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The Two-Paycheck Family: Balancing Jobs, Kids, and Household Tasks

Defining Equality. Equality doesn’t have to mean sameness. Frank discussion is again the key. A couple doesn’t need to work side-by-side at every task to feel equal. But they do each need to feel that there is a fair division of both the pleasurable jobs and the more unpleasant tasks. Further, they need to feel that they have equal say around issues of power and control. It doesn’t work if one partner has control over all the money or one person makes all the important decisions for the household.

I once heard a joke that went something like this:

A reporter interviewed a woman about who did what in her household. She responded, “Oh my husband makes all the important decisions.”

“What decisions do you make, then?” asked the reporter.

“Let’s see. I decide how we will spend the money, where we should live, what schools the kids should go to, what job my husband ought to take, where we go on vacations — things like that,” replied the woman.

“If that’s the case, what important decisions does your husband make?” said the perplexed newsman.

“Things like whether the United States should trade with Indonesia, where the Olympics should be held, or whether the drinking age should be changed.”

This kind of one-sidedness in control of family life is usually a prescription for disaster.

Defining Standards. Coming to agreement on who should do what is only the beginning. An even tougher part of the work is agreeing on a standard of excellence for each job. How good is “good enough?” What level of completion does the couple agree is getting the job done? Which jobs matter a lot and need an “A+” effort? Which jobs really can be kept at a “C-” level and both agree this is fine?

The couple’s division of labor won’t work if one person’s idea of taking care of the kids in the evening is reading to them and the other’s idea is reading the newspaper. It won’t work if one person cleans the baseboards with a toothbrush on her or his night to clean up and the other stacks the dishes in the sink. There’s certainly room for difference, but only if the partners feel okay about these differences or find a way to make them endearing. Felix and Oscar of Odd Couple fame are funny on Broadway but, at home, no one’s laughing.

Expressing Appreciation. Managing jobs, home, kids, finances, and, oh yes, remembering the person you are married to in the midst of it all, is indeed taxing in the best of circumstances. Add a run of chickenpox, a family emergency, a crisis at work, or a major house repair to the mix, and it can truly feel impossible. Yet, most of us are doing the impossible almost every day.

It’s important to acknowledge (at least to each other) that problems often result from the job itself being way too big; this fact in no way implies that the people trying to do it are in some way too small. An important ingredient to survival, if not the experience of outright joy, is to not feel taken for granted while doing our best to manage. As partners, our most important job is to appreciate and love each other and to tell each other so — often.

The Two-Paycheck Family: Balancing Jobs, Kids, and Household Tasks

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). The Two-Paycheck Family: Balancing Jobs, Kids, and Household Tasks. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.