December 27, 2010

Division of labor...

Throughout the sixteen years that my husband Joe and I have been married we have slowly determined which of us is best suited to each of the many tasks in managing a household.  Some things were defined from the beginning, such as the agreement between us that I would stay home with our children and he would work outside the home.  I’m the chief cook, maid, laundress, and every other stereotypical, traditional role for women.  He is the chief bread-winner.  I haven’t earned a cent of income since the mid-nineties: it is Joe’s responsibility to earn it all.  He doesn’t do indoor housework, other than picking up after himself; it’s my responsibility, with the kids as my helpers.  This may sound old-fashioned, but we believe it works the best for our family, and we believe there is a biblical foundation for our choice.
As anyone knows, household management isn’t limited to the big stuff.  There are lots of little items that need to be accomplished, and determining the right person for the job sometimes requires trial and error.  No newlywed couple I’ve ever known had an exhaustive, itemized list of all the household jobs neatly divided into his and hers.  Even if they did, within the first week of marriage there’d be frustration, bickering, and crying over the whole thing.  Perhaps some jobs have obvious candidates for them from the beginning, but often the to-do list only gets well-divided through time and experience, accompanied with a measure of humility on each person’s part to be able to admit their spouse is better at something.
In our home, money management was one of those jobs that took time to assign to the right person best suited to the task.  We each tried to handle the bill-paying and checkbook-keeping in the early years, but Joe always did a better job of it.  As a general rule he’s better at taking care of details without procrastination, and I’m better at procrastination.  Good financial management doesn’t allow much room for putting things off until later, so for the past decade or so it has been in Joe’s capable hands to take care of all our financial matters.
On the other hand, through experience we learned that I am better suited than Joe is to filling out or organizing paperwork.  I’m not necessarily good at, but I am the right one to deal with that unavoidable and tedious part of life.  He doesn’t have the patience for it, whereas I do.
Wise division of labor comes about only through open communication, an appreciation for the skills your spouse has, humility, and a willingness to do your fair share of the labor.  We learned this the hard way in the early years with a lot of that aforementioned bickering, but in recent years have found it easier and easier to know whose inbox something belongs to when it comes our way.  When we keep in mind that we have the common goal of a happy and well-functioning household, and push our selfish tendencies aside, we more easily divide the labor and share the rewards.

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