My husband often travels for work in his role as a Corporate Trainer. He’s been in this job for about two years, and I jokingly refer to him as a traveling salesman. I recall a time last winter where he had been on a business trip in Chicago all week and due to fly home on a Friday. The end of the work-week rolled around, and his original flight that night was canceled because of an upcoming storm. Panic ensued a bit. Obviously, I was looking forward to having him home safe and sound – but my first reaction was quite self-serving. He needed to make it back to New York because he is the “winter parent” in our family.
Luckily, he moved a few things around and actually caught an earlier flight than he was initially scheduled for. And that Saturday morning, as the snow was falling, my relieved thoughts went to, “Thank goodness, the winter parent is home!” My kids know that when it snows, and they want to hang out with one of us, it’s going to be Daddy. He’ll bulk up in those layers and head out with the kids to play in the snow – sledding, building snowmen, having snowball fights, building snow forts, etc. I’ll be inside turning up the heat, savoring a cup of coffee, and snuggling up with a warm blanket on the couch.
I get a pass during the winter. I’ve lived in New York my entire life, and I don’t foresee moving anywhere else, but that doesn’t mean I have to like the winter weather because it’s cold! Therefore, I am the “summer parent.” When the weather is warm, I’m your gal. I’ll head outside with the kids – or even without the kids. As they get older, I don’t necessarily need to “play” with them, but it’s nice to be out in the backyard with neighbors and maybe a glass of wine (or two). I’m not really a nature girl, per se, but the sun’s feeling and warm air is magnificent. There was a night last summer that I sat and watched my daughter catch fireflies for what seemed like forever. It simply left me wondering why everything “Couldn’t be as easy as catching fireflies.” It was a perfect scene.
Luckily, we have a nice balance in our home when it comes to seasonal changes! This made me think a little more about roles in a marriage or partnership. Ideally, all things are equal, but don’t you find that certain roles and responsibilities fall into place? In my marriage, there are definitely responsibilities that each of us handles automatically.
With us, for example:
- I do all the laundry. My husband sweeps and mops the floors. And he vacuums (apparently, I don’t make enough “lines”).
- I handle all the paperwork for school and the kids’ activities. My husband handles all the house paperwork.
- He primarily does the food shopping. I primarily do the home goods shopping, like laundry detergent, soaps, toothpaste, etc. (aka Target run!).
- He’s your video game, computer, and electronics parent. I’m your arts & crafts and board game parent.
- He combs through my daughter’s mop of a curly head. I make sure we have the appropriate hair products to help.
- I coordinate all of our schedules for activities, doctor appointments, and play dates. And he….well, I have no match for that one.
- In other words, I keep our lives organized. He “thinks” he keeps our lives organized.
You get the picture, right?
None of this was “chosen.” It naturally fell into place over the years. We never broke out a list of household chores to specifically assign each to one of us.
One exception was made very early on – we did discuss bodily functions before we had children. He’d be responsible for anything that projects out of their mouths, and I’d be responsible for anything that comes out of their butts. Thankfully, as our children are 12 and 9, we’re pretty much past this stage.
Over time though, there have been some transitions. Let’s take loading/unloading the dishwasher. Earlier in our marriage, I would load the dishes after meals. But I started to notice that my husband would ‘redecorate’ the dirty dishes. Apparently, he didn’t like the way I laid out the dishes. So I gave up owning that duty—no words, no discussion. I just stopped doing it, and it is now “his” job. On occasion, though – just for kicks – I’ll put something in the “wrong place” to see if he’ll move it. And 9.9 out 10 times, he moves it. Oh, the games married people play!
Also, there have been times when I was the breadwinner and times when my husband was (and is now) the breadwinner. When our children were very young, I worked long hours in New York City, and my husband was the more “present” parent. He was the main driver to and from daycare. With my husband traveling and working from home, I am the more “present” parent. I’m the main driver to and from activities.
How does a household task become one’s “job”?
I don’t necessarily think it’s a male/female thing. Growing up, my dad did the laundry, and my mom did the food shopping, which is the exact opposite of my husband and I. (Although something tells me that my wise mama did a little bit of choosing! But to this day, this is how these chores remain and they’ve been married almost 50 years).
Who knows? Maybe by knowing one another’s likes/dislikes and strengths/weaknesses, the other migrates to handle the tasks that the other hates or is seemingly weaker at? Or do we know what might piss the other one-off and suck it up to keep the peace? In reality, it’s more a combination of all sorts of things, including mutual respect, understanding needs, and current circumstances – but sucking it up to keep the peace certainly makes it into our playbook!
For example, do I really love the laundry? No, but I really don’t mind it – and my husband HATES it. So it’s hanging out on my job description for now. And even better is that as our children get older, they’ll have to chip in with those domestic tasks, like laundry, right? (As I type this, I think I hear an evil laugh coming from the other room).
And does my husband really like the cold and the snow? Sometimes yes, sometimes no….but what he understands is that I HATE it! I will happily stay inside warm, cozy, and dreaming of warm weather as my other half throws around snowballs with the neighborhood kids.
But since I’m his other half, it’ll all balance out when I have that cup of hot cocoa ready when he has finished up his “winter parent” responsibilities for the day. All just in time for him and the kids to strip out of their wet snow gear – and pass it along to me for my role as laundry lady.