The thorny issue of housework is hands down the biggest source of conflict in most couple’s first few years of family life. This issue tends to peak around bubs’ three to six month mark, so if you aren’t there already, plan ahead for it. Because anticipating and knowing how to navigate this issue at the beginning can save you years of mutual frustration! And if you’re struggling with it now, here’s some suggestions below.
Most couples go into parenthood with some variation on the agreement that one partner will keep ‘working’ to support the family, while the other (usually the mother) will take ‘time out’ from her career to look after bub and the home. But parenthood is work of an entirely different kind. Most couples underestimate the amount of time and effort it actually takes to care for a baby, let alone the emotional load that comes with this like-nothing-else-ever-before responsibility. And parenthood is literally 24/7 in the beginning, which means cooking, housework and running errands is on top of that.
Realistically, one pair of hands just isn’t enough.
So if you’re reading this before your adorable baby had joined you, you might want to readjust your expectations about housework so you can avoid disappointment, resentment or blame later on. It’s more helpful to expect that normal household standards will suffer for a while and be pleasantly surprised on the days you do manage to get some washing done.
Unless you plan ahead for extra pairs of hands after your baby comes, you’re likely to have limited resources in your first few weeks and months at home. And trying to make everything perfect can lead to burnout. Think about your priorities and that’s where your focus needs to be. More important than having a show home or three courses on the table, is resting and nesting, bonding with your new little person, and finding spare moments to sit down for a cuppa and check in with how your partner is going. Everything else is secondary. When bub finally gets into some sort of routine you can work on a (flexible) household routine as well.
And make sure your partner is right in there sharing the load. Not surprisingly, research tells us that mothers who feel their partner is doing a ‘fair’ amount with the baby and around the home have better all over relationship satisfaction. But surprisingly, studies also indicate that many dads don’t want their partner to be so caught up with the chores; they’d rather spend time together instead. Even more revealing is why: many new Dads feel like they have become less important than the baby and the home.
Housework is one of those issues that can conceal ‘hidden concerns’, where a surface issue is actually connected to deeper feelings such as “I’m not important any more” or “you don’t care about me” underneath. Hidden concerns are normal in intimate relationships and most heated arguments actually conceal hidden concerns. Put your energy into making it safe to talk at this level, gently unearthing any hidden concerns and you can save years of pointless quarreling - and grow closer through these conversations.
On a practical level, even before your bundle arrives, work out which room you’re likely to spend most time in and have people visit you and organize storage so it’s easy to tidy at the last minute. Involve willing family and friends to help out on a regular basis (you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll appreciate someone dropping in basic groceries!) and downsize clutter (the less you have, the less for toddlers to break later!).
Outsource what chores you can afford, make a list of left over ones and cross off anything that’s not really necessary. Each choose those you don’t mind doing and divide what’s left fairly. In these ways you can work together instead of against each other - which is great practice for the rest of your parenting career!