My wife and I both work. There’s no talk of bigger breadwinners in the family and no one’s job is “more important” than the other. I make more money, but never say so and support her job just as much as she does mine. The same goes at home. We split household chores perfectly. I mean, it’s a down-the-middle divide with everything accounted for. I cook meals, she cleans floors. I take out the trash and do the laundry, she keeps the kids’ rooms tidy and vacuums. We negotiate a bunch over who does what chore. Hell, it’s written down on a massive chart on the wall. So what’s the problem? I don’t know! But she’s still unhappy and says I’m not splitting the labor evenly, that she’s doing more. When I point to the chart, she dismisses it and says that I just don’t understand. What the fuck?
Cleaning up in Kansas City
Here’s what the fuck: family labor is more than just laundry, trash and vacuuming. I get why you might think you’re even-Steven with your wife, but the chances are that she’s right — you just don’t understand. Is that your fault? Kinda yes, kinda no. You seem like a dude who wants equity in your relationship and that’s great. But you need to start thinking beyond the frying pan and dust rag. Hopefully, we can clear some things up here and you can renegotiate that massive chart with your wife in good faith.
By the way, who thought about how to make that chart? Who made it? Who was responsible for starting the conversation in the first place? At any point did you frustratedly demand that your wife just tell you what the hell she wants you to do? Those things are labor. You probably just didn’t realize it.
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The vast majority of men do not recognize the hidden labor that women take on their households — often little, crucial tasks that add up to a massive burden. It’s not for nothing that according to data from the PEW Research Center mothers are more likely to report they do more for the family compared to how much fathers say they do. We’d like to think that with more moms in the workforce that would naturally lead to some kind of home equilibrium but it’s just not the case.
I get that fathers would think that we’ve achieved home equality. We’re doing far more parenting duties and household chores than our fathers ever did. But let’s not pat each other on the back just yet.
Forgive me gross generalization, but dudes, dads, and men in general aren’t known for their subtlety. We prefer strong man action and bold strokes. It makes a very stupid kind of sense that we would be blind to the subtle work our partners do that doesn’t require a force of effort and will.
I’m not trying to be mister woke-feminist-dad about this. Shit, my wife and I did everything we could to stay in a traditional breadwinner/homemaker family dynamic. We tried it for a good three or four years before discovering it was untenable in our current economy, with the salaries available to me.
So that meant she went back to work and I took on much more at home too. But I’ve become painfully aware that even as I try to move towards an equitable division of labor, I’m failing. My wife? She makes all of the appointments with the doctors and specialists (sometimes, I’m chagrined to say, even for me). She is the primary point of contact with our school that seems naturally oriented towards her as a mother. She does homework with our boys. She maintains a calendar of bills and makes contact with repairmen. She plans a weekly meal calendar and does the online grocery shopping. She sets up the babysitter for date night.
Does any of that sound familiar? So, look. Like you, I want to be fair. My natural inclination is to ask my wife what I can do to make it fair. But that’s just more work on her plate. Both you and I need to be the ones to take the lead. We need to observe what we expect of our partners, with clear eyes and open hearts. Then we need to take steps to make the shift.
One of my first solutions was to set up a daily morning meeting where my wife and I can come at these issues as a team. We’re both looking at the calendar and the bills and the appointments. When we need to make calls or communicate with people outside the family to get things done we talk about who has the most bandwidth rather than making assumptions. It’s helped out a lot. But I’m still not there yet.
Striving toward equal labor in the home means that you and I also have to make a point to reorient the people outside our homes who are naturally inclined to see our partners as the contact person. I haven’t been great at that. But the school needs to understand that fathers are part of the equation and stop defaulting to moms. They can’t make that shift unless they see more involved dads. Same goes for pediatricians, babysitters, and other people who have regular contact with our kids outside the home.
Fathers need to take much more responsibility in understanding the minutiae of their children’s lives. I can honestly tell you that when I’m folding clothes, I often don’t know which shirt belongs to which boy. Why? Well, I’ve not made the effort to learn because my wife takes responsibility for putting away the clothes, despite the fact that I do often wash them, dry them and fold them. How fair is that?
The upshot is that, yeah, if you take an honest appraisal of what your wife does for the family, beyond the physical work of chores, you will see that she does, indeed, do more. That will mean you’ll have to take more on. Does that suck? Yep. But it sucks more for her right now.
You can blame all of this on the ridiculous expectations of modern parenting. Sadly, we have to live this way. In order to pay the bills and make sure the kids get to where they need to go in life we have to work far harder than our parents ever did.
Man, I know that this is not the answer you wanted to hear. But it is the truth. Take it as the truth and take it with a sense of conviction and love for your wife and you’re family. If you want true equality, because that’s what love requires, then you’ll do the work. And so will I.