I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot, off and on. I have a big question. But first, the background. David and I have been married for nearly 8 years. When you’re experiencing marriage for the second – or third – time, you bring some wisdom with you. One of the things we both knew was that we would need to negotiate the division of labour (and capital) around the house. A lawyer and a bureaucrat. Imagine the negotiation! We came to several basic decisions:
- We would have a joint bank account for shared expenses, and we’d each have our own accounts as well.
- We would each deposit a set amount to the joint account each month.
- The term “shared expense” was not narrowly defined; it’s something we agreed we’d each decide for ourselves when paying for something whether or not it should be on the shared or individual accounts because we both knew we’d both err in the favour of their own account more often than not.
- Our contributions to the joint account would be determined as a percentage based on the relative income to reflect our relative ability to contribute. In other words, I’d contribute x% of the total and he’d contribute y% of the total.
- Each year we’d review whether or not there needed to be a change in the contribution formula.
- Contributions in kind: There would be an equal division of household chores and responsibilities.
- We would decide, as life unfolded, who would do what. For example, I loved to cook so I volunteered to do most of the cooking. David likes to eat gourmet meals, so he volunteered to do most of the clean-up. This way he can relax or do whatever he wants while I’m cooking and I can do the same while he’s cleaning up. We’d shop for food together. Works for us.
- As the non-repeating chores came up, one of us would just jump in and offer to do something or ask the other if s/he’d mind doing something. Always keeping principles of equity in mind. Works for us.
And now I get to what’s been troubling me. We came to this agreement based on the realities of both of us having jobs that were often stressful and pressured. We left home at the same together – actually together – most days, and most days he picked me up from work and we ran errands together on our way home. He’d rest from a tiring day by watching the news and doing some work on his laptop (yes, he’s a lawyer) and I’d rest by immersing myself in the bliss of preparing a great meal. We’d eat together. Then he’d let the lulling repetition of cleaning up relax him and I’d be listening to music and working on my laptop. It has worked well, and there have only been rare occasions when either one of us didn’t feel that they other did more than their share.
When I retire, the realities change. He will still have a work life that involves a lot of stress and long hours. I will not necessarily have a work life at all; and I’m guessing that in the end I’ll have a little work life doing the things I enjoy most and mostly a leisure or free to do/give what I want life. Is it not fair, then, for me to take on more of the household chores to lighten his load and achieve better balance in stress levels? Would that not be the equitable thing to do?
If you’re saying “yes, of course” just stop right there for a minute. When I first started asking myself this question I said “yes, of course it is” too. But something about that answer gnawed away at me and I began to – yes, I admit – search for a rational argument that would not lead to this same conclusion but still had merit. And I found it. The doing of chores is mostly about time contributed. We agreed to a particular division of labour based on the fact that a certain number of hours each day were required to “earn a living” and those hours were available for chores only if either one of us could easily, and happily, fit it into the day without it being problematic. That work time – because it is paid time and accrues money – is considered valued and protected time. It’s the perceptual translation of “time is money”. There is no intention to change our level of contribution to the joint budget; I agree that I will still make the same deposits as I’d do if I was still working. The pension is money accumulated , I believe, mostly from money that I have contributed over the years. So, if I am maintaining the same level of financial contribution, should I be considered my own “boss” for the same number of hours a day, and shouldn’t the full plan – as currently implemented – continue.
I am open to other arguments. Otherwise, this is my story and I’m going to stick to it (and see what happens).