Are You a Happy Wife?

One of the first pieces of feminist writing I ever read was the legendary essay “I Want a Wife” by Judy Brady.  It made a big impression on me as a girl just out of high school, particularly the parts about housework.  I imagined my future marriage to be naturally and effortlessly egalitarian, with me and my devoted husband laughing and rubbing shoulders as we stood together elbow-deep in dish suds.  Yeah.

Then came real life.

It takes a whole lot of work to keep the little nonprofit organization known as a family in working order, and I’ve done enough of that work now to appreciate how hard it is to get it done at all, let alone worry about how fair the distribution is between partners.  I appreciate what my husband contributes to our little economy, and I appreciate what my parents did to run theirs.  But I will admit that when I’m feeling run down, overwhelmed, and under-appreciated, the quiet narrative in my head starts to repeat all the things I do to keep us fed, clothed, and clean and it starts to feel like I am “A Wife.”  During one of these times my husband suggested we play a little game called ChoreWars.  It’s a role-playing video game where your character earns points each time you do a chore in real life.  We could play each other for real-life prizes!  And see who comes out on top in the competition for biggest contributor.  I’m not into video games and remembering to check in with my ChoreWars alter-ego seemed like just another thing to add to my already long to-do list, so I turned him down.  But it might be fun, and sometimes I think I’ll take him up on it after all.

But part of the reason I didn’t say yes to ChoreWars is that I don’t really want to know the game’s answer to the question of who does more.  I don’t think comparing is very useful.  We both work hard.  We both care a lot about making our family life good.  I don’t think the key to my happiness as a wife is keeping a spreadsheet with my and my partner’s hours worked and dollars earned or saved.  Or winning a video game.  (Although that might feel good…..)  I don’t really have any wisdom on what makes for happiness in this area but I am curious.  Not about how you split the work with your partner if you live with one, but about how happy you are with the split.  So please let us know how you feel.

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11 Responses

  1. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    I do most of the housework for the simple reason that I work part-time and my work is the kind that stays at the office. My husband is a teacher and often stays late to for extra-curriculars or to help a struggling student or just to get marking and other classwork done because there are less distractions at the school. (Slower internet, for one thing.)

    He has begun making himself a list and notes of chores to do and when and it is helpful. Still, sometimes I think that whole sister-wife idea isn’t so bad. Heh.

  2. Suzette Smith says:

    Several years ago I wrote an article for Exponent about being single in the LDS church (Super Cute Sunday and other Secrets of a Single Life). In one section, I made a bit of a laundry list of the chores and other adult tasks that I “had” to do alone and on my own. One friend commented that she did the same list of chores and adult tasks alone and on her own too – even though she was married.


    I’m still single and still do all the chores alone and on my own …. but I’m grateful that my chore list and chore amount is pretty small. (ie – In one week, I only do one load of laundry and two loads of dishes in the dishwasher – and I can clean the whole house in 2 hours on a Saturday.)


    • ZD Eve says:

      I’ve ended up with a pretty traditional division of labor. My husband works ridiculously long hours (easily 60+ a week at the office alone) and then generally brings work home to finish after he helps with dinner and dishes and kid bedtimes. He also adores fixing up the house and has all kinds of schemes for home and yard improvement, which he engages in as a form of relaxation. I do the vast majority of the childcare and housework (grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, cleaning) and all the household management (arranging and providing transportation to preschool, doctor’s appointments, speech and occupational therapy for our son). We have one minor gender-role reversal: I do all the budgeting and money management, which I’m much better at, and he does all the home decorating, which he’s much better at.

      For the most part I’m content with my division of labor. My husband works very hard at work and very hard at home, and I’ve never felt left with a disproportionate burden of labor. I’m extremely fortunate to be able to be at home with my small children–which is where I want to be while they’re young, at least. But there are aspects of my work that I find difficult just because of the nature of that work. It’s incredibly repetitive and it’s never done, which is sometimes beyond demoralizing. I also sometimes feel as if I’m working in an isolation chamber, with neither intellectual nor social stimulation to relieve the unending tedium. And I hate the economic vulnerability I feel. Still, there are no perfect arrangements in this imperfect world, and for our family at this point in time I think this is the best one.

  3. Jenn says:

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw out one more poll option that is currently lacking: I believe my husband does more, and I am happy about it. Oh sure, I feel guilty from time to time, but we contribute in different ways and he not only has more time (well, in theory- I know perfectly well how times goes for stay-at-home parents) but is also just better at it all. So long as I appreciate him and don’t take it for granted, he is content being the housework workhorse. And I bring home the bacon, read to the kids, and pamper him.
    It helps a lot that we had a role switch- I was a SAHM, he was the breadwinner, and now it is switched. It makes it very easy to have the right perspective and appreciation for each other.

  4. Naismith says:

    This is one way that I thought the church diverged from USAmerican society in general in past decades, and what attracted me as a feminist at the time to joinig the church. The makes a big deal about motherhood, but preaches equal partners when it comes to wives and husbands per se. Loved this Ensign article

    Also, another choice not on the list is hiring professional help for some of the grungework. We’ve done that for years, and it is the best money we spend. There is still plenty for the kids to do (the cleaners never set foot in their rooms) but it helped save our sanity during times of stress.

    Also, I love that ZD beaks out housework from household management–it is so true, and sometimes underappreciated, that mental work of keeping in mind what has to be done & when.

    I loved listening to audiobooks during the boring bits, and of course NPR while cooking dinner. And it is funny how I can remember what book I heard when canning those tomatoes or sewing that skirts! And it is not like other jobs don’t have boring tasks as well.

  5. Risa says:

    I think the nature of who does what has evolved a lot in the last 13 years of marriage. I voted that I’m happy and that we work things out so that neither person’s burden is disproportionately large. When we both worked full-time, the chores were more divided up 50/50. Now we’re at a place in our lives where are kids are old enough to help out with chores (nobody told me how fabulous that was going to be when I first had kids!) and the hubs works from a home office, when he’s not traveling, and I work part-time. Because I have more free time, I more keep the kids’ schedule, but he takes them to all their activities which coincide with my only late night. I make sure the kids’ doctor’s/orthodontist/dentist appointments are made and kept. We both make sure their homework and chores are done. I make sure the household bills are paid, while he takes care of the bills for his work. I do more of the little chores around the house, while we both do the big chores. Although, it does feel like sometimes I’m the only person in my house who is capable of emptying the dish washer. When either one of us is stressed, has a lot on their plate that particular moment, or in my husband’s case, traveling, the other one picks up the slack.

    I do feel it’s important to mention that during the most difficult time in my life (when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, died 3 months later, and the ensuing months of awful grief…and oh, did I mention I was pregnant) the hubs took over everything. He let me fall apart, while he picked up the pieces. He never demanded that I do “my part” when it came to chores and household maintenance and instead showed me more love and compassion than I’ve ever felt in my life. That’s why I try not to get too mad when I’ve emptied the dishwasher the umpteenth time a row.

  6. April says:

    I marked other. I have young, messy children and a fixer-upper house, so it seems that both my husband and I are always working at housework/house projects, and I can’t say that either of us is happy about it. (Don’t remodel. Bad decision.)

  7. EmilyCC says:

    I think I could answer this question differently depending on the time of day or which year of my marriage I chose to pick. I would love to embrace the model of Equally Shared Parenting (I loved our own Chelsea Shields Strayer’s and her husband’s article on ESP in the motherhood issue of Sunstone last year), and Nate and I did were much more 50/50 with housework before kids, but he has a MBA and love finance, and I have a Master’s in Theology and love pretty much everything associated with it but the idea of a doctorate. That means like others have said here, he puts in the long hours at work, and I do the same at home.

    Our hope is that once kids are in school, I can work full time, and he can work from home and be the primary after-school caregiver of kids so that we’ll both have some years under our belts of being the primary caregiver. (And, that we can outsource some of the tasks we both don’t enjoy of daily home management.)

  8. honey says:

    My husband is retired and in our blended family we both worked our tushes off. I do everything I can to make his life easier and he does everything he can to make mine easier. 100% going both ways has made for 25 happy years and 7 fairly well adjusted kids. Don’t keep score, fair is a word that should be banished from the English language, unless we are referring to a carnival!

  9. X2 Dora says:

    As a single woman who works full-time, and goes to school part-time, I have often thought that I wanted a wife! As a good friend said a few years back, “I work long hours, and the last thing I want to do on my day off is to scrub the toilet.” So, I have a cleaning service come in once a month, and I maintain during the rest of the month. It has made my life a little easier during this demanding time.

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