Let me start with the positives. My husband, Danny, is one of the most hands-on fathers out there. He has never viewed taking care of our kids as “helping” or “babysitting.” Nope. He’s changed as many diapers as I have, prepared as many snacks, soothed as many boo-boos – and he’s probably rocked and walked our kids to sleep a million more times than I have. The only thing he’s not been able to to do is breastfeed, and I can’t really fault him there.
In terms of housework, I’d say he’s pretty damn good. Never once has he complained about doing stuff around the house. (I’m pretty sure he can guess the wrath that would be unleashed from me if he did!) He has all the right ideas when it comes to the roles of men and women in the home. He understands that the idea of me doing it all just because I was born with a vagina is some serious patriarchal bullshit.
For most of our adult life, including now, I have been the one to do the bulk of the cooking, and I’d say the majority of the cleaning. And when it comes to the “mental load” – keeping our family’s schedule, delegating and remembering to do chores, planning for the future, etc. – almost all of that falls on me.
We definitely didn’t plan it that way. We’ve been married for almost 18 years and have been living together for 20. Going in, we had all kinds of ideals about how an egalitarian marriage would work. But the thing is, I was just better at cooking, better at cleaning, better at managing a household – and so I ended up just doing most of it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of responsibilities over the years I have no interest in doing and he has happily taken on. He takes care of everything related to our car (very stereotypically male, huh?). He schleps the kids around to their activities. He manages homework. And he’ll pick up anything from the store that I need on a whim. He’s the kind of guy who, if you tell him to do something, he’ll bounce up, no matter tired he is, and just do it. When my kids were younger, he worked much more than I did, and was basically the breadwinner, so there’s that too.
But even with all of that in place, and with an understanding between us that men and women should contribute equally to childcare and the running of the house, I can say without a doubt that the bulk of it falls on me – especially the mental load of it all.
No matter what I say or do, my husband just doesn’t think about things in the same way I do. He won’t be up all night thinking about what summer camp to sign the kids up for. He’s not constantly on the lookout for birthday/holiday gifts for our kids, or even extended family members. He’s not thinking about how we are going to cram each and every chore and activity into the weekend – heck, he hardly remembers what said activity and chores even are.
Sometimes I wonder how this happened. My husband was raised with progressive parents, who taught him all the right ideals about women and men. They modeled an egalitarian marriage as best they knew how, but they encountered many of the same dynamics we did.
Is it just that these ways of being – with the woman just better at cooking and cleaning and taking on the invisible labor – are so deeply engrained in our culture that we adopt those roles by default? Is biology to blame here? Maybe, but those arguments only go so far. There are so many men and women who do not fall into those roles, so it can’t be as pre-determined as we think.
Over the past few years, as I’ve started working more – and realizing that I simply can’t do all the cooking and cleaning and managerial tasks – my husband and I have been having some good and difficult talks about this all, and how we might strive to make things even more fair and equal than they already are.
I dare say we’ve made progress. He is finally starting to get how me needing to constantly remind him to do the things he would gladly do is a draining chore in and of itself, and he is remembering to do some of his chores without being reminded – at least most of the time.
I have also learned that I have to let some of my own perfectionism go. Maybe I am better at cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping, but I’ve also got to let him to do those things too, even if he messes them up sometimes. Yeah, he may not make the dishes sparkling clean, and he may get the wrong brand of cereal from the grocery store, but at least he’s trying. And hey, maybe he’ll learn to do better if I just let him.
Like many married couples, we are a work in progress. But I think the point is that however it works for you in term of sharing responsibilities and raising a family, it’s a damn struggle. And for so many reasons, the burden of it all usually falls disproportionally on the mom’s shoulders – even when that isn’t your intention.
I think recognizing this fact is a huge revelation, and if you have a partner who can see that, that’s a great first step. But wherever you are, remember that you have a right to point out the inequities in your marriage. Yes, it is as unfair as it sometimes feels. And most of all, you have the right to expect something better.