Divide household chores by interest and ability to lighten

August 29, 2003

Are you worn out? Feel like you wear too many hats? Wish you could divide your responsibilities with your spouse or other family members?

You're not alone. That's the bad news.

The good news is that with a little effort, you can change your circumstances.

You don't have to do it all.

Women sometimes put themselves in this situation unwittingly, because they think that caring for a family and a home is ultimately Mom's responsibility, says Julie Shields, author of "How to Avoid the Mommy Trap - a Roadmap for Sharing Parenting and Making it Work."

Compared to their husbands, employed women work an extra month of 24-hour days a year at home attending to their child-care and household responsibilities, according to a study quoted in Shields' book.


If your life fits this category, take stock. Try to determine how things got the way they are and picture how you want them to be.

What you don't want to do is wallow in the work, fail to ask for what you need and then become resentful of the people you should be loving the most. That will only serve to create a negative environment in the home.

Approach the situation as a problem that needs to be solved.

Don't assume that your husband knows all the child-care and household needs. Look at the calendar together. Sit on the same side of the couch or table, so Mom is not in control. Try to look at the things that cause the most conflict. Are those things necessary? Perhaps you could cut them out of your schedule altogether.

Make a list of everything that needs to be done. Include scheduling appointments, day-care and school transportation, reading and signing school forms. Ask your husband how he recommends getting it all done. It may help to swap responsibilities occasionally so each spouse gains an appreciation for what the other one does. If your budget allows, pay someone to do some of the things you don't have time for or don't enjoy.

Change is hard, so tackle one thing at a time.

"Ask for help in a very clear and specific way," Shields says.

One woman told Shields she started with lunches.

She didn't complain. She didn't say, "I've been doing this forever. It's time you helped out."

She simply pointed out that with school starting, more work has to be done. She asked if her husband would mind being responsible for the lunches.

By approaching her husband in the right way, she got the response she desired.

What's that you say? You wouldn't want your husband to pack lunches?

That's part of the problem.

Sometimes it's a control issue. Women won't give up a task because it won't be done "right." (Translation: It won't be done the way Mom does it.)

We need to be a little more flexible. Why not divide tasks by interest and ability, rather than traditional gender roles?

And when a task is complete, remember to say thank you.

"We still need to be extra-appreciative of what our husbands do," Shields says.

There remains a stigma attached to helping around the house, so husbands may need extra validation for the responsibilities they assume, she says.

The end result will be well worth the extra effort.

"People are much happier when they are sharing the parenting," Shields says. "Both are happier in the marriage and about themselves when they share the parenting and the housework.

"I think it's good for society as well."

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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