Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

Equal Sharing of Housework:
Tips and Tricks

Countless tasks go into running a household, day in and day out.  If ever there were an apt example of ‘the devil is in the details,’ equally dividing all of these tasks to the satisfaction of two people would be it.  So, first of all, don’t aim for absolute perfection!

Division of Essential tasks
It is pretty easy to assign the tasks that must be done that day to the person who is available to do them.  For example, the at-home parent could do the basic grocery shopping, run the dishwasher, and cook or otherwise procures dinner.  On days when both parents are available to take on these absolutely-required tasks, the couple must communicate and make decisions about who will do what.  A general rule might be that if one parent is making dinner, the other is ‘on’ for parenting. 

Non-Critical tasks
Assigning responsibilities for all the Non-Critical tasks is more difficult.  Here are some common pitfalls:

  • Automatically assigning tasks along classic gender lines.
  • Loading up Mom with far more tasks than Dad.
  • Loading up the parent who has higher housework standards.

The goal of equality must be foremost, which is not a natural practice for most couples.  This equality is not in the number of tasks assigned to each parent, but in the time required to do the tasks.  Furthermore, we do not believe in equally dividing every chore, although there are some tasks that work well when each parent does them 50% of the time.  There are many ways to divide tasks; for example, divide them down the middle (e.g., you each do half the laundry), 2) divide them by owner (e.g., each spouse does his/her own ironing), and 3) divide them by task (e.g., one spouse does the laundry, the other does the ironing).  The best way to divide a specific task is usually the most efficient way, as long as overall equality is reached.

Assign the obvious to the parent who cares the most
Some jobs may be deeply important to one parent but totally unnecessary to the other.  In these cases, as long as there aren’t a huge number of them, the parent who cares should be the parent who does the task almost all the time.  Even in this scenario, the parent who is opting out of the task should know it is being done, appreciate the time and effort the task takes, and be able to do the task in a pinch.

Divide and conquer
Still other jobs are not necessarily fun for either parent, but one parent is more critical of how well or often they are done than is the other parent.  This gets tricky!  Equal sharing of the housework begins with consensus on three fronts: 1) what needs to be done, 2) when it needs to be done, and 3) how thoroughly it needs to be done.   Once these difficult negotiations are complete the assignment of tasks becomes a bit easier.  The ‘perfectionist’ parent should be especially careful to avoid controlling the decisions, and should be prepared to ‘let go’ to some degree.  Good enough is good enough.  The achievement of equality is the real victory.  In any case, the parent who wants the task done to higher standards should NOT automatically be the one given this task now and forevermore! 

Tips and tricks
Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Laundry:  One parent does ‘whites’ and the other does ‘darks’. 
  • Groceries:  Keep a list of what is needed on the refrigerator so that the parent who goes to buy it can get everything at once.  Share the grocery shopping 50:50. 
  • Cooking:  Assign meal preparation to the parent who is home with the kids, and trade off preparation of the meals when both of you are around.  As long as the food is reasonably nutritious, do not criticize each other’s cooking.
  • Taking out the trash:  On trash night, assuming you have weekly curbside pickup, the parent who is not putting the last child to bed gathers and hauls the trash outside.
  • Arranging health appointments for children:  Make one parent the doctor coordinator and the other parent the dentist coordinator. 
  • Household projects:  For more long term projects such as buying new furniture or building shelves in the closet, create a master list together and post it on your refrigerator.  Decide who is in charge of each of these projects.  The other parent can be the ‘helper’.  Decide on a rough deadline for any priority projects; then let go of what your spouse is up to, and go about accomplishing the tasks for which you are the project manager.  In all cases, the helper spouse should be consulted as decisions are needed (e.g., blue loveseat or red sectional?) and should have veto power.  When a batch of the priority projects is accomplished, sit down again and reprioritize the rest, add new ones, and assign as needed.

Making it work for you
Hopefully, you have found one or two helpful suggestions in the words above.  No solution works for all couples, and you will obviously need to find your own way of achieving balance in household chores and projects.  Equally shared parenting lifestyles work best when each parent puts in about the same amount of time caring for the home, when neither parent is in charge of the household, and when both parents are pleased with the results of their labors. 

Of course, none of this works if both parents aren’t committed to equal sharing.  Under no circumstance should you simply enable your spouse by doing his/her share.  The idea is to cheerfully and lovingly let the natural consequences of inaction fall on the spouse who is responsible.  So, if he didn’t do his share of the laundry, wear only what is clean (or buy a new outfit…oops, how did that get in here?).  By focusing on doing a great job on your own tasks, rather than on what your spouse hasn’t done yet, both of you have a chance of owning and taking pride in your half of the work. 

Finally, don’t forget that negotiation and communication never stop.  Just when you thought you had all the tasks divided properly, life will bring you new ones to tackle!

©Copyright 2008 Marc and Amy Vachon

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