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Whose Turn Is It, Anyway?

When they couldn't stop fighting over household chores, Jason and Jenn Walker found a new way to get the job done. She Said: "I'm sick of cleaning." He Said: "It's not my job."

Jenn's side: I'm sick of cleaning

After an eight-hour work day, I was tired, hungry, and eager to relax. Instead, I threw a load of laundry into the washing machine, emptied the dishwasher, and cooked supper. My husband, Jason, wandered in from his computer just as I set the food on the table.

After dinner, he quirked an eyebrow toward one of my many piles.

"What are you thinking?" I asked. I knew already, but was itching for a fight.

"Why do you leave all those half-finished projects lying around? How can you stand this clutter?" On the couch lay my laptop. Papers were stacked nearby. Laundry needed to be folded. Dishes needed to be washed.

"Because every day I clean other people's houses, and I'm tired of cleaning by the time I come home," I retorted. "And in case you've forgotten, I already washed your clothes, ironed them, and cooked supper. Meanwhile, you've been playing on the computer."

"I just needed a break," he replied angrily.

"So do I," I snapped. "But all my free time is taken up by chores around the house."

Our argument ended when Jason went off to play basketball with his friends. Leaving the table to be cleared, the food to be put away, and the dishes to be washed. I plunged my hands into hot, soapy water, then exploded, hurling the lid to Jason's coffee mug across the room. It pinged off an antique dresser, leaving a dent.

It's not fair that I'm stuck doing all the housework. Why can't Jason carry his share of the load?

Jason's side: It's not my job

I grew up in a pastor's home, where company often popped in without warning. My mom was the one who always kept our house clean, especially the main areas. If there was a mess, she was there to take care of it immediately.

When Jenn and I got married, I didn't give the division of labor much thought. I took over the yard work, emptying the trash, paying bills, and making repairs. I assumed Jenn would take care of the cooking, laundry, and cleaning—after all, that's how it worked with my parents.

It wasn't long before I realized Jenn wasn't the same kind of housekeeper my mother had been. She leaves things such as clothes, books, papers, and her laptop strewn around the house. I'm embarrassed if a neighbor drops by unexpectedly, but the clutter doesn't seem to bother Jenn the way it does me.

I'm trying to start my own business building affordable websites for churches and ministries. After spending all day at my regular job, I need time to work on getting my new business off the ground.

I can't focus on that task if I can't find a clutter-free space to work.

I do plenty of work around the house, and I can't understand why Jenn thinks I'm not pulling my weight. When she started in after dinner, I had to leave before

I said something I might regret.

I think I've earned a little time to myself to pursue my dream. Why can't Jenn understand and pick up the slack around the house?

What they did:

That fight was a culmination of countless battles over housework—when to vacuum, how soon to wash dishes, who makes the bed.

Jenn never did enough. Jason never did anything.

When Jason returned home that night, he apologized for walking out on their conversation and leaving Jenn with the clean up. Recognizing something had to change, they sat down for a heart-to-heart chat.

"I work the same amount of hours you do, plus I do all the cleaning, cooking, and laundry," Jenn told him. "By the end of the day, my energy is zapped and I have no time to do the things I want to do. Plus, it feels like I'm doing all the work while you sit back and criticize."

Jason responded by listing the chores he did that his wife sometimes took for granted. "I reminded Jenn that I spend a lot of time on our finances. I wash the cars, keep the gas tanks filled, and cut the grass."

"I pointed out that unlike mowing the grass and washing the cars, cooking and washing dishes are daily tasks. And I reminded Jason that he's not the only one with a dream," Jenn says. "I can't work on my writing if I'm constantly doing chores around the house."

So who deserved some downtime?

Both of them did. Which was why Jason came up with a nearly perfect solution. "I offered to rotate chores. For a week, Jenn would be responsible for the house—no excuses or projects allowed until all the chores were completed. I could choose to spend my time doing something constructive or playing computer games. But the next week would be Jenn's chance for free time."

Jenn loved the idea. "I can read a book or work on my computer, all guilt-free." And Jason has an orderly environment more conducive to concentrating on his business. 

There were a couple things they opted not to rotate. "I don't have a clue how to do the laundry," Jason confesses. "And she's too disorganized to keep track of the money."

Jenn heartily agrees.

On Jason's week, he's happy with the immaculate house. On Jenn's week, they get to eat something besides frozen lasagna.

"It's fun," Jenn says. "We compete to see who makes the best meals—me. And who keeps the cleanest floors—Jason wins." They even rotate trips to the grocery store. "This week, Jason came home with ground beef and more ground beef. Along with some Stouffer's and Little Debbies," Jenn says, chuckling. "But I don't care. It feels wonderful to sit here at my computer while my husband pushes in the barstools, straightens shoes, and cleans up the kitchen."

Now they each have plenty of time to pursue their own interests. Best of all, they haven't fought once since the rotation began.

And Jason still has his coffee mug.


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Chores; Cleanliness; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Spring, 2007
Posted September 12, 2008

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