Just back from running errands, I kicked my shoes into the basket by the door, and dropped my keys on the piano. Hollering a greeting to David, I ran upstairs to my bathroom, grabbed some clean folded clothes from the basket on the bed, and turned on the hot water. After my scalding shower, the kids came to greet me and we played before a phone call pulled me away.
Heading downstairs, I kissed my husband on the cheek and asked how his day was going- standing at the kitchen sink with suds on his muscular forearms, he frowned, “Abby’s pooped three times. Did you notice the bathroom?”
The phone rang again- holding up my finger and whispering that I loved him, I nodded and took the call. I was late for a meeting with a cabinet maker I’m doing some freelance murals for, and I hated to shower and run, but I was going to be late. I grabbed my purse, blew kisses, headed towards the garage and hit the opener “What time will you be back? Don’t forget family night tonight…” I waved through the windshield, shouting over the engine that I would be back on time- and that my phone was on if he needed me. Wiping his hands on the dishtowel, he stood in the doorway, watching me back out of the driveway…
This is not a thought experiment. This is an actual accounting of an incredible experiment we are living in our own home. Since David was laid-off 18 months ago, we’ve tried a lot of things. We’ve had our ups and a whole lot of downs. As hard as this year and a half has been, there have been some very good dividends for our family.
In the last few months, on his own, David decided he would serve our family more fully in the way he currently could- he took up a lot of new chores around the house- chores that had historically been mine. He’s always been an involved parent with our kids, but I was the stay-at-home parent, and thus much of the domestic work fell on me. It was OK; I didn’t bridle under that yoke- I chose it.
It has been interesting to see the changes since he picked up my mantle- and I, for a small time, have picked up his.
David now cleans the kitchen, does the dishes and mops all the floors. Cooking diner is still my job, but I am free from any clean up task. David does the laundry. We share folding. David does all vacuuming and general pick-up- a constant in a house with three little kids home for the summer. He cleans the bathroom, and takes the lion’s share of tending the kids. I still do baths. He changes diapers. He does the garbage and the lawn. I do the grocery shopping. He does scripture study with the boys each night before he gets to the kitchen, and once the kids are in bed, I’m free. To read- to paint- to hang out with him while he cleans- whatever I want.
I’ve also been free to take on some jobs. Getting paid for my art is tremendously validating- it’s been seven years since I had a paying job, and while what I’m doing is commission work, not steady, it IS income, and I feel great. I see the kids, I don’t have to be the bad guy all the time, and I get to leave the house fairly often with neither a diaper bag nor a kid on my hip.
A few interesting observations:
My guilt has quickly evaporated. At first I felt terrible about how much he was doing- but he maintained he wanted it. When someone else is making the way smooth, it’s easy not to notice the work they put in- housework really is invisible work- Even for someone who’s done it for 8 years. You quickly forget, and just enjoy the clean towels, the clean bathroom, the folded clothes- and not the work it takes. I like my kids better when I don’t have to deal with every squabble, every diaper, every mess. I like my husband. Sometimes I wish he would give me the chance to complete some of the things on my honey-do list before he complains.
David asks me if I’ve noticed he’s lost some weight, if I liked the new laundry detergent on the clean towels, if I approved of his new shaving cream, if I noticed he scrubbed the grout on the kitchen floor. The he smacks himself in the forehead, shrugs his shoulders and mumbles something about turning into a woman. We both laugh.
He is still looking for full-time work. We are still planning and trying everything we can to find gainful employment- but in the meantime, we have learned some priceless lessons. I know how easy it is not to notice the little things; he knows how important it is to notice. I know how nice it is to have a clean orderly home; he knows how much work a clean and orderly home takes. I know the self-esteem and boost to pride of getting paid for work; he knows the frustration and humility of doing “house work”. I know the joy of coming home to my kids and a husband I love; he knows the relief and happiness when I walk in that it’s no longer all him.
For the future, it remains open how this will all play out. The only thing I can say for certain is neither of us will likely ever be the same. That, and I sure do like having a wife.