As compared to the generations before them, there’s no denying that today’s fathers have taken on more responsibility when it comes to the division of labor at home. But moms in heterosexual partnerships continue to bear the brunt when it comes to childrearing and chores—even when both partners work outside the home (studies have shown that same-sex couples tend to split unpaid work more equally). For married, heterosexual parents, the data says it all—for example, a Pew Social Trends study shows that moms spend about twice as many hours per week caring for the kids than dads do— 13.5 hours vs. 7.3 hours a week, respectively.
But it goes beyond actual labor (no pun intended): the mental load that comes with parenting is very real, and moms are overwhelmingly on the hook for managing the household day-to-day. In many cases, the balance (or lack thereof) unfolds in scenarios like this: mom does the cooking and dad cleans up after dinner, which to him means loading the dishwasher and wiping down the counters—50/50 split right?
That meal made it to the dining room table because mom spent a few hours that week planning meals, accessing inventory in the pantry, considering any special circumstances (playdate with a friend who is allergic to peanuts and a bag lunch for the 1st grade field trip), grocery shopping, unloading and organizing food, and maybe even pre-chopping some veggies—a multi-step process that one partner didn’t even consider when he took on “half” the kitchen duties.
And it’s not just cooking, cleaning and organizing— scheduling doctor appointments, keeping track of sports schedules and carpool commitments, booking sitters, registering for activities and camps, planning date nights and fun family activities, and every other minor task that makes the household tick easily adds up to another full-time job for mom. It’s no wonder we’re exhausted. So, if you’re ready to split the real work of parenthood with your partner, here’s how.
Plenty of partners think they are taking on their fair share because they never stop to think about how the kids get signed up for soccer or the lunches get packed everyday. Sure, they may live in a land of magical thinking where groceries just appear and the laundry folds itself, but unfortunately, until you clue them into reality, it’s likely your partner will remain ignorant.
If you want the dynamics to change, sit down and have the conversation. Tell your partner how long it takes you to plan a week’s worth of meals or how you go through backpacks every night to pull out flyers, permission slips and homework. Go through your inbox and show them the PTA newsletters, snack sign-ups and birthday party invitations. Walk them through a typical morning from your perspective and the trials and tribulations of getting kids out the door. Then tell them you need more help managing all of it, and you want to figure out how you can more evenly divide these tasks.
Work with your partner to set your family up for success.
Here comes the hard part: That first conversation might be an eye opener, but how do you change ingrained behavior? You might encounter some resistance. A partner might insist that they do everything you ask them to, and that may be true, but the new goal is to eliminate asking while they tackle tasks more holistically instead of on a chore-by-chore basis.
First, figure out how to parse out responsibilities. Go through the steps and set expectations. Once your partner understands the totality of the job, let them decide how best to manage it (Thursday doesn’t have to be laundry day afterall). Also remember that you cannot be a gatekeeper to critical information. For example, make sure both of you have access to usernames and passwords, as well as the inbox where all the kid-related emails are sent. Letting go of the mental burden also means giving up some control.
Use tools to keep everyone on the same page.
Technology has made household management easier for many families. From shared calendars and to-do list apps to websites that organize recipes, these tools can make passing off duties simpler and set both partners up for success. Be patient with new tech: Getting used to a new process can take time initially, but once you’re up and running, it can free up time for both parents.
Outsource when you can.
Today’s families are busier than ever before, so if you and your partner decide there’s a task you just can’t take on, determine whether or not the funds are there to outsource it. Whether it’s asking the sitter to prep dinner or take on laundry duty (remember you’ll need to up her rate) or hiring an outside cleaning service to come by every other week, these services can be lifesavers. But hiring outside help is not an excuse for dad to check out. And just because you outsource something, doesn’t mean there isn’t still some management involved—and that shouldn’t automatically fall on mom’s plate.
Schedule regular check-ins.
As much as one partner might want to shift the mental burden to be spread more equally, it can also be difficult to let go for fear balls will be dropped, so check in regularly. Once a week—Sunday nights work well—sit down with your shared calendars, emails and apps, and make sure everyone is on the same page for the week. Did your first grader get his field trip permission signed? What’s for dinner this week? Who’s making lunches? What time will the sitter be here on Wednesday? What’s the carpool schedule and which parent is responsible?
Make a plan together, then allow your partner the space to execute. If dad is in charge, you need to trust your him to do the work or deal with the consequences. There will be hiccups—a missed appointment, forgotten homework, no clean shirt for that work event—so be prepared to communicate about what can be done differently, consider rethinking responsibilities, and then try again. Eventually your family will find a way to more evenly share the load.