Swapping Chores with Your Spouse

Mama with some home-canned goodnessWe’ve had a big few weeks here at The Liberated Kitchen and I’m not going to lie: it’s been brutal. First, my gluten challenge came to its dramatic conclusion. About a week after I finally got to stop eating gluten again, TinyHands started her student teaching. This turned our domestic life on its head. She’s now at work before we used to get out of bed, and sometimes not home until 10 PM due to her continuing classes and tutoring gigs!

For a couple years now, TinyHands has done most of the cooking. She made the yogurt, the ghee, the ferments, the soups, the snacks, the desserts, did the canning & freezing, packed lunches… you name it, if food was involved, TinyHands was on it. She’s done the majority of the shopping, too, handling bulk buys, Azure and Hummingbird orders, running out to the farm for veggies, and swinging by the New Seasons for things she forgot. Don’t get me wrong. I like cooking and wasn’t shirking all household duties. In fact, I was pretty busy around the house in my own right homeschooling the kids, running them around, working in the garden, and doing a lot of cleaning up.

Back before TinyHands came along and I was a SAHM living with the kids’ dad, I made all our meals and snacks from scratch, and did the cleaning myself (without a dishwasher). The kids’ dad even worked nights part of that time and was vegan while the kids and I were not, so I would make multiple versions of each meal. But when I became a single mom, working full time and still homeschooling the kids, I started to slip into Trader Joe’s frozen foods.

When TinyHands moved in, things eased up a bit and real food was back on the menu. But she was a picky eater and didn’t like the same foods I liked to make. Slowly but surely, TinyHands started taking over the kitchen. By the time we started GAPS, I had learned to stay out of the way.

TinyHands and I adore each other, but we have a small galley kitchen and very different ways of doing things. Cooking together in our tiny space is a recipe for disaster. Even the basic “you cook, I clean” is problematic, when cooking is always in progress and we have different priorities. As the years went by, I started resenting TinyHands’s control of the kitchen, and she started resenting doing all the cooking.

Organized fridge, with labels!

Organized fridge, with labels!

Add to this, my gluten challenge really got my sense of order ramped up to the point where I was completely overwhelmed by any disorder. Unfortunately, I’m not a tidy person by nature – I have to work at it. I need systems to keep me functional and clear space to stop me from getting distracted.

TinyHands is fine working when other things are out of place. She’d rather have appliances accessible than out of sight, and doesn’t mind working in tight spaces. She can visually scan for things, while I get overwhelmed and can’t find things if they are surrounded by too many other things or not where I expect them to be. We knew I’d be taking over the kitchen soon, and I started making comments about how I was going to do things differently. By the time my challenge was over, TinyHands’d had it with me, and went on strike. So it was time to make good on my word and figure it out.

I put up the cabinet that used to be over the fridge but no longer fits there

I put up the cabinet that used to be over the fridge but no longer fits there

Now she’s out of the house most of the time and I’m trying to find my own rhythm of getting all the basics done. I haven’t had a chance to reorganize yet, but have been slowly plowing through it. I’ve put up a cabinet that had been sitting in the back of the kitchen, cleaned out the refrigerator, and gone through all the cabinets. I ordered magnetic spice jars so I can clear out some cabinet space for containers. Once they arrive I’ll give the kitchen another once over, and finally retire some of the things that have been in my way. I’m planning a post on all the changes!

I’ve always been a very improvisational cook, so it’s been a bit of a learning curve to get my intuition for the right amounts of things back. Despite my lack of confidence, I’ve had fun rediscovering old favorites and trying new things.

Old stuff we don't eat from the cabinets

Old stuff we don't eat from the cabinets

In the past two weeks I’ve made lots of stock, busted out the canner, made yogurt and ghee, soaked and dehydrated a batch of crispy almonds, started kefir & other ferments, and dealt with the oven and dishwasher both breaking! (I swear it wasn’t my fault!). I’ve even gotten breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner on the table most days and cleaned the kitchen a gazillion times.

Of course TinyHands and I didn’t exactly swap chores – when she’s gone, the kids still need me. I’ve gotten them to their activities. I’ve played games with them. I’ve made sure piano, math, and projects get the attention they need. All this SAHMing is exhausting. Lucky for me, TinyHands’s still doing most of the shopping. Something tells me I’m going to have to take that over eventually. I’m feeling a lot more useful around the house, and that feels good, despite how much work it is.

Switching places has been eye opening. I’ve caught myself doing things I used to complain about her doing – that stool is always in the middle of the kitchen! She’s also found herself cranky about me doing the very things she used to drive me crazy over – there’s no room to make a snack!

But we have our differences, too. TinyHands felt that a sign of appreciation was that the family would clean up after her cooking. If I did start cleaning while she had projects going, I’d invariable clean up something she was still using, to her great frustration. While she did some cleanup while cooking (you just have to), generally it was an end of the day job.

I prefer to clean as I go, and start completely fresh with each project. I’d rather wash half the dishes by hand than wait for the dishwasher to finish. But I get bent out of shape and feel unappreciated if the table isn’t set with everyone smiling around it by the time I’m done cooking.

It remains to be seen if I’ll be able to keep everyone fed as well as TinyHands did. We’re both exhausted by our new schedule, and have been struggling to get along and get everything done. But it’s only been a couple weeks. Change isn’t always easy and we’re still adjusting.

Have you ever switched chores with your spouse? What did you learn from the experience?

This post is part of Freaky Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, Fight Back Friday, Allergy Friendly Lunchbox Love.

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