Housework – The Financial Decision In A Marriage

The housework

It’s a Saturday morning. You woke up at 7:30 AM and got out of bed to start your day.

All you want to do is have breakfast and sit down at your computer to read new posts, leave your feedback, make Pinterest images, and write new content to stay ahead of your blog schedule.

Just when you start to enjoy blogging, you hear your baby crying looking for you.

You set your computer aside to perform your mommy duty: taking care of your little one.

Your baby is fussy and doesn’t want to eat breakfast, so you spend the next 20 minutes trying to get some food into his system, hoping he will gain some weight soon.

After your baby is done eating, you clean up, put a load of laundry in the washer, and start checking the fridge to see what you can make for lunch.

Then you take your baby out for a walk. By the time you’re done and get a bit more blogging done, it’s already 10:30 AM.

It’s time to help your mother-in-law cook.

All the while, your husband has been sitting in his office, doing his work, not knowing what you’ve been doing all morning.

What ensues is a two-hour struggle to feed your baby, followed by diaper changing, doing the dishes, putting your baby down for a nap, and doing another load of laundry.

You have about two to three hours in between such tasks and the time to make dinner, feed the baby, do the dishes, and give him a bath. The routine repeats itself the next day. When you realize it’s Sunday night and the weekend is over, a new work week is just about to start.

Does it story sound familiar to you? It does to me because it’s what I do every weekend. I am not complaining because it would make me sound ungrateful for all the things that I have in life: a happy family, a good husband, a beautiful son, a stable job, a house, a car, etc.

But have you ever felt like your life just revolves around housework and kids just because you’re a woman? Have you ever wished that your husband would pick up more housework around the house so that you can have some time to relax or do the things that you love? I have.

Related: The Glorious Life Of A Personal Finance Blogger

The single life

There are times when I miss those days when I was still single and could do what I wanted with my free time. Sometimes I yearn for that sense of freedom – knowing that even if I don’t want to cook, I can just have instant noodles to get through a meal.

Those days are gone. I am now married with a kid. There’s no going back, and I don’t want to go back to being single. I just get nostalgic thinking about those days when there weren’t so many responsibilities in my life.

Sometimes I think about what I wanted when I was still unmarried and whether I was happier than now. Up until I met Mr. FAF, my life was in such chaos.

Although I had time to pursue what I was passionate about, I didn’t know what it was. I was caught up in such agonizing uncertainty that I sometimes felt like my life was like a ship adrift in the sea.

Mr. FAF told me he had felt the same way about his life before we started dating. After we became a couple, at least, we knew that we had a family to build and take care of.

Mr. FAF brought stability to my life. He’s calm, and I’m irritable. He’s patient, and I’m anxious. He’s carefree, and I’m always worried. He tells me everything is going to be ok when I think we’re headed to a disaster. He complements me. In so many ways.

Related: An Interview With The Husband Of A Personal Finance Blogger

The questions

What I’ve been dreaming about all those years – our family reunion – has finally come true. Mr. FAF, Baby FAF, and I are now together in DC.

We can live like most families we know. The husband and the wife go to work every day. The kid goes to daycare. The whole family spends time together in the evenings and on the weekends.

But sometimes I wonder what I could accomplish if I didn’t have to spend time doing most of the housework by myself.

Growing up, I always saw my cousin, who’s my age, getting away with cooking, cleaning, and all kinds of chores without any problem. His mom, my aunt, didn’t expect him to do any housework.

My mom told me it was ok for him because he was a boy. But it wasn’t ok for me to do the same because I was a girl. He could get away with what I couldn’t.

However, my aunt had high expectations of her daughter, who she trained to take care of all the household chores. It wasn’t until my aunt started to have some health problems and couldn’t take on much cooking or cleaning that she expected her son to help out with housework.

He refused, saying that his sister could do that instead. He had such a sense of entitlement in him that shocked and deeply upset my aunt. She felt unappreciated and complained to me.

I wanted to be honest and told her that he grew up not having to do any housework because nobody expected that from him. That mindset was ingrained in him by her and other members of our family. It wasn’t totally his fault. He was told that he was entitled because of his gender.

Specialization

I am not sure if it’s because I just get tired of doing housework or if I’m too cynical about the division on labor in a marriage. We all know specialization is what makes productivity thrive.

Specialization dictates that we take on certain roles in society because that’s what we’re best at and can bring about the best outcomes. That’s why we have engineers, doctors, lawyers, bakers, and drivers, not someone who can do a little bit of every role to make a living.

In a marriage, the dynamic works in a similar manner. If the husband focuses on making money while the wife devotes herself to doing housework and taking care of the kids, they will be able to get the best possible result: a stable income and a happy family. Or will they?

The income

If you stay at home and your spouse works, you might have made the agreement that you will take care of all or most of the housework (i.e. cooking, cleaning, laundry, taking care of the kids) while your spouse can just focus on their work to bring home the bacon.

If your spouse helps with housework when they get home and take care of the kids on the weekends so that you can take a break, then it’s a perfect arrangement.

But what if you feel like you have a job that doesn’t end at 5 PM like your spouse? You never get to take a break just because your spouse thinks that their main duty as the breadwinner is just to make money and not worry about what happens at home.

In that case, whoever makes the income has the power to decide whether or not they want to get involved with housework. The reason is that doing housework, in some cases, is not seen as income-generating by both economists and society. And women are disadvantaged or overlooked because they are the main housekeepers in most families.

Housework seems like such a small part of our lives. What seems to matter more is our income and investment. Those are the tools that can help us build wealth and stay financially sound.

We tend to overlook the fact that without the housework being well taken care of, we cannot have a happy and healthy family to enjoy the wealth that we generate.

Our division of labor

At the FAF household, especially after Mr. FAF moved back to DC and started his new job, I have taken most household responsibilities:

— Getting Baby FAF ready for daycare in the morning and picking him up after work in the afternoon

— Feeding our son and giving him a bath

— Cleaning the second floor and the bathrooms

— Doing and folding laundry

— Doing the dishes

— Helping my mother-in-law cook in the evenings and on the weekends

— Packing lunch for Mr. FAF and myself to take to work and Baby FAF to take to daycare

— Driving our family places (to get more practice with the driving)

— Taking care of all the bills (i.e. mortgage, utilities, internet)

If my MIL weren’t in DC, Mr. FAF would be in charge of the cooking. But that’s pretty much all the housework that he does.

I am ok with doing all the chores above because I think that’s part of family life and, yes, I am a woman. I (and society) think I am more efficient at those tasks than Mr. FAF is.

And an unspoken reason that both Mr. FAF and I know is that Mr. FAF makes more than I do. I feel the need to pick up more housework to make up for the fact that I don’t contribute as much to the family’s income as Mr. FAF.

Does it mean that one day when I make more than him, Mr. FAF will need to pick up more tasks around the house? I’m not sure the answer is. But I want to ensure that no matter what work I do or how much I make, I will still fulfill my duties as a mother and a wife.

Conclusion

Sometimes I wonder if I’m just fulfilling society’s expectations by doing what a woman is supposed to do – housekeeping. But I also feel happy having the opportunity to do so.

Looking back on the days when I was single and heart-broken about a failed relationship, I am happy everything has worked out for our family.

Mr. FAF has been driving for more than 20 hours almost every month to visit me over the past four years. He never complained about me not doing the same for him. He just did what he thought was the right thing to do to keep our marriage strong despite all the challenges.

My in-laws left everything behind in China for a year to come to America and help us take our of Baby FAF when we were in desperate need of help. They then took Baby FAF back to China for more than a year.

My MIL then left everything behind her again – her family, friends, and neighbors – to come to a place where she knew no one and doesn’t understand the language. She brought our baby back to us.

Sometimes the division of labor is not so clear-cut as dividing a task equally among the members on a team. If we’re a family, we pick up what we can do when our family needs us.

I admit that sometimes I reminisce the days when I was single and didn’t have to worry about so many family responsibilities. But with everything good thing in life there comes sacrifice and hard work.

Doing housework is not my most favorite thing in the world to do, but it does help build something that I treasure and hold dear to my heart: my family.

What about you? How do you and your spouse divide the housework? Do you pick up more household chores because you don’t make as much income as your spouse and vice versa? And most importantly, do you think it’s fair how much housekeeping your or your spouse needs to do every day?

Related: 

When Money Matters In A Relationship

The Pros & Cons Of Living With In-laws

How To Deal With Spousal Envy

The Struggle For (Financial) Power In A Marriage

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32 thoughts on “Housework – The Financial Decision In A Marriage”

  • I do the girly chores, like cooking and laundry. Jared does the man chores like toilet stuff, changing light bulbs, finishing off paint, rolling the bins to the curb for trash pick up. I don’t know why we’re so divided on gender when it comes to chores but if it’s seen as girly, I usually do it. If it’s manly, he does it.

    I don’t want to roll dirty garbage to the curb, and he doesn’t know how to fold ladies bras and underwear. Lol, wait actually, one time he was helping me with laundry and I came back…he was holding a pair of underwear out and staring at it with the stupidest face. He’s like “how can anyone fit in this?” LOL!!!! No more laundry for him.

    My dad is staying with us for now so he started picking up after us until things sort of just took control from there. I still do all the laundry but Jared is now chores free thanks to my dad.

    • Hahaha I have a hubby-underwear story to share too. I told Mr. FAF to fold laundry, and he looked so confused and clumsy about the underwear. I was like: “Dude, just fold them like tiny T-shirts.” Apparently, he needed some training and encouragement lol.

  • I must admit, when it comes to house work, I am slow and inefficient and I also don’t enjoy doing it. In my household, we naturally divide up the work that we are good at and capable of doing.

    For me, I am going at handling money, investments and handy work around the house. For my wife she’s good at house chores and taking care of the kids. we try our best to balance the work around the house.

    In my family, I don’t think that the lower earning spouse should be doing more house work just because he/she is not bringing home the bacon. We just specialize in our natural skills and optimize our output so we have more time to do other things in our lives.

    • I think that’s a great way to look at it. Dividing up the housework doesn’t always have to be black and white. I’m glad you and your wife figured out a system that works for both of you. ^.^

  • My fiance does more cleaning than I do since he is currently looking for work, and we each do about an equal amount of cooking (though he’s offered to take that on too since he has the time). When we’re both working, we do about the same amount of house work.

    The way I see it, couples should feel like they are contributing an equal amount of time and effort into a relationship. So, for instance, if only one person has a full time job, the other should take care of chores or kid during the 9-5 (that means outside of working hours, these things are still split). But if both people are working the same number of hours, it makes sense to split the chores, regardless of the income split.

    I don’t think income should dictate who does housework, unless the couple is actively choosing to prioritize the high earning spouse’s career and for which that spouse is putting in more hours. As someone who has always made a lot more than my fiance, I’ve never felt my career was more important than theirs. It just happens that in our society tech pays more than social work. Just because society doesn’t value his time in the form of a reasonable wage doesn’t mean that I don’t value his labor and vice versa.

    • Yes! I agree completely that couples should be contributing a similar amount of effort and time to supporting a family, whatever the breakdown of working inside/outside of the home might be. For me, money has very little to do with it, because working a low-paying job is often as exhausting (and sometimes more so) than working a well-paying job.

      In my most recent relationship, I worked significantly more than my partner, but I still took on more than half of the housework because my partner was lazy. It wasn’t the only reason my relationship ended, but it certainly didn’t help anything.

    • That’s such a great way to look at relationship and income. I’m glad you don’t look at income and divide up the housework based solely on that. Your fiance is a lucky man! 😉

  • We lead very different lives. ?Unless he’s not here, he gets up with JuggerBaby and gets them breakfast. He’s done this nearly every morning of zir life, except maybe ten days.

    I wrote about this last year (http://agaishanlife.com/2016/05/household-equality-labors-of-our-family/) and an update this year isn’t substantially different (http://agaishanlife.com/2017/08/careers-marriage-kid-life-how-do-you-find-parity/) in the division of labor.

    Our income levels have never mattered in the household division – the understanding is we all live here, we all work hard at our jobs no matter how much we make, and so we contribute equally at home. Including the toddler who helps sweep, clear the table, put laundry in the washer and dryer, put medicine on the dog’s injuries, etc. There are lots of things a near 3 year old can do.

    • Also I like to remember what I heard once: society expects and pressures women into being “good” at child rearing and housework and has done for thousands of years. Why are we surprised then that we seem to be better at it? Years of practice would make anyone good at it if they bothered to try.

    • I read both of your posts and was really inspired by how transparent, supportive, and equal you and Mr. PiC are. Your personality really comes through your writing: caring, determined, and hard-working! 🙂

  • House work is the worst haha. Thankfully we have a pretty good system down.

    – I’ll end up mowing the lawn on Saturday’s, or after work on Tuesday’s (when Kristin works late anyway). Outside will be 100% my domain. When it starts to snow, that’ll be my issue to deal with too.
    – We both go grocery shopping on Friday night and get food for the week.
    – On Sunday AM we wake up, have coffee, relax a bit, and then I start meal-prepping all of our lunches.
    – While I’m meal-prepping, Kristin cleans the upstairs bathroom and bedroom. She also starts laundry.
    – After food is in the oven, we tackle the main floor. I take care of floors and the stainless steel. Kristin deals with the counter-tops and getting the couch and everything tidied up.
    – Once food’s cooked, we’re done with cleaning and we can go about our day. We’ll tackle laundry in spurts depending on how much we have to do.

    – I always take care of the dishwasher because I’m better at loading it efficiently, which is a little ironic because Kristin plans how to load freight into 53′ trucks all day.
    – Dinners are either a mutual effort or I take care of them. I am normally on clean-up duty, but sometimes Kristin will do it if she’s feeling ambitious (rarely haha)
    – In the mornings when Kristin’s finishing getting ready, I finish putting our lunches together/get snacks ready, etc. If Kristin comes downstairs before I’m done, she’ll take care of specific things like getting coffee creamer or pulling out string cheese. We both know what she’ll do, so I always tackle those things last just in case so we can be more efficient.

    This division of labor is fine by me. I dislike cleaning and so I get out of the bulk of it. I instead get to tackle cooking, which I love, and the yard work which is nice to get outside. We’ve become a pretty efficient machine so far.

    While I earn about 2x what Kristin does, the income disparity doesn’t really matter to me. When we got married we signed up to be a unit, and that means it’s no longer my money or her money, but our money.

    Likewise, these aren’t my chores or her chores, they are OUR chores, and we’re both fully responsible for getting things done. We’ve got a system that works well to minimize the stuff we hate doing and maximize the things we are good at and/or enjoy.

    • Wow you and Kristin do have a great system! I really like that you look at all the housework and your marriage as teamwork and want to take an equal role in building your relationship and a future together. Thanks for sharing such a detailed plan! 🙂

  • This is a great post 🙂 and I understand how you feel. when I lived with my ex boyfriend we made similar amounts and I did everything (including cooking) and was super resentful. He was the only boy out of 4 children, and his sister even folded his laundry growing up.
    With my husband he makes more than me but he does a lot, like wash the dishes, laundry, cook some of the time, diaper duty. We don’t divide up tasks but whoever has time (or is less tired) or is better at it does it.

    • “He was the only boy out of 4 children, and his sister even folded his laundry growing up.”

      My husband is the only child. When my MIL is here, he does get a lot of attention and care from his mom. It’s great your husband helps out with the housework. He’s a keeper! 🙂

  • Good luck… You should talk about this with the hubby and see if he can help out. Don’t keep it bottled up because you’ll grow resentful.
    I think we split the chores about equally these days. When I was working, I did less.

    • Thanks for the advice, Joe! I do feel resentful sometimes although I probably shouldn’t. I had a chat with the hubby before. He was understanding, but not much has improved. I think we’ll wait until my MIL goes back to China to have another chat. I will definitely need more help with housework then ^.^

  • You should read Revolution at Point Zero. It really changed my view of housework.

    You are supposed to do the housework “because” you are a woman and you “make less money”. True enough that you are a woman and in this case you make less money.

    But, first of all – think about why you make less money. Jobs that women typically do are underpaid and undervalued, specifically because they frequently involve care work (teaching, social work etc) which is not considered economically valuable.

    Why isn’t this work considered economically valuable? Because women are expected to do it for free because they “like it”. If you want money for taking care of kids, you must not love them very much…lol.

    However, consider this: the work that women do at home is what allows men to have the time to spend more time at work, leading to less time off, more raises, work on the weekend without interruption from babies (an example that you specifically mentioned) which is what leads to men being paid more…

    All the labor women do for free is what allows men to do labor that makes more money…what you are doing to take care of the baby while he works on the weekend contributes just as much to the money he’s making as him doing the work…since it would be impossible for him to do if he had to take care of the baby. The difference is, he gets paid for his work (and indirectly, reaps other economic benefits as mentioned before as being seen as a hard worker for being available, plus additional contributions from earnings toward social security) while women do the extra work but instead get economic disadvantages…being seen as less committed to work because they have to take care of children, less available for work (because of housework and children) which leads to a lower wage (and it follows, lower social security contributions and other pitfalls).

    Now…this isn’t to say because men as a whole benefit from this that you have a bad husband lol! That would be a bizarre conclusion. It’s the dynamics of what is seen and not seen as economic work based on gender roles and expectations in (American society and in your case Asian and Asian-American society as well)…even though taking care of the house and children is economic work because it prepares workers to do work (your husband to be ready for each work day without doing all that work himself and raising your child to be a worker, which is a VERY valuable economic service that you are doing for COMPLETELY FREE and at a loss to your own earnings, savings and contributions)

    • Thank you for such a great analysis, Louise! I totally agree with you that all the chores that women do help free up time for men to focus on their work uninterrupted and thus get promoted faster than women.

      It’d be ideal for men and women to be more equal in a relationship. But given the bias that the whole society has towards gender roles in a family, it might take a while before housework is seen as true work and not just something that needs to get done around the house.

  • I think you should talk to Mr. FAF about how you feel. He is probably totally oblivious to it. I can see where you may end up doing some of the housework if he has tight deadlines at work but that can’t be permanent. As far as taking care of baby FAF, you should encourage him to participate more. There is no reason he can’t feed him once and you the other time, same with diaper change. It will help him bond with the little guy and give you a little break. Don’t keep it all inside, we have all been there.

  • For us, we don’t divide up chores by income or gender. Whoever is better at said task gets to do it! My husband actually does more of the housework for several reasons: he has two cats (and their fur gets everywhere), and he also is picky about food (so he does the cooking). I do usually clean up the dishes to help out, though. I do the vacation and money planning, and general organization.

  • Wow, the picture you painted…that’s how I feel about the weekends. I’m not sure if my wife would agree but I feel like I do a little more of the house chores, while she handles more of the childcare. I do the dishes (no dishwasher), we split cooking, I often do the laundry. I think sometimes I prefer to do some of the house chores because I feel like I can get it done faster whereas my wife is particular as to how things are done…that is a source of conflict as well. In any case, I do make more money but I don’t think that should be a deciding factor. Unless your husband has deadlines and things that he needs to do for work, then he should probably help out a little more.

  • It’s interesting how to blend traditional with modern society. I guess I grew up in a unique household where my mom was definitely the one steering the ship, but she did the housework because that’s what she wanted to do (she can’t cook though, and told my dad that when they were dating so he learned to do it).

    In my husband’s family, they’re more traditional in the sense where the men go working and the women take care of the house (and why I’m living with him instead of he living with my parents). But then again, they are more modern in the fact that all the wives of my parents-in-laws generation live closer to their parents than their husbands do to their own families.

    As for the division of labor, I know that my husband wishes that I was more “domesticated” but he is very responsible in his duty to maintain the household, and so he takes care of a lot of the cleaning and cooking (and taking care of our son).

    I can totally relate to how your dynamic with your husband. I am the one who worries, is ambitious/impatient, and tries to keep our life organized; my husband is more lax, MUCH more patient, and tells me to not get so worked up or take things so seriously.

  • I do 90 percent of the cleaning and work full time in our household. My wife cooks and does most of the childcare. Both are equally important and we’re divided based on interest and timing. Every couples different though.

  • Thanks for the good read. I am now married but do not yet have the responsibilities of a child. We have found that paying for someone to clean the house about once a month is a game changer. Feels great when you are working really hard to come home to a clean house, neither of us want to be cleaning on our precious time off at this point in our lives. To each there own but the utility out of that money is money well spent.

    Have you thought about getting some help?

    • Thank you for the suggestion! I have thought about it, but the frugal side of me keeps saying no. >_< When we're better-off financially, I think I'll revisit this question 😀

  • We pretty much split the chores In our household, Mother with Cents does the cooking, makes food for Baby with Cents, gives him a bath and comes up with the ideas with gifts for all the parties we attended. I do the dishes, vacuuming, handling the finances and the driving. We alternate on the laundry and cleaning the bathroom. It’s pretty much on who wants to do the chore(s) more and is better at.
    You should have a pep talk with Mr. FAF and discuss possibly makes some changes on the household work

  • I bring home all the money, pay all the bills, manage all the rental properties and investments, plan all of our travels, do all the housework, make all household decisions, do all home repairs, bring the cars in for all maintenance and repairs, plan any parties, am present for all appointments that my wife or child have, and play with and educate the kid. When she’s a baby, I gave all baths and did all diaper changes, my wife did the feeding coz I was not equipped.

    My wife occasionally cooks. Other than that, she reads, hangs out with friends, takes naps, and goes along on our vacations. 🙂

    How did your in-laws manage to come over from China? What kind of visa did they get? I know if you mention anything about childcare, their application would get rejected.

  • I think the division of labour is a deeply personal thing that is very different from household to household. I have two older brothers who were brought up in an environment where women did all the housework and raising of kids. They lead very traditional lives; they are both married, and their wives do everything at home whilst they go out to work and do men’s jobs.

    I run a cleaning business so for me it’s different. My staff actually cleans my house! But I also have friends that divide things very differently.

  • It is good to read this post. My SO and I have some issues when it comes to household work. We both know that she is more efficient and better at cooking. She cooks, I clean, do dishes (dishwasher lol), laundry etc. We don’t have kids so I’d say that cuts the chores in to half. But even though I make a little bit more than her, I like to contribute to the household by doing chores. I am lazy sometimes but she is too. If some day she doesn’t feel like cooking, I fix up something which I can manage in the kitchen.

  • Household chores / work is a continuous struggle to get right for us. I make lots more money than my husband (i’m on a deskjob and he makes (the most beautifull!!) furniture), so if you look at that, my husband should be the one to do most of the chores. That said, he just started working on his own instead of having a boss, so he makes long hours to find customers etc.
    Normally we will sit down and talk about house work and divide tasks. We then do as we said, until slowly things start to change and we’re no longer happy with how things are. Mostly it’s me who initiates these talks, as it’s mostly me who is unhappy about it….
    At the moment i do all the laundry during the week, we clean the house together on saturday (with lots of grumpiness from hubby), i bring the kids to school 4 times a week and husband once. In the morning once a week i’m gone before everyone is up (so do nothing towards feeding, clothing, packing lunches etc), the other days it’s mostly me who’s responsible for getting the kids out of the house. Husband will cook oatmeal and then leave.
    I’m responsible for every finance/organisation stuff, from doctors and dentist appointments (without me, neither the kids nor my husband would ever go) to deciding whether to pay off some more mortgage to dealing with school stuff and emails. Last summer i got real grumpy about having all this responsibility, and husband said he would deal with all the school stuff. He does in his own way…. For me it’s really hard to let go and see that our kids miss out on some activities because they are not registered, or they wear the wrong clothes for sports day…. But the same way kids can’t learn to ride a bike if you don’t let them fall, i can’t expect my husband to fully own this if i don’t let him make his own mistakes….

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