Historically, there was one primary breadwinner in a family. One spouse, usually the husband, went to work. The other, usually the wife, managed the home. For my parents’ generation, that was still the norm.
Demographics began to change with World War II, when many more women were needed in the workforce. Since then, there’s been a steady rise in the number of women working outside the home. In the United States, that percentage rose from about 38 percent in 1948 to more than 56 percent in 2016.
Interestingly, women are now more likely than men to earn a bachelor’s degree by age 29 (34% to 26%). And women far outnumber men in some professional occupations, including speech pathology (98% women), human resource management (74%), social service management (71%), and pharmacy (60%).
With 70% of mothers who have school-age kids in the workforce, the two-career household is now the norm, not the rare exception.
What does that mean for the marriage and the home? This can be a difficult topic for some couples, especially around the division of household labor.⠀⠀⠀⠀
Over the years, my husband, Joel, and I have made our share of mistakes in dealing with this. Along the way, we learned some valuable lessons for taking the stress out of home life. Here are four keys to relieving the tension around managing a two-career household.
1. Talk About It
If you aren’t honest about the struggles of making it all work, you’ll likely wind up in conflict. Lack of communication creates fertile ground for resentments to grow.
Be open, honest, and trusting with one another. Conversations go best when you assume your partner wants to share the load and has your best interest at heart.
2. Focus on Equality, Not Fairness
The workload at home is never going to be exactly even. So don’t get hung up on the idea of a 50/50 split. Instead, focus on equality.
Depending on who’s traveling or has a big professional deadline, one spouse may pick up extra duties for awhile. Just be sure it’s not the same spouse who always picks up the slack. Treat each other as equal partners, and the workload will be equitable too.
3. Challenge Norms
Though the reality of domestic life changed rapidly over the last couple of generations, but the perception of gender roles has come along slowly. Many couples still think of household chores as a woman’s responsibility, even though that means many women essentially work two jobs—as an executive during the day and a house manager in the evening.
Maybe Mom doesn’t need to take the kids to all the doctor appointments or parent-teacher conferences. Those tasks could be shared. The same is true with shopping, meal preparation, house cleaning, or laundry.
4. Hire the Help You Need
If one of you thrives on vacuuming or lawn care, go for it. But if both of you find a particular task exhausting and demotivating, there’s a simple solution: Get help!
Neither Joel nor I are particularly good at fixing things. If there’s a gene for being handy, it skipped a generation here. Honestly, we’ve probably had more fights over who should complete small handyman projects than anything else.
One day, we finally saw the obvious: we don’t have to do this. Some people who make a living repairing screens and cleaning gutters. We finally agreed to hire out these tasks, it eliminated lots of stress from our relationship.
The way your parents or your friends handle organize their homes may not be the best solution for you. This is your game, so design it the way you want it. And remember that it’s a team sport. Communicate and cooperate, and you’ll discover that this is a game you can win.