I have many memories of my mom performing traditional “women’s work.” I can close my eyes and picture her ironing my dad’s shirts as they watched the nightly news or watching crime shows while folding laundry on the weekend. But I also have memories of my dad sweeping floors and dusting, the Moody Blues blasting through open windows. Both of my parents were (and still are) active stewards of house and family, and my dad did not shy away from doing his fair share. In fact, when I was young, my dad got home from work earlier in the evenings, so he was in charge of dinner every night and grocery shopping on Fridays. He also did big breakfasts on the weekends. In the 8th grade, my family moved because of my dad’s job, and my mom decided to take a year off to get us settled in our new home before she looked for a job. When she announced that she would now be cooking dinners, my younger and brother and I were a little frightened because we weren’t sure that our mom even knew how to cook. She proved herself an excellent chef, but the reality is that, as I child, the only reason I had any concept of men cooking for their families being unusual was because my friends would comment on it whenever they ate over.
I didn’t understand it then, but my parents were models of the importance of friendship and equal partnership in a marriage. I didn’t grow up with a concept that certain tasks were for women and others were for men. When I looked at the division of labor between my parents, I never thought that my mom did laundry because she was a woman; I thought she did it because she was neat, tidy, and efficient. I never thought my dad mowed the lawn and tended to the garden because he was a man; I thought it was because he was outdoorsy and had a degree in forestry. I watched my dad put my mom and their marriage before anything else, and while he and I still butt heads because we’re too much alike, I can say without a doubt that the most important thing I ever learned from him was that marriage is a partnership.
Fortunately, I found my partner pretty early in life. My husband and I started dating at 16, and since our first group assignment for economics class, we’ve made an awesome team. We both do our fair share of the physical and mental labor required of marriage, family, and general adulting. While our division of labor might appear to adhere to fairly traditional roles, like my parents, it’s really a division based on our individual strengths and weaknesses. Yes, I do the laundry, the cooking, and most of the cleaning, but that’s because I’m a type-A control freak and those tasks provide me with the sense of order and accomplishment I desperately crave. My husband, an engineer with a head for math and a better understanding of how things work, handles bills and maintenance schedules for the house and cars. Some of these divisions evolved over time. When we first got married, we had a rule that whoever didn’t cook dinner had to clean up the kitchen afterward. After we had our first child, I discovered, to my great horror, that I did not enjoy bath time. Since my husband hated doing dishes, we quickly agreed that he would handle bath time while I cleaned up the kitchen, and it’s been that way ever since.
Our division of labor isn’t always even or always perfect. Sometimes I have to nag him about a project because his order of priorities is different from mine. Sometimes (okay, often) he gets annoyed with my overstuffing of the trashcans. But our shared goal is always the same: do what we can to make life easier for each other. And this is why my husband pairs socks. On Sunday evenings, when I have finished washing, folding, and putting away all of the other laundry (yes, I actually do it all in the same day), my husband sits on the floor with the laundry basket and pairs socks. He doesn’t do it because he enjoys it or because he is especially good at it; he does it simply because he knows I hate pairing socks. Of all the things he’s done for me and all the things he’s given me in nearly two decades together, I think it is the thing I love the most because I know it is his labor of love.