Dear Pepper: A House Divided

Dear Pepper is a monthly advice-column comic by Liana Finck. If you have questions for Pepper about how to act in difficult situations, please direct them to Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Dear Pepper,

I used to do everything around the house. Gradually, I️ got my husband, Henry, to start doing some things. I️ made a monthly budget and insisted that we both contribute half. I made a chart with daily chores.

I️ divided the day, and assigned each of us child-care hours. Henry has been game to comply, as long as he’s in a good mood and not hungry or tired.

Still, there are invariably things that I️ didn’t think of, or that just seem too petty to mention—and I️ end up doing those things. Cleaning the sink drain, for instance. Putting away toys at the end of the day. Ordering glue when we run out.

On top of the extra, unassigned work that I️ do, I️ also have to monitor Henry and make sure he’s staying on task, since many jobs (making sure the baby has a fresh diaper before bed, getting our car serviced regularly, taking the dog out) are unglamorous but necessary.

The bottom line is that I️ end up spending a lot more time and thought on household and family stuff than Henry does, even though I️ have a more demanding job—and I️ can never quite disentangle myself when I’m “off duty” the way he can.

In the back of my mind, I’m always keeping a running list of things that I️ need to remember to do. My career has slowed. My friendships have evaporated. Despite my caring about both.

Well-meaning friends have urged me to pay for help—hire a house cleaner, a dog walker, a babysitter—and we absolutely plan to when we can afford it. But it won’t change the fact that I’m the only living creature in our home who knows where we keep the umbrellas.

I️ fantasize about taking myself on a nice four-day vacation, and would do it, too, if only I️ could be reasonably sure that everyone would still be alive when I️ got back.

Pepper, the unfairness is killing me.

I’m not the nuanced, observant woman I️ used to be. I am . . . Mom. I’d blame Henry, but here’s the catch: he is my third husband. And I’ve had the same issues with all three. These gender disparities are just baked into our society.

In what ways can I️ protect my soul? Mind you, I️ love my family and am so glad that I️ have them around, Henry included. But what a price to pay for basic, essential pleasures.

At my wit’s end,

P.S. After writing this rant, I️ walked out of the bathroom, where I’d been hiding, to a clean apartment and a beautiful dinner that Henry had cooked. It’s not all terrible.

Dear Margaret,

It sounds like there’s hope in your marriage. It seems like you (and Henry) have been putting a lot of effort into improving things.

At the same time, you’ve eaten from the tree of knowledge. You notice the unfairness in your marriage, and in other things, too, and you’ll never completely trust again.

It is clearer than ever that we live in a world that would deprive many of us of our basic rights without a second thought, on every level: government, family, and on, and on. There is really no escape.

Keep noticing the unfairness—notice the unfair things being done to you and the unfairness being done (sometimes, perhaps out of frustration, by you) to others.

Be smart—find community, do your research, mull over ways to improve things bit by bit. I️ have a feeling you’re engaged in a lifelong battle, one much larger than yourself. There is no easy way to opt out. But don’t give up. You will continue to make small differences and improve things for yourself and others.

And do take that four-day vacation.


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