Just in time for many couples to get in a good fight before Mother’s Day, the New York Times published an op-ed by Dr. Darcy Lockman, “What ‘Good’ Dads Get Away With.” The big question posed is why we hear such a common refrain that women in heterosexual relationships are the project managers for their family’s lives? From finding child care on sick days, to doing the laundry, and everything in between, women in these relationships are regularly, if not entirely, planning, coordinating, and executing these tasks.
According to Dr. Lockman, “[t]he amount of child care men performed rose throughout the 1980s and ’90s, but then began to level off without ever reaching parity. Mothers still shoulder 65 percent of child-care work. In academic journals, family researchers caution that the “culture of fatherhood” has changed more than fathers’ actual behavior.”
According to the article, for many women, the lack of parity is a surprise in parenting, when before in many instances, relationships were on more equal footing.
Dr. Lockman writes, “[t]hough many men are in denial about it, their resistance communicates a feeling of entitlement to women’s labor.” I’m reminded of a story told in my family about one of the older men. The story goes that he had been home by himself and his wife returned to find a pan on the stove with the remnants of scrambled eggs. She turned to him and said, “I had no idea you could cook anything.” He had never before prepared a meal.
Dr. Lockman concludes by asserting that “[i]f anything is going to change, men have to stop resisting. Gendered parenting is kept alive by the unacknowledged power bestowed upon men in a world that values their needs, comforts and desires more than women’s. It’s up to fathers to cop to this, rather than to cop out.”
This brings me to a conversation my husband and I had, about four months ago, a conversation that changed our marriage. We were driving home from visiting family a few hours away.
I’d brought it up a few times before, that it would be helpful to write down all the things that need doing in our household. Other times weren’t right, but with three more hours in the car, and with our kids at the grandparents’ for the weekend, we knocked out the list. A list of everything that needs doing for our family, and I mean everything — from managing retirement investments to packing the kids’ lunches and kids’ haircuts. And with that list we wrote who’s responsible for each.
The process itself was eye-opening. It was a relief to write down all of the things and see our routines reduced to paper (or rather, the app we use to share the grocery list, which we co-opted for this purpose, too). We thought about how much time the tasks took, how they fit into each of our work outside the home, whether we liked doing them, whether we were even good at them. We traded most despised tasks (he hates opening the mail and I don’t like doing morning kid prep). We haven’t measured to see if it’s a 50/50 division of labor, but it feels close to me.
Over time, we realized two things. First, my husband said he felt relief at knowing exactly what he was responsible for. And I feel good getting out of his way while he gets his part done, and not keeping track of whether he, or I, have done “enough.”
My husband says that the list is really useful. “I know that I should do household chores, and before the list there were times that I thought ‘I have a moment, I should do stuff,’ but I struggled to identify ways to contribute. I keep less in my head than you do. Because you were project managing there was less I could take over.”
It’s also made it easier to pick up slack for one another. When he can’t drop off the kids because of an early meeting, I’m happy to do it because I’m not worried about the goal posts being moved, it’s just a day that needs adjusting.
I’ve been asked to share what’s on the list, so I’ve included it below. Every family’s list would be different in many ways, and I recognize the privilege we have with items on here (liaise with cleaning service, for starters). I’ve decided to share this list because talking about parity in the home is better than not talking about it, among friends and ultimately between partners.
Cleaning out fridge
School closure coordination (who watches, calendar adding, grandparent vacation coordination)
Do and fold laundry
Take out garbage
Clean up after dinner
Changing bed sheets
Library books/visits coordination
Responding to and handling school emails
Children’s clothes buying
Children’s grooming (nails, hair)
Pick up kids from school
Drop off kids at school
Preparing kids lunches
Coordinate kids’ weekend outside activities
Coordinate and take kids to doctor and dentist
Coordinate school Snacks
Make camp/summer plans
First response for school emergencies
Handle household bills
Liaise with household cleaning service
Open and handle mail
Coordinating home repairs
Purchase household goods (tp, paper towels, tissues, laundry detergent, dish soap, dishwasher detergent, coffee, hand soap, hanitizer, toothpaste, shampoo, kitchen cleaning supplies, sunscreen)
Manage investments (529s, retirement)
Monitor expenses and cash balance
Assemble grocery list