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Can You Win the Chore Wars at Home?

04/28/2015 11:16 am ET | Updated Jun 28, 2015
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Man may work from sun to sun, but woman's work is never done.

According to a new study by the Working Mother Research Institute, these old words still hold true for most of us working moms.

In "Chore Wars: The Working Mother Report," WMRI surveyed more than 1,000 working parents in dual-income families. The upshot? Working moms are still doing most household chores, from laundry to pet care to planning vacations. You name it, we're probably doing it.

What are the working dads up to? Those surveyed by WMRI say they are most likely to lead on washing and maintaining the car, taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, landscaping, taxes and financial planning.

What's most likely to be outsourced (although few families actually do)? Mowing the lawn, landscaping, car maintenance, car washing and taxes. (Note any similarities to the dad's list above? No comment.)

It's likely not that surprising to hear that women are still doing the majority of what was once called "women's work." That said, it is surprising to see that even in dual-income families where the woman outearns her partner, she's still handling most of the at-home jobs.

Brigid Schulte, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for The Washington Post and author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One has the Time (Picador 2015), for one, isn't that surprised by the WMRI findings. "I think so much of this stuff is culturally programmed," she told Working Mother magazine. You get these old movies playing in your head about what a wife and mother looks like."

Adds Brigid, "Think how much has changed with gender roles in the last century. I think we're still somewhat confused as a society and getting used to it. The fact is, women in particular are still going to feel more judged than men if the house isn't picked up."

Amen, sister! I, a married working mother of two, can report that I am the one who cares the most whether the house is picked up. In fact, it is ingrained deep in the dark recesses of my brain that the house should be picked up and dinner started when he gets home from work on the nights when I pick the kids up from school. (Growing up, this was my own working mother's rule for me when I watched my younger brother after school.) But even now, I've never asked my husband if this should be our rule for each other. I just do it.

To that end, one of Working Mother's top tips for reconsidering how home chores are tackled is to make specific agreements on who does what.

From the the Chore Wars report:

If one of you loads the dishwasher, then the other should unload. When everyday tasks are explicitly assigned to one person in the house, there are fewer opportunities for lingering resentments to develop (as each partner quietly tallies up how many times they've done each job). If the dishwasher hasn't been loaded, for example, the owner of that job can be dispassionately texted a photo of the full sink.

In my house, one of the best things for my personal home-life sanity was the moment my husband took over the laundry, which is no small thing in a Brooklyn apartment where the machines are three flights down and all washing for four people has to be done on the weekend. (My big-ticket item is food shopping and meal planning -- and then we divvy up the rest.)

Do I still get overwhelmed sometimes? Yes. Does he? Yes. Do we both think we're doing a lot to keep the home fires burning? Oh, yes.

But I am here to say that explicitly divvying up the chores is always better than allowing resentments to fester. And also, between you and me, letting your partner know his work is appreciated (because your kids never will) also works wonders as well.

But shhhh, don't tell him I told you to do that!