When Is Husband-Level Cleaning Good Enough?

I read a lot about how much trouble women have in getting their husbands to take on half the domestic duties. It seems nowadays most guys know they’ve got to do something to help with child care, cooking and cleaning, but in many households both partners accept that the woman will do most of it — even if both are working.

In my household, we’ve naturally ended up dividing duties over the years in a way that makes me happy, and makes me feel that it’s equitable. And my husband does more of the cleaning. I don’t think this is because I have a neat freak or a guy who goes out of his way to satisfy my every whim. No, I don’t have either of those. I have learned the art of letting go of my standards over the years in order to save my own sanity.

Many years ago, before kids, when my man would load the dishwasher, I’d complain. I’d open it up to unload it, and notice that I could have fit more. I’d notice that some things didn’t come clean because they weren’t stacked properly. I’d basically tell him he was doing it all WRONG! (Sometimes kind of loudly). Eventually, he decided: Why bother? He stopped doing it so much. He eventually stopped doing it at all. That’s NOT the response I wanted. I just wanted him to do it RIGHT. (Which I realized later meant MY WAY). I’m a type-A personality, so I tend to be a control freak.

But after kids, I learned the value of backing off and even giving up control. I remember when my first-born was a baby I read an article about how to get men to do more housework — and one of the bullet points was DON’T COMPLAIN about how he does it. I wondered, Could that one little thing make a difference? And could I actually learn to do that — to let him load the dishwasher his way and clean to his standard (not mine) and cook food he likes?

I found out, YES, that LITTLE thing could make a BIG difference. And I discovered that it was hard for me to let go of my standards and my complaining, because I really thought there was a better way… until the overwhelming exhaustion of caring for a baby made me realize that if ANYONE ELSE did the housework, then that was a BETTER way than me doing it.

I’ve been living with that motto for 15 years.

Perhaps not everyone agrees with the value of this. While discussing household chores with some mom friends, one working mom admitted to the group that her husband does more cleaning than her. A stay-at-home mom”s disapproving look and exasperated “Oh, no!” made me feel bad for the working mom. I was excited to hear that she had such support from her husband, who had been out of work for a time while she was working. Yet the other mom made a disparaging remark (maybe unintentionally?) that she would let a man clean the house in an undoubtedly below-standard way and not find the time to do it herself.

But when doing it ourselves means less sleep or more stress or even less time with our kids or a lower-quality work project, then is it worth it?

I learned to let go of a lot of things over the years, especially after more and more began filling up my plate — two kids, working a part-time job, running my own business, volunteering as room mom and girl scout leader. I’d rather do those things than housework, so I let my husband do it his way for most things, though not everything.

Now, my husband does the dishes more often than I do. He’s the one who cleans the bathrooms. Does he do it as often or as well as I’d like? No, but he gets to it before I do. He does the grocery shopping some of the time. Do I cringe when I see the unhealthy food and the pricey brand names he buys? Yes, but I try to bite my tongue. I still do laundry, though I do his last — and sometimes he’ll do his own.

There are other duties I tried to have him take over, or just help with, and it was a disaster. I wasn’t willing to let the bills go unpaid, to miss events because the family schedule wasn’t updated, to never go on vacation because the planning kept getting postponed. So I handle those things entirely.

That’s how we divide it up in our house. How about your household? Are the chores split half and half?

Now that the kids are doing chores, I see him doing the same with them as I did with him — criticizing how they load the dishwasher. I just keep telling him to be grateful they are doing it!

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