Thursday, 23 June 2011

equality is over-rated

When I was in university I had many grand ideas. I still do. One of them was that my future husband and I would do everything exactly equal - 50/50. And that would be the ideal. Household chores: 50/50. Parenting: 50/50. Bringing home the bacon: 50/50. Setting the direction for our future lives: 50/50.

But since then I've sometimes gazed longingly at our Old Order Mennonite neighbours who have their roles so clearly cut. I wondered what it would be like to just know what your jobs are and do them. As simple as that. But I wanted more than that too. Something a bit more complicated.

We're nearing our 12th year anniversary, and I've come to believe that equality - or this 50/50 kind of equality - is over-rated. That if I dare to keep score, that's when things start to go sour. And it's so much work - that keeping track.

I've done more than my share of storming around the house, giving cold shoulders and silent treatments as my way of communicating my displeasure with the state of the house. And that takes a lot of energy, all that stomping and storming and silence. But here's one thing that I've found works, and I'll share my little secret with you: if I ask nicely, my husband is more than willing to help. "Would you mind vacuuming sometime today?" gets a very positive response. Whereas "this place looks like a trailer park in a tornado" doesn't. Politeness and civility really work!

We share the cooking and the parenting and the goal setting/dreaming - not in 50/50 ways, but in ways where we're trying not to keep score anymore. We're trying to support each other as we both work, play, parent, set new goals, and show love.  

We've discovered that there are things that we are each good at. I'll describe it using a body metaphor: I am the eyes, looking for signs of dirt in the house. Then I am the mouth, asking for assistance. Then he is the hands and feet, vacuuming the house. Truly wonderful. Eyes are not equal to hands or feet, but all can work together quite well. 

Yes, there are times when I wish that someone else could be the eyes, looking out for what needs to be done around our home. But I'm sure that there are times when my husband wishes that my eyes notice when taxes are due or when gas needs to be put in the car. Then he's the eyes, and I'm the not-always-willing-to-help-hands-and-feet.

Yes, there are tasks where neither of us is willing to claim giftedness or even feign interest. But the dishes do have to get done.

I'm the best packer in the house, so when we're going away or camping I now see this as one of my roles in our family: to organize and pack. When I embrace this task, I don't get mad when I don't see him joining in because I think "Well, I'm good at this and he's...well...ungifted in this area." I am the chief of packing in the house. He is the chief of packing the car. And we try not to mess with each other. And that mostly works.
definitely not us
I see when things need to be cleaned and I'm the planner/keeper of the schedule. He pays attention to our car, the lawn, the barbeque, and our money situation. Such typical manly things, eh? I used to care about that, but now I could care less. Just get the job done. If he's interested and better than me at some tasks - I say go for it, even if it seems like a traditional division of labour. For me, equality now means assessing and using our individual gifts, and perhaps learning some new skills when we need to.

There are some things I'm vigilant about making sure they're exactly equal. Like when we're sharing a plate of sushi, anything made with chocolate, or mango bubble tea. Then it MUST be 50/50.

We usually don't meet in the middle, or even measure to see where that middle might be. We just meet and try to work together the best we know how. And that kind of equality feels ok. Even liberating in a weird and wonderful way.


  1. I hear you about keeping score turning sour! When we travel down that road things get ugly. So tricky the balance of work, play, alone time, kid time, sleep, volunteer outside of home etc. I am definitely the eyes and the packer of the house and the car and the delegator of chores (but not the cook). After 6 years of packing and unpacking we are starting to learn how each of us operate and gently go about our business.

  2. Melissa beat me to it. But here it is anyway...Amen. Besides, if I kept score, I definitely do not do my 50% of the work. I'm spoiled in that my husband does laundry (he's better at remembering to move the loads along, and can reach the clothesline in the basement), the groceries (he likes to go where the sales are and get in/get out), and cooks many meals (he's home from work before me). Yup, I clean, and not as regularly as he does the other stuff. So, there it is...

  3. We started out very 50/50, back when we were both working full time and had no children. But along the way thing changed very naturally. I'm home during the day and I try to get some lots done then so we can all enjoy our evenings and weekends together(though that may change with the new Smart meter).

    He's been in charge of bedtime and bath time right from the beginning. There are times when I feel some irritation over something he's not doing - but if I stop and remind myself of all the things he IS doing -- and all the things that I'm not doing that I could be -- I can let it go!

  4. The battle of equality...I can so relate to this post. So many pointless fights. In my situation I live with a farmer who works outside for 12 to 14 hours a day; I sit at a computer or visit with people for many hours less a day. For me bustling around the house, up and down the stairs carrying laundry, bending over to pick up stuff, is actually the exercise I need! So how do I work that out with the equality equation? Also Rebecca I found a great blog you might enjoy:
    I like it all except for the black background, which I find very annoying.

  5. We don't keep score.
    BUT I've noticed that I often assume that I'm better at certain things or that others in the household can't do certain things as well as me without really ever testing it out. (Like the planning and organizing, for example). Turns out that given the chance, my husband can plan and organize as well as I can--a bit differently, but effectively nonetheless. We're working harder to share to the organizing burden. It's huge! And kids can pack bags and get themselves out the door to school without assistance--if they end up forgetting something, it's a good object lesson.

    Letting go of some of the burden of responsibility has been a lovely change in my recent life. (But I still do more dishes).

  6. 50/50 on chocolate? Come now, it needs to be at least 60/40, especially if it's the good stuff ;)

    I hear you about the silent, stomping, huffing, puffing and door's the same in our house. If you keep track someone feels jiped, and then the I'm-mad-but-I'm-not-going-to-tell-you-directly-because-you-should-already-know-why-I'm-mad-and-what-you-did/didn't-do-to-make-me-mad silent treatment begins.

    Glad to know we're not the only ones :)

  7. Good to hear the "amens" and "I hear yous" out there. Carol: thanks for the blog tip - I'll check it out. Carrie: (I do more dishes too :). Tanya: some chocolate does not make it past my tight grip. When I'm feeling virtuous, I share 50/50. heather: interesting potential twist with the new Smart meter - hadn't thought of how that could change how our household routines are managed... hmmm. Shauna/Teena; so very interesting how our households turn out - who does what. Melissa: good to know I'm not alone.

  8. Ha! We'll be married 12 years this summer too! One (of the many many!) areas we've learned how to work together in is..... HOME RENO PROJECTS. And by home reno, I actually mean ... painting. Nothing heavy duty, though it felt monumental and altogether horrid at the time ;). I am no where near as detailed as my husband, so he gets to do the fine touch work, whereas I try to help and prep (yuck!) and roll paint wherever I can :). It gets done, and it's a little like learning how to dance, stepping this way and that way until you get a good rhythm and a companionable mood ... and some projects, we just agree to do separately!