Housework, Divorce, and Going on Strike

by Abby on August 1, 2011

Almost Divorced book coverI freely admit that I DO judge books by their covers, and one that caught my eye was “I Almost Divorced My Husband But I Went on Strike Instead,” by Sherri Mills. Before anyone gets all up in arms, let me just say that this morning alone I have changed a set of pee-soaked sheets, done 3 loads of laundry, attempted to rid my kitchen of hundreds of ants, and cleaned up an accident the dog had on the floor — #2, no less! (After dealing with a potty-training toddler, that’s just adding insult to injury.)


A recent study showed that 62% of Americans consider sharing housework important to a happy marriage. While this subject has definitely caused arguments in my own marriage, I am not considering divorce. Actually, I first picked up the book to see if it was the true story behind a very entertaining Lifetime original movie starring Daphne Zuniga I saw last December called “On Strike for Christmas.” (It’s not. And mock me all you want; I love Lifetime.)

What captured my attention next is that the author, Sherri Mills, has been a hairdresser for over 40 years and THAT’S where she gets her expertise on marriage and divorce. Isn’t that brilliant? No PhD’s or Dr. Phil’s or other so-called “experts” spouting off statistics. Nope, this is the real deal on what goes on in relationships, straight from the hairdresser’s chair.

Mills, a busy salon owner, wife, and mother of 3, got so fed up with being overworked and under-appreciated in her own home that she actually DID go on strike, after drawing up a formal Fair Marriage Contract in terms that would be understood by her husband, who was familiar with union negotiations.

But there’s a lot more to the book than that. Mills makes what I consider to be some brilliant points, such as:

–          If you showed up unannounced on someone’s doorstep and their house was a mess, how many of you would think, “Wow! What an awful housekeeper that husband is.” [You already know I’M a horrible housekeeper.]

–          He’s not a jerk; he’s just clueless. [Note: These are Mills’ words about HER husband, NOT mine!] Until he is forced to participate in everyday activities and take care of the children 24/7, he will remain oblivious, not matter how caring, wonderful, and loving he is.

–          The illusion that men and children should occasionally “help” is flat-out wrong. “Help” is a favor you do for someone when it’s convenient for you or you feel like doing it. In the overwhelming challenge of raising kids and managing a household, “help” is an inadequate injunction, a dirty 4-letter word where “shared responsibility” should be taught instead. [Note: Mills’ contract listed 52(!) chores she was handling solo before her strike, everything from wiping off the table to packing for vacation – for everybody.]

–          She urges women to replace anger with determination to get respect from their families, noting “It’s hard to respect a whiner who keeps doing the things she’s whining about.”

Having seen the havoc that divorce wreaks on her clients, Mills is staunchly against it. She remains happily married to her husband of 42 years. She writes, “[The strike] was the hardest thing I have ever done, but the payoff is continuing every day: I have my original husband, who is now an angel.”

Believe it or not, this book actually served as a helpful jumping-off point for discussions with my own husband. He doesn’t want me to be miserable and overworked; he feels bad he’s not around more to help share responsibility for the house and kids. But we haven’t hashed out yet whose domain dog poop falls under.

What are your thoughts on this subject? How do you divide up the work in your household?

NEWS O’ THE DAY: As this post was going “to press,” C. brought home the new issue of Time magazine with the cover story, “Chore Wars,” which claims that men and women do the same amount of work. I read it, it involves complicated math and some arguable points, and it’s worth a whole separate post. Stay tuned.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali August 1, 2011 at 9:20 am

I’d say that I probably do more of the household work, but Hubby does the real nasty jobs like kitty poop cleanup and garbage. We also have a rule that whoever cooks dinner, the other must cleanup (i.e., dishes).

I know many women may find this unacceptable, but if I’m feeling overwhelmed or just don’t care do vacuum or tidy up (I usually do these), I just ask my husband, nicely, if he can do it for me. He always says “sure,” and not passive aggressively. Although we shouldn’t have to ask (they should just do it!), it alleviates a lot of my frustrations and stress. I even have no problem offering a sincere “Thanks, Babe” afterwards. After all, he offers me simple thank-yous for cooking and other daily duties.


Abby August 1, 2011 at 3:08 pm

I agree, Ali. A simple “thanks” — from either spouse — goes a long way. And in the book there’s a lot of discussion about how women feel they shouldn’t have to ask, but men generally aren’t mind-readers. Not in my house, certainly!


Jaymie August 1, 2011 at 10:19 am

I didn’t see the Lifetime movie, but there is a book called On Strike for Christmas which I enjoyed. It was written by Sheila Roberts. =-)

I am grateful that my husband is good about shared responsibilities. There are some chores he does, some I do, and some our son does. I think natural inclinations (I am the compulsive organizer, for example) and time (I am home more than he is) makes an impact, too.


Abby August 1, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Ooh, I’ll have to check out that book, thanks!


Lou Mello August 1, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I must admit that my wife does the better share of housework, although I help on a regular basis with most things. If the carpet looks like it need cleaning, I’ll grab the vacuum and do it. I have done the washing on a regular basis, but, I unfortunately don’t quite understand the “colors” thing, so I have been banned to drying and folding and hanging. I do the heavy outside yard stuff, but, she helps with all that as well so it’s a pretty even split in the yard work area. I am a total slacker when it comes to cooking, I would eat cookies, PB&J sandwiches, soup and microwave stuff forever if left to my own devices. So, she usually cooks about 3 times a week and we go into “scramble” mode the other 4 days. We both clean up the table and do the garbage stuff and she usually starts the dishwasher and I empty it in the morning and put everything away.

I guess all in all, most of it evens out and we both hate dusting so that is a once a quarter endeavor or until one of us starts making signs in the coffee table dust.
I like the idea of having the “chores” written down and agreed upon so neither person gets resentful about what’s been agreed upon. Of course, my signature might have accidentally been in disappearing ink. 🙂


Abby August 1, 2011 at 3:09 pm

That’s great, Lou. My husband and I do our own laundry, separately, since he’s not so good w/ the “colors” thing, either!


Kim August 1, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Oh I am such a bad ‘homemaker’ as our house could be a lot cleaner, but I just prefer my writing and books over cleaning. So even though I am home with our children all day and could probably squeeze in more cleaning time, my husband probably does half of the work around the house. On the weekends he sees how impossible it is to pick up toys as our girls just scatter them all over again five minutes later. But I think he wishes I kept the “piles” put away. Honestly though, I think I’m lucky to be married to someone who helps so much after a long day’s work. We don’t bicker over who did what last and whose turn is it to do something next, but I really appreciate how he helps out so much at home. It probably helps that he has a type A personality and doesn’t ‘chill out’ like I do. I’m not sure if I will pick up this book to read, but it sounds like an interesting idea!


Abby August 2, 2011 at 1:03 pm

It’s so true, Kim, that the more Type A person often ends up doing more because the mess bothers them more. Unfortunately in my house, that’s me!


Malia Jacobson August 1, 2011 at 11:13 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic too (saw a review of this same book in Redbook last month). I think the author makes a great point that men–or, to stop generalizing, whoever tends to do less of the housework and childcare, male or female–are just clueless. They just don’t see the zillions of little tasks that keep a household together. My husband does a great job cleaning (of course, his standards for “clean” are a bit lower than mine) and he does the jobs I really hate doing, like mowing the lawn and cleaning the litter box. But there are just soooooooo many other things that need doing. My pet peeves lately have been all the minor “kid-maintenance” stuff that just completely flies over his head, like cutting their nails, scheduling their doctor appointments, signing them up for classes, dealing with teacher stuff, all of that. I have transitioned nail-cutting completely to him, and a couple of other things like that. For me the key to success is staying firm but friendly and NOT caving and doing it myself when he doesn’t do the job exactly when *I* want him to. And reminding without nagging. It’s hard!


Abby August 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm

You are so right that “housework” w/ small kids at home involves SO much more than just cooking, cleaning & laundry. Really, the list is endless…and often overwhelming!


Libby August 2, 2011 at 10:38 am

I will say, my husband does an awesome job at helping around the house. We both work fulltime and have two very young children. So, I cook, I grocery shop, I do the baths for the kids and we try to both do bedtime – I tend to do more of the “kids stuff” like their rooms, etc. Hubby does yard stuff, our laundry (I do the kids) and generally picks up more than I do. Oh – he also does the vacuuming. I also do preschool/daycare dropoff and he does pickup.

What REALLY gets me is how many of my friends say how LUCKY I am that my husband does this stuff. Don’t get me wrong – I fully appreciate my husband and I tell him that a LOT. But not once has anyone ever said how lucky he is that I do what I do. It’s just expected that women do all this – but if a man does it, we need to give him thanks and praise and should be grateful. I see the same thing in the friends I have whose husbands do stuff around the house – they are always told how “lucky” they are.

I have no problem giving credit to my husband – I just find it odd that the same isn’t done for the women/wives/moms.


Abby August 2, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I TOTALLY agree, Libby. I get really tired of being the “default” housekeeper who’s expected — by society, if not my husband — to manage everything related to the house and kids.

I always tell my husband how lucky he is that I grew, birthed and fed 2 amazing, smart, healthy boys with my own body. He agrees! 🙂


Angie Mizzell August 2, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Oh, that’s hilarious. Last week, Shawn told me about a story on MSNBC — and it sounds a lot like the Times article you mention. He told me I should blog about it! 🙂

But the truth is, we are pretty 50/50 around here. While I claim most of the inside work and Shawn takes care of the outside, he will vacuum, shop for groceries, cook, clean the kitchen and do laundry if needed. Sometimes he does these things without my approval and it makes me mad (he’s disrupting my “flow”)

Strangely, we often argue about working against each other… aka being control freaks. The preacher warned us about this in the pre-marital counseling.


Jan August 3, 2011 at 11:47 am

As a single mom, it all falls on me even though the kids have their chores. I wish I had someone who picked up at least 10% of the housework. That would feel like a vacation for me!


Sherri Mills September 5, 2011 at 11:25 am

It does my heart good to see all the comments about sharing housework. It is even more wonderful to hear about husbands who do share a lot. My goal in writing the book was to get all of society to become aware of the fact that when two people in the house are working full time jobs, the full time job at home must be shared. Perhaps everyone out there can help me get the word out. It will be difficult to change because the idea that women should be responsible for everything in the house is deeply imbedded in our culture. However, We must do it, to keep marriages together.
Young mothers with small children are getting out instead of trying to fix it.


Therese Walker January 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm

I am heartened to hear about the much better men out there. Today I was feeling very very down. I know when I get home – spouse has day off – he will have made dinner and “washed” the dishes (leaves food on them!!!) and may or may not have put food in oven or microwave for storage. After a 70 hour week (25 hrs commuting) I am so tired and cannot censor myself words, looks, demeanour, etc to suit the saint of the day with his oh so horrible cold (dying I tell you). And wine does not help. Food neither. I wish this was not Friday. He has a four day weekend. I wish he had a hobby. We always fight when we are together too much. Maybe I should become a miner or join the navy. I’d miss the kids though.


Sarah February 13, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I am a newly wed. I am frustrated because I am trying to pull tasks 50/50. I do laundry, I want him to fold them. I keep telling him I would love for him to lower the amount of time he spends on the blogs, and the online games. I keep asking it, and I am really frustrated, because honestly, How nicely do I have to ask? How much do I say please? How many times do I go around and around and around on this? He is 27, so he has more time to build bad habits, and become set in his ways then I do, at 23. Yet I know it is possible to share. And the contract thing only works when the person actually agrees with it. I finally told him today, that the ball is in his court. I will not leave him, but I will live my own separate life. Maybe we should just set up two laundry baskets, one for me, and one for him. He does his own clothes. I think I like that idea. I wanted us to do clothes together, but it doesn’t seem to work. So maybe that is a starting point. WIth the kitchen. I am going to put up a sign with tape, like I had when I was single living in apartment with all girls. Dishes should be washed, and put in the dishwasher, or washed and dried in the dish rack, then put away. I guess I am getting ideas for how to do it. As far as washing our own dishes, we are married. I think we should do it equally. And I just love a clean looking sink. It makes me feel better. So any advice for a newly wedded woman, who really is a feminist at heart, and could care less about homemaking as a full time job regardless of what my church teaches. . I am also a little frustrated at the fact, that he told me, my dear husband told me before we where married that he would do these things. I have to ask him 4 or 5 times. He is hearing impaired which complicates matters, but I am starting to get mad. I am also a little bored, because I want a job, and am waiting for an application process (which is taking forever) to go through. Nothing I can do there except wait, and do the steps as asked. I guess I am just venting. At least I have two things I can do. Set up two laundry baskets, and simply have him do his own laundry for now on. And then put a reminder sign. Once we get a dog, and then after that in a few years children, things are going to get more complicated. If we can’t do simple things like spend time together, and even out our chores then how can we even out playing with the kids, helping them with their homework, taking the dog for walks. Things like that. *sigh*. here is my vent. I am going to read equally shared parenting book. I am hoping that will open some insights to me. For now, I am just a little frustrated.

As for some people being oblivious to what clean is. I was oblivious in my own bedroom when I lived with my family. I could see the floor, that was it. But now that I have my own house, I like things cleaner. Funny thing is, He told me that everything looked clean, but then I took to organizing it more, and he said “Oh now you have room for you computers”. Yes And my desk looks cleaner too. Sorry this is such a ramble. I hope all of you can understand it. I saw your book, but I don’t think the fair marriage contract is just right for me. Something else is needed in this relationship. Probably just my refusal to do stuff he should do. I guess I have some work to do. Thanks for this blog site, it gives me hope that my marriage will work out reading all your comments.


Nicole March 17, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Oh Sarah, I can so empathize with what you are talking about. The seperate laundry baskets is a great start! You think that this book might not be what you need but as I read your frustration, I know how much it could actually help all the way around! Although I have a child out of my home who is starting her own domestic battle, I still have 5 children ages 9 through 15 at home. I work outside if the home roughly 50 -60 hours per week and my husband works double that. My house can sometimes be more than a mess because the kids might take their own sweet time doing the chores that are asked to be done by 7 pm but one thing….thanks to this book that is always done is MY LAUNDRY. I now no longer care about the one thing that could have given me a nervous breakdown….do you have any idea how much laundry 7 people pile up? The new rule is there are no clothes allowed in my laundry room longer than it takes to wash and dry. Each child and husband has their own laundry basket and I never have to look at them! Does that mean my boys might sometimes show up to school in a dirty pair of pants? Yes…but vanity can be such a positive thing. You’d be surprised how quickly they throw a new load in when a friend from school says something. What this book taught me is to take that deep breath and work on making myself happy. They will do their own laundry….and many many other things if I don’t do it for them! 🙂 BUY THE BOOK ! It will help!


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