I'm not knocking the idea. Without a doubt, the hardest part of negotiating my marriage and family life has been figuring out who does what when. It's since gotten easier, and some days it gets inexplicably and temporarily really, really hard again, but the division of time and work is something that is constantly negotiated and re-negotiated in our household.
And yes, on a couple of occasions, we tried something like a contract.
It didn't have the formality of the contracts discussed in this article. Hoffman writes how Mark Zuckerberg's girlfriend formally negotiated a written document that promised at least one date night and 100 minutes outside of the house together a week before she would move in with him. She also discusses couples who wrote down a schedule for diaper changes. Again, I'm not criticizing. Do what works. But for us, even less formal contracts just lacked the flexibility that we needed to make things work.
The bane of our happy little unit is housework. We've got a functioning (if not always smooth) handle on just about everything else. Sure, there are rough patches, but for the most part we manage to get to work on time, get daycare drop-offs and pick-ups fairly distributed with compromises when needed, we both go to the gym a few times a week, we cook healthy meals at home most of the time, we grocery shop, we pay the bills on time, we play with our daughter, we have regular family outings, we read bedtime stories, we give baths, we sing songs, we do well at our respective jobs, we build block towers, we kiss bumps on the arm, we have friends and sometimes even get to see them, we talk about current events, we talk about our future goals, we make fun of bad movies together, and the car never runs out of gas.
But to save our lives, we cannot get the housecleaning figured out.
And I think the reason a contract is never going to help us is that, if there's a contract, things are never really truly equal.
Take this quote from Hoffman's post:
Cheryl Lynn Hepfer, a matrimonial lawyer in Bethesda, Md., and a former president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said that for women, “even if they want a schedule for changing diapers at night, it’s an acknowledgment by him that she is important.”So making a diaper schedule is a gift from the male partner to the woman. Doesn't that mean that it's still really her responsibility? He's just giving this "acknowledgement" by giving her some "help." Why isn't the diaper schedule an acknowledgement by her that he is important? Shouldn't ensuring that their child isn't sitting in its own waste be just as much his concern as hers?
And a contract requires management. In order to negotiate an agreement, someone has to have the upper hand. And whether that upper hand comes from a partner who sees him/herself as doing more than his/her fair share and needing an adjustment or from a partner who feels that he/she isn't getting an equal say in how the house is being managed and wants to take on more control, working out a contract means recognizing those (possibly hidden) disparities and bringing them to the forefront.
And a household (or at least my household) is not stable enough to negotiate these duties one time and let it go. A household is living. It grows, it changes, and it requires constant flux. The things that get the house clean this week will not be the things that get the house clean next week. So someone is going to have to notice the changes and make note of them. Someone is going to have to be responsible for charting the new responsibilities and assigning them. And that someone is doing more work and taking more control.
The solution? Hell if I know. Let me know if you figure it out.
I will say that we had a coupon for a house cleaning a few weeks ago. It was amazing. It was amazing not only because my house got clean in ways that I don't normally clean it (you should've seen the inside of my microwave. The angels sang when I opened it). but also because the cleaning service doesn't do everything. We had to de-clutter and organize enough for the cleaning service to do their job. Suddenly there were some clear boundaries on what needed to be done, and it was coming from somewhere outside of us. We were equally responsible for getting this thing done, and we would both reap the benefit of an ultra-clean house at the end of it. So, my solution? Make enough money to have a regular cleaning service, and I'll have no problem with having a written contract of what they will and will not do. I'll let you know how it goes if I ever get there.
So what about you? What negotiations do you find the hardest to maintain? How important is keeping an equal balance of responsibilities? Do you think a written contract is the way to go?
Photo Credit: Chiot's Run