With one Google search you will find article after article about the huge burden moms are bearing during the pandemic. Between the New York Times’ series The Primal Scream, and the NPR series Enough Already: How The Pandemic Is Breaking Women, the burden on moms seems to be quite the hot topic these days. And as you read through article after article you can’t help but think … why isn’t anyone talking about the role husbands and partners are (or aren’t) playing in all of this?
This isn’t new. For a long time now, American women have been the ones mostly held responsible for balancing work and family obligations. Prior to the pandemic, women were spending on average three times as many hours as men on domestic chores and childcare. And from the start of this pandemic, families’ lives have been upended.
Parents are taking on working from home and virtual schooling in addition to maintaining the never ending list of childcare and domestic duties. The burden has become too heavy for one person to carry. Nevertheless, this huge burden is falling on mothers and the lack of equity in domestic work seems to point to a relationship problem in opposite sex couples.
There are obviously many factors that contribute to the unequal distribution of domestic responsibilities. Lack of parental leave, limited and inadequate childcare options and wage gaps are just some of the structural issues that need to be addressed. But if these issues are ever going to be fully addressed, it has to start at home. It’s a hard issue to confront, but you have to address the unfair balance of domestic work in your relationship first.
As a mother, you were probably trained to do it all, do it well and do it with a smile on our face. There’s a terrible combination of martyrdom and mom guilt that can make you feel like an awful mother if you don’t accomplish everything on your to-do list — so much so that it is difficult to ask for the support or hand over responsibilities to husbands or partners. But the problem with that is it shows a lack of trust in your significant other and their ability to actually be a partner in parenting.
You need to count on your parenting partner more. Men are too often painted as incapable of handling domestic duties. And that is an injustice to both dads and moms. You have to stop playing the martyr and perpetuating the idea that only moms are capable of doing things right.
It’s okay to expect more and ask more of your husband or partner. It’s important to require dads to exercise their domestic muscles without being poked, prodded or nagged. Husbands and partners need to step up. You shouldn’t have to ask him to “help” with his own children. At this point, dads can’t claim they don’t know how to care for the kids or keep home running smoothly. Don’t be afraid to hold him accountable.
Also, it’s important to unload some of the mental load you tend to carry onto your husband or partner. Well, maybe not all of it, because sometimes moms can be just a little overboard. But, you have to stop having these conversations in your head and start engaging the father of your children in the birthday parties you plan, the grocery list you keep, the teacher conferences, school paperwork, meal planning, kids’ schedules, doctor appointments, etc. And you have to be willing to enable your partner to shoulder some of this mental load.
There is a learning curve on both sides when learning to adjust to new roles and expectations. And one of the challenging parts is to stop silently keeping score of all the things you do that he doesn’t. You have to recognize and understand that your way is not the only way and let your parenting partner do things their own way.
Couples have to communicate about handling child care and domestic duties. It is one of the least sexy parts of being in a relationship, but so very necessary. This pandemic has forced a lot of couples to renegotiate the division of labor. These are hard conversations, especially under the stress and tensions that come along with simultaneously being under quarantine, virtual schooling and working from home.
Look, I get it. Once again it is on moms to do the work, to speak up and to push to make the changes. It’s exhausting and annoying because it always seems to fall back on moms. But if mothers can’t drive home the importance of equity at home, how can you expect bosses, lawmakers, health providers and community leaders to truly understand the burden moms have been carrying?
Parents are stressed like never before. But this is an opportune time to have honest conversations and make some real adjustments to your shared domestic duties. So call your husband, partner, co-parent to the mat and lay it all out there. Have a heart-to-heart about the division of domestic labor and what it actually takes to keep your household running.
I understand that each household has its own unique dynamic and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. So many factors affect the share of domestic work in a relationship. You have to consider things like who’s the primary earner, your economic situation, number of kids, personality types, and the health of your relationship. You also have to be flexible with expectations and have patience with the process.
I know this article is going to rub a few people the wrong way. But before you get your panties in a wad, I encourage you to take an honest look at your relationship. Ask yourself if you and your significant other are having open and honest conversations about the division of labor you share. Or are you silently holding grudges and keeping tallies of who is doing more to maintain your family life. This is not from a place of judgement but a place of understanding and encouragement because everyone has been there at some point in their marriage.
The pandemic is a tipping point that both mothers and fathers should take advantage of. This is a time when a lot of fathers are gaining a true understanding of the level of domestic work mothers are doing on a daily basis. Moreover, it is shattering society’s image of what it means to be a working father. Parents can use this time to really focus on creating a shared division of domestic labor that makes you feel like a team. Then mothers and fathers will have more of a united front to push against issues that perpetuate gender inequalities at the macro level.