This husband and wife tossed the traditional “household” roles out the window.
If you’re keen to revisit “traditional” roles of men and women in a household, you only need to tune into the TV Land channel. Re-runs of The Andy Griffith Show, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke will clearly illustrate what used to constitute the “normal” household jobs of men and women.
Oh, How Times Have Changed.
My wife and I were married in 1999 – I was 30 and she was 29. We both grew up in households where the Dad went to work and the Mom stayed at home with the kids. Both sets of parents were married in their early twenties, so each of us had nearly a decade more of single-life under our respective belts by the time we got married. Ten years doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re 29, it is more than a third of your life.
From the day we met to the day we wed was only 359 days, so once we settled into our new married life, the “division of labor” was still very much up for debate.
In many ways, we are a traditional couple:
I build and fix things around the house. I manage all things to do with cars and whenever we go somewhere together I do the majority of the driving.
Conversely, my wife does most of the laundry, manages all of the clothing for our four children and keeps our social calendar.
From this point on, you can basically throw tradition out the window because we do things in our house based on ability and passion – luckily there is plenty to go around. Here are just a few anecdotes that illustrate how responsibilities have shaken out in our “modern family.”
Thumbscrew Washer & Dryer
Just before our wedding, my wife and I closed on our first house. For me it was my second house, so having been through this experience already, I was able to navigate most of the steps for us both. Having lived in apartments all of her adult life, my new bride was very excited to finally have a washer and dryer that didn’t require a roll of quarters.
Our realtor referred us to a guy he knew at a local appliance store, so one afternoon, cash in hand, we headed out to get us some laundry machines.
We entered the store and began having a look around. I quickly realized she had a specific idea of what she wanted, and just as fast, it looked like we were about to go over budget.
We walked up one aisle and down the next looking for a matched set of washer and gas dryer, that had all the features she desired, and a price tag even close to the sum wadded up in my back pocket.
I have been in business most of my career and I consider negotiation both a sport and an art form. Emily had decided which machines she wanted, and before I could come up with a plan to make it happen, she marched right up to a salesman and said the following, “Hey, see that washer and dryer over there? I’d like to buy them with the dryer in gas. I have $700 cash with me, so all-in with taxes I need you to do the deal for $700. What do you say?”
I was shocked, since the tag on the pair was clearly labeled $849.
The salesman rubbed his chin and replied, “Will you need delivery & installation?” She turned to me with a questioning look. Still trying to figure out what the hell was happening I said, “Um no, I can pick them up and install them.”
The salesman then turned back to my wife and said, “$700 cash?” She nodded, they shook hands and that was that.
Against type, the negotiating hard-ass in our house is my wife.
Not So Feminine Foodie
Between the time she graduated from college and married me, my wife attended medical school and then completed a residency in pediatrics. In that same time, I held a number of jobs and lived in as many different places.
Every since I was a kid, I’ve enjoyed cooking, but once I had my own kitchen (or at least, one shared with a roommate.) I really began to develop my cooking skills.
When my wife and I first met, she invited me over for a dinner she was going to cook. It was a noble attempt but a complete disaster. To this day, we still talk about the “pencil eraser shrimp scampi.”
It turns out, my wife gets more pleasure from a clean kitchen than a good meal, so while I was fine-tuning my culinary chops in my twenties, her refrigerator contained nothing more than tubs of hummus and Ziploc bags of baby carrots.
From day one in our marriage I have been the “woman in the kitchen,” and everybody likes it that way.
The Church Of The Porcelain God
Tradition holds that when children fall ill, they really just want their mommy. Furthermore (as I have mentioned) my wife is a pediatrician, so logic would dictate when our kids get to puking, mom is really the best one to come to the rescue.
This would be true except for one thing – my wife has a ‘hair trigger’ gag reflex. In simple terms, this means if my wife smells puke, she has no choice but to double down with her own emesis.
When we are awakened by the late-night, urgent pitter-patter of youthful feet skidding into the bathroom, followed by the tell-tale noises of “chatting with Ralph on the big white phone,” it is I that attends to the sickie. The first time this happened Emily made this irrefutable argument, “I could go, but then you’re going to be cleaning up even more puke.”
Despite my comparative lack of credentials, when vomit is on the menu, they call me Dr. Dad.
In most cases, a division of labor is the most efficient way to get things done, but there are exceptions.
We are far from Downton Abbey, but we have had occasion over the years to have some people working in our home, mostly for childcare and cleaning. My wife is skilled at identifying and vetting such personnel, and once the right person agrees to terms I’m happy to defer to her substantial legwork.
Life isn’t perfect however, and sometimes a once high-performing person begins to… well let’s be kind and just say, “lose consistency.” We are kind and well-meaning people, and along the way we are clear with expectations, but not every situation can be fixed.
Despite my wife’s proclivity for hiring, she has no stomach for the opposite. So when in the course of our household operation someone has to be “let go,” I become the hatchet man. I guess it is a bit like a modern meat eater… they love the taste, but they don’t really want to know how it got to the shiny plastic package in the store.
In the ways of household employment, you can just call us Dr. Goodnews and Mr. Badnews.
After nearly seventeen years of marriage, I can tell you I know just enough to know I really don’t know anything. That said, the best advice I can give any couples just starting out, is to carve up responsibilities along the lines that come naturally. If you don’t you might find yourself sliding across the bathroom floor in a puddle of double puke, and nobody wants that.