Un-Billable Hours: Working Mothers, I Bow Down Before You….

If you have kids or want kids, you should read this!

The most recent figures from the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Families and Households show that the average wife does 31 hours of housework a week while the average husband does 14 — a ratio of slightly more than two to one. If you break out couples in which wives stay home and husbands are the sole earners, the number of hours goes up for women, to 38 hours of housework a week, and down a bit for men, to 12, a ratio of more than three to one. That makes sense, because the couple have defined home as one partner’s work.

But then break out the couples in which both husband and wife have full-time paying jobs. There, the wife does 28 hours of housework and the husband, 16. Just shy of two to one, which makes no sense at all.

Reading it has made me want to break down my housewife-week (and yes, while I write books, I am mostly a housewife).  If the article is right, my work-week should  be 38 hours a week.  I assume that doesn’t count “quality time” (reading books, emptying and filling kiddie-pools, playing with play dough, etc).  I wish they’d share their idea of what constitutes “work” but here’s what I imagine they mean…

My “Un-Billable Hours” (on the conservative side):

4 hours a week grocery shopping (takes much longer with 2 kids in tow, plus drive time)
2 hours a week on other errands (PO, bank, pediatrician, etc)
10 hours a week cooking and cleaning up from meals, packing lunches, wiping high chairs (this does not allow for actual cooking, just assemblage meals– cereal, sandwiches, frozen veggies, leftovers, etc.)
3 hours a week washing and folding laundry
1 hour a week paying bills and dealing with checkbook
2 hours a week changing diapers (10 diapers a day @ 2 minutes a diaper, includes running to trash can)
1 hour a week making beds (this does not allow for blowouts that require me to clean mattress)
5 hours a week “straightening toys” and other clutter
2 hours a week bathing kids and brushing teeth
1 hour a week dressing and undressing kids

Notice anything?  We’re over 30 hours already, and I have not yet begun to actually “clean” anything at all.  I haven’t emptied the trash, or changed the cat box, or scrubbed the sinks or swept the kitchen or cleaned out the car or hand-washed the sippy cups or watered the plants. To say nothing of mopping and dusting and washing windows (none of which I pretend to do). Not to mention holiday gift-buying, thank you note scribbling, other dumb stuff like that…

This begs the question… how do single moms DO IT?  And/or working moms who fall into that 2/1 ratio without the benefit of getting to stay home. How do they function?  How do they come home from a hard day at work and still do 28 hours a week?

Mother’s Day, HA!


7 Responses to “Un-Billable Hours: Working Mothers, I Bow Down Before You….”

  1. Noelle Says:

    We are only marginally sane, that’s how. And we don’t sleep much.
    And in households where everyone works outside the home but the husbands are only doing half the housework that wives are doing, someone needs to be smacked. That doesn’t fly around here!
    Have fun tonight, I wish I could be there (I’ll be folding laundry and washing sippy cups…).

  2. Jill Says:

    Ah…as a mom of a 15-month old who also works outside the home full-time AND commutes an hour to and from work, I don’t remember the last time I DIDN’T feel completely exhausted. Every single mom out there has my deepest respect because my husband does pitch in at least 50% if not more, since he’s the one responsible for dropping off and picking up my daughter from daycare.

    As for the housework, I honestly let things slide a bit on the weeknights because I’ve decided that I’d rather spend my TWO HOURS of quality time I have each day with my daughter actually with her and not worrying about housework. Yes, my house isn’t as tidy as it used to be, but I wouldn’t trade time with my daughter for a perfectly tidy house. I guess it’s all about making compromises and losing sleep.

  3. Charlotte Says:

    I guess my secret (as a mother working full time) is that I skip the bed making! :)

  4. stacy Says:

    you and i mind-meld sometimes, my dear. i just spent the better part of the last hour absorbing this article and all it implies. and then i went and cleaned the bathroom! but ryan made dinner (and lunch). life is good, but four kitties i know hardly equals kiddies.

    miss you.

  5. Rob Says:

    Sorry. I find this self-indulgent. There’s no measure for the male sole wage earner or what constitutes “work.” I work hours well beyond average. So, I must selfishly be unappreciative. Often I wish I could measure my time in the fashion you have done here. e.g. presenting routine chores as “billable hours.” Why measure family related “tasks” as equivalent to work for pay? I would be well over the top if that were the case, but somehow the wage-earners time in non-work related activities doesn’t count? Come on. We’re all tired and feel underappreciated. Methinks the perceived inequities are really ratonlaized whining.

  6. laurel Says:


    I voiced the same complaint about the lack of definition for “work”.


    Why *shouldn’t* I measure my tasks as equivalent to work-for-pay? Do you actually think my work is less difficult, or less important?

    I left a “for pay” job to *do* this work, and if I wasn’t doing it, we’d have to pay someone…

    Isn’t time money?

  7. Rob Says:

    Laurel, true enough. But my complaint is that the analysis is not apples to apples. It’s not that I think “[your] work is less difficult, or less important[.]” To the contrary, in many respects I think it is more so. Yet, as I said, it doesn’t account for the time spent on “routine chores” by the wage-earner in addition to their time at work. That should be considered “billable time” as well (as flawed as the premise is).

    Come to think of it, what is your hourly rate and why haven’t YOU found someone to do it for less? I think it’s because in most respects, your contribution is immeasurable and your return is equally immeasurable. So, let’s cut the crap. If time is money, all time must be considered (factoring the true burdens and accountability) — not just the stuff that one subjectively considers demeaning (or underappreciated)– regardless of whether you can pay someone to do it or not.

    Frankly, it’s not as though one can pay to have someone do their job and still receive a paycheck. Boy, if it were possible, I would sure as heck do it in a heartbeat. The world’s greatest pyramid scheme. Just pay me, and my surogates would cover the spread. I wouldn’t have to lift a finger!

    I guess what I’m saying is that if “billable time” is the measure, I want my check for the difference. I think it would be significant — and I should feel cheated.

    But, I don’t.

    Can’t we quit with the big pretend scoreboard and fallacious analogies? The concept of “billable hours” is. . . well. . . rationalized whining. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Leave a Reply