Most moms are keenly aware of the childcare crisis (aka giant shitshow) that has led to an alarming shesession — women are leaving the workforce in record numbers, and many who have to work are doing so while also doing basically everything else.
I’ve been trying to understand the root causes and societal structures that got us into this mess, including the pay gap for women that led many hetero families to decide the woman would be the one to quit. My family aligns squarely with these demographics — I make exactly half what my husband does, though we both work full-time from home, in similar industries. But our healthcare benefits are through my work, and also, we need my income. So full-time it is, for both of us.
I am a staunch feminist, so know that’s the place I am coming from when I say this: in my darkest moments, I curse the women’s lib movement. Because now that women can work, that’s turned into they should, and our economy has been only too happy to adjust. Many families can no longer live on one salary. Yes, I care about the career I worked so hard for, and I absolutely believe that women should have careers and be paid equally to men. But I also believe we haven’t done enough as a society to figure out who is managing the kids and the house in the midst of everyone having their careers. Men sort of know they are supposed to do their share, and they kind of do more than they did in the 1950s. But on the whole, it’s still not nearly good enough.
When lockdown first happened, we had a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old on our hands, no childcare, and a real danger of losing our jobs, so I was in the same boat as pretty much all the moms I know: my life drastically changed, and my husband’s didn’t. We (I) tried a million ways to split our new tasks equitably. For example, we (I) made a schedule and blocked out times when one of us had a work meeting, so the other could cover virtual school. But schedule block by block, my husband’s spontaneous meetings and deadlines busted into my designated time to the point that the whole thing ended at its obvious conclusion — I took over everything.
For the past eleven months, I’ve been doing what so many moms are doing, trying to manage my job and most of the housework, and of course, all of the school, while using screens as au pairs and quietly seething. I can’t solve the broader societal issues that got us into this mess, but I can confront the issues in my own house. Not that I haven’t tried, but a year in, I think it’s time to revisit this. Here are five things, in the midst of the pandemic (and always, BTW) I am still wishing my husband would do.
One: Stop pretending he can’t manage things.
I still can’t figure out if it’s fake or real when husbands are so bad at something their wives finally just stop asking them to do it. But when I ask my husband to take over certain things, like virtual school, even for a small window, it’s a disaster. He asks me for a schedule. I explain that there isn’t really one — you have to check the class stream to find out when they log on next. He can’t figure out where the class stream is. I repeatedly show him. I kid you not, he once interrupted my son’s teacher while she was teaching to ask what time math started.
Things tend to go down something like this:
Me: Can you make sure the 2nd grader is logged on at 9am?
(At 10am, I surface from a zoom call to find the child not logged on)
Me: What in the actual world, you had one job to do.
Him: I walked past and saw him on the computer. I figured he was logged on.
Me: You have to actually check because… YouTube, Dreambox, Epic, oh #$&%* never mind, I will never ask you to do anything ever again.
Guess what, man, there’s nothing about my gender that says virtual school needs to be exclusively my job. So step right on in.
Two: When I ask him to do something, do it. And I mean all the time, not just for a week.
Our oldest is doing virtual school and our youngest goes to a preschool down the road. We take turns driving the preschooler. Here’s what happens on the days I drive him: I get both kids dressed, make the youngest’s lunch and pack his backpack, make sure the oldest’s desk is set up for the virtual day, bundle up the youngest and get him out the door. On the days my husband drives him, basically I do all the same exact things, but when it’s time to go, my husband gets dressed and takes the kid out the door. So I asked him to pitch in. He did — for a few days. Then it was every other day, then it became never. When I reminded him, he got defensive and pointed out all of the things he does do, like make the coffee and empty the dishwasher and take out the trash.
But, huh? Seriously man, when I ask you for help, just help.
Three: Know that household stuff is just as much his job as it is mine.
Making dinner has been a whole other thing. Pre-pandemic, I would do it almost every weekday because he was at the office and barely made it home in time to eat dinner, let alone make it. However, during the pandemic, it got pretty old pretty quickly to take care of everyone all day while also trying to work, and then have to figure out dinner while my husband wandered out of his home office to a home-cooked meal at the stroke of 6:30.
When I confronted him about this, here’s how it went:
Me: “Hey, can you make dinner sometimes? I’m sick of doing it every day.”
Him: (long pause) “Uhhh, sure. Well when you want me to do it, just come ask me.”
Me: “Um, I thought I did just ask you?”
Him: “No I mean like the night you want me to do it.”
I narrowed my eyes into skeptical slits and left.
Dear Husband, why is it my job to chase you around to get you to make dinner? Please. Just. Do. It.
Four: Assume I am always behind, and I always need help.
I think if you’ve never had to manage kids all day while trying to work, you wouldn’t really understand what it entails. When my husband sends me five long political articles at 10am on a weekday and then asks me at 6pm if I read them, this reality is laid bare. When he does this I think, “No I did not read those articles, because I was busy trying to cram my 8-hour workday into 4 hours while also supervising virtual school and making lunch.”
And by the way, Did you read them? When? If you have an hour to get sucked into a news vortex, buster, you have 15 minutes to get a snack for the 7-year-old.
Five: Pick up after himself.
Is “domestic blindness” really a thing? My husband says he has it–he claims he literally can’t see dirt or a mess, even if he just created it. When he was out of the house for 12 hours a day, and I had the extreme good fortune to have a babysitter who did a ton of straightening up, I could sort of deal with the inequity of him never cleaning up his shit. But now that he is home every minute of every day, Dear Lord, I can’t. I have asked so many times, pointedly, politely, angrily. I’ve tried a chores chart, sending texts so as to not be too confronting, compliments when he does clean up. But still, there they are: the coffee grinds, the muddy shoe prints, the dirty plates, the wadded-up tissues, the bits of trash that didn’t make it to the bin.
So, a year in, please make it stop. Clean up your shit, and we just might make it through this with our marriage intact.
I admit, all of these five things are really details about the same wish: That my husband would be an equal member on this team whose mission is survival.
My husband used to have a direct report at work. Let’s call him Pete. Pete would check out of the office early a lot, or roll in late, or call in because his dog was having a bad day. He had to be told step by step what to do, and he often didn’t follow through. He rarely took initiative. He got defensive when called out. At one point, listening to my husband complain about Pete, I thought, Wait. You don’t realize it, but everything you just described about this guy, is kind of you as a co-parent. It’s an interesting lens with which to view your childcare and housework balance: is your partner behaving toward their role at home like someone who they’d want to fire at work? If so, it’s time for a change.
Sure, I could blame myself — an art women have perfected. I always take everything on, so why should I expect anyone else to do it? I should fight for what’s right more, get him to do these things instead of backing off. I enabled this situation (side note, that sounds like a big old gaslight if I’ve ever heard one). But I ask, why is it my responsibility to get my husband to do these things? A lot of men, like my husband, are quite comfortable letting their wives do it all. And that comfort, that willingness to watch their wife struggle and still not feel equally responsible for keeping everything going, that is not something I’ll never take responsibility for. It’s not MY JOB to get him to “help me.” It is HIS JOB to do his job in this house.
So please, my husband, and all partners who are letting their co-parent struggle (you know who you are): STEP. IT. UP.