The other day I was driving and listening to an interview on NPR with Kathryn Anne Edwards, a labor economist with the RAND Corporation. She was discussing why so many women are leaving the workforce right now to care for their children during the pandemic, and arguing that we need a national response to this workforce crisis.
Near the end of the interview she said this, and I’ll be honest, it hit me right in the gut: “I read a Time magazine article last year about how women can make their husbands do more, right? We’re going into people’s households, and we’re looking in and saying, does he do enough? You know, you’re having a hard time at work. You know, does he do the dishes? Does he do the laundry? And to me, as a labor economist and someone who looks a lot at public policy, I read that as a public policy failure. We have this huge burden of caregiving that you have when you’re a parent. And the federal response to that has been, women, try to do more.”
I’ve been writing about parenting for about seven years now. I have a dad blog page with just shy of 500K followers across platforms, and I get a lot of messages from mothers. Sometimes from dads, but almost always from moms. And hands down, the question I am asked the most from mothers is this: How can I get my husband to do more?
I get this question day after day, month after month. Sure, it’s always worded a little differently. Sometimes it’s moms asking ways to get their husbands more engaged with the kids, or to do more around the house, or to stop being so judgmental when the house isn’t up to some arbitrary standard.
But what gives me the most pause about those questions is this: I’ve never once had a father reach out to me and ask how he can be more engaged, or more involved, do more, pitch in more, share the load more. Expecting moms to get their husbands to do more is really only putting that emotional burden on moms, when they are already saddled with so much burden it makes my head spin. And the reality is, guys, asking how to be a better husband and father should be the responsibility of the husband and father.
I mean, honestly, why would it be your wife’s job to get you to do more? Do your homework, guys. Take a look around. Going back to the quote above, the federal response has been “women, try to do more.” But clearly, a lot of husbands have that same response. Right now, in the middle of a pandemic, millions of women are leaving the workforce. I regularly see stories online of women working full time from home, while taking on the full burden of their children’s pandemic homeschooling education, as their husband locks himself in an office somewhere in the house.
Listen, I get it. Trying to mix family and work can make being a dependable employee difficult. But why are mothers the only ones being asked to manage that difficulty?
You can’t be an equal partner in parenting without introspection. You can’t. You have to sit down and ask yourself, “Could I be doing more?” The sad reality is, your wife might be asking that question for you. She might be reaching out to some online dad blogger for tips to get her husband to be more engaged. Or she might be reading some article in a magazine for tips to get you more engaged, when you should be the one reading the articles. You should be reaching out to other dads for tips on how to pitch in more.
So guys, here’s my pro tip. If what I’ve said has gotten under your skin, good. And if you want to prove me wrong, awesome. Here’s a test. Ask your wife if she’s ever looked for outside resources to get you to be more engaged. Ask her if she’s ever read an article about how to get you to do more, or if she’s ever reached out for advice from a friend, or some random online blogger for tips. If she says “no,” cool. No worries. But if she says “yes,” you really need to sit down and think about what that means. You need to realize that your wife might be struggling, and she needs you to step it up.
It means that’s your cue to take a moment for reflection, and look for some outside resources — because she needs you to do more, and it’s not her job to find ways to fill that need.