Shared Household Responsibilities: Creating Family Systems
February is here. The season of love. ♥
There are so many expressions of love within a family, but one that I think is really important is working together to make sure that no one person is carrying the entire load. By having some admittedly tough conversations, I hope you can use this guide to get to a place where everyone pitches in to make sure household tasks get done fairly and efficiently, so that everyone has time to spend together and time to refill their own cups by doing the things they love.
One of my absolute favorite resources for having these discussions within my own family has been the book Fair Play by Eve Rodsky. (Here is a brief summary you can watch.)
A lot of what I’m going to share in this blog is inspired by her book, but I also want to share my own experiences within my family as well. Throughout the post, you’ll be able to watch videos of my husband, Jason, and I answering some of your questions on this subject.
If you find yourself having a hard time talking about shared household responsibilities, keep these communication strategies in mind:
- Listen without interrupting.
- Be careful with tone (no judgement or blaming).
- Be fully present in discussion (free from distractions like phones or TV).
- Be open to seeing the other person’s perspective.
- Be open to exploring new ways to share household responsibilities.
By having a conversation and negotiation, you’ll avoid nagging, blaming, controlling, reminding and all the resentment that comes from these things (on both sides). It’s important to schedule a time to have these discussions; don’t spring it on your partner. For some, it’s a new way of thinking about things and it can require time to adjust, so be patient and avoid blame. Focus on working together to conquer what needs to be done, not competing.
Q&A: What is the best way to approach your spouse/kids with a discussion on sharing household chores?
Establish Your Family Values
The first conversation you need to have as a family, is deciding what things are most important in YOUR family. Not all the things you think you should be doing, but the things you actually care about getting done. For example, if having your kids make their beds isn’t important to you, it shouldn’t be a task on anyone’s to-do list in the morning.
To go along with the Fair Play book, you can purchase a card game that helps you visualize what’s “in your deck,” i.e. a stack of all the things that need to get done each day, week, or year. (Here’s a video on how to play.) Step one is getting rid of all the cards (tasks) that aren’t important to your family. Let that stuff go!
Q&A: Some people say their spouse just “doesn’t see” what needs to be done? How can they fix this problem?
Assign and Divide Tasks
You have your master list of everything that needs to get done. Now it’s time to divvy it up. There area a few key things to remember when you get to this step…
- Everyone has natural strengths and preferred responsibilities. Talk through what those are. If you feel very strongly about a certain task getting done, take that one for yourself.
- Focus on what’s FAIR, not what’s EQUAL. Don’t “keep score” by making sure that each person has the same number of tasks.
- No one is the default; all tasks are up for grabs when having this discussion.
- Include your kids when assigning tasks. Keep in mind abilities based on age, personality, and other factors, and remember that it will take time to ease them into a new responsibility. But as part of the family, they should be expected to help out to the best of their ability.
- When someone takes on a chore, they take it on from conception, to planning, to execution. It is their job to close the loop on their project. This helps relieve the mental load from the other partner.
Q&A: How do you decide who does what?
It’s tempting to take back a task that you see someone else in the family doing “incorrectly.” Avoid this! It may save you time in the short run, but to free yourself up in the future you need to take the time up front to establish everyone’s expectations for a job well done and to TEACH someone who may not know how to execute the job. Patience is key.
When establishing standards for each task, it can be helpful to think of the “why” behind the task. For example, taking the kids to school is a task. They need to arrive on time with everything they need for the day (the standard). Why? So they get a great education and we save time by not having to run items to the school later.
Another book I love is Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu. Her book is all about the ability to let go. And even when you set standards together as a family, they may not always be met. But you have to let that other person “drop the ball” on occasion. It is ok to notice and to schedule a time to discuss it later. But don’t intervene or take over unless it’s an emergency.
Q&A: How do you fit in time for chores or overcome a lack of motivation?
Q&A: How do you get over a spouse/child doing something “incorrectly” or not how you would do it? (Reconciling different ideas of what “done” looks like.)
Schedule time to check in regularly. A family meeting, a quick chat after the kids go to bed, a coffee date or ice cream run with an agenda – any of these work. If your life is moving to a new season (like a world wide pandemic that is forcing everyone to work and do school at home on occasion), a bigger meeting may be necessary, but regular check-ins are all about tweaks. You may need to redistribute some tasks, add new ones, or talk through what the kids need help with.
Q&A: What happens if one partner (or child) falls behind on their responsibilities?
All Time Is Equal
One of the major premises of the book is the notion that all time is equal. It’s no secret that historically women’s time has often been valued less than men’s. Part of the discussion of the division of labor within your household may require a reframing of how you all value time. Make your goal “rebalancing the hours that domestic work requires between two partners.”
Every single task that you do takes TIME. And time is valuable, whether it is for a paid job or work within the home. Even outsourcing jobs (like hiring someone to clean – or organize – your house) takes precious time and should be included in your list of tasks for the family. “Daily grind” activities (like dishes, bedtime, homework help, etc.) should be shared, not just the big things.
Always keep in the back of your mind the mental load required to complete each task, not just the physical execution time.
Q&A: What is the upside of sharing household responsibilities?
The End Goal
As mentioned above, it is so important to keep in mind your future self and your future family when having these discussions. It’s not just about getting everything done; it’s also about freeing up precious time for everyone. You’re looking for what Eve calls the “Unicorn Space,” the “time and space to reclaim, or discover or nurture, the natural gifts and interests that make you uniquely you…” Everyone needs time for themselves. Everyone.
You are also setting an example for your kids that goes beyond “teaching them responsibility.” By reframing what the modern domestic situation looks like, you are creating a small shift towards a society that values men’s and women’s time equally. It’s good for kids to see each parent contributing and taking on jobs that are well suited for their skills, not just stereotyped by traditional gender roles.
You are also modeling for your kids what a good partnership looks like, valuable communication skills, and helping them become a better roommate and spouse – and adult in general – in the future!
The bottom line is that everyone in the family benefits when each person is doing their share. Your household will run more smoothly because everyone knows their role, and your family will become stronger by working together as a unit, collaboratively.
Q&A: Do chore charts work for kids? What’s the best approach?
For a longer discussion on the topic for household equity by Eve Rodsky, click here.
Thanks for watching – and reading! If you have any additional questions about how our we work out our responsibilities around our house, please get in touch and let me know. A DM on Instagram is a quick way to reach out. And, remember, if we can do it, so can you. You got this!
Each of my career choices-wedding coordinator, event planner, and teacher — gave me the creative freedom to organize everyone and everything. I have always thrived on to-do lists, planners, and systems! Now, I lead a team of organizers to help me on my mission. Read more…