Divorce attorney: $150/hour. Court fees: $300. Housekeeper saving my marriage: priceless?

Filed under: Divorce & Custody, Places To Go, Sex

I'm the analytical type, so when I saw the book title, blaring at me in cobalt and orange, "A housekeeper is cheaper than a divorce," naturally, I started an Excel spreadsheet. I just wanted to figure it out. I made some assumptions. A good divorce attorney: $200 an hour, spread over 20-some hours over the life of the dispute. Court fees and the like, $300. And it's tough to put a dollar figure on the quality-of-life stuff, but I sure can add in those future therapy bills for the kids, forced to bounce back and forth between mommy and daddy.

A housekeeper in Portland runs between $15 and $40 an hour, so from a purely financial viewpoint, maybe it's not cheaper. Divorce, after all, happens only once. But this spreadsheet made me too sad, so I chucked the divorce talk and got selfish for a bit. After all, doesn't Whitney Houston herself say that the greatest love of all is "learning to love yourself"? Right, and it's really hard to love myself when I'm so filled with feelings of disgust and shame at the state of my home. Let's face it, even though my husband does more than his fair share of laundry and dishes, when my children's friends come over for playdates and their moms use my bathroom, I'm the one whose cleaning skills are being judged.

No matter how liberated or equal a relationship, it seems that the cleaning buck nearly always stops with mom. But this woman has to delegate all responsibility for the housecleaning portion of her mom empire, given the sheer volume of my for-pay work. Thus far, it's been my husband (and the ever-growing to-do list) to whom the housewife-yness has been delegated. To be utterly frank: it's a terrific strain on our relationship. He's resentful, I'm too busy to show sufficient empathy.

Like Melissa, I've decided that the smart thing to do would be to get a housekeeper. Affording one is another task altogether, though; I can barely scrape together the $96 I pay my babysitter each week. A few minutes at the laptop and I have a whole different spreadsheet. It turns out that, for the same price as 12 hours of babysitting, I could get only four or five hours of housekeeping.

Idly, I started making a list of all the things that (for one month, anyway) are cheaper than divorce. At the price of about $100 a week, what could I do that would be good for (a) my mental health and (b) my marriage?

  • Babysitter, 12 hours per week, $8 an hour
  • Housekeeper, 5 hours per week, $20 an hour
  • Marriage counseling, $95 per one-hour session
  • Massage, $70 per 90-minute session
  • Yoga, three sessions per week for $12 each for me; martial arts, $100 per month for my husband
  • Nightly "servings" of jammy Syrah ($8 a bottle) and organic chocolate ($3 a bar)
  • An office in a creative space where I could store my knitting supplies ($50 a week), plus one night a week stitch-and-bitch ($12 for snacks to share with the other knitting mamas)
  • A once-monthly fabulous and child-free stay at a bed-and-breakfast at the coast, $400 for food, travel and lodging
I gave my husband the list, infusing the options with style and charm. He didn't even think for an instant. "The housekeeper," he said, "that's the root of everything." Although I think he considered the wine and chocolate, just for a bit.

Now that I've made the list, I've got more things for which to wish. I think that our relationship would be a totally different one if we were able to fit the babysitter, the housekeeper, the yoga and martial arts, and the trip to a bed & breakfast into our budget.

Could the price of marital bliss be $1,428 per month? It's still cheaper than a divorce (for one month's worth, anyhow) but given the financial strain we'd be under should we spend that much on our happiness, I think the divorce would come around anyhow.

I'm bringing up my Excel spreadsheet, again, and trying to fit the babysitting and the housekeeping into the family budget. I'm thinking about writing my own book. My working title: A housekeeper and a babysitter: more expensive than wine and chocolate, but they don't make you fat.

Clarification: Sarah Gilbert is the primary breadwinner in her household, and her husband - a sweet and thoughtful, non-lazy man who she loves dearly - does far more housework than she. Their two boys, 11 months and three-and-a-half years, are being indoctrinated into the "clean up after yourself" lifestyle early. Sarah hasn't had a massage in four years or visited a bed & breakfast for three, although she has had more than her fair share of jammy Syrah and organic chocolate.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.