Keeping up with the house and feeding and clothing the family can be a heavy burden that impacts time both your work life and your health. Not to mention, it’s just not fun to be bearing such a heavy load when others in your family are not. In this episode, find out how to lighten your load around the house and what to do to create family equality with regard to housework. I share with you the six steps to take you from bearing the lion’s share at home to lightening your load, so that you can spend more of your time doing the things you actually enjoy.


  • The problem with inequality and how to recognize it
  • The 6 steps to creating family equality with regard to housework
  • The common pitfalls that moms face when trying to create a more equal division of labor at home
  • The research on the effect of housework equality on marital happiness
  • The research on the effect of housework equality on kids’ happiness and wellbeing later in life
  • The leadership skill that every mom needs to lead her family to a happier and more equal home life


Hello and welcome to episode 3 of the Happy Lawyer Mom podcast, the podcast that takes lawyer moms from beyond stressed and barely hanging on, to finally getting what you want at work and at home so that you can be TRULY happy.

I’m Charise Naifeh and I’m thrilled you’re here!

Hi there and welcome to this week’s episode. In episode 2, we talked about dissolving both motherhood and marital inequality from your home and replacing them with family equality in five different areas of your family life. And today, we’re going to be talking about the first of those five areas, which is housework.

When I say housework, I’m talking about anything related to the care and maintenance of the home and also the feeding and clothing of the people in the home: These day-to-day tasks, especially once you have children, require a lot of work and they can present new opportunities for inequality within a family.

So why are we talking about this?

Sometimes my clients will say to me “I feel sheepish even bringing this issue up. I should be able to get a handle on this.” It can seem like it’s not that big of a deal.

And yet, I’ve had many conversations with brilliant lawyers who hit a wall in their careers because of this single issue.

When you’re overburdened at home, of course it’s going to impact your career. Not only in terms of time, but also the quality of your performance. It affects how much sleep you’re getting, how much leisure time you’re getting, and your level of stress – everything.

So how do you is housework inequality is happening in your family?

Here’s how to recognize it:  Housework inequality happens when household responsibilities are burdening one or some members of the family in a way that’s disproportionate to what’s happening for the other members of the family and it’s affecting their ability to get what they want in their career and in their life.

This is usually not happening because of a conscious decision or because this is what the overburdened parent wants. Rather, it usual happens by default. That’s the crux of the problem we’re solving here.

Does this have to fall on gender lines? Absolutely not. Dads can be overburdened in this area, too.

And in fact, another way that inequality can come up is that both parents are completely overburdened with respect to the kids.

In modern American parenting today, parents going above and beyond for their kids, and in doing so, they’re often making themselves miserable trying to ensure that their kids are happy.

So you can have a very supportive spouse who is working hard to care for and maintain the home and still have housework inequality.  If the kids are enjoying an elite status where all they have to do is play and have fun, without making any contribution to the home or the family long past the point at which they could be contributing, while the parents are running themselves ragged, that’s indicates that housework inequality is happening.

Ok, so that’s what housework inequality looks like: it creates misery for the overburdened family members and if it’s not corrected, it only gets worse over time, because it teaches the other family members to continue to expect the overburdened individuals to step in.

So obviously, we want to get out of that situation as soon as possible and into a much better situation where everyone in the family is contributing in the way that they want to be contributing and that no one in the family is stuck doing things that they hate all by themselves. The people who live in the home unite as a team for the care and maintenance of the home.

That’s family equality and that’s where we’re going.

Ok, how do we get there? There are 6 steps that solve this problem of housework inequality. If you follow these six steps, you will create family equality with regard to housework.

What are the 6 steps?

    1. Ok, so the first step is to resign. And what that means is that the currently overburdened individuals need to resign from the role as the steward of the home: This is no longer one person’s job or the parents’ job. This is everyone’s job. When you get clear in your own mind that this is no longer your job – because you already have a job, which is being a lawyer, you can then move to the next step, which is to:
    2. Reassess:
      1. There are 3 prongs to this step:
        1. First, you reassess what actually needs to be done around the house. And I mean, what absolutely needs to be done.
        2. Second, you look at the tasks that each parent in the home is already doing and reassess: what tasks does each parent want to continue doing?
          1. Your spouse may enjoy cooking. You may enjoy organizing the kids’ closets and you may want to continue to own that. Or you may want to own the kids’ schoolwork while your spouse prefers the doctor’s visits.
          2. This step identifies what both parents actually enjoy and what they don’t enjoy.
        3. And then, third, you reassess the gaps:
          1. This means that you identify the things that need to be done that neither of you want to continue to do
        4. Ok, so once you do that, we move to Step 3, which is:
    3. Recruit. This means that you assemble a team to fill those gaps: and you start with your own family. If they live in the house, then they are contributing to the care and maintenance of the house. They’re on the team. The contributions may be different, but it’s a shared responsibility.
      1. This means that the kids meaningfully contribute to do things that need to be done around the house.
      2. If you have a baby under the age of 1, Baby gets a pass. But everyone else, can start to contribute. Even a 12-month -old can put her toys into a basket or tear lettuce, if you get them one of those learning towers that allows toddlers to stand at counter height. They’re fabulous because they allow kids to get involved in what the adults are doing in the kitchen from a very young age, which is actually what they want to be doing anyway.

Whatever age your kids are, if they’re over 1 year old, they’re on the team. When they’re younger, their contributions will obviously be smaller, but they can start taking on responsibility over the things that are theirs: they can put their toys away; they can carry their plate to the kitchen; they can put their clothes in the laundry hamper.

  1. And then they can begin to contribute toward shared family experiences: they can learn how to set the table; or clear the table; or sweep after dinner if you get them a child-sized broom.
  2. When kids learn how to do this when they’re young, it becomes a way of life for them as they get older: and that not only helps the family, it also helps them. It helps them learn how to do things for themselves, but more importantly, it helps them learn how to contribute to something larger than themselves and instills in them the value of helping others. And what we know from the data on this is that people who help others and contribute to causes larger than themselves are happier in the long term. So learning this when they’re young sets kids up for long-term happiness throughout their lives – which I’d say is a pretty compelling reason for doing this.
  3. Now, for the wage-earners in the family, they’re already contributing a substantial amount of time and energy toward something larger than themselves, namely the work that they’re doing in the world and the generation of money for the family. So in their case, the bulk of their contribution doesn’t have to always be in the form of time: they can contribute in the form of money toward getting the absolutely necessary tasks done. But the upshot is that there is a contribution toward the common goal of a well-cared-for home from every member of the family in one form or another.
  • If, after recruiting the entire family to the team, there are still gaps for things that need to be done, then there are 3 options:
    1. First, You reassess again as to that task: if nobody wants to do the task, then maybe the task doesn’t really need to be done.
    2. If you decide that, yes, it does really need to be done, then the second option is that you recruit someone outside the family to do the task.
    3. Or, the third option is that you share the responsibility for that task.
      1. Now, I just want to pause here and say that it’s very tempting if you can afford to outsource everything or almost everything, to just outsource everything to a third party and not assign anything to the kids: but if the kids grow up thinking that they don’t have to contribute toward the care of the home, then they end up losing all of the benefits of becoming a contributing member of the team that I mentioned earlier. So even if you can afford to do that, query whether doing that will result in the outcome that you want in the long-term, which is independent, self-sufficient, and helpful humans.
    4. Then, after you recruit your team, the fourth step is to redistribute the tasks, based on ability and also interest:
      1. My youngest son loves doing laundry. My oldest prefers to sweep. So on Monday nights, which is laundry night for my boys, the youngest gathers the clothes, loads the washing machine, and starts the washing machine, while my oldest sweeps the kitchen and dining room after dinner.
      2. When possible, I give them a choice in deciding what roles they want to play when we’re distributing tasks.
    5. And then after tasks are redistributed and everyone’s clear on what to do, the fifth step is that you refrain from doing their tasks. You do NOT step in and do it yourself, even if you can do it faster or better.
      1. Of course there can be times when your kids will need some help. I have to get the laundry detergent down for my son – but he does the rest. If they’re sick, they get a pass – and if I’m sick, I also get a pass.
      2. But the general rule is that they’re doing it themselves.
    6. And then finally, step six is that you release the outcome:
      1. Your kids will not fold laundry like you do. Their beds will not be perfectly made, especially when they’re little. There will be a lot of imperfection happening.
      2. Your spouse probably has a different way of doing things, too. Step 6 requires that you release control of this and give your team agency over their tasks, because that it how they learn to master this themselves.
  1. So, to recap, the 6 steps are: Resign + Reassess + Recruit + Redistribute + Refrain + Release
    1. The 6 R’s. (And yes, I’m a sucker for alliteration.)
  2. These steps are very simple: but they’re often not easy to implement: why is that?
    1. For most moms, here’s what happens:
      1. A lot of women have Martha Stewart in their heads, dictating the standard of a happy home, when what would actually make them happy is minimalism.
        1. This is particularly true of married women: research shows that moms who are married do more housework than moms who aren’t married, which is the opposite of what you’d expect. Researchers hypothesize that this happens because of the societal conditioning that women have about what it means to be a good wife and mother –
        2. In other words, all of those women’s magazines have gotten in our heads and are turning up the pressure. I call this the manual for motherhood: it’s a set of unwritten instructions about what we’re supposed to do, according to external sources. As long as you have an external manual running your operating system, you will find yourself compelled to do things around the house that probably aren’t necessary for your or anyone else’s happiness.
        3. If one person in the home is miserable because of this burden, the goal here is not to redistribute misery evenly: it’s to eliminate misery altogether by doing only the things that the people in the house really want to do.
      2. Here’s another thing that happens: You set the kids up with chore charts, and you give them tasks: they start strong, but then they forget. They don’t do the things. And then you’re left either nagging them about it or just doing it yourself – because if you don’t, the house becomes an intolerable mess or they don’t have clean clothes or clean water bottles. And so when you step in, it reinforces what everyone already suspects, which is that it really is your job to make sure everything’s taken care of.
      3. Another common scenario is that Mom doesn’t want to have a conversation with her spouse about redistributing tasks because she’s afraid it will create conflict.
        1. Maybe they’ve tried this before. Maybe there’s a standing agreement that it will be 50/50, but it never seems to work out that way in practice.
        2. So Mom is policing the housework, nagging, or just doing all of the work herself but silently seething and resentment is growing. That resentment bubbles up in different ways: it might be a passive-aggressive comment, or an air of chilliness that comes over the relationship and creates distance between the spouses – which actually leads to more conflict, which is paradoxically the thing that she was trying to avoid.
      4. Another thing that often happens is Mom does have a conversation with her spouse about redistributing some tasks, but then either the spouse forgets to do them, or does them differently than she would, or waits until the last minute, and so she doesn’t follow either step 5 or step 6: she either steps in or she doesn’t release control of the outcome.
        1. She may start judging her partner for this, and her partner feels that, which creates more of a rift in the marriage, and actually makes the other spouse less likely to want to be part of the team, or to do so resentfully.
      5. For most moms, this is the way it goes. Why does this happen to most moms? Because they lack certain skills to make this work.
    2. Here’s what it looks like when you implement the process with the right skills:
      1. From the outset, you are showing up differently and your family notices.
      2. Instead of approaching these steps with heaviness, you approach them with lightness and ease. Your family feels that and this issue is no longer rife with conflict.
      3. Everyone feels heard – including you – and everyone’s concerns are addressed.
      4. No one is overburdened.
      5. And because everyone has choices with regard to how they’re contributing, this is no longer just an obligation – it becomes something that they want to do.
      6. Not to mention, everyone is just happier. Research backs this up:
        1. When there’s housework equality in marriages, both spouses are happier.
        2. And when kids are making a meaningful contribution to the home, the kids are less anxious and higher better self-esteem, and do better in school because they feel capable and useful.
  • We’re wired to want to work and contribute to something larger than ourselves – and if your kids aren’t expressing that, they can be taught how.
  1. My kindergartner is now helping to make his lunch, he gets his water bottle and backpack ready each morning; after school, he empties his folder for school, and then he washes his bento box. And when he’s doing that, he’s engaged in something other than complaining that he’s bored or bickering with his brother like he used to do when I was the one doing all of that.
  2. A Happy Law Mom group member implemented this in her home and her kids who were 2, 5 and 7, started doing their own laundry, picking up their toys, keeping their rooms neat, putting their clothes out each night, helping to clean up after dinner; and what she noticed was once they had a job to do, they complained less about being bored; they fought with each other less when they had something to occupy themselves around the house. And it creates a positive feedback loop, where they’re getting very positive feedback from their parents, and they enjoy that, so they’re doing more around the house.
    1. So the kids not only can do it, they will do it, they actually want to do it (even if they don’t know it yet), and it makes them happier to do it.
  3. Many moms struggle to take these steps because – at some level – they’re afraid that this will make them less of a mom.
    1. I talk to women who are totally overwhelmed with kids and work, but their motherhood manuals prevent them from resigning as the steward of the home, and from recruiting additional team members, lest they be judged as “less of a mom.”
    2. When I was at my most unhappy, I was the supermom who was exhausting herself trying to do everything by the book: I made the homemade organic baby food, I made homecooked meals every night, I stayed up late planning Pinterest worthy birthday parties – all of it. My husband was very active and involved and we were exhausting ourselves trying to keep up with the house and the kids, on top of our demanding jobs.
  • When we stopped trying to do it all, we got much happier: we brought in an au pair and she gave the kids breakfast in the morning and got them dressed while we got ready for work, so that we could come downstairs and play with them before it was time to leave for daycare. She prepared our family dinners so we could focus on talking with the kids at dinner; she helped clean up after dinner, which meant that we could spend more time with the kids after dinner playing and reading stories. Recruiting help allowed me to do more of what I wanted to do as a mom.
    1. And when I was doing only the things that were very important for me as the mom to do, that’s when I was most a mom: I was more present and connected and relaxed when I was focusing on those things.

What will feel good and what you want to do will change over time.

What it looks like now is that we don’t outsource everything because our kids are older now and they know how to do much more on their own. They’re learning how to be team players, how to be helpful, how to be part of a family.

And because they have those skills, I’m able to focus the time I’m with them on things I want to be doing: talking with my kids, playing games or reading with them. And also just being together as a family even if we’re all doing different things. This is the fun part of motherhood that I get to enjoy more when I’m not trying to be supermom.

I’ve seen it again and again: when mom develops the skill of creating an equal home where everyone pulls together, it changes everything.

    1. The tasks at home go from heavy to light.
    2. The kids have ownership over what’s theirs and genuinely enjoy playing a more important role in the family.
    3. The external motherhood manual is gone and has been replaced by a new manual that’s been consciously chosen.
    4. And the tension between spouses dissipates.
  1. When you go to apply this process, there are the common things that trip people up that you should know about:
    1. If you want housework to be exactly 50/50 with your spouse, that indicates that you haven’t truly resigned as steward of the home: because you’re still thinking it’s your job, so if your spouse isn’t doing exactly half, then it feels like that work is being shunted on you. So that’s one thing to watch out for.
    2. Or if you’re arguing with people in your home about this, or trying to force your spouse to do things that he or she doesn’t really want to do, that also means that something’s gone awry with this process.
      1. If there’s conflict happening around this, particularly with your spouse, then this is being done incorrectly. Done correctly, this process eliminates conflict and leads to a better outcome for everyone, where everyone is happier and getting what they want.
  • So if any of these are happening for you when applying the 6 steps, that’s a sign that there’s a wrench in the gears that needs to be removed. What we work on inside the Happy Law Mom Program is how to do this without fomenting tension or rancor. If conflict is coming up for you, join us in Happy Law Mom because we work through this with you.

A member of the group had been contemplating divorcing her husband because of this issue before she joined the program. They were at an impasse because she wanted him to do 50% of the housework on the weekends. He was a partner in Big Law and didn’t want to spend the little time he was at home doing housework: he wanted to spend it with his family. They were both feeling like they were being treated unfairly and nobody was happy.

So what we do in Happy Law Mom is we help you navigate this in a way where everyone gets what they want. Now, this woman no longer wants to get a divorce: she’s happy, her husband is happy, and they’ve actually decided to have another baby. So we’re saving marriages in there.

  1. The skill of creating a home where everyone pulls together and the house is equally maintained is really a leadership skill that is used in home in a way that helps all members of the family get what they want and to do so without conflict.
    1. The woman who was on the verge of divorce told me that her husband has remarked on the leadership that she’s showing at home to tackle this issue. Learning this one skill took the atmosphere of their home from heavy to happy.
    2. We’re often led to believe that we should just naturally have leadership skills like this, and if we don’t too bad. But this is a skill that can be learned and refined and improved upon, so that it becomes second-nature to you.
  2. When you have this skill, you go from feeling powerless to taking control over what’s happening at home, and it’s incredibly effective for managing and leading teams at work as well.
    1. As lawyer moms, there are two go-to strategies that we typical use at home:
      1. we either tap into our legal training, where we’re taught to plow ahead, argue, and make our case, and go head-to-head with our families.
      2. Or we take a more passive approach, which is the opposite: we don’t make waves, we hold back, and don’t say anything that would create conflict. Meanwhile, resentment builds and we’re silently seething.
    2. This skill offers a third approach: it raises the happiness level for everyone, because it’s focused on helping everyone get what they want.
    3. Ok, so we’ve talked about the steps of this process and I’m going to go on and talk about creating family equality with respect to caretaking, leisure time, career, and finances in upcoming episodes, but right here, I want to pause and say:
      1. This one issue ends marriages. It can destroy the quality of your home life. Maybe not all at once, but over time, it eats away at relationships and creates deep-seated bitterness and unhappiness.
      2. So before we go on to talk about the other areas, I want you to know that if you’ve been struggling with this one thing and you’re banging your head against a wall, and there’s tension with your spouse or your kids, join the Happy Law Mom program because you need to solve this and you will get help doing that. You can to to find out more.

Ok, so once you develop this skill and create household equality, what’s next?

We create caretaking equality. That’s the second area of focus for dissolving inequality from your home and replacing it with family equality. Research shows that moms are happier when they aren’t the only one doing the caretaking – and it also shows that caretaking is still falling disproportionately on Mom’s shoulders in most families in the United States. This is also an area where moms do not want to lower their standards: the care of their children is a non-negotiable and a top priority. In the next episode, we’ll talk about how to get the care you want for your kids while also having the time and space for other things in your life, so that caretaking is no longer overburdening you. That’s what caretaking equality looks like.

If that sounds appealing to you, join me next time and I’ll tell you how to create it your home.

In the meantime, thank you so much for being here today and have a beautiful week.


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