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: Elsa Elbert
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Relationship status: Married
What do you and your partner do professionally? I am the owner of Composed Living, a professional organization company, and my husband is Head of Sales + Marketing.
What type of home (e.g, condo, house) do you have? House
Do you have any kids or pets? We have three sons and a dog!
How long have you and your partner been together?
Six years, married for three.
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.
Every day, I do a general pickup around the house, make sure the kitchen is clean, pack lunches for kids, cook dinner, get the mail, walk the dog, and help kids with homework if they need help. I am a naturally very tidy person, so picking up around the house is more for my sanity than anyone else’s. And I work from home a lot of the time, so I prefer to get a lot of the daily chores finished before Chad comes home so that we can all enjoy time together as a family.
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.
On a weekly basis, I buy groceries, do meal planning and meal prep, water houseplants, do my laundry, and pay any bills that have arrived in the mail. I also do an update of our calendar and activities every weekend to make sure everyone is on the same page. As a professional organizer, my skill set lends itself to making sure our household runs efficiently. I don’t think we consciously decided that I would do these things, so much as I just started doing them and never stopped. I prefer to get tasks done immediately, and so I tend to just do things as they need to be done. I’ve had to learn to delegate and be okay with waiting for others to do chores in their own time.
How about your partner? What chores do they do daily, and how did they and/or you decide they’d do them?
Every night, Chad goes over the kids’ homework with them, helps to clean up after dinner, takes out trash / recycling, and makes sure the boys have their chores done. He loves being a dad more than anything else, and he wants to be as involved with the boys as he can! He likes to set a good example by always offering to help in the kitchen, and sharing in responsibilities.
What chores does your partner do weekly and/or monthly, and how did they and/or you decide they’d do them?
Every week, Chad takes out the trash bins, does his own laundry, coordinates with the landscaping team and pool service, and takes care of any household projects that need to be done. For example, he is typically in charge of things like washing all the outside windows and making any repairs. He likes doing big projects and being outside, where as I prefer more detail oriented projects. We work well as a team when I can tell him exactly what I have in mind for a project, and then he gets it done!
Is the way you and your partner divide tasks similar to the household you grew up in? Why or why not?
I think we are both pretty different from the households we grew up in. In my house, my mom was a stay-at-home mom, and she handled all things “kids-cooking-cleaning,” while my dad managed our finances and took care of outdoor projects. Chad and I decided early on to outsource a lot of our daily chores so that we’d have more time for our family, and he is much more hands-on as a father than either of our dad’s were. I also take a very active role in our finances, which I enjoy, with is very different from our mothers. For both of us, our priority is spending time together and with our kids. So whenever possible, if we can find someone to help us take care of tasks that don’t bring us joy, then we will do that. We each came up with a list of chores that we don’t mind doing, and ones that we never want to do. For me, I can’t stand dusting and I refused to clean bathrooms (three boys…). But I love cooking, meal planning, and keeping track of our schedules. Chad loves anything related to kids activities, and outdoor projects. Everything else, we either stopped doing, or asked for help!
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 we have a really good system in place! When we first moved in together, I was doing everything — and burning myself out while also feeling frustrated because he didn’t seem to notice. I had a mini-meltdown one day and told him I didn’t feel very appreciated, and he told me very honestly that it’s because he just doesn’t really appreciate some of the things I’d been doing! I was shocked at first, and then I clarified, “So, it doesn’t bother you if I DON’T do your laundry, and you don’t get any joy out of me doing it for you?” And he said, nope! So I stopped. And life has been so much easier ever since. We each focus on doing the things that are important to us, and the things that our spouse will appreciate, and save so much time by not doing anything that doesn’t fit into one of those categories.
1. Who makes the bed?
Me mostly, because I tend to sleep in later than he does. But sometimes he makes his side while I’m still sleeping.
2. When you go out to eat, who picks the restaurant and/or makes the reservation?
Both. We keep a shared list of new restaurants we want to try, and we tend to revisit our favorites out of habit, too.
3. Who makes doctors’ appointments? Dentist appointments?
We each take care of our own, and Chad makes appointments for the kids.
4. Who picks up the dry cleaning?
5. Who keeps track of friends’ and family members’ birthdays?
Me! I add them to our shared calendar, and send birthday cards and texts. He calls his family on their birthdays, but I am the one to make sure important dates end up on our calendar.
6. Who pays bills? (Or if you divvy this up, who pays which bills?)
Mostly set up to auto-pay, but if there is ever a paper bill, that’s me!
7. When something in the house/apartment is broken, who makes sure it gets fixed?
8. Who makes sure the tags on your cars are up-to-date?
Me... anything that comes in the mail I typically handle. I love getting the mail and making sure everything gets done.
9. Who vacuums?
We have a housekeeper.
10. Who was the last person to dust something?
11. Who was the last person to clean your toilet?
12. Who buys groceries?
I do, but I order everything online from Whole Foods and it gets delivered weekly.
13. Who brings in the mail?
Haha. Me! I love it, and my husband can’t stand it.
14. Who irons?
15. Who was the last person to clean out the fridge/pantry of expired items?
Probably me and our housekeeper.
16. You’ve been invited to a wedding. Who RSVPs?
17. When planning a trip, who books the flights? The hotels?
I do! But if we’re already traveling and looking for a new place to stay, Chad loves finding hidden gems.
18. Who planned what you did last Friday night?
Kids? Haha. We love staying in on Fridays and we do a media-free family night.
19. Who planned your last date night?
We alternate. We both love planning surprises for each other.
20. You need a gift for a friend’s housewarming party. Who buys it?
Me, because I love picking out meaningful gifts for friends!
21. Who goes to parent-teacher conferences?
22. When you need a babysitter, who is the one to book and communicate with them?
Both, but mostly Chad.
23. Your child(ren) has a half-day at school. Who handles this, and how?
Both of us, depending on whose schedule allows for it.
24. Who takes your child(ren) to their extracurricular activities? (If you divvy this up, who goes to what activity?)
We both try to attend all of their extracurricular activities, because we both prioritize showing up for our kids. If I’m working on a weekend, Chad will take them.
25. Who planned the last birthday party for a child?
Both of us! I usually plan the decor and food, we both pick out gifts, and Chad handles the guest lists.
26. Who took your child(ren) to get a vaccination last?
27. Your child acted out. Who will discipline them, generally?
Chad most often is the disciplinarian, but we discuss any serious consequences together before implementing; and if someone acts out and needs a conversation in the moment, then whichever parent witnesses the behavior.
28. Your child needs a haircut. Who notices this, and who makes the appointment? Who takes them to the appointment?
Both of us! Chad likes taking them, but I’m the one who has very specific guidelines on the actual styles.
29. Your child is about to outgrow their shoes. Who notices this, and who takes them to the shoe store?
30. The last time you got a call from the school nurse that your child was sick, what did you and your partner do?
We will figure out whose schedule is best suited for picking them up over a quick text chat. If I’m with a client and can’t leave, he will leave the office and work from home for the rest of the day if needed.
31. During weekends and vacations, who considers the children’s’ needs for entertainment, meals and their schedule (in general)?
We both do. We will do a basic schedule plan for the weekend or vacation, and try to plan fun activities and also just time for relaxing. We will take turns entertaining them as well so that each of us can have some time to relax, too.
Interested in participating in FGB's Who Does What series? Email [email protected] with "Who Does What" in the subject line.