Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Laid Off Spouse Part 3: The Division of Labor

Today marks two months since C was laid off. And he's been busy! He cannot WAIT to go back to work.

Why is that? I said he was busy. Are you paying attention? :-)

Last time we went through the magical layoff experience, there was much that wasn't discussed beforehand. It came suddenly. This time, since we had some warning, we were able to reflect on the past, figure out what worked and what didn't, and attempt a plan for this time around. After C started working again, we went right into "let's buy a house," and we never looked back much on what could have been different, because we figured that we'd never be in this situation again. Ha, WRONG!

What needed to change? It all boiled down to this: I couldn't think of C as my personal manservant. Last time, I had the idea that just because he was home all day, he could do 100% of the chores around the condo we were renting, plus the grocery shopping or any errands that needed to be done, ON TOP OF job searching (and later, interviews) and having some personal time to do things that interested him. ALL IN ONE DAY!

That was a huge mistake, and a valuable one to learn early on in marriage. We hadn't even been married 6 months before he got laid off. I shouldn't have done it then, and I could NOT do it this time. For starters, it wasn't fair to him then and definitely wouldn't be fair to do it again. I didn’t realize this until much after the fact, actually until C went back to work, and have since apologized. Another difference is that we have more stuff to care for now, versus then. A house twice as big as the condo. A YARD. A garden!

With the lay off on the horizon, I didn't feel that it was right or fair to work hard all day (and praying that I didn't do anything stupid to either get fired or get hurt and need to take a leave of absence), to then come home and have to do tons of chores when he wasn’t working. I also didn’t want to fight or to take advantage of my husband. I was willing to do work too.

So we set up a new way of doing things. We divided up the chores and errands, cleanly.

His tasks:
  • dishes
  • cooking
  • grocery shopping
  • meal planning
  • trash from house to garage (as needed), then garage to curb on trash night
  • laundry--he washes and either puts things in the dryer or hangs them up.
  • feeding the cats (he also orders more food when they are low & picks it up from our vet)
  • garden master--he is in charge of the garden; I help when needed.
  • being home for service people (sort of obvious)

My tasks:
  • the triple B's: budget, bills, and banking. Anything to do with money is my turf. I've always done it and I'm better at it ;-) (C will agree!) For us, it makes more sense for one person to have "control" but the other person is still knowledgeable about what's going on.
  • making sure all clothes are dried, folded and put away.
  • ALL cleaning--except for messes that are made by one's self.
  • litter box cleaning
  • errand running--Target, post office, wherever. He hates Target and Walmart, and I don't mind doing those things. Plus, I tend to notice more when we're low on something.
  • arranging any service appointments, including our cars
  • taking our cars in for service. Yeah, I'm sure this is more of a "man" thing to many couples, but the dealership we use is 1 mile from my office. It makes more sense for me to do this.
So far, this has really worked for us. And there are times when I'll start a load of laundry before I head to work, leaving him a note with what I did and what he needs to do (throw in dryer vs. hang up, depending on what is in the washer). Or I'll run the dishwasher. He's even gone to Walmart once or twice ;-) It's not 100% even, but when is marriage, really? This system will have to be modified again when he goes back to work, but here are some important lessons we both got out of these experiences.
  1. Don’t have super high expectations for yourself or for each other. I shouldn’t have crammed in as much work as I was doing before—running to the grocery store after work, coming home, unpacking, throwing a load in the washer, making dinner, cleaning up, then collapsing into bed. I shouldn’t have treated my husband as I did the last time around. It wasn’t intentional, it just sort of happened. Probably because I know how I would be if I was in his shoes. But that’s me—the rabbit who runs around crazy to get everything done. He’s not like that.
  2. Never take the other person (or their schedule!) for granted. Layoffs are not a vacation, true, but the other person does not suddenly become your slave.
  3. Don’t assume. Again, just because they are laid off doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a day of fishing or going out with friends. This includes double checking with them before you schedule repairs or appointments.
  4. Talk about things before you run off with your ideas. This might sound repetitive of “don’t assume” but it’s still a good idea to talk about EVERYTHING. Even if it’s as silly as “I’m going to wash my car on Sunday afternoon.” Maybe the partner who is home all day wants to take you on a fun day trip to spend more time with you :-)
I wrote all of this before I realized that I didn’t get specific about how chores and such worked after we moved into our house, but before C got laid off. Back then, I was doing a lot of the inside work and was getting pretty resentful at times because of it. We didn’t have a set system of things, which probably was the first cause of my resentment. Because of a few different things, including C coming home stressed out and exhausted, I tried to do too much because I didn’t want to bother him or have things in disarray. Another problem. Plus, I felt that as the woman, I needed to MAKE MY HOME. I also hate asking for help, or fear that I sound whiney or bitchy when I do so. I wasn’t asking for help, and the resentment would bottle it up and explode and we’d fight. That was dumb. VERY DUMB.

Here’s how things went, most of the time.
  • dishes—mostly me
  • cooking—depended on the day, but mostly me.
  • grocery shopping—either of us, whoever felt like it or had the time, sometimes we’d both go
  • meal planning—we’d try to do it together
  • trash from house to garage (as needed)—mostly me
  • trash from garage to curb on trash night—mostly him, although sometimes I’d do it
  • laundry—mostly me
  • feeding the cats–him
  • being home for service people—we’d try to schedule things on the days where he didn’t have to leave the house until 11. Otherwise, I’d take the day off.
  • the triple B's—me
  • ALL cleaning—me, but sometimes C would vacuum or clean the bathrooms when he thought it had been too long
  • litter box cleaning—me
  • errand running—depended on what, but mostly me
  • arranging any service appointments, including our cars—me
  • taking our cars in for service—me
I wrote most of this post today while at work, but wanted to work on it later. Good thing, because I have some related new. I got home this afternoon, and C told me that he was contacted about a position at his old company. His facility had been closed after the budget cuts, but there was an equivalent position at another facility that the company owns. He is expecting a call tomorrow regarding an interview. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers!


  1. I can totally relate! After Mike quit his part-time job to devote his time to finding a full-time job I expected that his time at home would be spent doing the things I would do--namely, running around doing errands and cleaning the apartment. It was made worse by the fact that he wasn't doing much actual job searching/applying. And that he would promise to do things and not do them (an ongoing issue for as long as I've known him).

    It helped when I stopped seeing it as me vs. him and actually listened to how anxious and overwhelmed he felt, how paralyzing that was, and how he hated not accomplishing anything with his days. We came up with a two-pronged approach: First, I made a shared Google Doc where I listed the things he'd promised to do so that they were in black-and-white and not just in a list in my head where I didn't know whether he remembered agreeing to them or not. Second, we created a schedule for him which we posted in several places around the apartment that balanced out things he wanted to do (like, he wanted to get up early and take a bike ride in the morning, and then come home and watch a movie) with things that needed to get done (he would try to accomplish one thing on the Google Doc each day and clean up one room of the apartment).

    Like you said, actually talking about these kinds of things and creating a plan together is so much better than making assumptions or having resentment! I'm glad that you've been able to figure out a plan that works for you guys. I hope C got that phone call he was hoping for this week!

  2. Thanks!!! And yes, he did get that call yesterday and has an interview tomorrow :) More to come, my comments on that were starting to turn into its own post, so I will put that up in a second.

    Back to this post...I did something stupid last night and we ended up fighting about this very topic. I was tired and cranky, got snotty about having to help with something (that's the stupid) and that usually doesn't lead anywhere good. :( I'm bummed, especially because I thought things had been going so well. Chalk it up to a lack of communication on some things, poor planning in regard to others, and just busyness, stress, and fatigue. I hate fighting (who doesn't, really?) and as C's grandmother always says "the house is not a church" but I just wish they weren't about things that really can be avoided...or avoided more often.


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