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Girl Talk: Help Around the House

Q. My husband and I used to share the housework before we had a baby, but now that I'm on maternity leave, I'm doing it all. How can I get the split to be even again?

A.
Another girl's youthful idealism is temporarily buried under loads of laundry and dishes and lots of dirty diapers. I feel your pain, sister. I really do.

Many years ago when I was fresh out of college and my head was filled with optimism and lots of women's studies literature, I was baffled by wives who let their husbands shirk their fair share of parenting duties. "That's just pathetic," I'd think to myself.

Then I had a baby, and I became wise to certain facts of our universe. One is that women don't let this inequity happen. They just get tired of the nagging and waiting and pick up the slack themselves.

The fact is, the division of labor two people enjoy before having kids is not some sort of symbiotic relationship found in nature. It is a man-made treaty that assumes one person will wash and one person will dry. And, as you found out, there's nothing like a new baby to upset the unnatural balance of things.

Now that you're home all day, for instance, he may think the previous arrangement no longer applies, and that you are in charge of all household duties. To this convenient yet flawed reasoning, you may explain: "Yes, I am home all day. I do laundry, dishes, and cleaning all day, and I take care of a baby all day. Why am I expected to work evenings, nights, and weekends, too?"

Another change is the lack of sleep. I'm guessing that your husband hasn't been this sleep deprived since pulling all-nighters at school, and he probably wasn't focused on housework then, either. If this is the case, he may not be aware of his dereliction, much less alert to the fact that you're one day away from putting his manhood in a vise if he doesn't start changing more diapers.

Finally, your husband honestly may not realize that you're doing more than he is. (I know. It boggles the mind. But go with me for a second.) To be fair, it may be difficult for him to see everything that you do while he's at work. The nature of household chores, after all, is to make things like junk mail, dirty dishes, and T-shirt stains magically disappear.

My advice is to take note of what your day involves, and bring it to his attention. And, as my mother reminds me, it is also a good idea to acknowledge and thank his daily contributions as a sign of mutual respect  -- you gotta give to get.

Then make it clear that, yes, you are strong, you are invincible, you are woman. But you are not a domestic machine. So be sure to tell him that for your partnership to last, you do in fact need a partner. With any luck, he'll start to chip in again, and you can relish the idea that even though you are becoming your mother, you've still come a long way, baby.

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