May 14, 2020


You have two at home working... or not. How do you divide up the home work? The parents are home, the kids are home, and there's home work to be done. So how does it get divided up? For the purposes of this little podcast, let's assume two parents of gender norms of male and female and school kids.

A recent New York Times article sums up the potential divide with the heading, "Nearly half of men say they do most of the homeschooling, 3% of women agree." And there you have it. It's all about potentially hurt feelings, different expectations, definitions, and language. It's all about cultural norms, family norms, and the relationship. In fact, the patterns of sharing the home work that were established before the COVID-19 epidemic are probably carried on during lockdown, but with even greater chances for misunderstanding and hurt feelings.

When the surveys show that couples don't see their participation reliably, men overestimate their contribution to home care or child care and homeschooling, there's the possibility of resentment. Women may resent the fact that they are doing most of the home work. Men may resent the fact they're not getting enough credit. Women may feel stressed and resentful for all the planning that they have to do that makes sure that things get done. Men may not even be able to see this work.

So we're talking about relationships, and we're not even speaking the same language. The languages that we are speaking are filled with unspoken assumptions and subtexts.

So some ideas. Write down the jobs, including the middle jobs of making the schedules and the lists and who are the players. Agree on the list. This is important to start from the same place.

Each person makes a list of their best world with who would do the jobs. This is the fantasy list. I like to shop and I like to cook, but I don't like to do anything else inside or outside the home. I like to read kids stories at bedtime, if that's on the list. Everything else should be done by you. Now remember, this is just a fantasy list.

Now each person then makes the same list with what is their best assessment of the shared work that they could put up with. This is the tolerable list. Let's not use the word "fair" or this is what I think is fair, because fairness is too emotionally loaded. You cannot negotiate fairness because it looks too different for men and women. Be specific. How often would the house be vacuumed? How long after dinner would the dishes get done? That sort of stuff.

Now get together with a smile over your fantasy lists. Let the other person go over their fantasy list without interruption. Just let them get it out and smile. Then go over your I could cope with this list. Compare each job one by one, your dividing up and his dividing up. Remember this is the couple in this paradigm, but it could work for same-sex couples or with sentient children. The lists won't match, but you can negotiate with numbers -- how often, what time, etc. Remember you cannot negotiate feelings. All feelings are real and must be heard and appreciated. You can negotiate numbers. Negotiation should be done in good faith. The other person may not do the job exactly to your specifications, but just let it go.

The final list of who does what and when should be posted. Give it a week, then reassess. In my case, waiting to get the kitchen clean may be too stressful for me. I'd just rather do it myself. So maybe there's a swap in the making.

This problem of who does what in the relationship will last long after the COVID-19 lockdown. Find a way to work it out and work it with the hope and a smile. And thanks for joining us on The Scope.

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