The division of work in the home

25 November 2010
This is a tough one. How do you decide who will do what in the home. If you're a retired couple like we are, the division tends to take care of itself. Here we do what we enjoy doing - I work in the house and generally Hanno works outside. We are having a slight variation on this right now though because I'm writing most of the day and we don't have much of a garden to tend, so Hanno does various things like washing clothes and vacuuming. I am still baking bread and cooking the meals, making the bed and those sorts of things, but Hanno is helping out a lot by doing what he can during the day while I'm tapping away on the keyboard.

But what happens when you're a working couple, or one person works outside the home and the other works at home with the children? How do you then divide up the housework, house maintenance and yard work? I have no magic solution to this, but I know it's a problem for many people, so I'm hoping you will contribute to the discussion so we might all be a bit wiser about it.

It's complicated when time is an issue. If your time is consumed by paid work, children, the garden, pets or family, AND house and yard work, when do you get a break? If you tell your partner to take a break while you're still working, do you feel outright resentment, or feel it building up? It's great if this issue takes care of itself by you liking to do certain tasks and your partner liking the opposite tasks, but that is rarely the case; usually no one wants to change the cat litter or clean the toilet.

So what can you do when that happens? I think you need to sit down calmly and talk about it when you're both fresh and not tired after a day of work, or on the verge of an argument. And first thing on the list should be to agree not to argue about work. It's not worth it. You both want a clean and ordered home, you both want to relax in a place you feel comfortable in, so you both need to come up with the solution that will work for both of you.

One way that would work for some would be to list the various chores that need to be done during the coming week. Then, with each of you having your own coloured pen, take it in turns to tick one task at a time. Change who starts each week. When you get to the end, that's your work list for the week. Make sure you do the important tasks like laundry, cooking, shopping and cleaning first, the lesser tasks don't matter so much. And please, make sure you have time to be together as well and make sure you've got a mutual goal you're both working for and talk about. That can make the hard times easier to cope with. You don't want your life to be a drudgery but if you want to pay off your debt or are working towards building a life with your partner, there will be no way around it, you'll be working hard. But remember, this stage will not last forever. There will come a time when you sit back and enjoy the rewards this hard work will bring.

I have found the periods of difficulty and working hard the most challenging and the most rewarding. I look back now and realise those times of working through challenges have strengthened my relationship with Hanno. Tough times can make or break marriages. If you're one of the lucky ones, some day you'll look back on a long marriage and recognise that you grew together as a couple, not just because you loved each other, but because of the tough times you shared.

So tell me, how do you divide the work load? I, and I'm sure a lot of others, are hoping for some innovative and workable ideas.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends. I hope you have a wonderful day full of family, friends and feasting.