The things men do (and don't)

When Sophy Robinson left the boardroom behind, she expected plenty of domestic help from her partner. Things didn't work out that way
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Indy Lifestyle Online
WHEN I ceased to be a "my-money-is-my-own" free spirit on the arrival of my first child six years ago, deciding what was a fair split of the income and the domestic chores all seemed pretty straightforward. My partner and I earned exactly the same amount of money, and over a relaxed dinner - as much as dinner is relaxed when you are 40 weeks, five days and three hours pregnant - agreed to set up and contribute the same amount of our hard-earned income into a joint bank account. Another glass of wine and we had agreed that the domestic tasks would be split evenly between us too. It all seemed blissfully liberated, fair and well balanced. Stagger home, fall into bed, give birth next day, freeze frame and jump six years.

We now have three children aged 6, 4 and 2 and all the serious "commitments" that entails. A house that is large enough to accommodate the brood and my office - as I now work from home. Then there are all those little mouths to feed, bodies to clothe, minds to educate, after-school activities to fund, birthday and Christmas presents to purchase - never mind the odd holiday in which to try and recover our sanity.

But, while the bills have become mountainous, a chasm has emerged between what my husband and I earn. He still works in the City, where there has been a period of generous bonuses, while I - having finally given up my seat in the boardroom of the communications company - have gone freelance and work (in theory, and sometimes in practice) part-time.

We originally tried to accommodate this disparity in earning power by funding the joint account - and therefore our family costs - in proportion to each of our incomes. So when he had a good period, while my freelance work was a bit slow, he put substantially more money into the joint account.

But steadily the calm and the balance has eroded. There has been a creeping volunteerism on my part, and an assumption on his that, because I work from home, I work fewer hours and, therefore, that it falls to me to organise our domestic life.

We both hit a really busy patch at work - his patch lasted for four months, and mine for two. Suddenly the domestic harmony went flying up the chimney pot. What started to creep in me was resentment, and in him a combination of tunnel vision and guilt. The single-minded pursuit of City "deals" blinded him to the scuffed school shoes, the clutter in the playroom, the festering goo under the kitchen table after Sunday tea and the withering houseplants.

A week passed in which we barely saw him, and most of the next Sunday he spent closeted in my office working. My temper snapped just before the children's bathtime and, while he put the children to bed - trying to calm screams of "mummy, we want mummy" - I fumed downstairs. "I know there are more important and tragic things in the world than this, and that I lead a charmed life, but this is driving me insane," I said to myself. I am a list-maker by nature, so to calm my fury I made a list (see right) of all the things he does, and all the things I do, to keep this family ticking over.

To give him his due, when I showed it to him, he immediately volunteered a list of things that he would do instead of me. When he got to the item "Sunday papers" - he looked up, puzzled and said, "What do you mean by `Sunday papers' - that I spend a lot of time reading them?" "No, no," I reassured him, "I mean that you pay the newsagent, cancel them if we go away and complain if they aren't delivered on time."

Now, the thing is that my man is a new man. A recently-divorced girlfriend of mine came for lunch last weekend. When he helped tidy the post-lunch debris away and then went off to check that the six children weren't killing each other upstairs, and stayed there with them, she remarked "My God, you've got him well trained!"

He is a wonderful Dad - when he is here he plays with them, takes them out for trips, reads to them, dresses them (albeit eccentrically) and puts them to bed. But, how do other working mothers manage all this stuff, and what is the right equation - the caring, sharing, both partners working but nesting, 1990s equation. If you work the same hours as your partner but earn much less, do you have to pick up the domestic tab? If you work fewer hours, earn less and have a "less stressful" job, how do you work out the right allocation? And what is a reasonable amount to dump on the nanny, without turning her into an exhausted grump for whom the children just become a list of chores?

My answer is:

1. Write down your own version of my list, get your partner to write one as well and compare notes;

2. Decide what each of you likes to do most and what you like least;

3. Decide/ask what the children prefer you to do;

4. Work out what you can delegate to an employee, whether you can afford to and who will manage that person;

5. Delegate the things you both like least and that the children don't care about;

6. Agree that the children need warmth, affection and fun, rather than a pristine home and worn-down drudge for a mother (or a father);

7. Get him to write his list down, which includes his new responsibilities, and stick the list in a very prominent place in the kitchen out of reach of the children;

8. Don't take pity on him and start to do the things he promised to do.

Above all, don't get sidetracked by arguments about who earns what,the hours you work and the relative stress you have to endure. Whatever the arguments, he should be doing more to help you - show me a man who shouldn't.

what she does, what he does

Me: Hire and manage cleaner Him: Grumbles when shirts not ironed Me: Hire and manage nanny Him: Tells me to tell the nanny what not to do Me: Research and fix holidays Him: Fixes own skiing holiday Me: Prepare, buy stuff and pack for holidays Him: Loads car and drives to holiday location Me: Organise other families to holiday with Him: Wonders why his 'old' friends don't holiday with us Me: Organise cleaner and nanny around holidays Me: Children's clothes: buy, sort mend, give away to charity/friends; check shoes/slippers/wellies still fit - either buy or ask nanny to replace; clean children's shoes Him: No idea what clothes/socks fit whom! Me: Cover on weekday mornings till nanny starts work at 8.30am (he leaves 6.50am) Him: Covers most weekend mornings Me: Cover all weekday nights when no babysitter, unless make special plea him to be back by 7.30pm so I can go out Him: Gets back by 7.45pm saying 'sorry, I just couldn't get off the phone' Me: Make school packed lunches etc Me: Check homework is done Me: Organise children's extra-curricular activities Me: Research and visit schools, get on waiting lists, complete forms and sort bills Him: Does make effort and often succeeds in getting to school plays, teacher-feedback sessions Me: Organise school uniform/outfits for plays; order and sew labels in uniforms Me: Organise MOT, service etc for both cars Him: Repairs bikes/takes them to bike shop Me: Take and collect cars to/from garage or make sure nanny does Him: Washes & vacuums cars Me: Buy furniture, fittings, crockery, cutlery etc Me: Fixes breakages Me: Select, order and collect curtains, blinds etc. Him: Buys & replaces light bulbs Me: Check and pay household bills; organise decorators, plumbers, glaziers; gas man etc. Him: Does odd-jobs round house Takes rubbish to dump; does gardening, mows lawn; waters garden plants when remembers to Me: Water house plants when remember to; chuck out dead plants Me: Organise nappy bag, toddlers' items, outdoor clothes, snacks etc for outings Him: Is always mysteriously occupied in run-up to leaving house house on family outing Me: Organise friends/family visits and meals; prompt him to phone his relatives and friends Me: Arrange haircuts, dental, doctor's visits; make sure medicines administered

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