A House Not Completely Divided

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What Women Really Think
June 16 2009 6:07 PM

A House Not Completely Divided

When I was reading Sandra Tsing Loh's article in the Atlantic that we've all been discussing , I found myself getting distracted by a lot of things, among them the ostentatious dishes of the male cook in the household she visits for dinner. I know she emphasized this for bitter effect, but it did ring true in that it sometimes strikes me that when men cook, they like to cook fancy-as opposed to women, who are what one food editor I know calls the "little brown wrens" of the cooking world: long accustomed to cooking nourishing but non-showy meals, night after night after night. But never mind. That is doubtless an unfair, essentialist generalization. I do know men, come to think of it, who are their household's cooking mainstay, and who do it quietly and without fanfare. OK. I know at least one.

Mostly, I found myself wondering what exactly is her current set up in terms of who is living where. In a riveting video that's attached , Tsing Loh talks about having her stuff put in the driveway after her transgression was discovered-she narrates the video from her new storage cubicle, surrounded by the neatly packed detritus of her married life. But the piece suggests that she sometimes still occupies her old digs, when she writes, "My children seem relatively content as long as they remain in their own house, their own beds, and their own school, with Mom and Dad coming and going as usual (and when Dad’s in the house, I pick them up from school every day so they always see me)."

This confused me. It suggests that sometimes she is the one who is "in the house" even if a lot of her stuff is not. I know that one theory of how to have a relatively successful divorce-at least where the kids are concerned-holds that the parties who should shuttle back and forth between households are not the children, but the parents. That is, the blameless children should get to stay in the household they've always lived in, and the at-fault grown-ups should be the ones who have to move in and out, depending on who has custody that week or day or whatever. This makes moral sense, but I've always wondered how it works out in practice-whether that really does make things easier on kids, who are less likely to lose their backpacks or sneakers, or whether it's just adults working too hard and unrealistically to relieve the effect of divorce on children.

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In a "divorced but living serially in the same house" set up, what happens when your ex gets a new significant other? How does the shuttling work when there's evidence of this new, third person in the communal household? Is an excessively child-centered marriage simply being replaced by an excessively child-centered divorce? Anyway, I had a hard time figuring out what was happening here, room-and-board wise. Maybe, since her husband travels so much, she moves in when he is away and moves out when he's back? How long can an arrangement like that hold up? Perhaps we'll find out.

Liza Mundy is the director of the Breadwinners and Caregivers Program at the New America Foundation and the author of The Richer Sex.

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