My husband and I are still very much together, but the equal partnership we enjoyed for nearly a decade was obliterated with the arrival of our second child.
When we moved in together, long before the kids, we divided all household responsibilities equally.
“I don’t clean toilets,” I told my partner soon after we met.
“I can clean them,” he said, completely nonplussed.
And could he ever. No one scrubs and disinfects like my guy. He also hates managing finances, assembling / fixing things, and arguing with the cable company, which happen to be my areas of domestic expertise.
He took on a larger share of the household chores when we had our firstborn, and I focused on kid-related tasks. We each had time to ourselves, time with our daughter, and time with each other. In short, it worked well—until we had two kids.
The unravelling began slowly. Since our youngest was basically attached to my boobs for the first three months, I assumed most infant-care tasks, and my husband stepped up on older kid responsibilities. However, my firstborn still wanted my attention as much as ever, and I still wanted to do things I had always done for her.
The balance in my peer marriage really flopped when my youngest sunk us all to the lowest depths of sleep-deprivation hell. She would awaken for hours in the night and only bouncing or nursing would soothe her. When we cut out all night feedings, at the recommendation of our pediatrician, my husband took over nocturnal duty. Just seeing my boobs was enough to send my youngest into a feeding frenzy, which meant my husband had to rock her back to sleep each night.
After bouncing our infant for hours and hours, my husband, who relies on his hands to work, lost mobility in his thumbs. Tendonitis. Severe. No more bouncing and soothing and minimal housework. Suddenly, all the chores he once did were either left undone or shifted to me.
We both still worked outside the home, yet the bulk of child-rearing and home-management duties slammed heavily on my shoulders. After two years of feeling like a beast of burden, I’d had enough. I finally admitted defeat when a car accident left me with whiplash and a sprained spine.
So, we’re taking steps to bring the balance back. To start, we talked about what we can each do, what we can “outsource”, and what is really important to our family. Then we made the following changes:
We hired help or asked for it
I realized a few months ago that some rooms in our house hadn’t been dusted in over a year. I may not be the most facetious person, but the thought of my kids breathing in year-old sluffed skin had me googling cleaning crews. I don’t know if I was waiting for my husband to kick back into cleaning gear, or if I was so busy doing all the other household tasks that I failed to noticed. Either way, it was clear that some things just weren’t getting done and neither of us wanted to spend precious sleep time doing them. We also hired a lawn service, something my husband had continued to manage with pain. We stopped going out to eat and made other changes to afford both. I don’t miss chasing my youngest through Chili’s, and I don’t miss the dust.
We also ask for help when we need it. At the big family 4th of July picnic, we knew neither of us would be able to stay in the pool with the kids the entire time without pain. So, grandpa got the call to bring a swimsuit and prepare to splash when we needed a rest.
We lowered expectations
Lower than a year’s worth of filth? Yes, lower than that. The cleaning service doesn’t clean as well as my partner did. However, it’s better than not cleaning at all. I also lowered my expectations for holidays and the kids’ birthday parties. Keep it Small and Just Enjoy became my mantra. I have a tendency to go over the top and do a huge part of the work. By making each celebration smaller, we all enjoyed them more.
We redistributed tasks
A word of caution: This can easily turn into a pissing match of pain. Is giving the kids a bath more painful for someone with a sprained back or gimp wrists? Most nights, I suck it up and get on the bathroom floor. Some nights, the kiddos just take showers. Some nights, we embrace the filth.
My husband and I had always divided domestic work based on our preferences. Now, we separate jobs based on our abilities. I love reading to the kids. My husband, not so much. However, he now reads to the girls sometimes while I clean up the kitchen. The dishes get done and my husband spends quality time with the girls without risking further injury.
We called in the JV Squad
Our family is a team. When one of us (or two of us) take a hit, the others have to step in and step up. My girls are still small, but there’s no reason mama should be bending over to pick up toys. It just not happening. I’m also teaching them to put their clothes in the hamper and their dirty dishes in the kitchen. Turns out, my three-year old loves to help. What started out of necessity has become a fun activity for her. She squealed with delight yesterday when I let her load her own plate in the dishwasher and press the start button. I’m sure it won’t last, but I’m taking full advantage while I can.
Finding our new equilibrium remains a work-in-progress. Instead of letting resentment build, we talk about what isn’t working and how we can improve. He tells me when he’s in pain and needs me to lean in more, and I do the same.
I also tell him when I think he’s playing the injury card too often (and so does he). He may not be able to wash dishes, but that doesn’t mean I’ve turned into his personal servant. After two days of finding his empty yogurt cup on the table after breakfast I wanted to scream at him, “If you can you use your thumbs well enough to eat with a spoon, you can throw your shit away. I’m not your wench!”
Instead, I held up the empty yogurt cup and said “Can you throw this out next time? I don’t like feeling like I’m cleaning up after you.”
“Sure,” he said.
I haven’t found an empty yogurt cup since. Progress.