May 8, 2015

The Mom Jobs

I was 23. Sam, my fiancé at the time, and I were visiting my parents. By the door were a pair of men’s dress shoes: faded, worn out. Duct tape may have been involved in holding them together.

My mom pointed to the shoes and asked me, “Why haven’t you done anything about this?”

I didn’t understand the question. The shoes were obviously not mine.

“If you’re going to be his wife, you have to buy him new shoes. Can you imagine what your dad would be wearing if it weren't for me?” 

My parents had distinct jobs. My dad worked outside the home, managed our finances, mowed the lawn, and planned every family vacation. My mom cleaned the house, cooked, did all the shopping, and dressed each of us – even my dad.

I grew up watching my mom do the Mom Jobs, and I didn’t want them. I figured that if I played my cards right, I could have a husband who changed diapers and a maid service. What I didn’t know is exactly how many jobs there are. I could outsource a few of them (Gutter cleaning? Outsource!), but there are still myriad tasks that need to get done every day, every week, every year. Not only do we have to change furnace filters and buy gifts for teachers and make dentist appointments, one of us has to care enough to remember when it’s time to do those things.

I made a list of some of common household jobs and sorted them into Mom Jobs, Dad Jobs, and Neither. Anything that’s shared equally goes on the line between Mom and Dad.

Here’s the family I grew up in. Most jobs are either Mom’s or Dad’s:

And here’s the family in which I’m Mom. The center is a lot more crowded:

If you want to try this activity at home, here’s the link

A few things to keep in mind:

It’s not about keeping score.

Resist the urge to count and compare. First of all, the cards aren’t properly weighted (anyone who’s cleaned a house knows it isn’t a singular task) and secondly, this isn’t a game for one person to win or lose. If you’re both happy and your system works, the team wins. An imbalance is only a problem if it feels like one.

Ask the right questions.

Why do we do it this way? Is it still working for us?

When Sam and I moved in together, we divvied up some household chores. I liked shopping for groceries and managing our budget. He didn’t hate washing dishes as much as I did. 16 years later, we still own those tasks, and we rock them. I load the dishwasher sometimes, but never as efficiently as he does. He picks up groceries once in a while, but minus my strategic couponing and app usage.

With others, we can’t remember how we fell into these patterns. When did Sam start doing all the laundry for our family? Why? Are we OK with this?

Gender isn’t the important part.

Mother’s Day cards, commercials, and Internet posts tend to celebrate one type of mother: the one who does the Mom Jobs. Moms cook, clean, and nurture. You seldom see cards celebrating the moms who fix the lawnmower or make million-dollar business decisions. And what about single parents, same-sex parents, grandparents raising kids? Someone has to do the Mom Jobs, and it’s not always a woman.

I’ve grappled with the question, “Am I a good mom?” because I’m bad at a lot of the Mom Jobs. I’m not a natural-born nurturer. I’m terrible at arts and crafts. My work schedule makes it hard to volunteer at school or befriend the other moms. In terms of family roles, I resemble my dad more than my mom.

Sam gives the warmest hugs and helps the kids get dressed every morning. He's the one they run to if they're hurt, and I'm the one they ask for an extra cookie.

But most of the parenting jobs, and especially the most important ones: Being there for our kids, caring for their basic needs, teaching them to be good people – we do those together.

And he buys his own shoes.

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