Here, an excerpt from the interviews section of the book.
CAL: “Finally, Our House Feels Like a Home”
Cal, age forty-four, has four children with his wife of twenty years.
Mollie: Is there an argument that just keeps coming up between you and your wife?
Cal: Many of the long-running arguments that we have seen to be centered around the lack of defined roles in our relationship. We are both products of the feminist movement—women aren’t going to be forced to be at home taking care of children and cooking dinner! So the systems of our household are perpetually left leaderless as both adults strive for success and validation outside our home.
This lack of definition has plagued us since the days we just started living together and couldn’t agree on who did what chores and who was responsible for what. It’s rather embarrassing to say that we still run across these problems twenty years later. At least a few generations ago they had one person who gathered resources and one person who saw that those resources were well managed in producing a family. Now we are both responsible for everything, and that leads to chaos and frustration for us.
Mollie: Can you give me more specifics? Which chores are still up for grabs? Which chores have you come to an agreement on?
Cal: We have written out three sheets of information for the family. One sheet gives our vision, values, expectations and measures of success. It’s funny that after being married over twenty years we are still working out what our vision for our home is. We’ve had other vision statements in the past, but they seem to have a finite life span. The vision needs to be renewed and revived periodically; for us, it seems like we can agree on one for about two years.
The next sheet shows the systems we are working on to make the household run more smoothly. We started with agreeing on twenty minutes of cleaning and that’s going really well thus far (maybe for the past two months). We’re still working on figuring out the rest.
Finally, we have a chores sheet. This is laminated (yes, we have a laminator and every family needs one!). We assign and check off the chores using a dry erase marker. There are six of us, and six people cleaning a single area isn’t going to work, so we have two or three areas separated out into five days (our goal is to clean five days per week). We schedule the cleaning via group text message at least two hours ahead of time. Then we assemble at the table, pick a day, assign the jobs, start the timer, start some music, and clean for twenty minutes. If someone finishes early, they get re-assigned to another job until we have all worked for twenty minutes. We clean with whoever is home at the time, even if it’s only a couple of us.
This cleaning system has finally gotten our house to feel like a home. We all now have clean, paired socks and vacuumed hallways.
Bedroom cleaning is handled by a different system of weekly room inspections.
Mollie: Any other ongoing arguments?
Cal: Nothing is jumping to mind. My wife and I are pretty low-key people, but we have still managed to have some pretty turbulent times in our marriage. This point isn’t one of them. Our kids are now 18, 16, 14 and 11. They are old enough that they are becoming self-sufficient, but young enough not to realize how clueless they are in the real world. It’s a frustrating time. I think we’ve been handling it well, overall, but have been far from perfect.
Mollie: Finally, how much do you enjoy your marriage? Is it worth the hardship?
Cal: I do enjoy my marriage. The sex is amazing, and that’s a large part of male happiness. Consistent access to a female is success in an evolutionary sense. Beyond just meeting physical needs, my wife is a wonderful friend who I still enjoy having dinner with or accompanying to one of our children’s events. I made a really good decision before we started dating: I had just had a mediocre dating experience with a pretty red-haired girl, who treated me like a distraction. Based on that experience, I decided that the next person I was going to spend my time with would be one who I enjoyed being with. My wife is remarkable in that I was always sorry when the evening came to an end; there never seemed to be enough time.
Twenty-three years later, I still think that was a wise decision. I haven’t had the most exciting life from the outside, but I’ve enjoyed most minutes because I made a really good choice. I married an honest friend who I really enjoyed being around. Fights come and go, but we still like having dinner, watching a movie or doing a project together. Even when we are at our worst, there has always been that underlying layer of friendship and enjoyment that we fell back on. It’s a pretty amazing connection.
Babies come. But babies don't go. Get Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Story on Amazon now.