Teleworking and Relationships
I sit on the couch reading an article about men doing more housework than ever before while my boyfriend handwashes dishes in our tiny NYC apartment. He has just served us an elaborate breakfast of omelettes and French pressed coffee, which we ate in silence as I checked email and created my daily to-do list. Part of me –the feminist, liberal-arts-degree part—feels deserving and almost expectant of this behavior. However, another part of me—the Texan, raised-to-be-a-southern-housewife part—feels unsettled by this strange turn of events.
To clarify the situation: I work from home. I am a remote intern for a consulting firm, which means that I sit on the couch in my pajamas translating research into more meaningful terms for my bosses, who then translate it into more meaningful terms to their clients. My partner has been off work for a month, awaiting the start of his new job this coming week. During his time off, we have exhausted our free time (and ourselves) by exploring our new home: the touristy sites, the dive bars, and the overwhelmingly diverse population of NYC.
In order for us to have the time to do these things, though, there has been a severely uneven distribution of labor. He cooks, he cleans, and he runs our errands. All the while, I type away at my laptop, lost in the world of data analysis and theoretical modeling. It’s the most efficient way to do things: we both work, we both play. We both have it all.
The problem I see approaching us, however, is the beginning of his job this week. He will be working long hours with a grueling commute, whereas I will be working long hours primarily from home and the café across the street. I want to reiterate: We will both be working. So my question is, will we both make breakfast? Will we both wash the dishes?
This is where telework is potentially dangerous for relationships. Historically, the distribution of labor in the household has been much clearer: there is housework to do, and bacon to bring home. Each partner chooses a task and both are accomplished. However, as more and more couples are choosing to have a dual-income household, the boundaries between tasks become fuzzier. Add in the complicated phenomenon of being a “telecommuter”, and you have yourself a pretty confusing situation.
As a telecommuter, your home is your office. As a 1950s-style housewife, your office is your home. Do you see how this could lead to confusion surrounding whose job it is to do the housework around here? Typically the housework is done by the partner who spends more time in the house, thus is more available to do these tasks. However, this rule can’t apply for telecommuters—the time we spend in the house is already spoken for.
I’m not sure I have a resolute answer for how work should be divided in a dual-income partnership, especially with the added complication of telecommuting. But I do know that gender roles are changing, and that these issues will come to the forefront as women slowly earn more than 77 cents to the male dollar, and telecommuting becomes more popular for both men and women alike.
In the meantime? My BA in Psychology (as well as a certain amount of trial-and-error experience) qualifies me to advise the following:
Discuss your expectations. Splitting things down the middle is probably impractical, but an open conversation should allow you to come to a more equal arrangement. Your partner might not realize how much weight you have been carrying while he/she is at work; simply listing all the chores that need to be done in a given week might give them insight into how they can contribute.
State the obvious. Although it seems obvious to you and me, your partner might not understand the terms of your work-from-home situation. Try to patiently spell it out by comparing it to their work experience: although working from home does free you from a long commute, being “on the clock” means the same as what it would in a traditional office. Just like he/she wouldn’t interrupt their busy workday to go grocery shopping, you can’t be expected to drop your work to fold a load of laundry.
Be patient. Any change in a relationship dynamic takes time. Although you might not be completely satisfied in the beginning, know that any progress is still progress. As you and your partner transition to a more equal distribution of work, be sure to tell him/her how much you appreciate their efforts.
Questions for readers: How do you divide the housework in your family? How does telecommuting affect the way you accomplish household tasks?