Do you know where my camera is?

Dall-E’s interpretation of two vacuums passing in the night

I’m thinking about trying to do short videos for LinkedIn on Worthy Work topics—and since we moved to a new house in the last year, and my wife is so fantastically organized, after a brief look about the study for my camera, I asked for her assistance.

She knew right where it was. The door, shelf, exact position in the bookcase.

Before I got to the camera, however, I started a conversation about domestic labor—me from the top of the stairs, her from the bottom in what I can only imagine is prophetic imagery of the situation in the United States. The trigger was reading this essay about divorce and a realization of an ex-husband who was always going to ask for where to find the ketchup. The timing coincidence with the camera ask (it’s not the only item I’ve requested support in finding) was enough to start the chat.

It was a good chat. Me representing what might be typed as the more feminist perspective, my wife expressing household practicality—”If I put something away and didn’t tell you where, how are you supposed to know where it is?”

Great point! This is where the old trope about “training the husband” perhaps gets a bit of a bad rap. Training doesn’t have to be a bad exercise, but it requires the correct positive framing from all involved parties.

Domestic labor—especially the equal distribution of domestic labor—has been on my mind a bunch lately. We bought a new house (which is new thankfully), but beyond household repairs and DIY projects, a house requires duties; and we’re cooking at home a whole lot, we have guests, my sisters have young kids and kids are a discussion topic, I read that article, I’m professionally interested in what I call job suck, I subscribe to Anne Helen Petersen, I read Dr. Pooja Lakshmin’s Real Self Care, and it doesn’t take much effort to look around any house shared by husband and wife and see that domestic labor is often spearheaded by the wife.

All this to say that the weekend prior to the camera request, I was also saying that I wanted to participate equally in the domestic labor … and that it would be helpful if I were aware of all the tasks and the standards for which to meet. Quick aside: Just because the vacuum leaves the closet and is run over the floor does not mean that floor has been sufficiently cleaned—which I totally agree with now, but was something I needed to consider before realizing my error. Discussion about tasks and standards ensued. Here’s where I settled out: when it comes to domestic labor, a couple must develop a shared understanding of tasks and standards. Even as good as my wife and I are at knowing what the other is thinking, we can’t read minds. (I’m using “we” here with intent—because since we moved in together sevenish years ago there are household tasks we each take full responsibility for, but I’m sure equal distribution of labor is not occurring.)

I believe this “developing shared understanding” activity is a critical component of the negatively-connotated “husband training” (and in egregious unequal situations or just between the years of 1950-2010 the connotation is well-deserved). Sure, we all learn some things growing up, are scarred by some things growing up, learn in situations with previous partners, are influenced by media, perhaps have thought deeply on an appropriate standard, in some situations magically get it without much deep thought, and overall acquire our understanding through the years of experiencing life … up to the point of a robust discussion about wanting to share domestic labor. And it is this moment that the training trope becomes outdated and counterproductive.

Because in all of that living, up to that specific point, the understanding of tasks and standards is only my understanding. That understanding is one valid perspective brought to a partnership. My wife has another equally (and in some cases, more so) valid understanding. But until there is a discussion dedicated to developing a shared understanding, all we have is two vacuums passing in the night.