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Dividing Housework Is Best Way to Conquer It, These Couples Have Found

March 25, 1989|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Every household has its own definition of "messy" and "clean." But whether you're a family of Felix Ungers or Oscar Madisons--or a mixture of both "Odd Couple" characters--housework can be a tricky topic.

We asked readers how their families divvy up the chores, whether they take turns or have assigned tasks. Do the dynamics differ if both husband and wife have jobs outside the home? How have things evolved over the years?

Newlyweds Gloria and Francis Hu of Huntington Beach set up their household only 8 months ago. Before their marriage last July, they lived in separate apartments, sharing the household chores with roommates.

"We're about as yuppie as they come," writes Gloria, 26. "We're DINKS (Dual Income, No Kids), own a house, two dogs and we're both engineers."

The couple didn't sit down and discuss who would be responsible for which chores, Gloria says.

"Whatever needed to be done, one or the other of us would do it," says Francis, 25.

"I end up doing about 80% of the household chores," Gloria says. "This is in addition to working full time and taking two classes per semester at Cal State Fullerton."

Being an engineer, she figures the division of labor by the numbers. "In some ways we're still very traditional," Gloria says in her letter. "I do 85% of the cooking, 85% of the food shopping, 70% of the dishes, 70% cleaning bathrooms, 100% vacuuming, 100% of dusting and 70% of the laundry."

But don't get her wrong; she's not complaining. "My husband has done his share of the work too. He does 100% taking out the trash, 95% yard work, 90% fixing up the house (painting, adding light fixtures, patching walls, putting up dry wall, etc.) and 100% of the car maintenance.

"Our arrangement works out pretty well because he likes to fix things and I would much rather do housework than yard work."

Gloria wrote that letter in February; since then the couple's arrangement has already undergone some fine tuning. Now Francis is doing 50% of the cooking and dishes and about 20% of the vacuuming. "He's been helping out a lot more lately," she says.

But watch out, Francis. This is how Gloria closed her letter: "Who knows? Maybe I'll get sick of doing the housework and make him do all of it!"

Bertram and Edna Rowe of Corona del Mar remember what it was like to be newlyweds--44 years ago. But they didn't have to worry about housework then.

"Almost immediately after we got married, I joined him in India, where he was working for the British government," Edna says. "Neither of us did the housework there. We had 8 servants to look after us both."

Three years later, the British left India and the couple decided, despite reassignment possibilities in Hong Kong, Singapore and Africa, to move to the United States. And that meant they would have to forgo the servants.

"Actually, we would much prefer to do (the household chores) ourselves rather than have other people do it," Edna says.

Really? "Oh, yes. I love cooking and gardening."

In all the years, the Rowes insist, they've never argued about the housework. "We've had a very harmonious life, without friction," Edna says.

"We each did around the house whatever we were most competent to do and always had the attitude that there was no such thing as 'women's work' or 'men's work.' "

The secret, she says, is "not to have a feeling of this is your job and this is my job. If it needs doing, just do it."

When their three children were born, Edna did not work outside the home. "My only chore was the 5 a.m. feeding," Bertram says.

When the children were old enough, he says, they helped out with the dishes and garbage.

By the time the oldest was in college and the other two were in high school, Edna was working again, teaching high school math. Bert, meanwhile, was an independent insurance claims adjuster. "Our roles changed," Bertram says. "My wife still did the cooking, with an excellent meal on the table at 6 p.m. every day. She also did the washing and the gardening. She shopped once a week and during that time I did all the household cleaning and vacuuming."

Now that both are retired--he's 71; she's 66--Edna still does the cooking. "I clean the kitchen after she has prepared the meal and also make the coffee," Bertram says. "We both do the dishes."

Mary Lou and John Willoughby both worked full time and attended school part time when they were married 33 years ago.

"In those days, I wore starched white nurses' uniforms and he wore starched white shirts," Mary Lou says. "He could iron a shirt as well as I could--or better--so he took care of his own wardrobe. We shopped together, and I did the rest."

Mary Lou cut back to part-time work--she's a registered nurse--when the first of their two daughters was born. John, who worked full time as a mortgage banker, continued to "help out" around the house.

In 1980, however, Mary Lou decided to go back to college. By then she had two part-time jobs, and the housework began piling up.

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