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Household Labor And Evolution Of Family Roles

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In our world today, women and men are moving towards equal representation in many areas, from working outside the home and childcare to small household responsibilities like cleaning and cooking. Marriage is a partnership that in order to work successfully needs compromise and consistency, and if the couple splits the household responsibilities and keeps true to their promise they can easily create a stress free home environment. Through an interview with my mother Laureen, I was able to hear first hand about marriage and division of labor in the household and evolution of roles in the family over the years. This insight into married life and household responsibilities brings light to topics such as emotion work, parenting styles, and time management for a stay at home mother.

Laureen is a 49 year old, mother of four children. She has been happily married for 25 years to her husband Ivan, age 54. They all live together in a house in Massachusetts, and currently both her and her husband have jobs. She is currently employed in a small Catholic school as a preschool teacher assistant for 10 months out of the year, 3 days a week. She is a devote Catholic, and values family and tradition strongly. Her family is the most important thing in her life and her first priority before herself and her own work. Through an interview with Laureen, I was able to get more information about the division of labor within her current household and the everyday responsibilities that her and her husband divide.

One unique aspect of Laureen’s home life, is that her husband works out of the country for six months out of the year. This causes her work load to increase during the six months she is alone with her children. The questions asked not only covered when Ivan was home but also her experiences when he is working; this shows a perspective of marriage not normally seen in today’s society. While Ivan is away from the home he is working as a pansion owner in Croatia. Laureen has been handling the responsibilities at home for over 23 years, while Ivan makes the majority of the family’s income. After asking her what an ideal division of labor was to her compared to her current situation, she didn’t have much to say. She believes that every couple is different and right now her and her husband are splitting responsibilities equally even though he is not home as much as she wishes. When Ivan is home, he takes the children to school, offers to go grocery shopping and household responsibilities, and makes sure that Laureen has time for herself.

Overtime, parenting styles have evolved and have involved a larger financial contribution in order to support the child in the most beneficial way. With a steady income, Laureen and her family are able to live comfortably within the middle social class. Laureen has made it a point to put her children’s needs before her own and to make sure they are supplying with the best quality support educationally and recreationally. Each of her four children have attended a Catholic school, have engaged in exrta-curricular activities, and have been able to buy the tools needed for success in school (tutoring sessions, supplies, etc.). With this said, we can say that Laureen’s style of parenting is intensive and this is why she supports her husband while he is away because she knows that the money he earns will support their children. In Chapter 5 of Love, Money, and

Parenting, Doepke says that “our economic theory of parenting suggests that parents use an intensive parenting style to increase their children’s chances of success later in life. One way to measure success and social mobility is to look at children’s educational achievement”(Doepke, 2019). The chart below breaks down the educational achievement of children by the education of the parents and parenting style, for couples where both parents have the same parenting style.

In Laureen’s circumstance, her parenting is helping her children reach higher education which will then lead to a more successful future. All of the sacrifices she makes for her children because she wants them to be successful and live comfortably like how her and her husband are currently.

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Living comfortably financially does not mean that the household labor is any less difficult in Laureen’s home. There are three factors that impact the division of labor within Laureen’s household. One of the more obvious reasons being that Ivan is out of the home for a majority of the year, which was probably more difficult at the beginning but became a routine that she is adapted to. This is a familial factor because it is something that has become a part of her life and impacts her in both a positive and negative way. Ivan is able to support the family with the money he earns in the six months he is gone, but Laureen now has to take control of all of the responsibilities of the house as well as take care of her children and give them the support that they need. The second social factor is the way that she grew up and the social class she has been in for most of her life. Coming from a lower middle class, she learned to live frugally and to not spend money extravagantly. Ivan came from an even lower class than Laureen, and worked on a farm most of his life earning little to no money. These factors have impacted how they spend money in their lives today and how they save and value the work and opportunities that they are given. The last factor is the difference in nationalities. Ivan is from a small town in Croatia, speaking a foreign language that was not familiar to Laureen nor her family. Ivan had to move to a different country, become a citizen, and build a family without any prior knowledge of this new place he would call home. He must go back and forth from the United States and Croatia speaking two languages and adapting to time zones and cultures quickly in order to get his work done. This factor impacts Ivan directly but Laureen indirectly because of the stress it puts on her when he is away.

Not only is Laureen in charge of the household labor but also the emotion work of the family. She supports every one of her children, as well as her husband when he is home and away. She does not have much time to herself other than while she is working in the preschool classroom at her job. She does not have the support of her husband to share her emotions with, because he is never home, which leads to stress in her own life. Laureen said in the interview, “times have changed and there are more opportunities for children to get involved and experience new activities. When I was young I didn’t get a chance to pursue my interests and for this reason I arrange my schedule so my children get to.” Her schedule does not create time for her to express her emotions so in the end she has her hands full with more she can emotionally and physically carry. Most mothers today put too much one their plate in order to make everyone in the family happy and healthy. They do not receive enough credit and appreciation for the work they do everyday.

A concept that Laureen emphasized within her interview is time. There is a lot of time in the day but with all of the responsibilities she has to do, especially when her children were younger, there is no time to do it all. To have everyone sit down at a table for dinner or just for any meal was rare. With activities and homework, the children were always busy or late to the table. In Feeding the Family, they said, “those I interviewed reported that they tried to make meal time ‘a calm time’, ‘a very social thing’, or ‘an important getting together time’. Such goals can only be accomplished through attention to the meal, and to orchestrate the event”(DeVault, 1994). When Laureen is making dinner she has the intention that it will be a time to breathe and talk as a family and get away from the household responsibilities. Instead, she orchestrates this meal and the whole family is scattered around the house eating at different places or not home and getting takeout. This time that can be used for emotion work with her family is now disorganized and not beneficial. This idea of time was not always as complex and complicated as it is now. When the children were growing up and did not have as many responsibilities as they do right now, Laureen said that she was able to focus on herself, her children, and marriage easier. In the book, Stay-At-Home Mothers: Dialogues and Debates, they discuss the idea of time and being a stay at home mother in a similar point of view. Rubin says,

“ ‘Time’ is the most common word women use when talking about the upsides of staying home (Rubin and Wooten 2007:340). The time that becomes available allows for what I consider the three “Fs” of stay at home mothering: freedom, flexibility, and focus. Women describe being free to volunteer at their children’s schools, do projects with their children, or run errands that they struggled to take care of when working. Flexibility is often described as being able to take something to school at the last minute or stay home with a sick child. The ability to focus also enables them to take care of and respond to the needs of their children and influence their development on a daily basis”(Rubin, 2014).

In order to focus on her child, Laureen needed the focus, flexibility, and freedom from being a stay at home mother. The time it gave her allowed more attention towards her children and the ability to make sure they were educated and cared for appropriately.

When getting married, Laureen knew that her role within the family would be a stay at home mother to care for her children. With Ivan away most of the year, she took the responsibilities of both roles. When asked if gender plays a role within marriage, she responded with a quick “no”. Depending on personalities, the husband and the wife can take different roles and responsibilities. Some men enjoy cooking or cleaning more than women, and women can go out and work while the father stays at home with the children. Father’s tend to fall into the stereotype that involve more of the manly household work such as fixing and building. While women do most of the cleaning, cooking, and caretaking. Laureen is classified as a stereotypical mother who enjoys taking care of the children, cooking and cleaning. With that said, she believes that mothers should always put their children first and stay at home because it helps children feel loved and cared for, especially in their early years of life.

In conclusion, we can see that Laureen’s marriage is very equal because of her circumstance. When home, Ivan does the work and responsibilities that Laureen has been doing on her own; while he is away, he also is supporting the family and making enough money to keep them financially stable and comfortable. What Ivan makes in a week is what Laureen is making within a month of working at the preschool, so when he is away Laureen is flexible and knows that his role in the family is just as valuable and hard as hers is at home. The interview revealed that marriage and the division of labor is something that is different depending on the circumstances of the partners. Laureen and Ivan may have to raise their family in different places but they play an equal part in their marriage and responsibilities. Her choice to become a stay at home mother and take care of her children before she continued her job as a teacher was beneficial to herself, her husband, and children. She is able to balance her life at home while Ivan is away in Croatia, and still have an equal division of labor. When he is home and away he contributes immensely, and helps make the family live comfortably. I believe that their marriage is a perfect model for those who do long distance relationships, or for people who travel for work. They are able to make their children a priority, provide them with the tools they need to succeed, and in the end help each other divide the household labor equally.

Works Cited

  1. Doepke, M., & Zilibotti, F. (2019). Inequality, Parenting Style, and Parenting Traps. In Love, Money, and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids (pp. 131). Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press. Retrieved from
  2. DeVault, M. L. (1994). Feeding the family: the social organization of caring as gendered work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (pp. 49)
  3. RUBIN, S. (2014). So, What Do You Do?: An Exploration of the Experience of Highly Educated Stay-at-Home Mothers. In Boyd E. & Letherby G. (Eds.), Stay-At-Home Mothers: Dialogues and Debates (pp. 19-30). Bradford, ON: Demeter Press. Retrieved from

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