My Family Care asks Clare: How do you and your partner address the workload at home? Is the split even? Do you re-visit the conversation or does it end up a taboo subject?
How the other half live
Before we had kids, I would observe how friends who were already parents divided chores. A particularly vivid memory is of a friend changing his new son's nappy. To my untutored eye, he was doing a perfectly good job. But no sooner had he got started, his partner launched herself across the kitchen, brushed him aside, and said she would take over. Apparently he had not "laid things out properly". She proceeded to direct him to take the potato peelings out to the compost bin instead.
Fast-forward a few years and I watched as my friend (no longer with his partner) flew around the kitchen preparing a magnificent Sunday lunch for 12 people whilst simultaneously managing the needs of his (by now) trio of young children.
I resolved in that moment - in the way you do before you have kids and everything seems so obvious and controllable - that it would be different for us. We would proceed on the understanding that everything needed to be done on the home front could be easily managed by either of us, and 50/50 as far as possible.
13 years on, how are we doing?
We were given a head start by the fact that our firstborn arrived after a lengthy labour and an emergency c-section. Having noted my generally feeble state, the midwife turned to my partner and said "I think you'll be mum for the next few days". We can, of course, debate the appropriateness of this remark but it did bring into focus, right from the start of our parenting journey, that what might be perceived to be our "traditional" roles were entirely interchangeable as the need arose.
This has continued to be the case as we have added to our family alongside developing our careers. Overall, we are pretty much 50/50 but who does which tasks is driven by a number of different factors:
In the early days I worked part-time so I tended to handle the shopping and the cleaning; these days we both work full-time so everything has to be divided. It's not something we have ever sat down and mapped out - it just evolves. On the days I am home first, I sort out dinner but for most of the week it is my partner who is home first, so he cooks. On the days I'm out of the door early, it's my partner who gets the kids up; on my work-at-home days it's down to me.
As our jobs have changed, so has the way in which these times of the day are managed.
What we view as being important
I care very much about whether the toilet is clean or not, so I make sure it is. My partner hates bits of fluff on the stair carpet so he is in charge of hoovering. I attach a good deal of importance to the kids going to school looking smart, so I do the ironing. My partner thinks we should save money by shopping in the local market, so he goes there every Saturday morning to do the weekly shop.
We've learned to accept these quirks and to laugh about them rather than let them become bones of contention.
Playing to strengths
To this day I still can't change a plug or undertake any kind of DIY so those are always jobs for my partner. I don't drive either, so if chauffeur duties are required, there is no choice. In the 26 years we have been together my partner has never paid a bill, changed energy provider or made holiday arrangements - I've always handled admin.
And the jobs that no one wants to do
These often get sorted out in the moment by a quid pro quo type conversation e.g. "I'll go outside in the freezing cold to cut some grass for the guinea pig if you'll have the difficult conversation with x child about what to do about the 1 hour homework assignment that's due in this morning."
Delegation and open mindedness
Of course, there are times when we have heated conversations about who has done what on a particular day or a particular week, but these moments pass.
As the kids grow older it gets easier - in some ways - as delegation comes into play. Clearing the table and loading the dishwasher are two jobs for which the younger generation are now responsible. But on the other hand, they are around until 9pm in the evening needing help with homework so there is less downtime overall!
The key for us has been to remain open-minded about whose job it is, aim for a fair distribution of chores, play to strengths, and acknowledge that it's ok to feel differently about how important a particular task is. On balance I think we've done ok.
Clare Wooldridge, Coaching & Consultancy Manager, My Family Care