The Division of Labor

Often times when I'm around other women, there is a lot of complaining about how their partners "don't do" certain things.  Clean up after dinner, cook, give baths, do bedtime, school pickups, sweep floors, fold laundry, the list goes on and on.  It's hard for me to commiserate with them because that's not how our household operates.  Sure, there are certain things that I don't do (lawn care) and that he typically doesn't (bathrooms), but that's not to say either of us wouldn't do those things. If I asked him he'd do it because that's how we work.

It's hard to say when exactly we started running our household the way we do.  I think that part of it is because I worked odd hours in retail management, and my hours were usually longer than Mark's.  He had to help out or things wouldn't get done.  If my kids waited around for me to give them baths, they'd be pretty smelly.  The other part is that we both grew up in a household with a more typical division of labor, when most the household stuff fell to our Moms, and I at least knew I didn't want to live with resentment I saw our mothers had.

There were also things that I didn't enjoy doing that were typical "wifely" duties. There was a long time that our friends and family thought that I couldn't cook because I never did.  The truth is Mark enjoys cooking much more than I do, so I let him take the wheel there.  It's not that I can't, it's that I'd rather not.  And why deprive him of what he enjoys? As the years have gone on, things have had a sort of ebb and flow to them, I recently have been doing more of the cooking, but maybe in a month, six months, a year that will change.

I feel that it's important for our kids to see that both of us take an equal part in the things that are needed around the house.  I want to raise the boys especially to be productive members of society.  You won't find me doing their laundry through their college years.  I am not going to perpetuate the stigma that men can't or won't do these things.  The same goes for our girls, they won't be depending on a man to unclog a toilet or fix their flat tires.  Eventually, I'd like to see each them able to live on their own and function as adults with minimal help from us.

This division of labor hasn't changed as much as I thought it would since I have become a stay at home mom three years ago.  I know that at least I was envisioning that I was going to be doing more of the house chores since I was now home all day.  The reality is that we still take a pretty equal part.  I've come to find out that somehow my days are eaten up and I often feel pulled in a million different directions.  When I look back on our week there are times I can't figure out what the heck we did all week.  Maybe that's life with four kids?  Maybe I need to be better at managing my time? I'm not sure.

One of the things that I love about our relationship is that even if I don't get all the typical duties done during the day when I'm home Mark never questions it.  He doesn't walk through the door and ask "what I did all day".   Possibly that is because he was on his own with the kids a fair amount of times when I was working weekends. Whatever it is, it works for us.

In Defense of the Early Bedtime

Every day, I can’t wait for my kids to go to bed.  I’m sure that most parents would sympathize with this, it’s not that I don’t love my children, but they require me to be “on” all day long.  Toddler’s and Preschooler’s don’t typically accept “phoning it in”. By about 5 pm, I’ve answered all the questions I can muster and I just need a minute to myself so that I can think about something other than where the “cool car” is, which transformer is the strongest, where the poop goes when you flush the toilet….. and and and….. There are days when I am counting down until they are in bed.

Our kids go to bed early by most peoples standards.   All of our Tiny Humans are in bed, lights out, between 7 pm and 8 pm.  Weekends, school nights, summer breaks, it doesn’t matter.  Bedtime is pretty strictly enforced.  Frankly, we’ve caught some flack for this, but it works for our family.

It’s not something that we set out to do, honestly, when Zoe was little she fell into her own schedule and it happened to be that she was ready for bed by about 8 pm.  Part of this was because she wasn’t a napper past a year old, she was just exhausted by that time.  She played hard all day and was so busy she was ready.  As it turned out, we came to really enjoy that time together after she went to bed.

Despite Mark’s early work schedule, he was still (and still is to some extent) a night owl, and I worked retail hours so I was up late anyway. We found this was a great time for us to hang out, watch a show, talk about our days, and connect with fewer distractions (read here about ways we stay connected).  It was nice to have that time together, just the two of us.

It seems that all our kids have gotten the Early Riser Gene ™ from Mark.  When they’re up before the sun they tend to be ready for bed pretty early.  By about 7 pm they’re starting to meltdown.  Keeping them up later leads to them being overtired and then they don’t sleep well.  Thus, tired the next day, which shows in their behavior.  It’s a pretty vicious cycle.   So, we have to anticipate their needs, because as kids, they can’t always tell us what their bodies are telling them, and enforce that early bedtime.  I know how I feel when I’m totally exhausted, imagine how that feels when you are young and can’t identify the feelings. I personally enjoy being around well-rested kids, as opposed to overtired heathens.

As we’ve had more kids, that early bedtime is even more important to us and to our relationship.  During the day even if we are both at home, the kids want our attention.  And honestly, we want to give it to them.  When we are all together, no work, no school, we try to make that time family time.  I’ve come to realize that it’s important because soon enough, they’re not going to want to hang out with us.  I want to squeeze out every bit of this time that we can.

But that time ends promptly at 7:30 pm.  Because I want to have that glass of wine without someone asking me what it tastes like, and we’re going to watch a movie that’s not animated and has swears.

UPDATE:  As I was writing this blog post, Zoe came downstairs and asked if we would consider a later bedtime for her.  She is almost eleven and in 5th grade, she is currently in bed by 8 pm, which is the same time as her sister who is two. We asked what she proposed, she said 9:30 pm.  After encountering my raised eyebrow, she walked that back,  and we compromised with 8:30 pm and we would start trying that on the weekends before trying on school nights.  We also decided that we still didn’t want to see her smiling face after 8 pm, so she had to be upstairs working on something quiet.  She said, “I know, Mom.  After we go to bed you drink wine and watch your favorite shows.” So true, Zoe. So true.