Dear Men, Doing Chores And Watching Your Kids Is Not 'Helping Out'

American Moms Are On The Brink Because American Dads Are Slacking

His turn to wash up
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I’ve been at this blogging about parenting gig for a number of years now, and I’ve developed a pretty large following online. And if I were to put together a top 10 list of messages I’ve received — and I receive a lot — right at the top would be mothers asking me how to get their husbands to do more around the house. They want to know how to get them to be more engaged, and to stop seeing household obligations (like the dishes or vacuuming or getting the kids to bed) as some grand gesture or favor to the mother. But I’ll tell you the saddest part about all of this. In the years that I have been writing about fatherhood, I have never once received a message from a father asking how they can be more engaged.

And I know, this is just a personal sampling. But across platforms I have over 500K followers. I’ve written about parenting and equal partnership for some pretty big places, like the New York Times, and The Washington Post. And I’ve published four books on parenting. So I’m fairly certain what I’m seeing is a pretty good example of what

Shot of a man doing the laundry at home
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many mothers are experiencing. And to be honest, the fact that not one father has reached out to me to ask a question that literally hundreds of women have asked of me over the years says a lot. I think it tells me that although I want to believe that we live in an egalitarian age where mothers and fathers see themselves as equal partners, the reality is that the majority of household work and child rearing obligations is still seen as the mother’s job. And many men are so unaware of that fact that they can’t even fathom the question “how could I be more engaged here?”

This point was illustrated in a recent article in The New York Times entitled “Three American Mothers, On the Brink,” which profiled three mothers who are — like most moms these days – trying to juggle the responsibilities of career and home in an unprecedented situation. Working mom Mercedes Quintana said of her husband, “[H]e gets to lock himself in his office all day while I’m expected to entertain Mila and make breakfast for everyone.” She added: Why can’t he do it? Why am I expected to do it all?”

Maybe some men see it, but don’t want to ask the question of themselves, or their spouse, because it would mean they would be expected to put in more work to level out the obligations around the home. I don’t know exactly. But what I can say is that every time I get a message from a mother asking me how they can get their husband to do more, I can’t help but think to myself: “It really isn’t your job to ask that question. It’s his.”

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There are still a lot of men that think doing household chores equals “helping out,” when fully participating in the care of your own home and your own children is actually the bar. It’s the expectation. And just because you did the dishes, or cleaned the bathroom, or folded the laundry, doesn’t mean you are doing your wife a favor; you are just doing your job.

Don’t get me wrong, I think couples should show each other gratitude. I think that’s a very important part of marriage. I think gratitude can make or break a marriage. However, the issue here is a change in mindset. Because if you think that watching your own children, or clearing the table, or cooking dinner, or any litany of other household obligations that are required to make a house and family run smoothly is a favor to your wife, and you deserve a pat on the back for taking the time out of your day to do so, it’s time that you reframe your thinking.

Guys, take a moment and realize that you are part of a team. You are expected to work together to accomplish the goal of raising and supporting a family, and keeping a home. All of it, from cooking and cleaning to budgeting to income, is all part of that team effort. The whole behemoth is on the table, and each of you is obligated for all of it. It is your job as a couple to look at every slice of it, every individual piece from top to bottom, and distribute the labor fairly. No one person owns it. You created it together, and you are both expected to take it on.

It’s not his job, or her job, but our job. That’s the reality of life right here and right now, and it is so very important that you begin to see it that way. Particularly now, when children are learning from home, and parents are working from home, and the whole world is upside down. The goal here is equality, and fairness, and to realize that all those old 1950s notions of what constitutes a husband and wife’s obligations inside and outside the home don’t apply anymore.

It’s a clean slate, so treat it as such, and pitch in equally. Do better, dads.