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Housework and the Stay-at-Home-Parent

Housework & the Stay-at-Home Parent

By Amalah

Amy –

At 16 all of my friends lovingly called me ‘mommy’. My purse held toys, snacks, bandaids, etc. and was known as my diaper bag. All I’ve ever wanted out of life was to be a mother. Fast forward, of course the only one of my friends that desperately wanted kids as soon as possible would be the one to have fertility problems. After 5 years, countless buckets of tears, and lot of fertility meds, I am finally pregnant!

We are over the moon excited.

Here’s the rub: I’m also the breadwinner. After lots of number crunching we have decided that my husband will quit his job at the end of my maternity leave and will be a SAHD. He’s really looking forward to being a father and getting to spend so much time with our baby, but I also know that he’s just really eager to leave his job as it makes him so unhappy.

We’ve talked some about the change in responsibilities. As it stands now I’m in charge of all house cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, money management, and general house repairs. (I’m an engineer, I LOVE fixing up things around the house.) Hubby is in charge of yard work, the pets, and getting dinner on the table. We’ve already said that he will take over grocery shopping, all meal preparations , and for the most part being the main middle-of-the-night caretaker.

My parents come from VERY (my mother was raised Amish) conservative backgrounds, where the women did everything and wouldn’t even think of asking dad to put in a load of laundry or run a vacuum. When my mother heard of our plan her response was that ‘Well if he’s going to stay home then make sure that he is in charge of the housework too.’ I guess it’s easier for her to be okay with it if our roles just become completely reversed. But I don’t know if that’s reasonable. Not to mention I feel incredibly guilty that I can’t be the parent to stay home.

All that being said, my question for you is, what should I really expect/ask for from my husband when he becomes a stay at home parent. I do not think that he should be in charge of everything. If the roles were reversed I’d hate for my husband to expect a sparkling house and dinner on the table by 5 while I also cared for our baby all day. But it would be nice for him to pick up some of the house work. Even if it was just to do the dishes and keep the floors swept every few days. What is asking too much? What is still putting too much on my plate? What is an even distribution when one parent works out of the home and the other works with your kid at home?

Sincerely,

June Cleaver vs. Rosie the Riveter

Oooohh! Ooh ooh ooh! I love this question. And I love you for asking this question. Hell, the fact that you are even aware that this question is something worth talking and thinking about ahead of time tells me that you guys are going to handle this transition just fine, even without a set-in-stone master chore chart or something.

Because YES: A lot of couples don’t really sit down and hash out the changes in roles and responsibilities that come with one parent taking on the stay-at-home role and one parent becoming the sole breadwinner. And then BLAMMO. Unspoken role expectations meet cold, hard reality.

The stay-at-home parent feels devalued and under-appreciated because the work-outside-the-home parent expects them to shoulder everything home/child/pet related…and still seems to think they spend their days lounging around in PJs, eating bon-bons and taking plenty of naps to balance out the late, long nights with a non-sleeping baby. The work-outside-the-home parent wasn’t prepared for the pressure and anxiety that comes from being the sole source of their family’s financial security and feels resentful over the fact that they’re both “missing” huge chunks of their baby’s day but also not given a chance to decompress at the end of a long, crappy workday. Then the stay-at-home parent is like, “YOU NEED TO TAKE CARE OF HIM WHILE I MAKE DINNER OH GOD I MISS OTHER HUMAN BEINGS,” while the other parent is like “WHY IS THIS HOUSE SUCH A DISASTER IT’S STRESSING ME OUT OH GOD WHAT IF I GET LAID OFF.”

And then you add in a little extended sleep deprivation and it’s a short hop, skip and a jump into a big, ugly fight about how SOMEONE’S mother stayed home and did it all (with no fancy appliances or car or cable TV! uphill in the show! both ways!) and was happy about it, while SOMEONE ELSE’S mother worked and feminism gender roles loss of career identity blah blah dysfunctioncakes.

But good news! Like I said, y’all are going to avoid all of that crap, simply because you are aware and thinking and — TA-DAAA — communicating with each other about it.

For the record, no, I don’t think your mother is right about this one at all. You have it right, even if you haven’t yet worked it out to every last detail. (Which you don’t necessarily have to do, just yet, though my spidey-sense tells me that you are A Planner and will probably do it anyway. )

You guys are — and will remain— equal partners. Equal partners in marriage and parenthood. The WOH parent does not get to be the boss and taskmaster simply because they bring home the paycheck with the numbers on it, and the SAH parent doesn’t get demoted to voiceless worker bee just because our messed-up cultural priorities don’t assign a high dollar value to the tasks of childcare and household management. You guys have crunched the numbers. You know how much daycare, nannies and housecleaning services cost. Now add in what a back-up daycare/nanny would cost (because sick days, holidays, etc.), plus a personal chef (for dinner every night) AND a full-time personal assistant (to run errands, make appointments, phone calls, pay bills, walk the dog, take the dog to the vet and the car to the mechanic, etc.). And then remember that all those job titles and responsibilities are spread across AT LEAST four or five different freaking people. Egads.

Every household has its own division of responsibility that works for them. Who does the grocery shopping and who mows the lawn and bill paying/appointment making/stay-home-while-waiting-for-the-plumber-ing. It sounds like you guys have a good division now, and your sense of what YOU would feel comfortable with if your roles were reversed will help you navigate the coming changes.

I think it would be quite reasonable to assume that your husband can keep the breakfast and lunch dishes from piling up, and run some laundry and a vacuum around the floor a couple times a week. It would be unreasonable for you to absolve yourself from ever having to do any of those tasks again, or to get pissed off at him for not doing them one day because he took the baby on a social/fun outing, or because he/she refused to nap or was sick. (Not that I suspect you would, but still.) Likewise, it would be unreasonable of HIM to treat the SAH gig as some kind of responsibility-free sabbatical/vacation where you pay the bills while he putzes around on the Internet all day while your kid hangs out in an exersaucer.  (Not that I suspect he would, but still.)

Equal partners, equal contributors. Make that the foundation of your marriage and household and it won’t matter so much when the specifics of your contributions shift. Talk about it, listen to each other, and figure it out together. (And adjust/evolve as you go! Planning to plan means sometimes you end up changing the plan!) Let go of your guilt and the feeling that you need to morph into some do-it-all SuperMom to make up for working, because pfftt that. One day your child might come to you with his/her own post-maternity-leave plan and BY GOD, you’re gonna be able to give him/her way better advice than what your mom gave you, because PROGRESS.

(And oh yes, since I neglected to put this in the first paragraph: CONGRATULATIONS! YAY FOR LONG-AWAITED MUCH-WANTED BABIES!)

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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trish
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trish

I’m a primary breadwinner mom and my husband is a SAHD. He does work part time some evenings and weekends, so our situation is a little different.  Yes, talk about how much housework he can take on, but also know that this needs to be an on-going conversation. Realistically, very little housework is going to get done in the first few months.  There will still be dishes and laundry to be done when you get home. I do a large chunk of the days dishes and keep the laundry going (it literally never stops).  Above all. Don’t forget or take… Read more »

Olivia
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Olivia

Saying thank you is such a good thing. We say thanks for cooking dinner, washing dishes and taking out out the trash. And sometimes just a big, “Thanks for taking care of everything.” Goes a long way to keep each other from feeling unappreciated.

Kerry
Guest
Kerry

I was also that person in high school who knew she wanted babies and domesticity and everything comes with it…and now here I am working full time with a husband that stays home with our one year old (and three months pregnant). I think you’ll really love being a breadwinner. Most mothers do have to work, and compared to work AND figure out childcare, it’s such a luxury to just leave the house in the morning and know your baby will be perfectly fine with Daddy. You also sound like a very proficient and accomplished person, and in some ways… Read more »

Michelle B
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Michelle B

My husband works full-time and I work part-time while also staying at home with our daughter. The BEST thing we did was hire a cleaning service to come in once every other week for a deep cleaning. The best thing we’ve done for our family and our marriage, seriously. I’m able to keep up on the dishes from piling up during the day, prepare dinner, and keep things tidy. The time we used to spend cleaning (and bickering about cleaning) we now spend as a family on the weekends. I also found that I didn’t mind preparing dinner and cleaning… Read more »

JCF
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JCF

I’m a SAHM, and my husband works full-time (and then some).  We have three kids who are now 6, 4, and 3.  Our division of labor around the house has definitely changed over the years as the kids have grown, and I think it is really important to be open to continued discussions about what is/isn’t working at any given time (which it sounds like you’ll be good at, since you’re already having the discussion now).   Our division happens to be very traditional–not because we think it has to be that way, but because it happens to be how… Read more »

JenVegas
Guest
JenVegas

100% Agreement with what JCF says about having an open and continued discussion about all of this.
You don’t really know what you’re getting into until you actually get into it with parenthood. So you can have all the plans in the world with the best intentions but find yourself struggling. So DEFINITELY make this division of labor something that is revisited every once in a while. Just to check in with each other and make sure it’s still working for BOTH of you and the baby. Cause sometimes vacuuming isn’t always as easy as it sounds. And YAY Congrats!

Kay
Guest
Kay

I’d like to echo the advice you’ve already gotten and add my experience. I think the most dangerous thing you can do, besides not communicating at all, is be inflexible in whatever plan you agree on. Be open to changing it and accept that it might just not work. I am also the breadwinner and I was frustrated beyond belief at my partner’s inability to deal with night wakings. It very much turned into feelings of “I’m working full-time AND up all night with the baby, rawrr!”. But eventually I had to stop “keeping score” of who was doing what… Read more »

Sarah
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Sarah

Beyond the practical details of working this out, I’d like to comment on a much smaller detail here: to the LW about her mother…..way to go for your MOM that she isn’t shaming/blaming you about not being the one to stay home and that she is open to your husband not only being the one to stay home but also thinks he can handle the housework.  She may have uber-traditional views on in-home/out-of-home work, but I think this shows a flexibility in mind and opinion that is a great start…..and signs of an awesome grandma.

kerry
Guest
kerry

I want to second this too. Yay for your mom!

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

My husband stayed home with our first for about two years while he was in grad school and now I’ve been home for 18 months with our second. We had a fair division of labor before having kids with both of us cooking, washing dishes and doing yard work; and other chores were done according to aptitude and interest. I don’t mind laundry and vacuuming and he has a thing about scrubbing the toilet, for instance. All of that has remained fairly constant since having kids. The kid stuff is just extra for both of us, and whomever is staying… Read more »

Anna
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Anna

Same boat! But our baby is one, so here’s my advice a year out. Amy is totally right, nobody gets to assign jobs and you have to sit down together. The working parent needs to understand that the exchange is daycare for the workday. You don’t pay a daycare to do the dishes. That’s a whole different division of labor.  Honestly, for the first few months, accept that nothing gets done. Whatever arrangement you make will take months to settle. Be okay with it. Embrace it, it wont last forever. By 4 months you’re over the homebody, dirty house thing. … Read more »

DebC
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DebC

This actually happened to us unexpectedly. Because our son was born at 30 weeks gestation our Drs recommended not putting him in daycare for the first year. We quickly crunched the numbers and figured out that not only was it most financially appropriate, it also fit our personalities best for my husband to take on the childcare and me to go back to work after my (generous) maternity leave. It has all been wonderful and difficult. As with anything, huge benefits and sacrifices for all involved. I think that my biggest take-away has been to adjust my definitions and keep… Read more »

Jenny
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Jenny

A couple of practical things: 1. Be prepared for your husband not to do some housework like you would do it or even how you would like it done.  You may have to pick some battles on what is going to be important. 2. I’m not married, but I know that one of the (small) battles that my parents had over this type of thing is that my Dad just didn’t see things that needed to be done.  Part of that could be because he wasn’t the primary caregiver, but part of that was simply because was a man 😉… Read more »

Holly
Guest

Second this SO MUCH. My hubby has no problem if I leave him a list at any time – because he literally will not see what I think are glaring things that need to be done. He’ll walk around a pile of laundry directly in his way for DAYS if not told to please bring it down and put it in the wash. And be specific if you do want him to do something in a certain timeframe – saying “could you clean the bathroom this week please?” will likely translate in his mind to “Sunday at halftime in seven… Read more »

Kerry
Guest
Kerry

This extends to childcare too. One of the most glaring differences I noticed early on with the stay-at-home dad thing is that our daughter just needs about half as many outfits as any other little girl I know, because playing dress-up just doesn’t make his priority list. Pajamas all day, every day! Another big difference for me was realizing that my husband was not my nanny…he was going to get to make his own decisions about her meal times, how they spend the day, etc. It was a lot to let go of for someone who likes being in charge,… Read more »

Holly
Guest

I’m surprised this hasn’t come up yet in the comments, so here’s my two cents: Drop your standards for when/how often chores will get done to about 10 percent of what they are. and then drop them even lower – and be OK with that. I’ve been both a breadwinner and a SAHM in the 2.5 years at different times since my first came along (my second is now about 4 months). And regardless of which role I was in, particularly during the week, my husband and I could each manage ONE chore on weekdays other than feeding/tub/bedtime for our… Read more »

Autumn
Guest
Autumn

Standards are lower, and that’s a good thing.  I wasn’t super uptight about everything being perfect before our daughter was born (she’s 2) and things definitely slid a bit.   I work 3 days a week, and I’m home with her 2 days.  I consider a good day is the dishwasher is unloaded and reloaded with the dirties that occur, she and I are fed, and I have something started for dinner (at least defrosting . . .) and a load of laundry done.  Folding, not so much.  Introducing Laundry chair, the place where all the clean clothes get piled… Read more »

Autumn
Guest
Autumn

And another thing:  On the SAHP will deal with all night wakings.  Communicate!  I felt so bad for one of my friend’s martyr like attitude of “he works so I must get up” with a 12 month old who never slept through the night.  She got up 2-3 times a night for over a year cause she felt she wasn’t working so it was her “duty”  She was a wreck.  You might benefit from giving your husband a “night off” just so he is well rested, depending on how your baby sleeps.   Congratulations!  Your planning and communicating will help… Read more »

-k-
Guest
-k-

I work from home part time and my husband works outside of the house full time. Cosleeping and breastfeeding have made it practical for me to take on night wakings. I do them all, and he is on breakfast duty. He cooked breakfast pretty much every day for most of our daughter’s first year of life; these days we usually flip flop on weekends so that I do breakfast and he does lunch/dinner. But especially when there were/are sleep hiccups it is such a relief to not have to deal with a baby on the hip and moving eggs around… Read more »

Melanie
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Melanie

I agree that communication is the key and knowing that things may change even daily. I’m a SAHM who had a great professional job before so I have a complex about making up for my lost income (much more than to be brushed off by the cost of child care). I think of housework and all things child related between 8 and 6 as my job. I guess my goal is to make it so that evenings and weekends can be family quality time. I cook dinners and do clean up while DH has quality time with the LO during… Read more »

Julie Beth
Guest

Congratulations, and you’re obviously going to be awesome. This is a totally assvicey, but I’d like to second the idea of bed-sharing – especially if you’re breastfeeding – even for a little while. It’s worth a think over, because if you feel you’ve missed a lot of time with Wee Baby during the day, that bonding at night can mean a lot for both of you PLUS you will all wake up less harshly when all you have to do is barely open your eyes to stick a boob in. And sleep saves everyone’s sanity. Good luck!

Meera
Guest
Meera

The differing standards for quality and frequency can be an issue where prior and ongoing communication is really helpful. What helped us as to sit down and agree on how often things needed to be done and what was included. It sounds nit-picky, but it can be surprising how different interpretations of “clean” can be! And then revisiting them as you go depending on resources. While housework goes up, leisure and entertainment expenses generally go down, so maybe getting a cleaner might be in the budget after all.

JR
Guest
JR

I’ve gone from working full time to part time to currently SAHM. One thing we argued over was what time my husband would get home.  It varied greatly and I was always mad when dinner was burnt while waiting for him.  Now he texts me when he leaves so I have a better time frame to start dinner.  I like to do meal prep during nap time so dinner is easier.  It is amazing how much longer things take when you may or may not be interrupted to take care of children. Another challenge is that I need to make… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

The variable arrival home messing with dinner is one of my major pet peeves as well. I would always call in the later afternoon and ask when he was leaving work but after a few dinners got ruined because he’d decided to stay later without telling me I went the other way and started waiting for him to get home before starting dinner. It only took about a week of not eating dinner until 8 pm before he got pretty good about letting me know what his ETD/ETA was and sticking with it. Another thing that helps with this is… Read more »

Kim
Guest
Kim

This may be something you determine later.  I am the SAHP.  However, I do not handle sleep deprivation well at all – I go psychotic pretty quickly.  My husband, on the other hand, has sleep apnea and has dealt with sleep deprivation all his life, so he could cope.  He always took at least one night waking (pumped milk.)

Kim
Guest
Kim

Here’s the other thing that surprises people: how dirty the house gets when there are people in it all day every day.  BC, I’d clean the kitchen at night, and there’d be a cereal bowl in it when I came home.  Now – I use that kitchen 2-3 times a day, and in between I’m carting kids around, packing snacks, etc., etc.  People talk about the increased laundry, but the mess is not all due to the fact the SAHP is busy or tired or lazy.  The house is being used, period. (We got cleaners.  I love having cleaners.  I… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

Am I the only SAHP who isn’t solely responsible for grocery shopping? Surely we can’t be the only people who think grocery shopping with kids is a PITA and to be avoided at all costs. So, my husband does all of the quick trips during the week on his way home from work and I do a bigger trip on the weekend if necessary. 

Autumn
Guest
Autumn

I only have one daughter (she’s 2) and she loves to go grocery shopping with me.  She gets mad when we go home without going to the store, even if just going home from day care (I work 2-3 days a week).  Now if I had more children, I might change my mind, but now it’s a big exciting thing in our day.  

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

I’m the SAHP and I do the grocery shopping alone. I drop the kids off late Friday afternoon at husband’s work (he’s a high school teacher) and I go shopping. It’s a nice little break at the end of the week for me.

Jill
Guest
Jill

I agree that this is one of those things that will evolve over time.  In the beginning with a newborn nothing will get done (and later on you will wonder why because how hard is one baby?).  I am a SAHM to 4 kids 4 and under.  I have gone through periods of my house being complete chaos and times of having a pristine house just because I liked it that way and had a kid (or two kids) at ages when I could.  I nurse and have typically dealt with all the night wakings (my husband is military and… Read more »

Maree
Guest
Maree

lots of the above is great so I won’t repeat it. Just wanted to say as a SAHM is that I look on cleaning, meal prep, shopping and kids as my ‘job’ at the moment. This however doesn’t make me a servant! This means that I don’t do things others should do for themselves (think picking up after yourself, rinsing your dish, making your own bed etc). The level that others should do for themselves varies with their age and ability. Also since all these things are a ‘job’ I do get to call in sick occasionally, take a day… Read more »

Wade
Guest
Wade

One suggestion on night wakings with a tiny baby — we found that if I got up, the baby was always hungry.  But if he got the baby, then sometimes she’d just go back to sleep:  “Food?  No?  Then I’m tired.”  Once we got her mostly sleeping through the night, night wakings were my problem, since she woke up, nursed, then went back to sleep and there was really nothing for him to do.  Then when we night weaned, it was back to Dad’s turn.  So figure again it is something that may change!  

Suzy Q
Guest
Suzy Q

No advice  from me. Just sincere congratulations on your pregnancy. I wish you all the best!

Danielle
Guest
Danielle

I have to agree with the other commenter who said to drop your housekeeping standards by 90+ percent. There are just so many things that need your time. I’m not saying to let the house become a health hazard, but as long as you’re keeping up with the sticky/germy messes you might have to let some of the other stuff (are there really parents who vacuum twice a week??) go. Also, one other thing about those night wakings. If you’re working full time and breastfeeding, your baby might start reverse-cycle feeding, which I discovered was a thing when I went… Read more »

Hermia
Guest
Hermia

I work and my husband stays home, and I do/have done all of the night wakings. Partly b/c for the first year we were nursing anyway, and partly b/c it just worked out that way. When we needed to do some heavy-duty night weaning (and b/c I was at the absolute end of my rope), my husband took over nights for a few weeks and got her sleeping again. We’re about to do that again for a final push.  Housework has been a constantly-shifting arrangement. My husband works part time in the evenings, so he doesn’t have a ton more… Read more »

Jillian
Guest

1. Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 2. One thing I didn’t see above: If at all possible (If you have paid maternity leave), have your husband “start” as soon as the baby is born. I’m the wage earner in our family and the three months we had together as a family both times I had a kid are among the sweetest time of my life. If you can possible do that for yourselves, do. 3. We found that, very quickly, the kid gets a vote on division of labor. Whenever I am home, I’m on point for caring for our boys. They miss me… Read more »