Arguing about housework and childcare


Stack of dirty washingIt can be hard to divide domestic chores and responsibilities fairly. This is especially true if one parent works out of the home and the other stays at home with the children.

Going-out-to-work person can morph into Fifties Dad. And then it can turn into fight club.

Stay-at-home partners and part-time workers

So here are some basic principles for dividing up the domestic labour when one person is doing more paid work than the other:

  • Ensure there is respect for both roles. The going-out-to-work person needs to realise that a person doing full-time/more childcare has a hard job, too. So communicate. And maybe get the going-out-to-work person to try a couple of days of lone wrangling.
  • Make sure there is an equitable distribution of 'free time'. Going-out-to-work person is not entitled to come home to a pitcher of martinis in a reclining chair.
  • Similarly, there needs to be an equitable distribution of the cash.
  • "Childcare is work even when it's unwaged." solidgoldSneezeLikeaPig
  • Getting up at night with a baby/whiny toddler is not one parent's sole responsibility. Obviously, a cardiac surgeon shouldn't be sleep-deprived the night before she operates, but just because one person has a stressful job doesn't mean that s/he cannot take on some of the burden, for example at weekends. What is right for your particular family will depend on the jobs you do, how demented a particular parent is becoming and whether you have spawned some non-sleeping Margaret Thatcher-style offspring. The burden of sleep-deprivation should never fall entirely on one parent.
  • You need to ensure that childcare, housework and life admin are fairly divided. And if you want to avert divorce, you need to accept that there is likely to be a period of adjustment after having children, when both of you make mistakes.

Dividing childcare fairly

Start as you mean to go on. You need to allow the person who hasn't given birth and provided the initial childcare (let's call him 'Dad') to become competent in his own way.

Unless he is flagrantly clumsy and afflicted by poor judgment (which hopefully you might have noticed before you reproduced with him) you need to let him learn. Don't micro-manage.

You may think your baby looks ridiculous in the assortment of clothes 'Dad' has selected but he is not going to self-destruct. Find things 'Dad' can do to bond with the baby, eg sharing feeding, bathing, taking baby out in a sling.

When you're both at home, make sure it's understood that childcare is a mutual responsibility:

  • There should be equal distribution of lie-ins/nights out/whatever kind of time off you value
  • It is reasonable for both parents to curtail their social life at times
  • Expensive and/or time-consuming hobbies may need to be back-burnered for a while

Dividing housework fairly

The arrival of children can highlight what was previously a manageable disparity of hygiene standards. One person may have to raise his game and stop growing mould in old coffee cups. One person may have to relax a bit.

"I love my partner very much, yet I know I upset him by not doing as much as I could about the house. I've never really learnt how to manage a house, and I'm quite lazy and not very skilled at it." ScummyMummy

The balance will probably be different in every relationship; neither person should feel taken advantage of.

As one Mumsnetter puts it: "Rule of thumb, you should both be working a fairly equal amount of hours if you add up job and household. And it's part of a good relationship that you don't allow the other to struggle on while you sit on the couch with a beer."

It grates to be the person who has to manage a slob. But if he/she is an otherwise decent partner/parent, it may be worth the effort. 

Tips for ensuring a fair(ish) distribution of housework

  • Partners who do not 'see' dirt may need a schedule. If he doesn't notice the mess or understand the constant small maintenance tasks required by a household with children in it, assign him some big jobs to do.
  • Communicate. "Sit down, agree the list of jobs that need to be done each day and then decide who they belong to. Then you don't have to nag about it. If he doesn't do his agreed jobs, it's clear and you can just ask when he is going to do them," says Mumsnetter cmotdibbler.
  • Another nagging-reduction tip: have a niggle list or whiteboard in the kitchen where you write down things that need doing and which are the other person's job..
  • Play to your partner's strengths, if any. He may be poor at tidying but an enthusiast of the Dyson.
  • "You have to stand firm and keep telling yourself that if he is able to work in the real world, then basic shopping, cleaning and food prep are well within his capabilities." MorrisZapp
  • Do weekend blitzes where one person manages the children and the other person makes free with the duster and the Cillit Bang.
  • Declutter your residence and address storage issues. If you are constantly piling toys and baby goods on top of each other in corners, you will both fall into the trough of housework despair.
  • With someone who does housework ineptly try a (not too passive-aggressive) praise sandwich: "It's great all that laundry got done. Bit of a shame about the shrunken cashmere, always good to look at the labels really. But I am so pleased it's all nice and clean..."

If you're still dissastisfied - or you've discovered a failsafe way to dole out domestic chores fairly - please share on the Relationships Talk board. 

Last updated: about 3 years ago