At the end of last year, as my ex and I were separating, as I purchased my humble little house, set up accounts with internet, electric, water, and gas companies, as I assembled furniture and weeded flower beds and scrubbed a grime-covered baseboards, I worried that I had bitten off more than I could chew. I worried I may not be able to manage a household on my own after my divorce. Would I be overwhelmed with my workload without my ex around to pitch in? I’ve never lived on my own before, much less on my own with two children. What if I couldn’t do it without a husband? What if I failed?
Moving is always stressful, and perhaps even more stressful when you’re dividing a house’s contents and trying to ensure that children feel safe and comfortable in each of their homes. But we did it. We settled in. I worked non-stop, doing my regular day job and in every spare moment turning this once-grimy little cottage into a cozy, immaculate home.
Now that we’ve been settled for a few months, I’ve been able to relax a bit. I have confidence I can pay my own bills. Our girls are adjusting to having two homes. And I’ve discovered, with no small amount of surprise, that running a house without a husband in it is easier. And not a little easier. A lot easier. Like, I-have-a-lot-more-time and my-house-is-always-clean and the-laundry-is-always-done easier.
I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or scream into a canyon over this.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the “easier” does also include when my kids are with me. My ex recently had an extended work project that involved long enough hours that our girls stayed with me for an uninterrupted two weeks. Even then, with them underfoot because it was summer, it was still easier.
I didn’t realize. I had no idea how much I was doing, how little he was doing. It took moving out for me to clearly see the contrast in our workload. This is not an indictment against all men, I promise you. I’m sure there are plenty of men out there who not only pull their own weight in a household, but also lighten Mom’s load.
Mine didn’t. And research tells us a lot of others also don’t.
As part of the University of Michigan’s Panel Study on Income Dynamics, a 2008 study examined a representative sampling of U.S. married couples and came up with some enraging—but not really all that surprising—data. And that’s that married women do more housework than men.
Could some of that be due to more women staying home with kids in the home? Nope, sorry, the difference in amount of work done by men and women in married couples without children is pretty damn baffling. The study showed that while single women did a little over 10 hours of housework per week, married women did a little over 17 hours of work per week. Meanwhile, men went from eight hours of work per week while single to seven hours of work per week when married. In other words, if a woman marries a man, she is marrying extra housework. If a man marries a woman, he is marrying … a maid, I guess?
I know, I know. I’ll say it for you: #notallmen. But, um…. LOTS of men. Way more men than is acceptable. In hetero marriages, women are still the doers of the housework, whether they work or not and whether they have kids or not.
It was hard for me to believe at first, as I settled into a routine in my new home, that my days somehow felt less busy, my house more clean, without an extra pair of adult hands to pitch in. I had become so accustomed to that extra body in my house, that extra person to pick up after, to cook and do dishes and laundry for, that it just felt like part of the deal.
I was working full-time from home, but since I was home that meant I obviously had the “free time” to handle any and every issue that came up with one of the kids, an incorrect bill, a sudden trip to the doctor, a call to the insurance company, and on and on. All of it fell to me. I suppose all of that still falls to me… maybe it feels easier because I just handle it and don’t have to add in the extra time of discussing it and explaining to anyone?
But the absence of his mess is the most glaring part of no longer living with him. No shoes in the middle of the hallway, no stacks of junk mail on the counter or piles of clothes in random spots. No dishes in the sink. No dishes in the sink! Not even from the kids, and I think I know why. My ex always put his dishes in the sink, almost never put them in the dishwasher. So our daughters would get a snack and then come and see there were dishes already in the sink, so they’d put their dirty dish in on top. Because if there are dirty dishes in the sink, that must be where the dirty dishes go, right?
But, in my house, if a kid comes to put their dish in the sink, they see the sink is empty and clean. It seems that seeing that clean, empty sink triggers my girls to remember to rinse their dish and stick it in the dishwasher. Same with laundry. There’s never anything on the floor, so my kids seem to recognize that clothes don’t belong on the floor. My cleanliness sets the standard. I spent 15 years begging everyone to put their dishes in the dishwasher and their clothes in the hamper, and it never happened until my husband and I split up. Sigh.
Meanwhile, as my ex transitioned to having to manage his household alone, he messaged me over and over those first few weeks because he didn’t know how to do anything. A doctor’s appointment for our eldest, a call to the gas company about a question on a bill, which kind of milk do we buy the kids, what is the name of so-and-so’s mom again? Oh, and do you need more than one stamp on an envelope?
I had no idea how much more I did around the house until after I got divorced. I really didn’t see myself as one of those throw-back women who happily did the bulk of the housework simply because her husband was away at work. I worked too. I tried to delegate. I nagged. I begged. I didn’t want to carry the burden of all the things.
I had a suspicion my family was causing me an unnecessary amount of work, but I was only one-third right. My kids were just being kids. And my husband? Apparently he also was being a kid. I hope he is able to adjust to running a household on his own, I really do. I hope he comes to appreciate the extra load I took off his shoulders, so much of which should never have been mine to carry. In the meantime, I will enjoy my lighter load and tidy house.