When One Partner Is Self-Employed

Whenever I mention that I’m self-employed and work from home while my wife works outside of the home, I usually receive a question or two from readers who are thinking about a similar arrangement. They want to know about how we balance things. How do you balance household chores? How do you balance parenting chores? Does it change how you socialize?

Here are seven things we’ve found to be true about our marriage once one of us became self-employed.

“Keeping score” is dangerous. When one person shifts to a completely different lifestyle, the various dynamics of the marriage will shift. This is true of any major change – stay-at-home parenting, a major career shift, even a significant change in the hours worked.

Dynamics change (and I’m going to talk about some specifics below). Don’t “keep score” based on what the previously-established norms were. Instead, focus on figuring out the new norm and forget about the old ones, and talk about it carefully along the way.

The balance of household chores subtly shifts towards more chores for the self-employed spouse. Here’s an example from our own life. I’m about to start my day, so just before I begin, I’ll toss a load of laundry into the washing machine. Then, at lunchtime, I’ll go downstairs and toss the clothes in the dryer. During my afternoon break, I’ll fold those clothes and put them into the kids’ drawers. Still, after work is over, the remaining work is split 50-50.

It’s easy to say that such an arrangement is completely reasonable – after all, the self-employed partner has the time to do this, right? Well, on the other side of the coin, the partner working outside of the home is also taking breaks but not filling them with housework.

It’s unsurprising that, over a long period of time, the self-employed partner may feel some sense of … unbalance, while the partner working outside the home still feels the arrangement is 50-50. This can easily create hard feelings. The best way to handle it is to talk it out.

The social needs of both partners change. When both of us worked outside the home in fairly social environments, we had similar feelings about how much to socialize with others on evenings and weekends.

Then, when I began to work solo, my ideas in that area changed. During my work day, I interacted with others much less than I did before and thus, after work, my desire to socialize went up quite a lot. At the same time, Sarah’s desires remained unchanged.

Our solution has largely been that we invite people over a bit more often than we used to. On top of that, I’ve started to become more involved in community groups and organizations of all kinds, even taking on significant responsibility in one of them. This balance works out well for both of us.

When children are sick, the self-employed parent ends up being the nurturing one most of the time. As I write this, my son is currently watching a program on PBS (Caillou). He’s home sick for the day and I’m busy trying to get some work in.

While this means I’m rushed a little bit, I am the partner with the more flexible schedule, so when the children are sick, I’m almost always the one that steps in to take care of them. This, of course, means that my wife is less interrupted by such things at her work.

Again, this can sometimes feel unbalanced and, if left undiscussed, feel unfair. The instant one partner begins to feel things are out of balance, it should be discussed openly. Such things can easily fester.

The work of the self-employed partner can often bleed into time that used to be shared doing other things. Today, I’m spending much of my time with my son. I’ll make him snacks, make him lunch, put him down for a nap, and if he feels better this afternoon, I’ll play some games with him and work on writing the alphabet with him.

That means that, unexpectedly, I’ve lost most of a day’s worth of work at a time when I can’t really afford such leakage. So, this evening, I’ll need to make up for it. As a result, Sarah will find herself doing solo things. Thankfully, she doesn’t mind this – she’s an avid reader – but it does mean that we won’t be able to do something together, like play a board game.

It can become harder to discuss work. A few times a day, I’ll go do something completely unrelated to my work, simply because I need the mental break. I’ll read the rules for a board game. I’ll wash dishes. I’ll read a book for personal enjoyment. I’ll visit messageboards.

At first, when I told Sarah about this, she was fairly annoyed. “Why are you wasting time?” was her immediate response.

Here’s the thing, though. Most workplaces do offer breaks – and quite often, other break times are squeezed into work times. We gather around the water cooler and chat. We stop in another worker’s office or cubicle and see what’s going on. We go to meetings. In other words, most “real” workplaces have tons of time for mental breaks.

Since I’m self-employed, I don’t have nearly as many opportunities for those kinds of breaks, so I have to make my own. This usually involves things that would be seen as a time-waster in other environments. Again, this is something that’s worth discussing openly.

Here’s the most important thing to remember if you make this change. It offers a lot of benefits, but it changes countless dynamics within your relationship. The best way to deal with this is to talk about it. If one of you is bothered by how a dynamic is changing, say so. Don’t let it fester and grow and become something seriously problematic.

Good luck!

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  1. Retirement Savior says:

    That’s really interesting. You said you take breaks that would be considered time-wasters in other environments. At the start of being self-employed, did you ever find it hard to stay focused on the tasks at hand?

    If I were self-employed, I think that would be one of the problems for me, at least at the outset.

  2. Michelle says:

    This is very timely for me, as one of my “side-hustles” is starting to take off as a home based business. Thanks for sharing part of your personal life!

  3. valletta says:

    Maybe it’s just the way you wrote it but the comment about your wife being “annoyed” hit a nerve with me.
    If you were externally employed would she question what you did all day? This is what I’m sure women who stayed home with children have endured for generations. (I work, no children FWIW)

    I have worked a “regular” 9-5 job and I’ve owned a business with my husband, working 14 hour days 6 days a week so I know what you are saying, communication is key. I just have never questioned my husband’s work and he’s never questioned mine. I would be very annoyed if my husband reacted the way your wife did. :)

  4. Here is a bit touchier question…when do you bring up the fact that your partner may just be using the excuse of working at home to slack off? For instance, let us say that your partner says that they are going to start writing a blog (since we are on a blog) and you find that instead of doing this, they are just reading or watching TV all day — no writing at all is occurring. Clearly, in this case, you are being taken advantage of and I feel that you have a right to call them out on it.

    The point being that there is a clear spectrum of work that can be done and it is also important to discuss with your partner what *both* of your expectations are. That is right, both. It is vital that you both understand what you are expecting out of your partner’s work-at-home job. Is it ok if they work 20 hours a week? how about 60? I feel like this is also something that is very important to come to an understanding of. But maybe that is just me…

  5. Lisa says:

    This comes up even if the person working from home is working for a company and is not self employed. My husband and I both work for the same company – with equal pay and benefits. I work at home and he works in a local office.

    Even if he takes care of the sick child, it still impacts my productivity unless I go to an office. It is easier for him to stay just one more minute at the office to get something done. But I have the kids so I make it up much later in the night.

    The key is communication – and it is a changing situation. Things that weren’t an issue in the beginning can become an issue.

  6. chacha1 says:

    My DH is self-employed, with very irregular hours as a personal trainer & physical therapist assistant. He’s not in the house all day, and even if he were, I wouldn’t expect him to do housework just because he’s there. (We don’t have kids so that’s not an issue.)

    DH makes a good deal more than I do in my day job, working as many hours as I do, spread out over six days a week. Because he is the bigger breadwinner, all I really ask of him is the laundry. He has chunks of time at home that I do not, we share laundry facilities, and it works best that way.

    If I were making twice as much and his hours were just as variable, I might ask for more help, because the odds are good that the much more highly paid job would be more stressful by an order of magnitude. However, if his income were the same as it is now and mine were double, I think I would hire some help!

  7. Rosa says:

    When my partner worked at home and I worked in an office, the house was dirtier at the end of every day than when I left it in the morning.

    Now that we’re both home, it’s actually slightly better by evening, usually. But I think the “stay at home person does chores” depends a lot on that person – my partner is so focused on work, he forgets to eat sometimes, and ALWAYS forgets to put his dirty dish in the dishwasher if he does eat.

  8. jreed says:

    Both my husband and myself are self employed…for the past 25 years…together! If one of use feels overwhelmed, the other picks up the slack. We both do laundry, we both do dishes, we both mow the lawn. Whatever it takes, we get it done without whining.Its called maturity. It’s called partnership. Be glad your kid is home temporarily with a minor illness. Be grateful he isn’t chronically sick. Quit keeping score over every little thing…your wife is a saint.

  9. Kevin M says:

    Interesting look behind the curtain, thanks for sharing your experience. I think “working from home” still has somewhat of a stigma even though it’s clear you’re producing quality and quantity of work.

  10. Patty says:

    I ‘retired’ from a firm I was working at and began my own firm – out of my home. I had quite a few folks sneer that it wasn’t truly a business. I’d laugh (silently) at comments family members would say because my office is at home.

    Let’s say I’ve done my best to educate my corner of the world that you can create and make a great living with your office at home. There is great technology that allows me to do plenty and not have to pay rent for an office some where else. I also have a varied schedule, so it can be more convenient to work from a home office.

    Yes – It was tough at first – there were distractions, and within a few months, those items were taken care of and I found my rhythm.

    My expectations changed and I have a new nomal. I love being able to get ‘chores’ done during the day as it leaves me time to enjoy other pursuits in my life.

    – Nice insights Trent!

  11. Joanna says:

    I don’t think it’s fair to criticize Sarah’s reaction mostly b/c I think her reaction was the most typical one. I have friends who stay at home w/ the kids while the husband works & I can tell you that communication of expectations is KEY. In the marriages where it’s not happening, you can tell and it ain’t pretty.

    Also, as someone who works in an office all day, I LOVE that under the “most workplaces do offer breaks”, you listed meetings! Perfect. :-)

  12. Michael says:

    Enjoyed this post!

  13. Troy says:

    The title should be “When one partner works from/at home”

    This isn’t so much about being self-employed as working out of your home. Whether it be working for a company you own, one you are an employee of, or a stay at home parent, the distinction is where you work, not who you work for.

    I am self employed, and most people I know that are self employed don’t work from home. They own companies and have offices, employees, etc.

    That being said, the dynamics of one or both people working from home is indeed different.

  14. Kris says:

    I love this post – it’s reflects my feelings about being the one working from home. I find it’s a very busy life – drop the kids, rush home, work for 6 hours, pick them up, start dinner and continue with chores, childcare, etc. However if I ever start to feel like my husband has it ‘easier’, I just remind myself what it was like commuting for 1.5 hours each day from our old neighbourhood/situation. It helps me to remain thankful and grateful for the opportunity to be at home and be with my family, while still helping provide financially.

  15. John S says:

    I work at home Like Lisa, I’m not self-employed; I just have a good job that can be done remotely, and a very flexible boss. My wife works outside the home. We both work days (8-5ish).

    I have been working at home for about a year now; prior to that, I commuted to the company’s local office. I don’t find that it shifts the balance of household chores at all compared to when we both commuted. I do pretty much the same chores that I used to do; picking up clutter and trash, loading and unloading the dishwasher, cleaning the bathrooms and floors, and all the food prep, cooking, and cleanup.

    My wife handles the yard work except when something is a two-person job or if it’s too difficult and she needs someone stronger to lift something heavy. She is also in charge of the laundry, and the grocery shopping (since she drives every day, all I have to do is email her a shopping list if I need any ingredients.) She also gets up about 3 hours before I do, and makes the coffee every morning, (bless her little heart.)

    You are right on when you say that the WAH life can easily cause work to bleed into evening hours, which used to be sacrosanct when I had a separate workplace. I’m often at my computer room from 9am until midnight, coming out only to greet my wife, fix dinner, and eat. The blurred line when it comes to my personal time is, in my opinion, the most difficult-to-manage aspect of WAH.

    Part of that is the guilt associated with taking breaks, even productive breaks. I constantly feel like my time spent away from the job itself needs to be made up. Since there is no punch clock near my computer, I have no concrete idea how much time I “owe” my company to make up, after taking time out washing dishes and starting dinner. Since there is always more work than can be completed in 8 hours, there is no definitive natural stopping point for me, work-wise. This leads to a vicious cycle of overwork if I’m not vigilant.

    WAH is the ultimate multitasking challenge: Every time I walk into a room in my house, I’ll see something that needs doing, and if it’s a quick chore, I’ll do it. When I use the bathroom, I’ll see that towel hook I need to hang up, and I’ll go down to the basement to get my power drill because I “know” it will only take two minutes. Unfortunately on the way there, I see the Halloween costumes we looked at last night strewn about on the basement floor so I stop to fold them and put them away in their box so that the cats don’t ruin them. Then once I’ve put up the towel hook I’ll realize I’m thirsty and I’ll go to the kitchen before putting my drill back in the basement. Once the fridge door is open, I’ll see the pot roast I haven’t started braising yet for tonight’s dinner and I’ll say to myself, “a quick 10 minute browning and I can throw that right in the crock pot; I’d better start it right now.” So now I’m cutting up vegetables (with my drill still on the floor in the kitchen) waiting for the roast to brown…

    Before I know it, I’ve been away from my desk for a half hour or 45 minutes or more. It’s not like I’ve spent this time relaxing or goofing off; on the contrary, I’ve been “working” nonstop. Unfortunately this just serves to make me more tired and obliged to my company to make up the time. (God forbid I take an ACTUAL break, because then how far behind would I be?)

    Granted, these are all chores that needed to be done, and I do feel good accomplishing them. However, my point is that time management is a critically important skill to succeed as the work-at-home partner. Being your own boss probably alleviates some of the guilt and stress, though.

    What drives me nuts is when my wife, (who I would assert is sick more often than most people,) stays home from work. Those are the days that set off my emotional resentment triggers; because after all, *I* can’t call in sick when I have a cold; I just work right through it. I’m in my PJs, slurping down chicken soup, but working nonetheless. Plus, she ends up in my way, distracting me for attention, and not contributing anything productive for the day. Yes, I feel sympathy for her too, and I know my resentment is irrational on some level. Like any negative emotion, understanding where it comes from and discussing it openly does help a lot. And it really helps to have her remind me that she doesn’t *want* a free ride, that she wants to be productive again soon. And in the mean time, I pick up the slack and mow the lawn, do the laundry if it can’t wait, etc.

    I know to some people it seems like I do “more” of the chores, and yeah, I probably do. But that’s not really what’s important, what matters is that it works for us. The way I see it, my wife does some things I don’t feel like doing, and I really appreciate it. If I lived alone, I’d have to do it all. When I need help with my chores, I ask for it and she gives it willingly. And, vice versa. We’ve already worked it out that when we start to have kids, I get night duty and she gets morning duty. She will continue to work so that we can afford day care, which she will drop them off at on her way to work, and I will be responsible for picking them up.

    I can’t even imagine where I’ll find any “me” time once we get to that phase of life, but we’ll figure it out, I guess. Who’d have thought that working at home, saving the hour per day I used to spend commuting, it would end up feeling like I had *less* free time? Oh well, at least it saves on gas. :)

  16. Eric H. Doss says:

    Trent,
    I think you did a great job of laying out the progression here. I’ve been a home-based employee for a year and my wife and I experienced these issues, almost in the order that you listed them. First, I took more of the ‘home’ responsibilities because I was here, then it became expected that I’d do more housework, then I became a bit frustrated, etc.
    I guess the good news is my wife and I are really open with things like this and I made a point to address the issues pretty quickly. I think we’ve settled into a nice balance, but there are still friction moments.
    Happy to hear that nearly everyone has the same or similar issues when making this transition.
    Eric

  17. eaufraiche says:

    hmmmmmmmm.

    i don’t know anyone who works outside the home and doesn’t carry home work to complete in the evening.

    plus, as a teacher, must admit that there really isn’t much time for socializing/gathering at watercooler/going out for lunch. i’m surprised that your wife has time for boardgames ANY evening, Trent!

    others said it best – gotta work as a team and not keep score!

  18. Hentrain says:

    How long did it take you to establish a profitable home business? My biggest issue is that I work outside the home, and I am sometimes grumpy my DH doesn’t do a bit more around the house. He’s been establishing a home based law practice that hopefully will be a good income someday, but he’s only been at it for 4 months and it’s definitely not contributing to the family income quite yet. Is there a standard timeline for these things? Is it fair of me to expect he pull a bit more weight around the house while his earnings are so low and he’s home all day? He’s not exactly a slug, but I do find myself keeping track of who does the laundry, walks the dogs, vacuums, and grocery shops. I recognize this is a poisonous attitude. Any advice?

  19. Kim says:

    We moved to another state for my job and my husband still hasn’t found work. We have many of these same issues with him at home and me working out of the home. Communication is the key. Things in our marriage are continually evolving, regardless of work place or status.

  20. Austin says:

    Great topic because it’s not something that is normally thought of right away when considering self-employment.

    My dad worked and works at home for years and I never thought about the struggles that come with it. Maybe I should ask and make sure he’s doing alright!

  21. busymom says:

    I agree with Troy (#13) that the article should be titled “When You Work at Home.” My husband is self-employed and I work at home as Mom (this is simply a job for which mothers get no formal payment or real social/work recognition.) We also home-school our kids (another job for me!) Even though my husband is self-employed and often works from home, the majority of the house stuff naturally falls to me (sigh). It has taken a lot of his energy to get his business going and it is often stressful.
    There are a lot of benefits to being self-employed and working at home — namely we get to see each other a lot more and our girls get to spend a lot of extra time with their father because we are all home.
    On the negative side I would say the being self-employed can be very stressful at times. If one is starting a new business it takes time to build up relationships and clients. Irregular income can really a tough situation to deal with. You have got to be disciplined financially.
    My husband just got a new office that is closer to home (he would never go to his old one because it took to much time to get there — we live in L.A.) and this is a total blessing because his job is very stressful and confrontational with deadlines and he would often just flip out around the house so it is really great to get him out of the actual house. In addition, he built a darling office room in our garage where he could work, too. So, my tip is to have a special place/ room that is away so that you can shut the door and get away from work, so that your home area is a place of (relative) peace (I say relative because it’s rarely peaceful, peaceful once you have little ones.)

  22. Little House says:

    This is so true. My husband works from home, he has now for many years. Luckily, because I work with him in the summer, I know that he really is working all day with very few breaks in between. I don’t expect him to pick up the house work during his busy periods.

    We also don’t “keep score”. That is, we both make sure to throw laundry in when we see it is overflowing from the laundry basket, or unload and reload the dishwasher.

    Basically, whomever notices something needs to be done first, that person does it. We have a great relationship, so we’ve never argued about this.

    The social aspect is also a great topic to mention, I socialize with adults throughout the day on a one-to-one basis. My husband only gets to talk with people on the phone and occasionally gets lonely as the days of the week wear on. I try and make sure we spend enough time talking when I get home from work, since he’s been deprived of this social interaction throughout the day.

    These are great things to mention, especially for anyone considering this lifestyle change.

    -Little House

  23. imelda says:

    Really interesting breakdown, Trent. My only quibble is about the “breaks” people have in the office–for me, the only break I have is lunch, when I can take a walk outside. And I rarely have the time to do that. Chatting with other people or attending meetings, while they can be time-wasters, are neither relaxing nor restorative–at least not for me. Maybe it’s just because I’m very shy, but all of the time I spend in the office carries a level of stress. Besides lunch, I never get the kind of relaxation that the breaks you describe would allow.

    Also, a comment above reminded me that your wife is a teacher. I don’t think they get ANY real breaks! But of course, everything you said about being expected to take over childcare since your schedule is flexible is really tough. In an office job, of course, you would use up sick days to take the time off, but you wouldn’t be required to make up the time you missed! Like I said, it’s an interesting discussion, and it’s easy to see why it leads to so many conflicts.

  24. Adrienne says:

    I can really relate to this article. I’ve been working from home for over 5 years. I think it becomes even harder when both spouses are home. On days I’m working my husband is home taking care of the kids. This used to create a lot of resentment on both sides (his seeing when I was “not working” and my commenting upon what he’s doing with the kids). Suddenly we both felt micromanaged. I think flexibility is key. It has taken us a while to figure out how to do things but we just kept changing until it felt right. Often times it is not even how much one person is doing versus the other but how much one feels “APPRECIATED” for all they do.

  25. Good advice. I love being self employed and wouldn’t have it any other way. However, for some people it is just not a good fit either because they have difficulty motivating themselves, they like to be around people all day long, etc.

  26. David says:

    My wife and I went through this. I went through a period of coming home and looking at the house and asking, “what exactly went on here today?”

  27. Craig Ford says:

    My wife and I had a double dose of change when she decided to stay home with our daughter and I started working from home. In our situation communication was the key. We had to change boundaries and expectations. It took a little while to find the groove, but once we understood each other the process when more smoothly. Our basic approach is that when daddy is in the office he is working and should only be disturbed if it is an emergency.

  28. I would also add that just because one spouse does work from home, it doesn’t absolve the other from ALL household duties.

    Sort of along the lines of re-arranging the dynamic.

    Remember, yes, one spouse is working from home, but they are still working.

    My wife works from home,and I still try to help out as much as possible.

    Fantastic post

  29. Heather says:

    Great post, but can you do one about what happens if one partner is UNemployed? We’ve had some of these issues come up, but it changes the dynamic somewhat in a high-stress situation like unemployment. Feelings of self-worth and such play into it a lot more, I think. I want to be sure I’m handling things okay and not making anyone feel worse. Thanks!

  30. This came with unbelievable timing and coincidence for me as well. I’ve been self employed for 2 years now (outside sales and my own business) and I’ve found that the household chores are also uneven at times around here too. You are absolutely dead on when you say communication is the key here. Talking it out seems to work well and just voicing the opinion makes you feel better immediately. I wouldn’t trade not having a micro-managing boss for anything though!

  31. K says:

    You touched on a lot of the aspects of the “Work At home” rebalance. (I’ll agree that most of these cross over from self-employment to work at home). I’ve worked at home for almost 3 years now, and the one that has been most surprising for me is how much impact the “state of the house” has on my ability to concentrate. If the house is a disaster area, it can be very difficult for me to focus on the work at hand. It took a long time for me to figure out how best to react to this — the guilt of taking 20 minutes to straighten up weighed heavy on my mind.

    So we took a few steps to adjust everybody’s routines to resolve the issue. First, the kids make sure to take care of the dining table before they leave for school for the day – there’s nothing worse than dirty breakfast dishes left there when they ran off to catch the bus. Second, while I will work elsewhere in the house on occasion, I do try to spend most of my work time in the office. That way I contain the area that I see (and am less distracted by messes in other areas). Finally, if there’s a personal responsibility/cleaning task that is driving me crazy by nibbling at the corners of my mind, I just take 20 minutes and do it. I find that it frees me up to do a better job concentrating on the tasks at hand and the quality of my work goes up accordingly.

    When it comes to “keeping score”, I heard a great piece of advice a long time ago that I’ve often reflected on when I feel myself slipping into that mindset. Always strive to do more than half of what needs to get done… it’s one way of demonstrating your love for your partner.

  32. Christine says:

    One thing I thought of when reading this post was- what about errands? I do virtually all of the errands in my relationship, which accounts for a significant chunk of “household work”. Grocery shopping, paying bills remotely, picking up dog food, shopping for gifts, etc etc. None of this work is done at home, but it takes up a considerable amount of my free time and energy. If one partner works from home and the other commutes, I would hazard a guess that the commuter would usually be the errand-runner as well, in which case I would think it’s totally fair for the WAH partner to shoulder more of the household tasks.

  33. Tammy says:

    My husband started his own company about 10 months ago (computer repair and website design) after being an IT slave in a corporate publishing company for a few years. It has been difficult for us to find that balance…I have come to accept the fact that from 7AM to 5PM, he is WORKING. Not always in the house, either. He needs to focus on what he is doing. So the household chores can wait until evening, then he and I do them together.

    One thing I do not like about our current arrangement is that sometimes I get an afternoon off work, and I go pick up my 3 year old daughter from her grandma’s. (We are so blessed not to pay day care costs!) However, when I bring my daughter home, we are tiptoeing around the house so as not to bother or distract my husband. We are working on converting our awesome garage workshop into a shop for his computers, so it will be nice when he can go out there and our normal house noise won’t derail his train of thought.

    It was scary at first, but DH loves being his own boss, and I think he is working harder and longer hours than he ever did at the old corporation. It is hard for him to know when to “punch out” for the day.

  34. onaclov says:

    An additional note to the section referring to over a long period one partner thinks it’s 50-50 and the other is feeling like there is unbalance.

    This also applies to a dual working family, while one is going back to school, I am doing 9 credits and also do minimal household chores (dishes and kitchen cleaning, which I don’t probably do as well as I could when I have time and household maintenance as needed). This is all going on when we’re both working full time. I’ll occasionally get the “well I do all this cleaning, and you can barely keep the kitchen clean”. It’s tough, it’ll be nice when I’m finally out of school. Right now I think both of us feel like it’s not a 50 – 50 balance, but both see it from a different spectrum, I’m not helping her with cleaning enough, and I see it as I’m out of the house going to school and studying more hours then there is cleaning, so it’s more weighted on my side….We’re still fairly newly married and we’ll keep working on it, but it can be frustrating sometimes.

  35. Thanks for the post – oftentimes I’ll come to The Simple Dollar because the post topics seem like they are tailor made for me. This was one such post. Thanks for mentioning the “Why are you wasting time” argue. It really frustrates me when my wife brings that up! I always have to just say, “Don’t worry – I know what I’m doing.” But still, I never know if I really do – you bringing up that issue is somewhat reassuring to me.

  36. This article is spot on! I have worked at home for 10 years. My husband has worked part-time, worked full-time, stayed home with our daughter full-time and gone back to school during those years. Now he is a teacher, and I have two comments in regard to “teachers don’t have any breaks.” I am fully aware that his day is exhausting and stressful; he often goes to school one weekend day to work and brings work home several nights a week, and he has kids in his classroom at lunch many days, either as payback for doing/not doing something or because they want to hang out with him. Not restful. But:

    (a) He gets about 3.5 months of the year OFF from school/work, as most employees receive some type of paid vacation, and a self-employed/work at home spouse must work through that time or make up the work at another time to take that time off. Both spouses must be flexible and supportive to make that arrangement work. It is wonderful to have him home all summer, and at the same time, it disrupts my routine immensely.

    (b) Sometimes my schedule is so hectic — handling child care/school drop off before and after school, work all day, and a greater share of the household chores because I am here and because I want to be able to spend my husband’s small amount of down time with him, rather than making him do 50% of housework — I consider his 1+-hour bus ride or bike ride to school “private time” — I would love to have an hour or more a day to exercise, listen to music, or read, away from home, and that doesn’t typically happen for me. If we didn’t have young kids, that might be more accessible, and things certainly change over time.

    Both Trent and the commenters have it right — loving communication and maturity are a must to not let resentment build up and keep balance in both partners’ lives and in the relationship.

  37. I try to get my share of the housework done when she’s not around. That way it seems like magic to her!

  38. Debbie M says:

    @Little House – the whoever-notices-it-first method of housework doesn’t work when one person rarely notices things and the other person often notices things. So sad. But some people have tunnel vision and some people really aren’t bothered by things until they get so out-of-control that the other person will already be having major emotional responses. (I have been in both positions myself.)

    @Christine – I always imagine the stay-at-home person doing more errands, especially the ones at places that are super crowded except during regular work hours. Interesting. I’m guessing you’re thinking that the outside-the-home person can just drop by a place on the way home or a place that’s near their workplace during lunch.

    I see similar issues lying ahead when I retire early; my significant other never wants to retire. I’ve already explained that I’m not retiring early so I can take over all the housework. On the other hand, if I were getting to quit work because he could afford to pay for both of us, I would gladly do all the housework (except the parts that require two people) in return.

  39. Holly says:

    Such a great post. I work at home (self employed) too and I’ve been beating myself up about slipping down the rabbit hole here and there…you nailed it though. Sometimes I just really need a mental break! I don’t commute, go to a water cooler, meetings, lunches, anything! At least now I don’t feel so bad about. And we have the same issues with housework and kids – I pick up a lot of slack. My husband, when he senses this going on a lot, is very good about spending a whole evening cleaning the house on his own, for example, so I can have a few days of rest from chores.

  40. Tim says:

    I’m not self-employed but I do work from home 4 out of 5 days each week.

    The one day at the office or the plant is nice for having “face time” with boss, co-workers, etc.

    Our kids are grown so tending to sick ones isn’t an issue but I do notice that it’s harder to get work done if my wife is off work, etc.

    Having a minute here and there to do chores is nice. I may do a load of laundry whereas she takes a real break at work but I’m also just a few steps away from my ham radio set at lunch time or have the option of a leisurely walk in the country when the weather is nice.

    The key to working at home is for everyone, including you, to realize it’s work and not a day off. My work day starts when my wife leaves for work and ends when I hear her pull in the drive.

  41. Ben says:

    This is a different scenario but my wife works part time; she does a lot of the household chores and since I work remotely I do a lot of the household oriented phone calling making appointments, paying bills, etc. on my lunch break.

  42. Honey says:

    Hm. Me and my boyfriend both work full-time but I do ALL the chores (with the exception of dog-walking, because he got that dog without asking me and I hate it) and even if he says he will do something, he NEVER does…

  43. Tammy says:

    interesting discussion, and obviously this is a top issue in our lives!

    I’ve done all sorts of things in the various arrangements — I’ve been the full time mom with the husband working a lot, I’ve been the part time working wife with lots of childcare still in the mix, I’ve been the full time student, I’ve been the full time worker with classes on the side …. it goes on and on.

    currently our kids are all out of the house, y husband works at enjoyable jobs, and I have the career that provides for our benefits and all that. So at this stage, I’m the one who works 45-50 hours a week, have to plan pretty far ahead to arrange to get time off for medical appointments and such, and I’m running for every minute of my 9-10 hour work days as a nurse manager. My lunches are my only breaks, and often I cut them short to 15-20 minutes if we are busy on the floor.

    It would be a dream for me if I could work at home and make the same kind of living. I would never complain about doing some work in the evenings to get it all done … cause I could actually set my own schedule and go to an occasional appointment without a few weeks notice and written approval from my boss! I would gladly do all the household chores if I were able to work from home.

    Maybe this says more about my personality than it does about anything else. But I can’t imagine that the person who is lucky enough to be able to work from home and be well paid has anything to complain about. The stress involved in my job is constant. I dream about working from home but in my profession, you have to be there with the patients in person, exactly on time, and always available to meet their needs.

  44. Fawn says:

    This is a great article. This is the second time I have read it. :D
    I also believe that just because one person stays home, doesn’t mean that they are the ones to do all the cleaning and cooking. When we have kids, we both would like it if I stayed home with them. He thinks that I am going to have the house spotless and have dinner ready when he gets home. :S Kids are hard work! I am slowly getting him to realize that he has to help with the chores. (I was unemployed and did a lot of the work when we first moved in together, my falult he got used to it.) And I have told him it isn’t going to be that way. So this article will be brought up when the time is right. :D Thanks!!

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