Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Equally Shared Exhaustion

You know that line in "Hills Like White Elephants" when the girl says "Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?" I'm with her. I get it.

See, before my daughter was born, my husband and I--idealistic things that we were--agreed wholeheartedly that we would equally share parenting responsibilities. And we meant it. I know we did. It's just that things aren't as simple as they sound.

Blue Milk explains it perfectly in this post, in which she describes equally shared parenting as "death by a thousand negotiations." She looks at a New York Times article that examined women's percentage of household chores to men's (among other things), and (surprise, surprise) found that women do more of it, even when they're also equal breadwinners.

There's a societal standard for this. Women are side-eyed (at best) for returning to work after having a baby. (My husband was never asked whether or not he was returning to work after our daughter was born, but I was asked a lot.) Men are praised for doing things that keep a household running. ("Your husband does laundry. You're so lucky." Yeah--I do laundry, too. Does that make him lucky?) And, as PhD in Parenting points out here, studies like to look for the negative impact mothers working outside the home has on kids, but very rarely do they examine the impact of having a working father.

Still, my husband and I, we're progressive. We know that we are equals. We have been equals throughout our entire relationship. We met in undergrad, both passionate about our fields. We left undergrad and headed for graduate and law school, respectively. We worked hard. We studied next to one another. We set up a joint budget. We planned our wedding together. We do lawn work together. We both wash dishes. We had this in the bag.

We were wrong.

Equally sharing parenting is hard.

Here's a quote from the NYT article: “The coordination it takes, it’s more complicated than a theater production,” said Elinor Ochs, the U.C.L.A. linguistic anthropologist who led the study. “And there are no rehearsals.”

And do you know what coordination takes? Work. That's right. To divide up the work, we have to work. It is exhausting.

Here's another quote from the article:  "The couples who reported the least stress tended to have rigid divisions of labor, whether equal or not."

That's because when you don't have divisions of labor, you are responsible for everything and nothing. I never know what's going to get done when. Did he do the dishes? I'll check the dishwasher. They look sorta clean. Wait, that's definitely spaghetti sauce. Nope definitely not clean. I have to leave for work in 15 minutes and there are only two clean bottles. Damn. Laundry is a fun chore. We both do it, but somehow we end up washing two loads of gym clothes and nothing for work. His gym shorts do not fit into the casual Friday attire. Sometimes the dog gets let out twice in the morning, once when he comes downstairs, once when I do. The cats have learned to manipulate our weaknesses. They've been known to howl pathetically until I feed them, only to find out he'd just done it before he left for work. Con artists.

What's the fix for this? Short of an elementary-school-child's chore chart (which I'm not above, but I'd have to find the time to make one), the only solution is constant negotiation. There's a constant flow of information, and not the fun, intellectually-stimulating kind we're used to bantering about. This is boring stuff. And it has to be said.

I tell myself it will be easier when we are in a routine, but I don't know if that's true. I still think it's worth it, but sometimes I find myself sympathizing with that girl, repeating those "pleases" in my head . . .

1 comment:

  1. Short of an elementary-school-child's chore chart...

    I tried this once - did a tick sheet to put next to our calendar, so that we knew when the "big" jobs had been done. It only worked for a week, and in my flat there's three adults and no children. I wish I had something more helpful to say, but no, it's basically just "yep, I know how you feel"!

    Still, what else are blog comments for? :)