You may have seen it play out on TV shows. Dad gets home from work after 6 and is greeted by the aroma of pot roast and a warm kiss from Mom. The house is tidy. The kids play amongst themselves while Dad pours a drink.
Things have changed since that decade and the picture is a little different. Most middle class families are dual income with both parents working. As women have entered the workforce, they have less time to manage household duties. Men have evolved as well, and are more likely to share domestic chores and childcare responsibilities.
This new age of egalitarianism is great! So why are we arguing about who does what? Mom now gets home from work and starts dinner, while the kids try their new karate moves on each other. Dad is sitting a few feet away playing sugar crush on his phone. Mom glares at him wondering why he can’t help. She wishes he would take the initiative to referee the children or help with dinner, but he doesn’t. Is Dad just a jerk?
Because gender roles and correlating duties are no longer narrowly defined, the modern marriage experiences ongoing negotiations about who does what. Let’s say Husband usually gets home from work first and lets the dogs out. One night he gets held up in a meeting and Wife beats him home. She usually goes for a run before dark, so she laces up and heads out. Husband arrives and Fido has chewed through the blinds on the back door wanting to go out. What’s wrong with this wife? Does she not even care about the dogs? Is she lazy and selfish?
These misconceptions crop up in a domestic partnership when there is a lack of communication and collaboration. Your partner isn’t necessarily lazy, unhelpful, negligent or irresponsible. In relationships with shared duties, you may gravitate towards taking ownership of specific tasks because of a particular personality characteristic or skill set you have, such as paying attention to detail. Maybe you are the one to take on more of the tasks where this is important. Typically, one partner or the other ‘pays the bills’, maybe not in the financially supportive sense, but one of you will manage online bill payments. It’s not because the other person doesn’t care about the family finances, but it’s more efficient for one person to manage such a task on their own.
We select tasks to complete and fall into complementary roles to avoid duplication of efforts and promote efficiency. These behaviors become routine and monopolize our attention, sometimes blocking out other tasks that we assume are on our partners’ radar. Mrs. Dog Parent might have just thought her husband got stuck in traffic and was right behind her getting home. He didn’t text, so she figured he would be there shortly to let the dogs out and throw some ball. She could have easily let them out herself, but she just didn’t know.
As meetings occur, kids get sick and “someone” forgets to pay the cable, it’s important to communicate needs and expectations while remembering you’re on the same team.