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How One Simple Question Helped Me Achieve Fair Division of Labor

Lightening the mental load in your home starts with a simple conversation with your partner. It's time to make a change and create a more equitable division of labor. —Jenny GK
How One Simple Question Helped Me Achieve Fair Division of Labor

If you're feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by constantly shouldering the majority of household responsibilities, while your partner's involvement remains minimal, then you are not alone!


Maybe, despite your efforts to communicate and address the issue, the burden of tasks continues to fall disproportionately on you, hindering your ability to achieve a more equitable division of labor in the home.


The Need for Fair Distribution of Household Tasks and Parenting Responsibilities

Jenny and I dove deep into the topic of achieving a more equitable division of labor in the home. We shared our own experiences and frustrations with the mental load, highlighting the challenges faced by many individuals in balancing household tasks and parenting responsibilities.


My girlfriend—I call her "E" in the episode—texted me about how at two of the three pool parties she went to between the end of the school year and the time of the episode's recording (so roughly Memorial Day to mid-July), the dudes were all inside, ignoring their parenting responsibilities and having a grand ol' time. And their wives were all outside.


In the pool.


With the kids.


Because of course they were.


E, Jenny, and I got frustrated.


We’re frustrated by how societal expectations often place the burden of household tasks and parenting responsibilities on women.


I mean, come onnnnnnn. E mentioned that the time it took for these moms to do their hair and makeup alone should have kept them out of the pool. And while she was clearly joking, I definitely thought "OMG she's totally right, I'd have been pissed if my hair and makeup had gotten messed up because my dude forgot we existed at this party."


Maybe that's what really bothers me. That the dudes got to forget their families existed. They got to have no responsibilities and just relax and be for a little while in public while the ladies couldn't. And that the ladies wouldn't be able to just be at home, either, because it was most likely on them to

  • get everyone cleaned up after the party

  • get everyone fed at home

  • get all of the pool party "stuff" cleaned and put away

It's enough to make a person start to feel... well, resentful.


At the same time, we (meaning E, Jenny, and I—I can't speak for you or anyone else) like our partners and don't want to resent them.


So when I found the article by Rachel Bowie for PureWow entitled "Try this Convo With Your Spouse to Even the Mental Load," I was intrigued. It emphasized the need to have a deeper understanding of each other's history and habits when it comes to domestic work to foster empathy and connection and quell resentment (which is the destroyer of all relationships, IMHO).


The article argues that by approaching these discussions about household chores and labor with empathy and focusing on specific tasks rather than nitpicking every little thing, couples can work together to create a fair and balanced distribution of responsibilities. So by asking "Who did {insert chore} when you were a kid?" you'll get some background and create a safe space to approach a conversation about the division of labor at home.


Seems too good to be true, right?


Achieving an Equitable Division of Labor at Home

To be clear, my husband does a lot at our house. We both work hard to demonstrate that we're equal partners, that we're a team, and that we each want the other person to be happy and fulfilled in our relationship. My husband takes on a large part of the parenting duties, if not the majority. He's the reason we have dinner every night (bless him, seriously). I'm very aware of how special he is, both as a person and as a partner, because my experiences are certainly not the norm.


That said, we each do the same chores pretty consistently. Most of the time, the breakdown looks like this:

  • I wash the dishes & load the dishwasher. He unloads the dishwasher.

  • I scoop cat boxes and wash cat fountains. He takes the trash and recycling cans to the street for pickup.

  • I do the laundry: a load every day, rotating through the parts of the house, and change the bedding. He takes on our son's breakfast and dinner 9.5 times out of 10, and is king of the last-minute grocery runs.


Asking why the division of labor looks the way that it does in my home was something I’d thought about before, but it usually looked like “OMG WHY is this ALWAYS MY job?" when I would walk by the same pile of mail that I set out weeks ago or the napkin from my son's breakfast that's been on the floor for days. And yes, I am well aware that the napkin should be cleaned up by my son. It's a thing. We're working on it.


(Also, a side note here: I feel like a complete jerk even thinking that question, because again, I am aware of how much my husband does. And it seems like it's a full 100% more than what many women get from their partners.)


But I’ll admit that in all of my shower rants internal monologuing, it never occurred to me to ask the question that would provide me with context around why certain jobs were seemingly “assigned” to me or why I assumed that if I didn’t do them, they wouldn’t get done.


Or take a moment to self-reflect. To ask myself if the laundry really is always my job? Or do I feel that way because I have the urge to do things just so and therefore I control the laundry room?


I have yet to try it. The actual ask. The “Who used to do the laundry at your house when you were a kid?” question.


Because I remembered something.


My husband learned to do his own laundry when he was 10.

  • Yes, I like the laundry washed a certain way. I add sanitizers and load the tiniest things on the bottom because it keeps the washer from stopping mid-load because it's unbalanced.

  • Yes, I have weird AF folds that keep my clothes together and the towels neatly bundled (thank you, Marie Kondo) and I end up refolding items that aren’t folded the way that I like.

  • Yes, I typically listen to podcasts in the laundry room or enjoy my own meditative mindlessness while I'm there to get a few moments away.

But you know what? My husband is 100% capable of doing the laundry. And he says that he's going to do the laundry. Which means that when I need to not do the laundry, *I* need to let go and be the one who trusts that the clothes will get clean, folded, or both. And I really should let him do it, even if it isn't on my rigid AF timetable.


So once in a while, I relinquish control. I take him up on his offer to do the two loads that are waiting to be washed or to fold what's in the dryer (this is my least favorite thing, Anyone else? Ugh).


And I’ll be damned if it doesn't feel amazing to just sit while he takes care of it.


Do I have to refold a few things? (“Have to” = they’re bothering me because they aren’t folded my way…?)


Yup.


But doing that for 5-ish items sure as sh*t beats doing the full two loads.


And you know what else? The clothes come out fine.


3 Things I learned when trying to “fix” these situations:

  • Communication is key: Discuss your needs and expectations openly with your partner. It's essential to express how you feel and what you need from them.

  • Share the load: Try to divide the chores according to your strengths and preferences. If one of you detests laundry but doesn't mind cooking, swap tasks.

  • Establish a routine: Having a set schedule for certain tasks can ensure both partners know what they're responsible for and when.

I truly feel like what sets this episode apart is the relatability of this episode. Listeners will find themselves nodding along and gaining valuable insights into how to address and lighten both the mental load and physical division of labor in their own lives.


Whether you're in a heteronormative marriage or any other type of relationship, this episode offers guidance and practical tips for creating a healthier and more supportive partnership. Tune in to find inspiration and strategies for achieving a more equitable division of labor at home.


Love,

Caitlin

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