Benjamin Rosenbaum

Comments on "The Chore List"

It seems like a good system, but not one suited to our household. For one thing, we would spend more time negotiating over the value of chore units than we do chores, and call for renegotiating them every two weeks or so...

I'm curious--does your system allow for different weights for chores depending on who does them? For instance, vacuuming is a minor chore for me, but a major one for my Best Reader; if I do the chore as I am supposed to, it would be only one Chore Unit, but if for some reason I left it undone when we were expecting company and she had to do it, I would be half-a-dozen behind at least.

This has serious implications for managing the system. We largely have divided tasks to the person who dislikes it least: I do laundry and dishes and vacuum and make out the cheques, she cooks and mows the lawn and mends and shops and reminds us not to be late for things. This is obviously the best way, as it minimizes anti-hedons, but when one partner leaves a task undone (as occasionally happens), it maximizes both frustration and guilt. That's a drawback, but perhaps a necessary one.


Posted by Vardibidian at June 5, 2008 06:51 PM

Wow, apparently you're even more contentious than we are. But as long as you've got something working for you...

We do not allow different weights depending on who does which chore -- with the exception of allowing some kid-sized chores for kids. Partly, we just want to minimize complexity, and partly, to minimize anti-hedons as you say, we want to encourage people to do the chores they like to do. And judging who hates doing something more seems fraught with subjectivity, as well as blunting the system's self-correcting feature (that a task no one chooses to do in practice gets weighted more heavily until someone does it).

But of course, anti-hedons must be assessed in context. If you hate vacuuming and like to leave it for your partner to do, but you hate having your in-laws visit your unvacuumed apartment MORE than you hate vacuuming, then you may have to vacuum if a visit is pending and you are behind on the list. No guilt or frustration needed, just minimizing your own personal store of anti-hedons. The list just formalizes whether you have the leverage to get sweetie to do it for you instead.

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at June 5, 2008 09:01 PM

I just read a slightly interesting article on shared parenting and housekeeping ("slightly" because it's kind of old-news-y and filled with defensive IMHO backsliding), which reminded me of this question: did you have this system before having kids, and how did it carry over?

I mean possibly the answer is "our childcare division of labor was fully satisfying and so we just had to adjust to the difference in hours worked." My house's system fell apart when we settled into our non-equal, non-satisfactory division of childcare hours, so I was curious if you adjusted for that or just didn't do it. Maybe we'll start the chore list again in the fall when daycare begins.

Posted by JessieSS at June 12, 2008 06:58 PM

Well, I gotta tell you: I think this list is a pretty solid answer, for us, to the problem of housework. I am not necessarily claiming it is an answer to the problem of childcare.

We had been using some variant of this list for four or five years before we had children. We basically kept right on using it.

The labor of childcare has two parts. One part is simply increased housework which is similar to other housework: kids throw mush on the floor, they draw on the walls, they go through five pairs of pants in a day.

But another part is not really reduceable to housework. Bathing the kid? Singing "the itsy bitsy spider" while diapering? Reading a book together? Having a debate about gay marriage (a perennial debate topic for Aviva and me)? It's a slippery slope, because some of these activities look like housework, sort of, but others don't, but they're all kind of the same thing, so where do you draw the line?

We essentially excluded all varieties of "giving love to children", from bathing them to singing to them to oohing and ahhing over their artwork, from the whole equation. For one thing, we felt icky rewarding ourselves with points for giving love. For another, while we would fight about who had to do the housework, we would fight about who got to be with the kids. We figured there was enough intrinsic incentive to do that, less onerous, part of childcare.

If any particular category becomes a particular pain in the ass, you can always say "let's start putting that on the list". Say you had initially categorized arranging babysitters and playdates under "taking care of the kids", but then you realize that it's actually just scutwork, and not about quality time at all -- then you can make it a chore item, if you can find an appropriate granularity ("organized 5 playdates").

Now, it is undeniable that this is a place that sexism can creep back in, and surely has, despite our best efforts. If one parent is out playing sports and the other is home with the kids, well, the one who's home is probably doing housework and thus getting ahead on the list and thus earning more time out... but arguably not at the optimally fair rate, if they spend a lot of that time reading bedtime stories and intervening in disputes instead of things that "count" on the list.

But nor would it be fair the other way -- I can tell you right now that if childcare counted on the list as chores, it would destroy the usefulness of the list for us.

The way it is now, if the kids and I spend my stay-at-home-daddy days one week building homemade telegraphs, watching The Wiz on youtube, and making up songs, then I get way behind on The List, and the next week I am all about organizing the kids into cleaning squads. But if I got points for the romping? The household maintenance would go to hell.

So instead of corrupting our housework equity system, we end up adjusting non-housework-related unfairness at a much more crude granularity ("I've been doing the brunt of evening childcare, so from now on Wednesdays are my night off").

It's not as elegant, but it works reasonably well. Having the housework, at least, be fair is, to be frank, most of the battle. Childcare is, I think Esther would agree, mostly its own reward.

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at June 18, 2008 04:47 PM

I feel like half the conversation is here and half is over at Mary Anne's! But I think I've identified where we diverge--it sounds like you guys have worked out a balance where you can get your work done, at least enough that it's not a major stress. Whereas right now in my house, childcare is often competing with work (professional, not house). That makes both work and childcare less pleasurable, and that's a much more significant conflict than housework at this point. And many chores are much harder to do with V. around, so childcare and chores can't be decoupled.

My hope is that this balance will work itself out when V. starts daycare in the fall, both because it's more hours and, more importantly, because it won't go away for three weeks at a time to visit family and renew its visa. I'm totally sympathetic to our sitter, you understand, I'm just also terrified about my third chapter. That takes the fun out of a lot of things.

Posted by Jessie at June 26, 2008 07:55 PM

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