When I was a kid, allowance was kind of a sore spot. I technically got one from my mom, though it was literally a dime, and I’d have to demand it. Many times, she’d have to owe it to me, and there was a whole keeping track and at the end of the day, it wasn’t like I grew up in the Depression— 52 weeks of chores for $5.20, when most of my friends got at least a dollar a week— ultimately it wasn’t worth the trouble. Also, I didn’t get to decide how it got spent. Also, my chores were non-optional— if I decided I didn’t want to empty the trash, it wasn’t like I could forgo the dime and call it good, and I wasn’t more likely to get the stupid dime if I emptied the trash daily instead of at the last minute, repeatedly reminded. It didn’t work as a system.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the housework disparity in my house didn’t have me rethinking it. Theoretically, we’re a 50-50 household— mom contributed in a big way to the purchase of the house, though everything is in my name, so she doesn’t pay rent. (And let’s be clear, I have a mortgage, it went up when we moved in together, as have all of my household expenses. Her monthly expenses have gone way down, though she took a big savings hit when we moved and I didn’t.) Everything else (not stuff for the pets) is supposed to be 50-50, expense-wise, except that’s not practically how it works out, because I’m the one with wheels. So I run to Costco and pick up $150 of stuff, even if $50 of it is dog-stuff, I eat the $100. Same thing with most solo trips to the grocery store, of which I make many more than the shared trips. Even on shared trips to the grocery store, she buys yogurt and baked goods that only she eats, and I buy ingredients for meals I prepare for both of us.
I didn’t really expect the housework to be 50-50, but as discussed, over time, on a good day, it’s been more like 85-15. Plus I handle all the yardwork and arranging maintenance, etc.. In the past, she’s offered to kick in for car repairs, but it didn’t feel right. Money is also sticky because we’re trying to preserve her ability to have nursing care if she needs it down the line, and Medicare can look back five years from the time she needs such care, so she can’t write me checks now, because it will reduce her eligibility for care (0r she’ll have to pay it back during a crisis) later.
Last week, I decided rather than go the repair route for my aging car, I’d fix it up enough to trade/sell and replace it early with something that would be higher off the ground, and therefore easier for her to get in and out of. My savings and disposable income are going to take quite a hit because of this decision— down payment and financing plus higher insurance and licensing, etc., are going to take most of the play out of my budget for sure, which means I probably can’t afford to get the (occasional, inexpensive) house cleaner that I desperately want, to free up some time for me to date and play music and write, and I might need to keep the yard work too. Two hours of cleaning in the middle of my workday yesterday while she napped in the chair and played computer games didn’t make me feel like I’d have more free time, and there were no thank yous or “wow— you got a lot done while you were home”-style remarks.
Now, I’m wondering whether 50-50 financially is fair. What if she paid more than 50 percent of the groceries or incidental bills, given that I’m operationally doing more than I did when I lived alone and she’s doing so much less? When she was a stay-at-home mom, she didn’t bring in an income, but she managed the household finances and you could say that my dad paid her an indefinable sum, sometimes by working multiple jobs, to stay home and raise my brothers and me. They had a fairly traditional split— he took care of the yard, maintenance, and the cars, and she took care of cooking and cleaning. It’s not truly analogous, but what if some of my labor in the house went toward addressing some of my financial obligation? If I “earned an allowance” for emptying and reloading the dishwasher this morning before I went to work and for setting the table, making and serving dinner, cleaning up after it, serving dessert, cleaning up after it? It might open up conversations I don’t appreciate— last night, I made a cornbread Bundt stuffed with taco meat and cheese, and warmed up green chile to pour over it.
“How did you heat this green chile?”
“On the stove.” She hates things heated in the microwave.
“It wasn’t hot enough for me.”
I did not ask her why she didn’t eat it for at least five minutes after I served it to her— she’s manic about hot food, she knew I was serving dinner, and she chose that moment to write a check and attend to some mail. I didn’t say “it was hot when I served it to you— maybe if you ate it then?”
I know that she didn’t sleep well the night before and I don’t really expect her to be her best self in that situation, but seriously? And as I scooped the litterbox in her part of the house before I went to bed, she said she got some message on the computer that I upgraded for her over the weekend, but that I was so busy walking the dog and making dinner that she basically gave up on showing it to me. It was raining, so the dog and I walked for maybe 20 minutes. Passive aggressive remarks in this situation seem pretty ineffective. Pretty much anything to which I can append “Cinderelly” feels pretty ineffective, and at worst, I’m somewhat prone to that. At a certain point, my having much less expendable income and much less free time doesn’t feel like it’s a fair trade off in our arrangement.
To be fair, she did say something humble and kind to me recently about how she saw how hard I worked and she appreciated a thing I was in the process of doing for her, and it meant a lot to me. I was careful to tell her so. And I did ask her to her brown the ground beef with an onion I’d chopped at lunch to save me some labor/time when I got home. But I made this meal for her not because I’d like it— I like Mexican food a small fraction as much as she likes it, and frankly, it was too spicy for me. And even on an admittedly bad day for her to ask disapprovingly “is there sugar in this corn bread?” and “how did you heat this green chile?” instead of to say “you certainly went to a lot of trouble for this! Thank you!”— somehow, I’d feel better if I thought “well, at least she’s paying the sprinkler guy, so I don’t have to.”