Monday, November 28, 2011

splitting household (or life?) responsibilities

Okay, here is a recent question for all Readers, from another doctor's wife:

"I would like to ask for some advice from the spouses of Docs or Docs to be on how to handle the house responsibilities. I understand that as Docs they have their hands full most of the time if not all but I still wonder how to divide chores without creating too much pressure or extra pressure/demands. I have been married for 2 years now and I'm concerned that if we don't work something out soon, it will only get worse as he dives into his profession even further. One of my concerns is that we have started talking about starting a family soon and I would be 100% sure if only I knew that he was going to help me out, but when i think of how extremely uncomfortable it feels to even ask him to walk the dogs once in a while it scares me to even think about having kids. Any advice is greatly appreciated."

I hope others can tackle this question better than I can. 

My husband's and my responsibilities are so divided and so dissimilar, it is remarkable, I think.  There is very little overlap or involvement in each others' lives, really, particularly when it comes to household duties. 

However, my husband is extremely on board where the children are involved.  He is always planning a family getaway for a short weekend, or a short afternoon hike or a visit to a park.  He often takes one child at a time to run errands and spend extra time talking one-on-one with each one.  He listens to me talk about the children at night, when I know he needs to be sleeping.  If he happens to be home, he always jumps right in to pick up or drop off children, or stay home while one is sleeping.  He is always available to discuss problems I am having as a parent, or just listen as I talk endlessly about our children's successes and frustrations.  And sometimes he changes a diaper, or two.

And sometimes I notice he has picked up the toys, or loaded the dishwasher, or switched a load of laundry.  And then I love him even more.

Everyone is so different in how they balance their busy lives.  And I don't think that any one way is right, or the best. 

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and exhausted and insist on a day to wear my pj's all day and relax.  Sometimes my lull takes longer, especially if I can't take a whole day to recuperate.  My life is full of many little cycles of activity.  I can tackle many things alone and somewhat balance all of the demands of multiple children and a certified absentee husband, but only for a time.  I can attend book fairs, basketball games, cub scouts, play groups, library story times, church functions, etc. with anywhere from two to four children in tow, grocery shop, prepare meals, do laundry, clean the house, etc., but then I need a break.  A real break. 

Sometimes it is difficult to explain to my husband why I need a break.  He sees my life so differently, I know.  But, I see his life differently than he does also.  There is no way for us to step completely into each others' lives right now.  Sometimes I feel we are in completely different worlds.  But as long as he recognizes that I need a break, and doesn't complain when the sink is overflowing with dishes or the laundry is piled high or I don't feel like being social, then everything moves along smoothly... and we honestly feel and act like a team.


Kirsten said...

Interestingly enough, I've been thinking about this lately. My husband is an MSIII, we've got 2 kids, and have been married for 5 years. Before kids, we split almost all chores equally. After our first child was born, I cut work to pt and assumed a bit more work at home. Each year of med school he has cut back more to now, where our lives are pretty much like yours. I'm fine in general with the arrangement, and expect it to be this way for a while (residency...), but I do sometimes wonder if this is now some precedent I'll never be able to turn away from. Will he remember that he used to actually do chores on a regular basis? Or maybe the kids will be pitching in enough that it won't be an issue... or maybe we'll have a housekeeper...! For now, he's got enough on his plate. I'd rather him spend time with me or the kids than clean.

Wife of a Resident said...

We have a unwritten division of responsibilities that goes something like this: he works at the hospital, I work at home. I don't mess with his work, and he doesn't mess with mine. He takes the trash and recycling to the curb once a week. He mows the lawn/shovels snow. If he is home he does the dishes. Do I mind that he isn't doing more? Sometimes. Like you I can tell when I need a break. That's the hardest thing to get when you live/work in the same building (home). Luckily DrH is pretty tuned in, and can tell when I need to get out and makes sure I do. If he had another profession that allowed him more time at home, this arrangement wouldn't work for me.

Molly and Paul said...

I don't have a doctor for a husband, but mine's an engineer. He works a lot more than the 40 hours a week, A LOT. He loves taking classes that the company offers to give him further training. And, he's getting ready to start his Master's. We also have four children under 4 (had four in 2 1/2 years). I'm at home all the time! I do the cooking, the laundry, the weekly shopping, the cleaning, and the budget. There are some weeks that besides my morning runs, I don't leave the house until church. We started our family with twins while he was in the his last semester of his undergrad. Our marriage would not have survived/been as happy if he hadn't been my partner in crime. I needed him for diaper changes, nightly feedings, spit up clean up, and a shoulder to cry on. Our home duties are pretty separate. He takes out the garbage, does the yardwork, and manages car stuff. He's my heavy-lifter. But when it comes to the kids. He's there to give baths, hold fussy babies, and wake up with toddlers so I can nurse an infant. He's fantastic. I think that husbands usually step up when they're needed. A lot of times women who are very independent forget that they need to ask for help sometime. We can't do everything. Men can sometimes see that we need a break. For me, I have to ask for it. It's hard sometimes to say, "Dear, I'm falling apart. I know you see everything as being okay because the floor is vacuumed and dinner was ready when you got home. But, I'm drowning. I need to not be MOM for a little while."

Jeff and ReAnn said...

I love this post. I think about this often as a dr's wife and coming from a home where I was raised with a single mother. I battle myself often between wanting things to be 50/50 because it never was with my mother and being myself which is totally independent like my mother. The more kids we have the more drH helps because he has to (we have 4 5 and under). If I am cleaning up a mess from one child and another needs help then he either has to listen to the screaming (from me or the kids) or help out.

We divide our responsibilities based on our own strengths and weakness I guess. I do the house work (cleaning, cooking, shopping, laundry) because DrH has no idea what he is doing. He "brings home the bacon" and does the finances (mostly because he is the big spender in our family). He does half the yard work and the car stuff. We do the "HIPs (home improvement projects) together and I love that.

I mostly just need to stop nagging so much. I am so prone to complaining about how much I do and how my days are way longer than 12 or 14 hours. But 50 even just 30 years ago women did all the kids and household stuff. Now days women are pushing to have things equal.

I say just talk things out and do what works for you as a couple. (ha! isn't that easier said than done). And breaks are all fine and dandy and yes I do get them from time to time, but it's never long enough. And usually things are worse when I come home and back to my responsibilities. The kids are hopped up on sugar, the house is trashed, and no one is even close to being ready for bed, sometimes as late as 10pm. But I guess it does make me feel like I am doing my job well. Even if I am not sane at the end of the day. :)

Jamie Lamb said...

Interesting topic! We are just finishing up our last year of residency, we have four kids ages 8, 6, 3, 0, and we've been married 10 years.

My husband takes out the trash, mows the grass, and shovels the driveway. The kids and I usually do everything else.

I'm very happy with this arrangement--I like feeling ownership of my little house and family. I don't do a perfect job, but I don't stress about it too much.

When we were first married, he did a lot more. I wasn't used to taking care of a household yet, and he had waaaay more time (of course!) He also helped out quite a bit with our first two babies (born during med school.)

Once we started the crazy-demanding schedule of residency though, I felt like I had three options:

1. wait till after residency to have more kids (hated that idea!)

2. pine away for my husband, and wish he was home/awake more to help out (no thanks...)

3. go ahead and have more babies, and simply accept that I was mostly on my own.

I wasn't about to leave a 7+ year gap between child 3 and 4, I refuse to be miserable, and so all that was left was to chin up and DO IT! So I did, and I am so happy I did. I paced the floors with my newborns alone every night, and just told myself it wouldn't last forever, and I could do it.

But you know, I feel fine asking him to help around the house. When he's home and rested, I put him to work. :) Every family is different, just talk it all through respectfully, and thoughtfully. He really is going to be tired and overworked...don't expect too much of him, just chin up and do it. :)