The Household Division Of Duties

I’m going to bet that all of you long-time married couples divided up your household duties a long time ago and without much discussion.

You weren’t like the couples of today who sit down and draw up actual contracts so all the toils of life are divided fair and square—down to the number of forks they’re willing to wash in a year.

Women today don’t want to be saddled with every single household chore by themselves, and I get that, since many are full time working mothers themselves. I mean, who said women should be the only gender to scrub a toilet?

But truth be told, I’m a terrible feminist. I can’t tell you the last time my husband scrubbed a toilet, but then, I wasn’t outside this morning in 7 degree weather organizing the garbage. And standing at the sink watching him out the window with steam coming out of his nostrils and icicles forming on his beard, I decided I was more than happy with the way things are.

I got to thinking about how married couples from my generation formed their roles and I suppose most of us just picked up where our parents left off. Even with the kids gone, getting up to make dinner at 5:00 is part of my inner routine, as deeply ingrained as brushing my teeth or going to bed each night. The kitchen is my territory–always has been and always will be. My husband can have the garage and the workshop but don’t mess with my kitchen.

That’s not to say he doesn’t make breakfast or do the dishes on occasion, and he does his own laundry, too. But he also works hard at his job, which leaves me dealing with the rest of our lives–family, dog, holidays, household matters, celebrations, cleaning and cooking. And I’m okay with that, at least most of the time.

But so much of who we are as a couple has not been planned, or thought out, or come to by compromise. We just naturally fell into our roles, even about silly things–like who drives.

I grew up in a generation and in a family where the male got in the driver’s seat whenever the car was started. Look at Norman Rockwell’s painting of a family headed to summer vacation: the dad is driving. And take a look the next time you’re on the thruway: usually the male is behind the steering wheel.

As much as women like to think we’ve made huge progress in equal rights, that’s a realm where we’ve made very little headway. When a man and a woman are in an automobile, the man drives. Unless his leg is broken or he had too many beers while watching the game at his brothers house, he’s driving.

It’s true that many men feel threatened by the notion of a woman driving. It’s a big role in their lives: “I’m the family driver in this big hunk of steel.”

We have women CEO’s and astronauts, but for some reason men commandeer the car, and that’s true in my own marriage, except for long drives. We recently had to tow a trailer behind our car and he was terrified to let me relieve him on the drive.

When he finally had to submit to resting for awhile, I got behind that wheel, peeled out of the rest stop and kept up with the the truckers for 300 miles through two states in bad weather.

I won’t soon forget the look on his face.

A woman wrote into the New York Times advice column recently complaining that her husband is like one of the kids, unable or unwilling to help much with domestic duties and she was thinking of leaving him.

The response was enlightening: “One of the most despicable tricks of patriarchy is to peddle the myth that men can’t do more around the house because they weren’t raised to do so. Trace that logic out a bit, and you arrive at a kind of weaponized incompetence: Your husband isn’t good at certain tasks, so he shouldn’t have to do them.”

The psychologist that answered her said her husband should learn how to do those tasks, and since they both work outside of the house, I agree. No one should feel run down and exhausted because one partner won’t acknowledge an inequity in the household.

Culture and our familial experiences dictates a lot of how we see the world and our place in it. But not everyone is unhappy with their roles. Most long-married happy couples have found a way to get through life together without drawing hard lines in the sand.

My brother is a champion errand runner all day every Saturday. My dad made apple pies. My mother hired a cleaning lady when she went back to work.

My husband is outside taking down Christmas lights in the cold and all is right with the world. I’m making him some tea.


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