Inevitably, it happens a few times throughout the year, always when we're exhausted, feeling overworked and as if everyone wants a piece of us. It's our recurring major fight (most couples have one). It's the fight over who does more housework and who is slacking off. It is motivated when, yet again, I've had it with being responsible for what is in my mind the majority of childcare and household chores. I am a stay-at-home mom who works full time during the academic year overseeing a dorm of 154 female college students. My husband is a philosophy professor. When school starts, we both have very full schedules. So when I am bound and determined to renegotiate our responsibilities, to set things straight, I am ashamed to say, I'm usually the one guilty of firing off the first volleys.
During the course of those volleys, I spout off anecdotal evidence from other working women who complain they do the lion's share of the housework and child rearing. I even cite studies that seem to legitimize those complaints. I point out that men appear to get a pass on housework. And so my diatribe proceeds.
Sharing household responsibilities is no trivial issue. The stakes here are high. Indeed, a British study suggests that divorce is twice as likely when husbands neglect helping out around the house. Marriages are on the line. Consequently, it is urgent that men start pulling their own weight around the house.
But maybe they are, if we are to believe the results of the latest study featured in Time magazine's cover article entitled: "Chore Wars" by Ruth Davis Konigsberg. The article depletes my arsenal of arguments by highlighting a significant study suggesting that the workload has evened out for men and women; more men are contributing their share. In addition, Davis Konigsberg notes, " … new research on working fathers indicates that they're the ones experiencing the most pressure" because "increasing job demands are conflicting with more exacting parenting norms."
Even before this study my husband would contend that we share our responsibilities. And if the truth be told, he's right. When I devolve into a mentality of score-keeping during these semi to thrice annual arguments, I take on a "tit for tat posture". Bitterness takes root and then sucks the grace right out of us. It's a ruinous posture that has me seeing the specks in my husband's eye while blind to the gargantuan logs in my own. As of late, I've found that thinking of household duties in terms of blessing and cursing defuses my inclination to keep a detailed score. When I am frustrated, I am trying, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, to refresh (and so bless) Shawn and Iliana with my attitude and my behavior instead of wearing them out (cursing them).
Part of blessing and not cursing our partners and family means doing our share—and sometimes more, depending on the occasion. In "Chore Wars," Davis Konigsberg cites a 2007 study by the Pew Research Center indicating that "62% of married adults said 'sharing household chores' was the third most important ingredient (after faithfulness and sex) in a successful marriage."
But what if we find ourselves in a situation where there is a dramatic disparity in household responsibilities, and we really should renegotiate those responsibilities with our spouse? How do we breach the conversation without it escalating into bitter conflict where neither of us wins?
Fortunately there are many resources to assist us. I like the practical tool called the conflict card, found on Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott's site, realrelationships.com. (The Parrotts have many additional resources on their site.) It is helpful in demonstrating to our partners how important a particular point of disagreement is to us. Another site that I frequent and find immensely helpful is Peacemaker Ministries. I often return to the page that discusses the "Four G's" of conflict resolution.
Grace abounds when we forsake detailed score-keeping in our marriages. Pastor and author Paul Tripp's recommendation that we see our spouses as a gift instead of looking at them through the lens of failure and weakness strengthens my resolve to bless Shawn in the midst of our conflict over who is and isn't doing their share. The more my posture becomes that of a servant who seeks to bless everyone around me—including those closest to me—the more I am a disciple who looks strikingly similar to Jesus. Jesus is generous and lavish, not stingy, and I should be, too. As Proverbs 11:25 (NIV) says, "A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed." May our refreshing generosity end the chore wars.