Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Follow-up: Division of Household Responsibilities

Thank you for your thoughtful comments and reactions to my post last week.

One of the anonymous comments correctly identified that the straw that broke the camel's back was his decision to watch Bladerunner while I was painting the house (without so much as an offer to help). I'll cover for him while he's studying for finals, but I'm not going to be doing the lion's share of chores so that he can sit in front of the TV.

I had some time to cool off after I posted because I had to travel during the week. During that time, I alternately billed away like a good little associate and fumed over the issue. I was less emotional by the time I rolled into Austin for the weekend.

On Saturday morning, we sat down to identify the universe of chores that need to be done.  I invited him to pick the chores he would handle. We discussed and prepared a list.  I've yet to see any chores completed, so the jury is still out.

On a more positive note, he took the lead on planning dinner on Saturday night and participated in the cooking. This felt like a step in the right direction. With two people participating, each step of the process was much easier.

Prior to his move in day over Thanksgiving weekend, I had been living by myself since 2003.  I don't have much experience with sharing space with another person and I'm sure I'm part of the problem. Learning to be more flexible will take time and patience.

At the core of my frustration last week was my belief that if you care about another person, you do your part without the other person having to identify your part, instruct you as to the procedure for doing your part, and then follow up to remind you to do your part.

PS - In an anonymous comment, someone asked why I'm not asking him to pay rent at present. There are many reasons, but for the attorneys who are reading, I have some concerns about the transmutation of separate property. I'm not a family lawyer and need to take steps to understand this issue in greater detail. Until I do so, I wanted to create a clean factual record. (If this seems cold to you, I understand, but after a terrible prior relationship I made a promise to myself to be careful about these sorts of things.) Other reasons include, (i) helping him while he finishes his last semester (my stress level related to my financial situation was very high by the last semester of grad school, so I assumed he would value a break), (ii) demonstrating sensitivity to the disparity in our financial situations (friends who are aware of my salary advised that it would be "rude" for me to ask him to contribute rent), and (iii) paying it forward (it seems likely that in some point in the future, I might take a break from work while he continues).

PPS - In the back of mind throughout all of this is the advice I received from the managing partner of a very big Big Law firm that, in her view, the most important predictor of a female associate's success is whether she makes a good deal with her partner at home (with respect to allocation of household responsibilities). What do you think of this advice?


Anonymous said...

On your last comment-- doing without being told-- I fear you, like the rest of us (okay, most but not all of us) women are screwed. It's called the mental load, and it's sadly mostly ours

LL said...

I think the advice in your PPS is very true (and I actually agree completely with your last paragraph). I can't imagine having to care for my husband the way I do for my children (and the way so many other woman I know do). I can't imagine having to have a list for him of things to do to run a house and then having to remind him to do them. That sounds exhausting. I refuse to do it. We're both adults, we're the only adults in this house and we do all the things all the time. Never is one of us sitting when the other is doing something for the house/family and because that's true, we get to spend a lot of time sitting on the couch together not doing any of those things. Living with someone should lessen the load, not increase it, but I think for so many women it does just that.

Anonymous said...

I've never been a Big Law associate but am an attorney (and the current, though not always, breadwinner in our house). We would not be able to make it work, especially post-kids, if he did not do 50% (or frequently more) of the household labor. I definitely put in more mental labor/social planning, but he does most cleaning, household work, and errand running, with no reminders or nagging from me (that would also put a major strain on our relationship). That being said, we have been together for almost 15 years. Working out an equitable arrangement takes time, mental effort by both partners, and some bit of emotional work and compromise by both parties. It also helps when both partners have equal goals (we both expect, for example, a clean house every day and have generally high standards) and work ethic (my husband worked much harder than I did generally, until law school kicked my butt into having better planning and working skills).

Anonymous said...

Oh so true!

I am a female senior prosecutor (actually from Germany, but the law-world is not so different over here). Every time I am asked by a young female clerk/prosecutor about the most important decision for a career I always tell the same: It's the selection of your husband/future father of your children.

My husband is a lawyer, too, not big law, though. We try to balance the child care between us. While it is still not 50:50, he is willing to take his share and understands that there are times I have to travel or work crazy hours. It's not all the time like that (I said goodbye to big law), but from time to time it is exactly the same as big law. If I hadn't somebody to cover up, I couldn't do my job. Not at all. Never every. You can only source out a certain amount of childcare.

And, another piece of advice that took me a time to understand: If you make more than a cleaning lady, it is absolutely ok to source out cleaning, laundry, gardening...what so ever. My children don't care if it was me who ironed their shirt. You don't have to be the perfect housewife, if you work a job out of the house. Perfect housewife taken seriously is a full-time job, too. Just without minimum wage.

So, yes, it is still up to your husband, if have a successful career...but you are free to pick your husband. So chose wisely.

nrlrose7 said...

I've been thinking about the PPS, and there is something about it that bothers me. I think the sentiment is generally the same takeaway from Lean In - Sandberg said the most important career decision is picking a partner. I think I like it better phrased that way, picking the right partner, than making a good deal. I want to know my partner supports me and my career and creates an equal partnership. I don't like the idea of bargaining or negotiating it. This might all be semantics, but those are my thoughts. Thanks for starting the discussion!

Megan said...

I have a couple thoughts from my relationship--married almost 9 years w/2 young kids. I'm a SAHM now, but the lessons are still applicable. My husband and I have fought a LOT about division of labor, almost exclusively post-kids. (And he's the neat one, I'm the messy one, so our issues are not about me cleaning up after him!)

First, when you want to have a discussion like this, make sure to give your boyfriend a heads up about the topic in advance. Whenever I've been stewing on something for a while and then spring it on my husband (or vice versa), the discussion rarely goes well, even if we're not fighting at the time. I've been able to think about the issue a lot, but he hasn't had time to and tends to default to defensiveness bc he's not prepared.

Second, my husband needs a LOT of praise. It drives me crazy because I think he shouldn't get praise for doing what he should be doing anyway. But it was one of the first things our therapist recommended when we went to him about division of labor issues. So, when my husband takes the trash out (one of his jobs), I thank him for it. When he clears the table after dinner (his job), I thank him for it. When he changes our son's diaper, I thank him for it. Whenever I get lax in thanking him, he starts to feel unappreciated and we end up fighting over something eventually. I still don't really agree with it, but I try to do it.

Third, my husband is very good at doing things on his "list" without complaint or nagging but not good at seeing what else needs to be done. He would get upset that he would be doing everything on his list, and yet I would still get mad at him for not helping enough--i.e., he would be sitting down eating dinner while I was still running around getting the kids water, a fork, a napkin, etc. That wasn't on his list (and if it were on his list, he would have done it perfectly, without complaint). I've had to make it clear that just doing the things on his list isn't enough--he has to take some responsibility for looking for ways to help or things that need to be done, which he doesn't think is quite fair but is happy to do as long as I continue to thank him.

Finally, see a therapist sooner rather than later. We first saw one soon after we moved in together, before we were even engaged. The therapist taught us constructive ways to fight and resolve issues. We've gone back to him occasionally since then, whenever we get stuck on the same fight over and over and over again.

Good luck solving the eternal problem of women!

RJ said...

I'd recommend reading the posts and commentsfromA Practical Wedding - tag Chores .

I think it's helpful to make a list and really break it down - cooking dinner isn't just cooking, it's meal planning, decidng, prepping, cooking, and cleaning up after.

The emotional labour, in other words.

The posts about Marriage as mini-socialism are also good - as a way of thinking your way around money.

And the chorebuster tool might appeal to you - as you are a structured and orderly thinker. \

XX :-)

Paragon2Pieces said...

General update--it appears this is going to be a long-term project. When I got home last Friday, none of the chores had been done.

@nrlrose I found her advice very off-putting at the time--I was terribly disappointed that she thought, out of all the variables, it was choice of spouse that would be determinative.

Anonymous said...

Re the PPS: Couldn't agree more with what nrlrose7 said about picking the right partner. Yes, there is compromise and adjustment in any long-term relationship. Marriage (sorry to use the M word) still has value because there's a contractual commitment behind it. Simply moving in with someone is generally an easy thing, especially when one party doesn't have to change any of their behaviors, or better yet, moves in with someone who does the lion share of the work for him. I'm not suggesting you need to get married, just pointing out how easy it was for him to move into this situation. Back to picking the right partner. The question I would be asking is, "Is this person even capable of changing for me? Does he even want to?"