- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2000

How today's husbands and wives divide household chores isn't as predictable as it used to be.
Many still follow the "Ozzie and Harriet" approach, in which men do all of the yardwork and car maintenance and women do all of the cooking, cleaning and shopping. In other households, men do their share of cooking and cleaning, and women pitch in on the yardwork. Other couples choose none of the above and create their own distinct way.In the Hesse household in Silver Spring, the matriarch, Stephanie, is in charge of everything related to the house. The same goes for the Alexanders in Beltsville wife and mother Heather handles the delegation.
The Wilders of Laurel and the Montenegro-Larkin family in Silver Spring say they use a teamwork approach, but upon closer examination, it appears they often delineate their chores along more traditional lines.
True, some ways of thinking about and handling household chores are changing every day, thanks to the rise of feminism and the two-income family.
"It's not the old traditional thing where everybody did a chore a day," says Jim Alexander, a family counselor at Cornerstone Family Counseling in Fairfax. "Nobody has that anymore."
But old habits are hard to break. An informal survey of families in the Washington area shows that in many households, women still have control of the laundry room and men are still the best at changing the oil in the minivan and keeping the grass cut.
Yet every family, it seems, has a different story or a different system in place to take care of it all. Here are some of them, provided as a public service for other couples who might be struggling with this area of family life or just might want to share a knowing chuckle or two with someone else who has been there, done that.

Attitudes die hard

Couples may consider the notion of chores to be fairly unimportant on the list of issues they discuss, but it can create problems in the marriage.
The University of Illinois surveyed 450 of its married employees in 1996 and found that men and women often disagreed about who should do what chores. While husbands and wives both agreed that certain chores should be shared, such as grocery shopping, daily child care, laundry and making appointments, they disagreed about other ones.
Wives, the survey showed, said tasks such as meal preparation, clothes shopping and taking children to appointments should be shared. Their husbands often disagreed.
The survey also found that wives were less satisfied than husbands about the amount of time spent on household chores and that wives were more likely to balance the checkbook than their husbands.
Vicki Fitzsimmons, a professor of family economics who conducted the survey, said that although the roles of women outside the home have changed in recent years, responsibilities in the home haven't. Women still tend to do more of the "women's chores," such as planning meals, shopping, laundry, cleaning and taking care of the children.
Last year, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said that in many two-income families, the women still do most of the household chores. The clinic recommended that husbands and wives make independent lists of all the work that needs to be done and when, then consolidate those lists into a master list. After that, couples should divide the tasks, post their decisions as a reminder to each other and, above all, "think of yourselves as a team."
That apparently is what many Washington area couples are doing.


Heather Alexander says she and her husband, Scott, have an "inside-outside" arrangement for doing household chores. Anything inside the house is her domain. Anything outside is his.
The system works fine for now, but it took a bit of trial and error to fine-tune it. The Alexanders have had a tumultuous two years of marriage, with the birth of their daughter, Jordan, coming nine months after their wedding, a move into a house three months after that and the birth of their son, David, a few months after the move.
Mrs. Alexander says it was during her pregnancy with Jordan that she discovered her husband's ineptitude around the house.
"He needs complete and total direction; that's what we've found out," she says with a laugh. "There's just no initiative from his point. It will still be there, no matter what it is. I don't want to look at it. That's mostly what we differ on."
Mr. Alexander's side of the story: "She's half right.
"The reason I need direction is that if I take it upon myself to do it, I always do something wrong," he says. "Finally I said, 'How do you want me to do it?' Because you know, there's a man's way of cleaning and there's a woman's way of cleaning."
After the rules were established, the Alexanders found life ran much more smoothly.
"We have issues every once in a while, but he's great with the kids, and that's all I can ask for," Mrs. Alexander says. "I don't care how much I have to clean."

'Definitely not traditional'

Raquel Montenegro says the only traditional division of labor in her household is outside. "Grass is my husband's [domain]; the garden is mine," she says. "Anything that does not include grass comes into my province."
Inside the house, though, chores are divided up fairly neatly between her and her husband, Robert Larkin. They both cook, they both vacuum "we both hate it, but we do it," Mrs. Montenegro says and the laundry falls to whoever cracks first at the sight of a mountain of dirty clothes.
One chore neither apparently has "cracked" over yet is filing. Mrs. Montenegro says their filing system consists of Huggies diaper boxes.
"We haven't actually used diapers in 31/2 years," she says.
The cooking is eased by their 5-year-old son, Ian, who has learned enough tips over the years from Mrs. Montenegro and her catering business.
"When I'm out in the evenings, my husband is responsible for dinner," she says, "but Ian helps him sometimes. He cracks eggs for me, and he can make pancakes and scrambled eggs. He knows how to do a smoothie [fruit drink]. He's been on the [kitchen] counter with me since he was 3."

'A family effort'

Maria Wilder hesitates to use the word "system" to describe the way she and her husband, Phill, go about their chores.
"It's sort of a system," she says. "We pretty much work like a team. I wouldn't say I always do the laundry. If I haven't had the chance to do laundry, he'll put the laundry in and move it along. We both feel that the house is a family effort, and we're trying to teach our 8-year-old that. She's still in the syndrome of 'Mom and Dad are there for me, and if I drop this, somebody will pick it up.'"
Mr. Wilder, a systems engineer for Litton Analytical Science Corp., says he just does the "simple things" around him."I just try to leave things better than I found them," he says. "We're trying to pass those things on to our daughter [Jaimie] now."
The one chore Mr. Wilder has done regularly by himself is taking out the trash. "I will bring in the cans, or Jaimie will bring them in, but he's so good at taking it all out, we just let him do it," Mrs. Wilder says.

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