We started living as a nuclear family since my 2nd kid was about seven months old in a new country. Earlier, we always had a helper who took care of laundry, washing dishes, dusting, and mopping the house every day in India. Staying very close to my parents, we had the privilege of dropping my elder one at my mom’s house and heading off to our workplace. We had a typical working life. We reserved evenings for spending time with my child, going for short walks, parks, et al.
After our 2nd child, we moved to Germany as my husband got an opportunity. I loved the idea of relocating and resigned from my job and moved to Germany.
When we moved, I was still nursing; my sleep cycle was crazy, and I could not wake up early to prepare breakfast. My husband woke up early, made breakfast for us, packed our daughter’s lunch, and dropped her at school. I woke up slightly late in the morning as I felt exhausted waking up at random times at night. Thanks to my then infant son. I felt super grateful to wake up for coffee and breakfast. But as my little one turned older, I gradually could wake up early, and my sleep cycle got normalized. Still, my husband continued making breakfast and coffee, while I took care of lunch and dinner.
In Germany, it is expensive for us to afford a help to clean the house with a single income, let alone cook Indian food. And during the pandemic, it was almost impossible to seek outside help.
We found it super hard to manage cooking, cleaning the house, taking care of children, shopping all by ourselves. Folding laundry was a weekly task with a mountain of clothes. Cleaning the house was when we had friends dropping by. I was used to stepping on blocks and soft toys as I waded through the living room. I struggled to find a matching pair of socks for my daughter, who was running late to school.
In most households, when one person is not working outside the home, they are taken for granted to do household work (which is mostly women) after the couple transition to parenthood, even as per research. And typically women do more household chores, says many a study.
I think my mother or mother-in-law would cringe if I tell them my husband cooks breakfast even though he has to log in to work at 8:30 A.M. Because it was primarily my mother (though she was working full-time) and mother-in-law who did, and still do most of the household work. While I appreciate their spirit and stamina, I didn’t want to follow this protocol of doing all the household work single-handedly as a stay-at-home mom because of two things.
- My now 9-year-old daughter sees both her parents sharing responsibility in all household chores. She realizes that women alone aren’t bound to household tasks and men to office.
- I started taking the morning time for myself. I read, write, go for a run, or sleep some more if I worked till late at night. I certainly don’t want to compromise on that sacred time. My kids get it.
Soon the pandemic struck and my husband started working from home as well. His work somehow gets prolonged to late evenings often but still, I appreciate that he relentlessly manages to wake up early to get our family breakfast ready.
By the way, I find it very cool (shhh… and sexy!) to see my man in the kitchen. And the good thing is he likes cooking and is a better chef than me, which is a plus.
I even let my husband take care of making sure my 2nd one eats his dinner every day. I plate the dinner and hand it over to him, and walk away to get other stuff around the house done.
We have an almost 50% split in most of the chores, but it is not an iron rule book. We are flexible based on each other’s needs. On certain days, if he has an early meeting, I offer to make breakfast, and if I have a deadline, he takes care of the rest of the day. But I hate to admit that I often feel guilty because even though he is overworked, he wakes up in the morning to prepare breakfast. My 9-year-old daughter appreciates this, maybe. If I am making breakfast, she questions why dad is not making breakfast today.
I feel there is a sense of mental balance when we have balanced household responsibilities. The house is cleaner than before. I engage both of my kids in tasks like putting away toys after play, their plates in the sink after their meals. My 4th grader daughter even self-arranged her wardrobe a month back. Because of the shared responsibility, I could start a new career from home. I am more present for my kids and for myself. Sharing tasks obviously also shows you care, love, and are there for your spouse, which is emotionally fulfilling, I reasoned.
Though I initially felt guilty, wondering what my husband would think if he has to work a 9–6 and partake in household work. But I came to accept that everyone living in the house handles around-the-house jobs when living together in a single home. There is no need for one person to seek “help”; instead, each one does their part. Household chores are monotonous monsters that are mentally and physically draining.
A stay-at-home mom’s life needs all the support she can get, is my solid belief. No point burning out trying to do every single thing single-handedly. Women who are working from home or working for home need to learn to ask for help. Men mostly won’t get it until you spell it out. But doubt lingers. Am I doing this right? Am I sending the right message to my kids? How much is too much to ask?
I work independently and try not to burn out as I set my deadlines and can often relax them as per my day. I work around my schedule to fit children’s doctor appointments or an evening out. But my husband, who rents his time for money, does not have this privilege. Am I right in expecting him to do 50% of the household tasks, even though he brings in most of the money? My business will take time to bring in the cash, I know. But I think I, too, have compromised a lot to stay home and take care of the kids so he can work in peace. It is a constant mental battle.