Experts agree that kids are tough on marriages. I mean DUH. Kids are tough on anything—walls, furniture, hardwood floors, the knees of nice pants. It makes sense that marriage would also be trampled by what my friend calls these little “ids in cool sneakers.” My husband and I keep track of who does what when, and for us, keeping score has been the key to a 50/50 partnership and a happy marriage.
We both work full-time, and we are also both SAH parents. We are able to arrange our schedules so that one parent works at the office on days that the other parent works from home. Now that all 4 of our kids are in school at least part of the day during the week (next year, our youngest goes to kindergarten and the freedom this promises us makes us giddy), it’s easier for us to handle the eleventy billion things we have to do everyday. When the kids were tiny though, keeping score might be the only thing that kept us sane.
We don’t score-keep in a petty way. Instead, we look at all of the tasks on our plates and figure out how to evenly apportion them.
Some things are easy to divide. I nursed all of our babies on demand for at least a year. When I was nursing a baby at night, Ben was responsible for anyone else who woke up. Ben really likes mowing the lawn and gardening. I really like bleaching all of our bathrooms so they smell like a freshly chlorined pool. He coaches sportsball. I help with homework. I pack lunches. He supervises baths and showers. I read bedtime stories. He does nightly Lego time. He pays bills. I SPEND ALL OF THE MONEY at the grocery store.
Yes, a lot of these things break down along traditionally gender-stereotyped lines, but many of them don’t. We both clean the house from top to bottom. We take turns doing laundry. We both do preschool pick-up and drop-off. Ben served as president of our elementary school’s PTO for 2 years before I did. He is just as likely to make dinner as I am—exactly as likely because we keep track. After dinner, I enjoy dishes and mopping, and he likes to play with the kids in the basement. We both do hockey/baseball/football/dance/gymnastics/Cub Scouts carpooling, and we take turns going to school open houses, birthday parties, and parent-teacher conferences.
On school mornings, the working parent does preschool drop off and the at-home parent handles feeding/dressing/grooming/cleaning the kitchen/making up the master bedroom. On every school day, though, I clean up our 2 little kids’ rooms and their bathroom, and he cleans up the two big kids’ room and bathroom, no matter who is working and who is working from home.
There are some jobs that I do more frequently in terms of housework, but he is tasked with the less frequent things like garbage day and oil changes. It all still comes out about even. If someone pees their bed in the middle of the night, one of us can blissfully ignore it because we know it’s the other one’s turn, and that makes all the juggling worthwhile.
If you think keeping score won’t work for you because you stay home and your partner works full time, so you feel like all domestic stuff rests on your shoulders, keeping score is exactly what you need to do. Sure, your partner gets credit for leaving the house and making money, but you also get credit for making that job possible by keeping the home fires burning during the workday. When the outside partner comes home, though, why not make all of the house and kid work 50/50? Your partner’s job lets them clock out at the end of the day, and yours should, too.
One way parents can make score keeping easier is to stop saying that our spouses “help out” or “pitch in” or “watch the kids” or even “babysit.” All of these turns of phrase rest on the underlying assumption that domestic duties are women’s work, and we all know that this just isn’t true. Anyone can wipe a butt or dust a bookshelf or free up some mental space to plan a week’s worth of dinners, no matter what they were doing between the hours of 8:30am and 5:00 pm.
Keeping score has been our ticket to a happy marriage, and I’d love to know if it works for you!