Who's Doing the Housework?

One common fight new moms and dads have is how to divide the household chores. Though most women are now employed outside the home, men and women often find themselves falling into traditional gender roles in their off-hours, meaning the women do the vast majority of the housework.

A Baby Changes Things

The woman doing the bulk of household work might be manageable or even go mostly unnoticed early in a marriage, but add a baby and suddenly the inequality of the situation becomes much more obvious. Faced with the new role of caring for a baby 24 hours, 7 days a week — often while sleep deprived — a woman may find herself unable and unwilling to also do all the cooking, cleaning, and managing of the household tasks. During the first six weeks, you should be resting and getting to know your baby, and household tasks will naturally fall by the wayside. After the six-week mark, you may be readying yourself to go back to work. Even if you'll be at home with the baby, it will be impossible to keep up with everything the way you did before and take good care of your baby and yourself. If your partner didn't help keep the house running before you had the baby, things will have to change now.

Tell Him What You Need

But don't assume that his seeming lack of enthusiasm over housework stems from laziness or that he doesn't care about your feelings and needs. Your partner may want to help out, but he may not be sure exactly how to do it. He may also not see messes with the same critical eye as you do, so it may not be obvious to him that a sinkful of dishes means that somebody should wash them. Keep in mind that you may have to be very specific — just because he did the dishes yesterday, don't assume he'll think to do them again today. A gentle nonaccusatory reminder will help you get what you want (the dishes done today, too) without making him defensive.

Essential

While traditionally women do more of the household chores, in some marriages it's the other way around. If your husband has been the person handling most of the cleaning, keep in mind that he's got other priorities now, too. You'll need to relax your standards and, when you're feeling up to it, chip in with tasks that he can't do on his own.

Lower Standards

You may both have to relax your expectations when it comes to housework. If you're doing all you can and your spouse doesn't think the house is clean enough, he should be willing to pick up the slack to get things up to his standards. On the other hand, while you should definitely expect your partner to pitch in with cleaning, when he gets home from work he'd probably rather play with the baby. Instead of struggling with trying to keep the house clean all day while taking care of your baby at the same time, maybe you can hand off the baby when your husband gets home and do a quick tidy-up. After you're done, you can take the baby back and he can take care of his household tasks. When you work together it shouldn't take long to whip the house into something that's at least livable, if not perfect.

Make a Task List

Tracking who does what for a week can be a useful way to figure out if the balance is off in your household. Don't think of it as keeping score; use it instead as a way of determining how often certain chores need to be done, when, and who might be the logical person to handle them. For example, it might be easier for you to do a load of dishes with the baby in a sling than it is to carry a full laundry basket up and down the stairs. If you know that you don't have to worry about the laundry, you may feel less overwhelmed when faced with the dishes. Or, if there are certain tasks you really hate, maybe your spouse can take over those so you don't have to worry about them. Keep in mind that a partnership is rarely truly 50-50. The balance doesn't always have to be perfect, as long as both partners are dedicated to helping each other, and both are satisfied with the arrangement.

Essential

Have you ever heard the expression “work smarter, not harder”? If you find you're devoting a lot of time to dusting knick-knacks and trying to find baby photos under piles of clutter, you may need to work together to find ways to eliminate extra work, by temporarily boxing up and storing things you can't take care of right now or investing in convenient cleaning supplies and devices.

And don't forget about those unseen aspects of baby care and household management. In many households, keeping track of doctor and dentist visits often fall to Mom by default, while dads handle all the finances. In reality, it's better if both of you participate in both of these areas, at least to some degree: you need to understand what's happening with the family's money and help make choices about it, and if you're both involved in your baby's medical care, you'll be able to make health-related decisions together. That can take the pressure off of both of you.

Plan, Plan, Plan

Once you have a rough idea of who's going to do what, figure out when it's going to happen. Be specific: if you know your husband's planning to do the dishes at 9:00 after he's finished watching TV, you won't spend the evening feeling antsy wondering if you're going to wake up to a messy kitchen the next day. And if you've mapped out your meals ahead of time, you'll know which days you have kitchen duties, which days your husband will be cooking, and better yet, when you can order pizza.

Be Flexible

It's not always easy to foresee every obstacle ahead of time. Maybe your husband thought he'd be able to get up early and make breakfast every morning, but he's paying for losing sleep by having trouble focusing at work. Or maybe you expected that you'd be able to vacuum the living room every day, but as it turns out, the baby is terrified of the vacuum. Make a date to sit down and review your plan every so often and see how it's going. If it's not working for either of you, it's time to come up with something new.

Be Open to Nontraditional Roles

Maybe you're at home, but would really rather be working, while your husband pines away for home from his office all day. Outdated cultural norms that dictate that men should be the primary breadwinners while women should keep the home fires burning can get in the way of your real desires and strengths as a partnership. If you're better at managing the money, there's no reason why you shouldn't be in charge of the checkbook. If you hate cooking and your husband is a passionate cook, there's no reason why he can't do most of the food preparation. And a growing number of dads are either leaving their jobs or reducing their hours to be the primary at-home parent. Taking on a role you aren't suited for just because it's what you think you should do won't make anyone happy. When you and your partner talk about possibilities for dividing up work and duties, don't limit yourself to “men's work” and “women's work.”

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