Once I became a mom, the topic of how to share the work of raising children and keeping a house has been a constant in all of my conversations with other parents. It seems to be on everyone’s minds – whether mom stays home full time, or dad stays home full time, or both parents work outside the home, it is incredibly hard to figure out how to divide up the work in a reasonable way.
One thing is pretty clear, though – around the world the majority of this work falls on women, whether they work outside the home or not. Recent studies show that although many more women hold jobs outside the home than 40 years ago, and are even increasingly the primary breadwinner, women still do the majority of the housework and childcare (Japan, Britain, Canada, USA).
I find myself very interested in figuring out how to better share the workload between parents so that moms have more time and opportunity to share their talents outside the sphere of the family. Figuring out who does the dishes really can be an important step towards achieving gender equality!
In researching these ideas, I ran across an article that I found fascinating (it’s a short 5 minute read – give it a click):
This article addresses a problem that has been bugging me for years. My husband and I work hard to share the load of parenting equally, but we still struggle with sharing the mental load equally. I still handle most of the thinking, planning, tracking, and making of the to do lists. My husband aims to help with 50% of the to do list, but most of the planning work falls on me.
This article gave me an idea of a new way to try to split up the load. It suggests that we divide up the overall responsibilities, including the mental load for each responsibility, not just the individual tasks.
For example, rather than trade off taking the kids to their pediatrician appointments, one person would own “Family Medical Care”.
“Perhaps one person can manage all family health care issues. That means one party is responsible for finding doctors, arranging appointments, submitting reimbursements, paying medical bills—and filling out those camp forms. Making sure that entire categories of responsibility are “owned” by a single person helps prevent mission creep.”
The writer of the article suggests that you write down what all the responsibilities are, split them up in a way that makes sense, and then periodically trade responsibilities so that each person understands just how much work goes into each one.
My husband and I have agreed to try this approach. The first thing we needed to do was identify what all of the responsibilities are that one or the other of us handles. I looked at the article author’s lists, searched the Internet, and we talked through it together in detail. We came up with the list below. I’m sure there are things missing, but this is a great start for enumerating the huge amount of work it takes to raise kids and run a household. Use it as a starting point to talk about who does what, with a goal of making sure the mental load goes along with ownership of the task.
Here are my tips for using this list:
- Start by documenting who does what right now. There’s good information in knowing your starting place.
- Make changes incrementally.
- Remember that not all of these responsibilities are equal in size or time commitment, so each of you getting an equal # of boxes is not the same as dividing the load equally
- You can share the mental load and still have more than one name assigned to a checkbox. For example, I do the menu planning, shopping, and cooking for Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday. My husband does it for Thursday/Friday. And on the weekends we plan, shop, and cook together.
- Equal may not be the right goal – you need to figure out what makes the most sense for your family, taking into account who works how much outside of the home, and what skills you each have.
- Recognize that even if one parent stays home full time, it is unrealistic to expect them to take on everything on this list. It is more than one person can handle alone even if they don’t work outside the home, especially since the person who stays home is also solely responsible for the safety, well-being, and education of the children every single minute. Yes, they will have time to fit in some of these other responsibilities too, but just like a nanny or a daycare wouldn’t handle everything else on this list, the person who stays home full time shouldn’t necessarily be expected to either. Carefully consider how much of this should be done during the ‘work hours’ of the stay at home parent, and how much of it overflows into time when both parents are done with their ‘day job’ but are still needed for the ‘second shift’ work that is inherent in raising a family and can and should be shared by both parents.
- If both parents work full-time outside of the home, you have a great opportunity to balance these responsibilities as evenly as you can to help fight against the findings in this study which says that when both parents work full time outside the home, moms are still doing more of the childcare and housework, and that women’s careers suffer more than men’s careers do when they become parents. Women also report more difficulty balancing work and home than men do.
- Agree on a time frame to try this (6 months or so) and then trade at least a few of the jobs on the list.
My husband and I just went through this list for our family to identify who is doing what right now. It led to some great conversations about what’s working well for us, and where we might want to make some changes to balance the load a little more equally.
This list, and how you share the load, is going to look very different for every family. You may need to edit these lists to add or remove things that make it more right for your situation.
If you try this, I’d love to hear about how it went. Did you learn anything while going through this list? Did you decide to make any changes to how you split the work? Did your experiences doing new tasks teach you anything about the relative difficulty of the tasks?