For most of human history, the “who does what” of housework was pretty clearly spelled out, with gender determining each partner’s specific role and contributions. Thankfully, that’s (mostly) no longer the world we live in, but there’s still no rule book for helping partners figure out how to divvy up household chores — the physical, mental, and emotional ones — in a way that’s fair and equitable.
So, what does the division of household chores for modern couples look like, really? In FGB’s Who Does What series, we asked couples to complete an exercise in order to share with us the amount and nature of housework they actually do, and how they decided to divvy it all up.
Name: Georgene Huang, CEO and Co-founder of Fairygodboss
Location: New York
Relationship status: Married
What type of home (e.g, condo, house) do you have? Apartment
Do you have any kids or pets? 3 kids
How long have you and your partner been together? We’ve been together for 12 years, married for 8 of them.
How long have you been living together? We’ve been living together for 10 years (time flies).
What chores do you do daily, and how did you and your partner decide you’d be the one to do them? Please describe.
There are so many chores when you have three kids. Where to begin? I think probably the most useful thing to explain is that early on in our relationship, when we were living together and not yet married, we had an argument about who does what and who does more at home. We decided to resolve our argument in a really data-driven manner. We both took out a sheet of paper and wrote down everything that needed to doing and who did it. We then put approximate time spent per week on those items and took a look at the resulting list. The first thing we did was decide that we didn’t want to fight about this ever again and therefore we outsourced as much of the work that we could afford, ordered by the items we disliked the least.
I am generally the person who makes prepares food because I’m better at it and have strong opinions about nutrition and health (What can I say? I grew up in California and was raised to care about the quality and sources of my food). Relatedly, I do all the ordering of food and that naturally means I get involved with ordering household supplies as well because with online ordering its just a few more clicks to also make sure the house is stocked with toothpaste and garbage bags in addition to milk, eggs, bread, etc.
My husband generally does the clearing and cleaning up but not at every meal. Mornings right now involve me making breakfast and setting up -- and trying to enlist the older two kids in setting the table and clearing their own plates. In the evenings, we’re usually just eating whatever my nanny has cooked for the kids that’s still left. We both work pretty hard and don’t have much time / energy for cooking at the end of the day. And even though we live in NYC where its very easy to order in, we try not to eat too much take-out for health reasons.
We tend to both equally participate in things like tidying up, actually. My husband is more of a neat-freak than I am. Before I met him, I was a lot messier in general. I feel like I pick up after the kids a lot more on a daily basis but he may not share that view. It’s a constant torrent of debris and toys and arts and crafts they leave behind so it’s actually kind of hard to keep track of. I tend to think of it as whomever encounters a mess first.
In terms of things like taking out the trash and changing lightbulbs or anything needing light repairs, he’s definitely in charge because he’s just a lot more handy than me.
What chores do you do weekly and/or monthly, and how did you and your partner decide you’d be the one to do them? Please describe.
We have a lake house and my husband takes care of all the vendors that service it. This includes pest people, gardeners, gas and electricity issues, plumbers, roofers — you name it. I really rely on him when it comes to anything having to do with the house. It was our agreement because I really resisted the idea of taking on more administrative work related to the family when we were debating whether to buy a place.
Is the way you and your partner divide tasks similar to the household you grew up in? Why or why not?
I was raised in a household with very traditional gender norms so no, this is very different than the way I grew up. I believe the same is true of my husband. He does a lot more than both our fathers did in terms of household work.
What’s something you and your partner could improve on when divvying up and completing household tasks? What’s something you feel you’re doing well?
I think the tone of how we divided work at home was set a long time ago and very early in our relationship. I don’t think that needs to be the case for everyone but I do think being intentional and deliberate about your time helps unspoken resentments about housework from building up. I know a lot of couples where there is resentment but this strange simultaneous inability to extract oneself from a pattern that was set some time ago -- as if there’s a sense that its too hard (or too late) to change.
1. Who makes the bed?
We both do. Tends to be me because I have more time in the mornings than he does on weekdays.
2. When you go out to eat, who picks the restaurant and/or makes the reservation?
My husband enjoys researching new restaurant openings. I used to do it equally but now, 95% of the time, he’s in charge of where we go for date night. On weekends when we order in, I am in charge because I’ve assumed the default role, Feeder of the Children (i.e. I’m more familiar with their latest food aversions, issues, what’s been recently missing from their diet, etc).
3. Who makes doctors’ appointments? Dentist appointments?
We each make our own appointments for ourselves but I make the appointments for the kids.
4. Who picks up the dry cleaning?
My husband is in charge of dry cleaning. He just has a lot more of it than me because I dress pretty casually most of the time.
5. Who keeps track of friends’ and family members’ birthdays?
I think we both try to pay attention to our own family members’. I don’t think either of us keep track of each other’s parents / siblings’ birthdays.
6. Who pays bills? (Or if you divvy this up, who pays which bills?)
We both pay bills but I would say that 80% of the time, my husband is the one that opens the mail piling up and therefore he’s the one that deals with the bills.
7. Who makes sure the tags on your cars are up-to-date?
Definitely my husband.
8. Who was the last person to clean out the fridge/pantry of expired items?
Again, I’m the food person in the relationship so that would be me.
9. You’ve been invited to a wedding. Who RSVPs?
It depends on whose friend the person is primarily.
10. When planning a trip, who books the flights? The hotels?
Generally my husband. He’s got a lot more flight miles and credit cards tied to travel so it makes sense for him to do.
11. Who goes to parent-teacher conferences?
We both make an effort to go together, actually.
12. When you need a babysitter, who is the one to book and communicate with them?
We are fortunate to have and be able to rely on a nanny and we both equally communicate with her. We’re on a group text where we communicate these kinds of things.
13. Your child(ren) has a half-day at school. Who handles this, and how?
We put it in our calendars so we know but it’s mostly our nanny who makes arrangements when there are changes in our childrens’ schedules.
14. Who takes your child(ren) to their extracurricular activities? (If you divvy this up, who goes to what activity?)
Again, our nanny manages our kids day-to-day schedules. We both help set the “vision”, if you will, by agreeing on the general activities and time slots for a semester in advance.
15. Who planned the last birthday party for a child?
I typically am the birthday planner.
16. Your child acted out. Who will discipline them, generally?
This is actually fairly evenly split, actually.
17. Your child needs a haircut. Who notices this, and who makes the appointment? Who takes them to the appointment?
We tend to bunch all the kids into one giant back-to-back-to-back appointment and knock it out as a weekend family activity so we’re both there.
18. Your child is about to outgrow their shoes. Who notices this, and who takes them to the shoe store?
I rarely shop in physical stores but I will be the only that orders clothes and shoes for the kids online.
19. During weekends and vacations, who considers the children’s’ needs for entertainment, meals and their schedule (in general)?
Generally, I’d say this is split 80/20, with me tending to be more sensitive to the kids’ schedules and needs. This is a function of a little bit of philosophical difference about how much we should be accounting for their needs and preferences versus ours. I think as our kids get older, I may become less concerned about their exact schedules and preferences but being really attuned to it now is frankly a bit of self-interest on my part. I know nobody will be happy if the kids are cranky due to being tired, hungry or bored so I proactively try to anticipate and manage that.
Interested in participating in FGB's Who Does What series? Email [email protected] with "Who Does What" in the subject line.