Raising Richmond: Division of labor

When two people make a home together, they’ll eventually have to figure out who is going to be responsible for what. As complicated as that is, things get even trickier once kids get into the mix. So today we’re asking: Who does what in your house? Have you achieved an equal division of labor?

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the latest installment of our parenting column written by two Richmond mothers: Patience Salgado (veteran mother of four gorgeous children), and Valerie Catrow (a parenting rookie who has only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a little while). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

When two people make a home together, they’ll eventually have to figure out who is going to be responsible for what. As complicated as that is, things get even trickier once kids get into the mix.

So today we’re asking: Who does what in your house? Have you achieved an equal division of labor?

Patience Salgado

I should probably tell you I was the little girl who played house endlessly; it was my go-to for all pretend play. I literally dreamed of being a wife and a mother for over half of my life, and yes, in that June Cleaver kind of way. I still drool over those pretty aprons at Anthropologie that cost more than my couch, and yet I can’t even remember a time when I even thought to pull an apron out. The wave of feminist freedom kind of passed over my house growing up — there was lots of honor and joy in tending to your home and rearing children.

I didn’t really realize that I had more of a self brewing or even considered a non-traditional way when it came to division of labor in our home and parenting. The interesting part was I think my husband would have been open. I just didn’t know any other way, and he was usually pretty exhausted from trying to make ends meet working a manual labor job with long hours. Even through all this, he found a way to bond with our kids, but I noticed the connection really growing when I weaned our first son.

As more children came along, tag teaming was required and the game was really on. I was totally not passing the ball at first. What if he dropped it? Not the baby, the ball. Well maybe the baby…you know what I mean. What if I was no longer the star player covering every man/problem and still making the winning shot? Not to mention the added bonus: Mary Martyr wins every argument. I was so crazy capable and thrived on chaos which drew out the growth process far longer than it should.

In the middle of all of my early days of uber-momness, I missed something so very important. It was okay if they needed to cry with him, if he didn’t anticipate their every need, if he dressed them in mismatched clothes and offered pizza for breakfast. I realized it was unfair to complain all the time about feeling tired and burnt when I was never willing to try another way. Even if we had to fumble to find a way to make it work, it was worth it for all of us.

So now co-parenting is as “co” as it gets around here, but the house work, well, oh don’t even talk to me about that. After 30 years of playing house, I have yet to figure out how to navigate who cleans what, mops a floor once in a blue moon, or takes out the trash. Maybe with all the co-parenting goodness, the kids will do it…or just pretend to.

Valerie Catrow

When my husband and I first got married, we slipped into what I guess you could call a “traditional” approach to running our household. I cooked and cleaned. He handled the money and dealt with the logistics of maintaining our home (this mostly involved making phone calls to service people because we just don’t do home improvement very well).

About three months into this arrangement I realized I really hate cooking and he realized he detests talking on the phone (I don’t claim to understand his feelings on this matter, but I will respect them). So we shifted things around a bit. He took over everything related to food (planning, shopping, and cooking), and I kept cleaning. I took over making sure our house didn’t fall apart, and he kept up the finances. Save a few bumps in the road, things worked out pretty well.

This arrangement, however, isn’t perfect. As you can imagine, there are tasks that don’t fall neatly into our boxes labeled “food”, “cleaning”, “bills”, and “maintenance”. Like putting together paperwork to do our taxes or taking the car in for an oil change.

Or caring for a child.

Like most mothers of newborns, I took the lead in caring for our little boy during that first year. I was breastfeeding, I worked from home three days a week for the first several months of his life — it made sense. Meanwhile, I was working 40 hours a week and still keeping up with all of the other household duties that were in my “jurisdiction”. I was always overwhelmed, usually angry, and completely unwilling to ask for help. I kept thinking to myself, “Plenty of women do this and do it well. What is wrong with me?” Those thoughts, paired with a raging case of Working Mother’s Guilt (once our son went into day care full-time, thanks to my ever-increasing workload), set me on a path of constantly trying to prove myself… to myself, I guess? Meanwhile, my husband was champing at the bit to help, but my epic stubbornness thwarted him at every turn.

I’d love to say a grand moment of clarity shifted things back into balance, but it really just took a lot of time and a lot of patience. As an added bonus, our son’s needs got less mama-centric as he got older, and he became more interested in spending time with his father. Two years later, we’ve found our rhythm again. We still have our battles when working out the nuances of our daily life — you know, periods where one of us feels as if we are carrying the heavier load — but they usually just require a little extra effort in the communication department (and an occasional adjustment of expectations) to get ourselves back on track before resentment builds up.

More than anything, I think we’re more willing to opt for communication over pouting these days because of our common goal: to give our son an example of a loving and supportive partnership where everyone feels heard and appreciated. Will we go off balance again? Without a doubt. But if our history is any indication, we’ll get through it just fine.

Now it’s your turn

How is work divided up in your house? Do you feel like you and your partner have a good arrangement? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Patience Salgado

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