Love in the Time of Strep: Sharing Household Tasks

by Nan

Within a few months of marriage, I began working full time as a teacher while my husband was in school. It was my first time at a middle school and I was creating most of my curriculum from scratch. I worked many hours and came home very late each afternoon exhausted and overwhelmed. On one such day I arrived to a husband who told me he had spent the afternoon napping, and he looked at me expectantly regarding the question of dinner.

I snapped. In the course of this emotional come-apart, my sweet spouse told me that he was willing to do anything I wanted, he just didn’t know what to do. I exploded about the laundry that was overfilling the basket and making its way down the hallway. I reminded him that he had lived on his own for many years and always managed to do laundry just fine before I entered the picture.

Fifteen years later, this great outburst (the first, but, I’m sorry to say, not the last) garners a fair amount of laughter when it is retold. However, it should also be pointed out, that even if our lives are on the brink of falling apart, my laundry is nearly always caught up thanks to a husband who throws in a load before he dares ask what needs doing.

While my communication style as a new bride left much to be desired, we did stumble on something very important early in our marriage: when both spouses work, traditional ideas about roles men and women “should” assume are not very helpful.

Since August, these lessons have come forcefully into play in our family as I’ve gone back to work full-time. Laundry and dinner are only two tasks on a very long to-do list that now throws three kids and their schedules into the mix on top of Church callings too.  And that is just a normal week.

But not every week is normal. A short 48 hours after my six year old went to a birthday party at the incubator that is Chuck E. Cheese, he came down with a terrible sore throat that was eventually diagnosed as strep. And boom, just like that, he was out of school for an entire week.

Because my husband has accrued more sick leave, and his job is easier to miss than mine (no sub required), he took most of the week off to stay with our son.  The first day it was so wonderful to come home to a clean house, laundry finished and dinner on the stove. How delightful to have a “wife!” But as the week wore on and we juggled our days off and even had to hire a sitter one afternoon, we had to find new stores of patience and calm to keep moving forward.

The writer Collette once penned, “She did realize, with some dismay, that far from conquering all, love lazily sidestepped practical problems.” Though Collette, no doubt, was writing about romantic love, I use her quote generally to talk about all the many things we love. Our passions, which seem so agreeably grandiose at the outset, can become easily bogged down in the monotony of every day living.

My passion for teaching and our wish to better plan for the future—a more comfortable home, missions, education, retirement, etc.—have led me back to work.  But if I am not careful, my thirst for wanting to work will only become a burden because of all the practical problems still waiting for me at home.

As my husband and I sit to plan each week, organize budgets, calendar who is picking up whom on which day, and try to figure out how to have a reasonably nutritious meal on the table each night, I sometimes feel that melt down coming on again. It is in those times that I must remind myself to take a deep breath and remember that my husband and I aren’t sitting down to create a task list divided by what men and women are each “supposed” to do, but rather to look at all these tasks as the work of running our family together. We can then determine who is best suited to each job, whose week gives them a little extra time to attack chores that have been put off, and which necessary assignments make us both miserable and should be taken in turns.

In this work-of-the-family paradigm, our children have found a place too. It is a good thing. As my children are all boys, I imagine a terrible world where the “male” tasks at our house are divided by four and all the “female” tasks are left to me!

As the world changes, our attitudes toward traditional gender roles should likewise evolve. So while it is true that I grocery shopped yesterday morning while my husband went in to work for a few hours, he later spent the afternoon baking bread while I did the taxes. I’m happy to report that there were exactly zero meltdowns.

6 Comments on “Love in the Time of Strep: Sharing Household Tasks

  1. So many women have asked me for advice as they begin their new life as a working mother. I always begin with, “Well, first, make sure that you married well…” I can’t think of anything we do in our family that has been assigned by traditional gender roles (okay, childbirth), and we are all the happier for it. We’re all members and there’s a body of work to be done, and we all get/have to do it. Reproductive organs really don’t have anything to do with it. Or, as my grandmother says, “No bitching, just pitching in.” (Ahem.)

  2. Wonderful essay! The same principle is enshrined (though rarely read, and less often heeded, I suspect) in the Proclamation on the Family: “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” It’s not that the father should “help” the mother occasionally with the laundry or dinner, or that the mother can “help” the father by being a second provider. Both spouses should be willing to offer what they can and must, whenever it’s needed, to help strengthen the family. That’s what being an equal partner is all about–less “I,” more “we.”

  3. This is such an awesome post. I’ve been married for 2 years now and we still are working out the household chores and duties, it’s a constant state of adjustment, it feels like. J-Mo does laundry on a fairly regular basis, and knows to clarify which items of mine can’t go in the dryer on any particular load. The rest of it, however, is still very much a work in progress. I really appreciate this post and am encouraged that as situations change (like, for example, suddenly having him living with me after 2 years long distance) there are adjustments that need to happen and more patches to smooth over.

    xox

  4. I just found this blog/site. And I am loving it! An adventurous year and some self-discovery have led me back to working professionally part time. I can’t believe the mental and emotional boost I feel from it; which is a tremendous blessing for me and for my family and personal relationships. But I still struggle with gender roles and stereotypes and the ideas/boxes I thought I needed to fit. Thanks for this essay and site! I’ll be back, regularly I’m sure.

  5. “How delightful to have a wife!” Ha!
    I’ve found this a constant evolution for me. When we both worked full time it was more evenly distributed. When I worked less hours I picked up more of the housework, that seemed fair. Now being a stay at home mom, it’s changed again. And it’s been a much harder adjustment on how spilt the load. It would be nice to have wife!

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