Moral Money: our reader wants to find a fairer housework solution
Dear Moral Money,
My husband earns twice as much as me and yet I am expected to pay for a cleaner if we have one. My husband, our son and I all live in the house, but it is assumed I will clean it.
If I cannot – because I run out of time, or am too exhausted – then I must pay for a cleaner to delegate “my” work to.
During the two years after our baby was born I worked part-time, and gradually my hours increased to the point I am back to full-time work.
Our son has started primary school and thankfully we live locally to our parents, who help us with after school child minding. We all enjoy this because it’s so good for family bonds.
But I am struggling to keep up with housework in addition to being a mum and working.
I suggested we get a cleaner in to help, and was told it would be my responsibility to pay for one. This has annoyed me because although my husband has never readily helped around the house, it is not only my mess that needs cleaning up.
This doesn’t seem fair, especially given the difference in our earnings.
I was keen to find out a bit more about your career, so we had a chat and I was delighted to learn that you get a lot of self-satisfaction out of your work.
It often takes more than one income to maintain a home and family these days, for you work is not just a financial imperative but a benefit to your lifestyle, wellbeing and self-esteem.
The social care career you have chosen is not the highest paying employment of your skill set, but it is needed by humanity and rewarding to you personally.
It does seem that society expects much less of working fathers on the domestic front than it does of working mothers.
This is somewhat exacerbated by the fact that the workplace has become much more ambitious about gender equality, even if this isn’t yet reflected in pay equality, and women are expected to compete on equal terms in the workplace while maintaining most of the domestic burden.
Research from the University of Nottingham has highlighted this issue, finding that during the pandemic home educating children fell mainly to mothers, even where both mothers and fathers were expected to manage workloads from home.
With skewed expectations and few historic male role models to demonstrate domestic equality, it is often perceived to be the woman’s responsibility to keep house, regardless of her work commitments. It is obviously unreasonable, and I do believe it is changing gradually.
I am seeing many families recasting roles to allow a more equitable share of obligations. Many working fathers are finding ways to be involved and more supportive with the domestic burden now their wives earnings are a critical part of the finances, and she is no longer a dedicated home manager.
You mention the benefit of having family living locally and your gratitude for this. Indeed, you are fortunate because so many families live too far away from each other to offer such a team effort in raising children. The arrival of children greatly increases the domestic load.
We move from our initial tiny one-bedroom place to a family home, have more structured shopping and meal planning, as opposed to takeaways and eating out. Then there is the washing. How one small human can triple the washing and ironing remains a mystery, but there it is.
On top of this less sleep, more social demands as we accommodate the new generation needs (as social secretary, wardrobe adviser and transportation provider). Often stretched finances accompany this stage of life, which adds to the strain.
Working out which family and home tasks can be delegated cost effectively and efficiently should be a joint discussion that also factors the cost and how to cover it. As a financial planner I advocate that families identify the shared family expenses, and that they be met from a family bank account.
This bank account should be funded in one of two ways. Either all the earned income from both parties goes into the account to meet expenses, and the remainder balance can then be divided equally between the earners, or it is funded proportionately in line with earnings.
I believe it would be reasonable to have the family bank account cover the cost of domestic help for you and your family.
While I think it is unfair of your partner to assume cleaning is your responsibility alone, whether you do it or pay someone else to do it, he obviously thinks it is an acceptable position.
So if you start a conversation by trying to convince him he is wrong I believe you increase the chance of rowing, rather than reaching a solution. It may be better to get curious about where these ideas come from.
Explore what is at the heart of his objection to paying a cleaner from the family budget. Maybe he is resentful about your commitment to your career, worried about your child’s development, worried about his ability as a parent.
Is he being made to feel uncomfortable by family or friends about how he manages his life? Does he just miss having you home more often?
It is my experience when working with couples on financial solutions that we have rarely taken time to get to know each other’s financial conditioning. We all started forming our money stories when we were children.
Money is not an easy subject to talk about and so we end up guessing or assuming everyone thinks as we do. I think maybe you and your partner are overdue a conversation that addresses how you will jointly finance your parenting, homeowning and shared lifestyle – including how the cleaning gets done.