I have a new post on Motherlode ("Learning to Walk in Another's Flip-Flops"), the parenting blog of the New York Times. It was prompted by reading a recent article in TIME ("Chore Wars"), in which Ruth Davis Konigsburg reported that men and women work more or less equal hours if you add together their time working at home and their time working in the office. What it didn't address was the fact that women on the whole work much more at home than at the office. To me, one type of work is not like the other. And here's what I wrote in response:
My husband is a teacher at a boarding school, so every summer brings with it another experiment in sharing our household responsibilities. During the school year, we've agreed that I (and our baby sitter) will handle the bulk of the child care, cleaning, cooking, shopping, home maintenance and correspondence. Peter's role as teacher, coach and housemaster to a dorm with 30 high school boys often translates into 80-hour work weeks, so his household duties are clearly defined: spend as much time with the children as possible, clean out the kitty litter, take out the trash. But from the middle of June until the middle of August, we adjust. I write a little more, we pay for a little less child care, and he spends a lot more time working the second shift.
I used to imagine that these summer months would hold hours of uninterrupted writing time along with additional leisure. Maybe I would read poetry. Maybe I would compose elegant letters to friends. Maybe I would play tennis or go for long walks. What I didn't imagine was that sharing the responsibilities of the household would feel uncomfortable for both of us, that it would prompt bigger arguments than we'd ever had before, that the tension between us would sometimes feel like the humidity outside the front door: so omnipresent we could almost touch it all day long and yet somehow elusive enough that we rarely knew how to talk about it.