse floating through our air vents and my husband didn't notice. He really and truly does not notice the things that make a filthy house. I mean, he used to live in a fraternity where one of the guys used their kitchen counter for a science project and found, like, 17 different deadly bacterias on the surfaces. He just doesn't care about visible dog hair on the carpet, is what I'm saying.


So I live with one adult who does not register things like crumbs on the floor, pee stains on the toilet lid, rings around bathtubs, and mildewed piles of laundry; and two children who until fairly recently were perfectly happy to walk around with a mound of feces smashed against their own butts. It's no wonder my house is a disaster zone, really.


My options with my husband are this: I can nag him constantly to clean up, which he hates. I can remind him that my plate is plenty full with working several hours a day while taking care of kids and everything else, and that I'd appreciate it if I wasn't the only person who knew that "laundry" involves more than just dumping clothes in the washing machine and strolling away whistling, and then we can spend the rest of the evening being irritated with each other. I can let the resentment build until I explode in a flurry of I SPENT HALF AN HOUR VACUUMING THIS ENTIRE GODDAMNED HOUSE AND YOU JUST TRACKED IN A SHITLOAD OF MUD AND GRASS LIKE SOME SORT OF MENTALLY DISABLED SHETLAND PONY.


Or, you know, I can decide to pick my battles, and carry on with managing the lion's share of the crappy stupid housework. Because at the end of the day, I'd rather not fight about a dirty floor. Sure, it would be nice if someone else occasionally looked at the floor and thought, say, maybe I should clean that—but it is what it is.


I think every successful marriage involves compromise, and putting up with each other's idiosyncrasies. I myself am not perfect, as difficult as it may be to believe. I have a lazy habit of putting peanut butter jars back on half-unscrewed, my bathroom sink always looks like the cheap makeup aisle of a drugstore exploded all over it, I leave droopy old-lady bras draped over various towel bars, and my once-spotless car interior looks like an episode of Hoarders: Crumpled Tissue and Random LEGO Brick Edition.


Everyone's lives are so much more complicated than they used to be, really. My husband has a full-time job and also owns a business on the side. I'm at home with the kids full-time but I also work. We have hobbies and family commitments and side projects and exercise routines. If it were the '50s, I probably wouldn't be earning a paycheck, and he'd be relaxing with a pipe in front of the TV when he got home.


Like anyone else, I wish I could offload some of my responsibilities that I don't enjoy. Then again, I'm insanely grateful for the life I am living—for having a job that allows me to be with my kids, for having a house to get dirty, for having a healthy and happy family who makes such a damn mess all the time.


What's your take on the division of housework labor in your home? Do you feel like the majority of it falls in your shoulders, or is it equally shared?

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