For most of human history, the way we talk about household labor divisions has rotated largely around heteronormative gender roles. Thankfully, the idea that gender should determine the "who does what" of housework is (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 readers to complete an exercise in order to share with us the amount and nature of housework they actually do, and how they and their partner decided to divvy it all up.
Name: Jo, Co-founder of The Moms At Odds
Location: Fairfax, Virginia
Relationship status: Married
What type of home (e.g, condo, house) do you have? Single family home
Do you have any kids or pets? 2 kids (ages 3 and 4), 1 pet (cat)
How long have you and your partner been together?
How long have you been living together?
What chores do you do daily, and how did you and your partner decide you’d be the one to do them? Please describe.
My daily chores include getting the kids dressed, making the bed, cooking breakfast, packing backpacks and lunches (for both kids and adults), unloading dishwasher, cooking dinner, weeding/picking the garden, cleaning kitchen, a load of laundry, picking up toys, and helping with homework.
We initially had me performing most of these chores with him occasionally helping in the kitchen to clean dishes after dinner. However, with my husband’s work schedule being unpredictable, there would be days I would wake up to a disaster of a kitchen because he had been working too late and wasn’t able to clean up. After that we adjusted it purely based on work schedule (since I work shorter hours and closer to home) since I have more time on a daily basis to help with chores.
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.
My only planned weekly chore is meal planning and grocery shopping. I have always been the one to cook (because I love it!) so naturally the planning and grocery is my responsibility too. My husband will go to the grocery store occasionally when asked… but I don’t request it very often because he always returns with the wrong items.
I do pick up the slack for extra things that come up here and there. I make doctor and dentist appointments for the kids as needed, call banks if we need to figure out financing, set up appointments with accountants, that sort of thing. My husband used to handle everything related to financing, but since his time at work can be so busy we were finding that he didn’t have time to step away from his desk for even 5 minutes to make a phone call. So I started handling most of the extra calls that come up.
How about your partner? What chores do they do daily, and how did they and/or you decide they’d do them?
My partner has very few daily responsibilities. He picks up his own items and brushes the kid’s teeth (when he’s home). He sleeps from 12-7am, is out the door by 8am, works until 6pm, eats dinner, and then usually jumps back on his computer to work until midnight. Since that is a typical week day, he doesn’t have much time for chores during the week.
What chores does your partner do weekly and/or monthly, and how did they and/or you decide they’d do them?
My husband is responsible for almost all of the weekly and monthly chores. He vacuums, deep cleans all the bathrooms, pays bills, monitors our bank statements, takes out the garbage and recycling, mows the lawn and performs the rest of the landscaping, cleans windows, wipes down counters and the floor, washes cars, puts new batteries in toys, and keeps the stove and oven clean.
Honestly, my husband is cleaner than I am. It’s no secret that our version of “cleaning the bathroom” is different. When my husband is finished cleaning the kitchen everything shines. My definition of a clean kitchen is no dirty dishes in the sink. Because of these different standards, he became the deep-cleaner, I’m more the every day picker-upper. He’s able to fit in most of these responsibilities on the weekends when things are less crazy with his work.
Is the way you and your partner divide tasks similar to the household you grew up in? Why or why not?
My husband and I divide up chores very differently than the household I grew up in. Growing up, my mom did the vast majority of the cleaning. I can only remember my dad paying bills and vacuuming. I think my husband and I have a more equal division of responsibilities.
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?
It’s taken many, MANY years but I think we’ve finally found a good division of chores. Having young kids forces us to be very strict with our time. After a few years with the kids, it became extremely apparent that we had to divide up household responsibilities by availability, and not by preference. For instance, my husband would prefer that he was the one to pack his own lunch, but since he’s not a morning person I have to do it or else it would never get done before he rushes out the door. He’d probably also prefer to load the dishwasher himself (apparently I don’t fill the space efficiently), but in reality he just doesn’t have time to do it every night.
Of course there’s always room for improvement. Honestly, I hate to clean and pick things up. It’s draining and just doesn’t come natural to me. Days where I have to clean a lot I go to bed at 8:30pm with the kids because I’m simply exhausted. Sometimes when weekends are busy my husband gets behind on his monthly chores. I think we could both do a better job of helping each other out as needed when the other needs a break. Right now we’re so focused on who should be doing it, not so much on the why. If we sat back and thought about why we were doing these chores, I think we’d pitch in more together and it would be less of a division.
1. Who makes the bed?
2. When you go out to eat, who picks the restaurant and/or makes the reservation?
My husband often picks. I make the reservations,
3. Who makes doctors’ appointments? Dentist appointments?
We each make our own. I make them for the kids.
4. Who picks up the dry cleaning?
He does (but we rarely dry clean, and when we do it’s his shirts.)
5. Who keeps track of friends’ and family members’ birthdays?
6. Who pays bills? (Or if you divvy this up, who pays which bills?)
7. When something in the house/apartment is broken, who makes sure it gets fixed?
He fixes it, but I make sure it actually gets fixed.
8. Who makes sure the tags on your cars are up-to-date?
We’re each responsible for our own.
9. Who vacuums?
10. Who was the last person to dust something?
11. Who was the last person to clean your toilet?
12. Who buys groceries?
13. Who brings in the mail?
14. Who irons?
No one! We’re not ironing people.
15. Who was the last person to clean out the fridge/pantry of expired items?
16. You’ve been invited to a wedding. Who RSVPs?
17. When planning a trip, who books the flights? The hotels?
18. Who planned what you did last Friday night?
19. Who planned your last date night?
20. You need a gift for a friend’s housewarming party. Who buys it?
21. Who goes to parent-teacher conferences?
22. When you need a babysitter, who is the one to book and communicate with them?
23. Your child(ren) has a half-day at school. Who handles this, and how?
Me – I coordinate with my mother to watch the children
24. Who takes your child(ren) to their extracurricular activities? (If you divvy this up, who goes to what activity?)
Either me or my mom (either way, I coordinate it)
25. Who planned the last birthday party for a child?
26. Who took your child(ren) to get a vaccination last?
27. Your child acted out. Who will discipline them, generally?
28. Your child needs a haircut. Who notices this, and who makes the appointment? Who takes them to the appointment?
He notices, I make the appointment and bring them
29. Your child is about to outgrow their shoes. Who notices this, and who takes them to the shoe store?
I notice and buy the new shoes
30. The last time you got a call from the school nurse that your child was sick, what did you and your partner do?
I left work to pick her up, he said “oh no, that sucks”
31. During weekends and vacations, who considers the children’s’ needs for entertainment, meals and their schedule (in general)?
Interested in participating in FGB's Who Does What series? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with "Who Does What" in the subject line.