Dads: Volunteer At School This Year!

Women do a lot of unpaid labor, whether it’s childcare, housework, cooking, or coordinating.  There’s another kind of unpaid labor that women do that we forget about.  Moms are significantly more likely to volunteer at school than dads.

Women do a lot of unpaid labor, including most of the volunteering at school. Dads can help lighten this load, while also engaging in their child’s education in an incredibly meaningful way that benefits dads and kids!

Every year my kids were in elementary school we received a “Volunteer Interest Form” with the kids’ first day packet. It had room for a parent’s name at the top, and then check boxes next to the activities that would need volunteers over the year so you can indicate if you were interested in helping with the book fair, or being the classroom photographer, or joining the emergency preparedness committee. The fact that there was 1 form, and room for 1 name at the top, perpetuated that idea that moms, and moms only, would sign up to volunteer at the school.

The assumption that moms will be the ones who volunteer at school is very deeply ingrained in everyone.  Whether it’s the terminology like Party Mom, or the image in your head of a PTSA Board that is all female, or school teachers and staff who email only moms when they need volunteers, this assumption can be hard to push against because so many people aren’t even aware of it.

I understand that there are more stay at home moms than stay at home dads, and that it will be harder for working dads to find time to volunteer at their kids’ school.  I recommend they do it anyway. I know many working moms who still find time volunteer, and my husband also volunteered at least every other week while our kids were in elementary school. Sure, people who work full-time outside of the home have to pick their volunteer jobs more carefully to make sure they can fit them in, but there are so many ways to help out at the school there is absolutely something for everyone. And there is no reason that only moms should do this necessary work.

Here are just a few of the reasons that dads should be volunteering more at school:

  • It is never too early to teach our kids that all parents, not just female ones, care about education.
  • Kids will learn that everyone, not just women, can do important work without getting paid.
  • A bigger diversity in volunteers will offer a wider variety of experiences and approaches to learning, giving each child a better chance of connecting with someone who understands them. My husband still talks very affectionately of the little boy in 1st grade who never sat still, and who pushed so hard when he wrote he went through multiple pencils each lesson. His teacher struggled with him – Matt offered a little respite (for both teacher and student!) in the form of an adult who found this boy’s intensity endearing. Matt also had endless patience for kids telling him detailed stories about playing video games.
  • Dads who volunteer will better internalize the needs of the school, and can join the efforts to represent those needs outside of the classroom when funding, votes, supplies, and other things are needed.
  • Seeing your child in the classroom, meeting their peers, watching their teacher in action, gives you a significantly deeper understanding of what your child’s life is like. Parents who volunteer will be better parents for having this information. Dads deserve the chance to have this deep knowledge of their child in their role as parent.
  • When dads volunteer, the volunteer pool will almost double, lessening the load for the moms who feel overwhelmed by how much there is to do.

Because Matt worked outside the home, he had to pick his volunteer jobs carefully. He also learned (just like I did) to be careful to pick jobs he wouldn’t hate. Here are some things my husband and I did to make it possible for him to volunteer:

  • He talked to the teacher about which volunteer jobs would be first thing in the morning. Often reading groups, which required 1 if not 2 parent volunteers every morning, happened first thing. My husband could take the kids to school, stay for a 45 minute shift, and then head to work a little late that day.
  • One year he was the classroom photographer. It was rare that there was an event he HAD to attend, so he was able to go into the classroom a few times on his own schedule to get the pictures needed. When there was something he really couldn’t miss that conflicted with work, there was always another parent attending who was willing to take a few photos, he just had to coordinate it.
  • We often shared a single volunteer job and traded off every other week. This limited the time away from work for my husband, but still filled a full volunteer job for the teacher. We liked to do the weekly jobs that lasted the full year because he and I both enjoyed being in the classroom.  You learn so much about your child’s teacher, their classmates, and their behavior in school when you’re there every week.
  • There are many jobs that can be done from home. One year my husband was the classroom volunteer for the school marathon, which required him to tally how many laps each child had run during lunch that week and distribute the beads they could add to their necklace tracking their progress. Our son brought the bin home each Friday, my husband did the work over the weekend, and our son returned the bin on Monday. Definitely do-able with a full-time job!

If I haven’t convinced you yet, then take a look at this article, which says frequent father engagement can improve test scores, improve a child’s level of self-control, and increase long-term engagement with their kids as they get older. Or you can read this article about what it’s like from a dad’s perspective to be a volunteer at the school.

If you are a dad, consider volunteering in your kid’s classroom this year. If you’re a mom, ask your husband to join you when it’s time to sign up for volunteer jobs. If you’re not ready to change your behavior yet, at least be more cognizant of how deeply embedded the assumption is that moms, and not dads, will be doing all the volunteering at school. Then ask yourself if you really believe that’s what’s best for our kids.

 

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More Bedtime Routine Clipart

Some great ideas here from my customers for additions to the Bedtime Routine activity. I especially like the reminder to empty pockets!

Click here to see all of the bedtime routine clipart.

Some great ideas here from my customers for additions to the Bedtime Routine activity. I especially like the reminder to empty pockets!

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Shared Family Packing List

I’ve already written about how a shared email address, a shared to do list, and a shared calendar can help moms share the work more evenly at home. A shared packing list is another great way to share the load!

Many moms end up almost entirely responsible for packing everyone except her husband when heading out of town with the family. The 20 million views and all the reactions to this post from WhenCrazyMeetsExhaustion shows how common this is!

Share the load with a family packing list!

At our house, we find it’s hard for my husband to participate equally when he doesn’t already know what has and hasn’t been packed yet, and much of the information about what still needs doing is in my head. It’s not that he’s not willing to help, it can just be very hard to insert yourself into someone else’s process, especially when that process is invisible.

We solve this by using a shared packing list.  Before every trip we pull up the packing list from our previous trip which we store online on Google Drive. It’s a huge time-saver for both of us to be able to start from a previous list! Then we edit the list as needed for the current trip. I usually start this process, but Matt jumps online too to add or change things he’s thought of that we’ll need.

I know many moms who end up almost entirely responsible for packing everyone except her husband when heading out of town with the family.

We even include all of the “To Do” items that need to happen before we leave town.  This usually includes things like ‘Clean out the fridge’ or ‘Buy extra cat food’.  We find it super handy to keep those To Do items right next to the packing list to help us know just how much work still needs to be done before we can head out. The list ends up being pretty long, but it was a lot worse when our kids were babies and we needed way more stuff!

Our kids also help by packing their own bags. Starting at about age 4 we gave them each a picture packing list from The Trip Clip.   This has worked incredibly well for us, and even now as teenagers they ask for their printed picture lists.   We also include their things on our master list and use it as a way to verify that they didn’t miss anything when they packed their things. This means sometimes it’s me, and sometimes it’s my husband who checks the kids’ work!

A picture packing list is a great way to teach your kids important life skills! For younger kids, make the list for them and let them collect and pack the items themselves (just be sure to double check their work!). For older kids, have them make their packing list themselves, and then go over it with them to make sure they’re not forgetting anything.

When we’re ready to start packing, we print out the list and keep it on the kitchen counter where we can both see it. And then we work together to gather all of the things on the list, crossing off each item  as we pack it. The benefit of the printed list is that  it’s not just in my head, so the information about exactly what still needs to be done is available to both of us. Matt can help equally without me as the gatekeeper for the process.

I know many moms who end up almost entirely responsible for packing everyone except her husband when heading out of town with the family.

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More Chores Clipart

I love seeing what additional clipart my customers ask for – it gives me lots of good ideas for chores to give my kids!

See the whole collection here: https://thetripclip.com/tc/Main/Activities/index.php?activityID=36

I love seeing what additional clipart my customers ask for – it gives me lots of good ideas for chores to give my kids!

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Dad Cooks 1 Weeknight/Week

Here is something simple your family can do to help share the load more evenly (if you’re not already!) Have Dad be in charge of dinner one weeknight each week – and I mean all the way in charge.  He plans it, shops for it, and fixes it. He can do the dishes too, unless that’s his job already on nights mom cooks.  He should do this even if he works full-time outside the home, and you work full-time at home. This kind of job trading is invaluable.

Have dad be in charge of dinner one weeknight each week – he plans it, shops for it, and fixes it. We started doing this 15 years ago, and this simple decision has had a surprising impact on how we run things at home.

We started this formally when my husband went part-time 15 years ago. At the time, it made sense for him to be in charge of dinner on his day home with the kids each week, and I was in charge the other 4 days.  This simple decision has had a surprising impact on how we run things at home.  Most importantly, it made us really think about the base assumption that the person at home all day should be the one who cooks dinner.  There are lots of times that makes sense, but also plenty of times it doesn’t, because the person at home is working too. The older the kids get, we find that trying to get a meal on the table while also being in charge of getting kids to all of their stuff can be pretty crazy. And really, trying to get a meal on the table even if the kids are home can be pretty crazy, because dinnertime is also a heavy parenting time. While cooking dinner you might also be helping kids with homework, helping them practice an instrument, trying to keep them entertained, or just managing their behavior during the time of day that many parents learn to think of as the witching hour (the hour before dinner when everyone is tired and hungry and cranky).

The real conclusion we came to is that there are often two jobs that need doing at dinner time.  One is fixing dinner.  The other is managing the kids.  It is incredibly hard to do both, and having both parents engaged in the family work around dinner time is often needed.  Having mom do all of it alone because she “doesn’t work” is insane.

What we have learned to do is look at our calendar for the week ahead, and figure out what we will eat as well as who can be home to fix it, without assuming by default that the stay at home parent will be the one who manages the kids and also cooks. We still usually have Matt cook on Thursdays (his day at home), but now he also sometimes cooks on other days, even if he was the one “at work” that day. When Matt cooks, I’m often driving the kids to soccer, or to their music lesson. And sometimes Matt will leave work a little early to get the kids to or from soccer so that I can have time to fix dinner.

I’m not at all sure we would have learned to split this work as much as we do if Matt hadn’t been in charge of dinner one night a week.  As he and I have discovered over and over again, walking in each other’s shoes makes all the difference in the world for truly understanding the workload of raising kids and figuring out how to work together to get it all done without overloading one parent.  Because Matt has been in charge of Thursday dinner for years, he truly understands the work involved in planning, shopping for, and preparing a healthy meal that the kids may not eat, week after week, all while managing homework and the kids behavior at the exact same time.

Note that it is super important that he doesn’t just prepare a meal I planned and shopped for, but that he does the job end to end, because the work of cooking dinner is not limited to pulling ingredients out of the refrigerator and standing at the stove for an hour. The menu planning and shopping and cleanup all take work too.  Even the extra mental load of making sure the meal is healthy, and dealing with who will and won’t eat what, and the tedium of eating the same thing again and again, or taking the time to find new recipes in order to avoid that tedium, and dealing with the draining complaints about the gross food you just spent an hour (much more than that, really) preparing – Matt experiences all of that. Now when we look through the calendar for the week to figure out how to get food on the table every night, I don’t even have to ask for help – he knows when it will be too much work for one person and assumes he will step in to help with either the kids or the cooking.

Matt has also learned that giving up the mental load is probably even more important to me than giving up the actual cooking. He used to ask me (out of kindness) what I’d like for dinner on Thursday nights, hoping to make something I’d enjoy. I quickly made it clear that what I wanted was to not have to decide!

As for my side of this equation, I get to experience how annoying it is to be expected to leave work early and help with home stuff on the night that Matt is in charge of dinner.  Now that our kids are older, during some of the year I can work a normal schedule and he can cook dinner and manage the kids at home on his own.  But during soccer season, or when the school play is happening, or <insert time consuming kid activity here> he just plain needs my help on Thursdays, and I have to cut my work day short and get home to cart kids around. It’s frustrating. Getting in enough work hours is a constant struggle, and it’s annoying to have to cut the my one full work day short. It’s annoying, but necessary. I do it because I need to, because I had kids and that’s what I signed up for. Our trade has made me have to absorb that cost myself, which means I recognize that it’s hard for Matt too on the days he leaves work early to deal with kid stuff.  I appreciate even more the sacrifice he’s making and that he keeps choosing to make it – and he chooses that because he also had kids, and this is what he signed up for by having kids.

Men Can Cook

There is still a pervasive belief that most dads can’t cook, or at least that it comes more naturally to women. Everyone can learn to cook. It is not rocket science. Every person is born not knowing how to cook, or read, write, or do math. We learn those skills.  If we learn those skills, we can learn to cook, too.  Yes, there can be an art to it.  Some people can write best-selling novels, others limit themselves to writing to do lists.  Some people can cook really well and combine and mix flavors beautifully.  Others might need to keep it more simple. But that’s fine. Here are some very simple cooking truths:

  • You don’t need to be a master chef to put food on the table for your family.
  • There is 0 scientific evidence that xx chromosomes are needed in order to cook a meal.
  • Working in an office (rather than at home) does not come with a God given right to have your meals prepared for you by someone else.
  • The Golden Rule: If you eat, then you must also cook.

If cooking is new to you, here are 4 simple things to do to get you started:

  1. Buy a cookbook.  Joy of Cooking is a great choice.  It will even teach you how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.
  2. Watch some cooking shows.  America’s Test Kitchen and Alton Brown’s Good Eats are great places to start.
  3. Make a plan and go for it. Like with reading and writing and math, you learn it by doing it.  Make grilled cheese, spaghetti, an omelet, or a cheese burger.  Learn what works and what doesn’t and try again or move to something harder. Just keep doing it. You will get better the more you practice.
  4. Make it clear to everyone in the family that dad should be supported (never mocked) in every effort he makes.

Set Up Recipe Sharing

At first, Matt tended to make recipes that were familiar to the family – which generally meant my recipes. Many of my recipes were in our recipe box, but some were ones I had found online, and some were just in my head. This made it harder for Matt to find them, and made him feel secondary because he’d have to call me at work for help. So we decided to store our recipes online. We chose a really simple solution – a shared folder on Google Drive. We picked a simple doc format for all of our recipes, and spent a couple of hours typing up our recipes to keep them online.

In addition to giving Matt access to my recipes, I have access to his. He likes to bake and has discovered an excellent frosting recipe.  The first time I needed it I checked online, and sure enough he’d entered it into our Google Drive Recipes folder and I was ready to go.

This system is also incredibly easy to search. Google is famous for its search engine after all!  Instead of flipping through recipe cards trying to figure out if lasagna is under ‘casseroles’ or ‘pasta’, I can just search the folder for lasagna.

Even better, this system is accessible from anywhere! I can access our Google Docs from my phone, so if I’m at the grocery store and realize I want to change my dinner plan, I can easily check the new recipe right then and there.

We can also easily type notes into the recipes to remember specific instructions for the next time. Recipes I got from my mom are often sorely lacking in detail, so once Matt has mastered one of these recipes, he writes in the missing parts that he didn’t just know since he didn’t grow up cooking at my mom’s elbow. I often jot down notes about the timing for a certain meal so I can remember the next time how long I’ll need (and I figure Matt will have that information then too if he ever makes that meal).

Surprising Benefits

In addition to the constant value Matt and I get out of walking in each other’s shoes, we have discovered some additional benefits to having him cook:

Matt Likes To Cook

It turns out Matt likes to cook – more than I do. What started as him following in my footsteps, learning from me, and cooking my recipes, has turned into him watching a ton of cooking shows, learning to make things I’ve never made before, and becoming a very good cook in his own right. That success has helped him feel confident in his cooking and really enjoy it.

We’ve also learned to make a distinction between cooking for necessity and cooking for fun. I tend do do a lot of the drudgery of just getting a meal on the table night after night. Because Matt enjoys it more and doesn’t feel as drained by the drudgery of it, he has learned to enjoy cooking more elaborate meals, and often chooses to cook on the weekends.  I love the break from cooking, and he gets to try more complicated things than what we have time for during the week.  I am very much looking forward to our retirement when I hope he will be doing most of the cooking now that he has learned to like it so much!

Healthier Meals

Our meals have gotten healthier over time partly because of how we share this task. When I have to cook and get the kids to all their activities all on my own, we end up at the McDonald’s drive thru more often than we should. Being able to count on Matt leaving work in time to have dinner on the table when the kids and I get home from soccer makes us eat more home cooked and therefore healthier meals.

Trying New Things

When you’re in charge of cooking, you tend to cook things you like to eat. So for a long time we ate mostly foods that I like to eat. When Matt started cooking, he wanted to make things he likes, and the variety of our meals changed. This introduced our kids to new foods, some of which they really liked and they found new favorites of their own.

There was one memorable night where Matt was making simple BLTs for dinner, which I knew the kids would only eat in a disassembled state – picking and choosing only the individual ingredients they liked. Matt didn’t remember this idiosyncrasy, and made 4 pre-assembled sandwiches with (among other things) avocado already smeared on the (gulp) already toasted bread.  You can’t undo toasting! I was sure we were going to be tossing out toast in exchange for plain bread on one sandwich, and desperately trying to scrape avocado off of another. But I followed the “support him in every effort rule” and said nothing. And shockingly, the kids didn’t say anything either. They looked at the sandwiches (with lettuce! Which is GREEN! On every sandwich!) shrugged, and ate them. And they discovered that BLTs are good precisely because those ingredients work well together, not just because a few of the ingredients (i.e. bacon) are good alone. And lo and behold, their palates improved just a little bit that night.

This was not the first and won’t be the last time that Matt’s cooking has helped us all eat better. He buys fruits I wouldn’t choose (I hate cutting mangoes and grapefruit, but he’s willing to do it). He fixes asparagus way more often than I do because it’s not my favorite, but it turns out both kids really like it. He expands our repertoire and it’s great.

More Walking In the Other’s Shoes

The benefits of experiencing the other spouse’s perspective never gets old. I really, really love the feeling of walking in the door on Thursdays and finding dinner laid out on the table ready to eat. And Matt takes a large amount of satisfaction in knowing that he can serve up that dinner all on his own.

We also learn from trading off dishes duty. At our house, whoever doesn’t cook has to do dishes. So the more Matt cooks, the more I have to do dishes. I don’t like cooking, but I don’t like doing dishes either! Neither does Matt, so it’s only fair that each of us has to take our turn at this less fun task. And I remind myself that even though he dislikes this task he has to do it even more often than I do (since I cook more) and I appreciate that he never complains! I also appreciate that he tries to clean dishes as he goes so he doesn’t leave me with a disaster of a kitchen at the end of the meal. Clearly he does dishes more often than I do, because he’s more considerate about that than I am.

 

Dinner is important. That time you spend sharing food and having conversations as a family is important. Sharing the work of preparing healthy food that benefits the whole family is also incredibly important. If you’re not already doing this, I highly recommend setting up your family to try this one night/week. Maybe you’ll discover hidden benefits too!

 

 

 

 

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Working Moms and Summer Break

For working moms, summer break can cause a kind of panic you may not have experienced before. If your child was in daycare before kindergarten, that first summer after kindergarten can be a bit of a shock when it first really hits you that your daycare replacement, i.e. school, is not year round.

Most parents I know who work full-time handle summer break by putting their kids in camps for the summer. This is expensive, and it can be a hassle to handle changing drop-off locations and activities every week all summer long, unless you find a summer camp that works basically like a daycare and is available for the entire summer. You may also discover that many camps are 9-3, or 9-4, rather than full day camps. This can all add up to a surprisingly difficult juggling act for working parents.

If you work part-time, juggling summer camp schedules with your work schedule can also be very tricky. Many parents in this situation try to flex their hours a little more over the summer to match their kids’ ever-changing camp schedules, sometimes with more success than others.

If you work from home, you may be tempted to have the kids stay home with you while you work to save yourself the cost of all those summer camps, but suddenly having your home office inundated with kids all day long can be a recipe for disaster for productivity.

There is no silver bullet for getting through this no matter what your situation is – every family I know has muddled through it as best they can.

I can suggest, though, a few Trip Clip activities than can help some with juggling all of those crazy schedules.

I already posted last week about the “screen time rules” checklist. This works especially well if you work from home, or if you have older kids who are spending some summer days home on their own while you are at work.

Another good option is a Summer Schedule.  This is especially useful if you work part-time or work from home, and you need to have some structure in your days to help you get in enough work hours while also having the kids with you some of the time.  I find it useful for me to have an idea in my head for when I’ll work, and when I’ll spend time with the kids. And I find it’s useful for the kids to know what parts of the day they will need to entertain themselves, and when I will be available to them for outings or games.

Feeling overwhelmed by long summer days stretching out ahead of you that need to be filled? A simple trick is to create a framework for each day. You might not need it every day, but sometimes it's nice to have a little structure to help you and the kids know what's coming.

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This schedule was one I built around giving me work time in the mornings, and play time with the kids in the afternoon.  We didn’t always stick strictly to this (friends would call with other plans, or appointments would get in the way), but this gave us a rhythm for our days as a starting place.

 

Setting expectations ahead of time in general can make a huge difference in surviving having the kids at home all day when you’re trying to work. Here are some great tips to consider:

Moms who work from home can have a rough time managing the kids’ summer break from school. Try these tips to help you get through it!

Balancing kids and work is always a balancing act – but doing some planning ahead of time really can make a big difference!

 

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What We Learned Working Part-Time for 15 Years

When you have a baby, the first question you’re usually asked is “Boy or girl?”. And that is often followed not long after by “Will you stay home or go back to work?”.

The first question is asked of both moms and dads, but that second question is usually just for moms. Why don’t we ask dads that too? Typically dads don’t do the same soul-searching around whether they need to pull back at work to manage the additional workload of having kids. Although more and more dads are the ones who stay at home (approximately 4% of families have a full-time stay at home dad), it’s still unusual enough that we just assume dads will return to their same work schedule.

working-moms-part-time

When my husband and I had kids, we both had promising careers we loved at Microsoft, and we both planned to continue working.  We traded off on parental leave, so we both got a chance to see what it was like working full-time while the other parent stayed home with the baby. When our son was 6 months old we put him in daycare and both went back to work full time. We lasted about 2 weeks on that grueling schedule, with no stay at home parent keeping us balanced and on track, before we made some big changes. We both asked to work just 4 days/week, which allowed us to each stay home with our son 1 day/week.

To be clear, the biggest issue was not the childcare itself – daycare took care of the actual childcare during the day, and we loved our daycare. Our problem was all the other work that comes along with being parents. When we were both working full time, we had trouble keeping up with the laundry, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the dishes, the cleaning, the pediatrician appointments, the clothes shopping (babies grow so fast!), the pumping, milk management, and bottle washing, not to mention the evening and morning childcare (feeding, bathing, playing, putting him to bed, getting him up, fed, dressed, and ready for daycare the next day.). It was do-able while working full-time, but it was very hard, and not joyful for anyone.

The biggest issue was not the childcare itself, it was all the other work that comes with being a parent.

Many parents who reach this point (and who are lucky enough to have a choice) decide to have one parent switch to part-time, or even stay home full time, because there really is a lot of added work to do when you have kids. We decided we would both go part-time so that we could share the added workload at home and we wouldn’t be choosing one of our careers over the other. We are also both equally capable of doing laundry, grocery shopping, and even handling pediatrician appointments!

Our 15 Year Experiment Is Still Going Strong

It’s now been 15 years, and this has continued to work so well for us that we are still both working part-time, even though Matt has changed companies and I started my own business. As the kids have gotten older, we’ve both considered returning to full-time work, but every year we agree that the benefits of our part-time schedules outweigh the negatives. Although the baths and milk management and diaper changes have been replaced with driving carpools and attending soccer games and managing homework, the work of parenting is still significant enough to warrant two part-time schedules.

I know there are many families who have successfully continued with two parents working full time, so clearly it can be done (and I am hugely impressed by the families who are working so hard to be successful on this schedule). According to this study almost half of the families out there have 2 parents who both work full time. But this same study also shows that when both parents work full time, 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.

This is consistent with my experience with the families I know as well. I’m writing about how both of us working part-time has worked so well for us because I’d like more parents to consider doing the same thing so that moms and dads have more time to do the work of parenting, and moms have an equal chance to pursue a career.

Women’s careers suffer more than men’s careers do when they become parents.

I believe that women should be able to participate equally in the world outside of the home. Half of our CEOs should be women. Half of our government should be female. Half of our scientists, inventors, product designers, and engineers should be female. And to get there, a few big things need to change. First, businesses need to support working parents in ways they do not right now. That will happen fastest when men are asking for these changes too. Second, if women are going to “Lean In” at work, then men need to  “Lean In” at home. Otherwise we are just asking women to be superwomen in order to be equally represented in the broader world. We need to acknowledge how much work it takes to be a parent, and share that work load more evenly.

Here are the benefits my husband and I discovered from working part-time:

Men Can Pave the Way For Women At Work

Although it doesn’t feel that weird for moms to switch to part-time, it’s a lot harder to imagine a man doing this because it’s such a foreign idea. He might be seen as not dedicated to his job, or not serious about his career.  Co-workers will wonder if he will put in enough hours, or if he’ll slack off on his responsibilities, making more work for them. He’ll worry about missing out on promotions and important projects.

Every time a man says he has to get home to fix dinner, or leave work early to take his child to the doctor, it will be more acceptable for the next woman who does the same.

All of these concerns apply to women who want to switch to part-time schedules too. But because women are more naturally expected to step back from work to take care of children, and companies are encouraged to be ‘family friendly’ and allow women to go part-time, more women than men take this step. This doesn’t make the prejudices against part-time workers go away, though; women just end up absorbing them. Having dads AND moms asking for part-time work schedules will make this a parenting issue rather than a gender issue.

There are also plenty of companies that won’t even accommodate part-time employees.  Although my husband was able to get approval for this at Microsoft, and again at the next company, a man working part-time is very rare.  Despite the fact that my husband has been successfully working part-time for 12 years at his current company, they have not extended this perk to others. Still, though, my husband is asked often by his co-workers about this arrangement and how he got it. It’s important to both of us that he is a role model for how to be successful at work while still prioritizing home and family.

Some companies will use your request to work part-time to cut back on your benefits.  This is a huge problem for moms who go part-time. They might lose health insurance, or a contribution to a 401(k) program. Having dads struggle with this also will help raise awareness of this problem for women. Men will have more clout on this issue because they are typically seen as the provider, despite the fact that women are the breadwinner in 40% of households. We need companies (and politicians) to understand the need for a much broader way to define how people work, and not penalize parents who are doing the important work of raising kids.

The lack of support for part-time employees impacts women significantly more than it impacts men simply because so many more women do it.  I’m positive that this will change faster if men start asking for part-time work schedules too.

Men who lean in at home will also help normalize the need for parents (not just women) to take care of home life. Every time a man says he has to get home to fix dinner, or leave work early to take his child to the doctor, it will be more acceptable for the next woman who does the same. The work of raising children and taking care of a house and family remains largely hidden because women are quietly doing it without pay, and without acknowledgement for just how much work it really is. Dads who join in on this work will help raise the visibility (and hopefully the perceived value) of all of this hidden labor.

Setting an Example For Our Kids

These kinds of changes take time. It’s unlikely that our generation is going to see a huge shift in equal representation for women in many arenas.  One report suggests that it will take over 100 years to erase the economic gender gap at our current rate.  Right now in the U.S. only 20% of our government is female, and < 5% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs.

Many moms give up on the idea that they can live their own lives beyond their role as Mom. Dads don’t do that, and moms shouldn’t have to either.

But one great way to change this for our kids is by modeling a different way of doing things. By choosing to have dads step back from work to help with childcare and housework, we are showing our kids that chromosomes aren’t what determine a person’s place in the world, actions do.

My boys see me working every day. They see their dad doing laundry, cooking meals, and driving carpool. They (hopefully) won’t expect their wives to do all of those things for them because of their gender. Our goal is for them to think a woman who works and also has kids, and a dad who takes on 50% of the household work, is a totally normal thing because they’ve witnessed it personally.

My Case For Women Working

So far I’ve focused on why men should pull back from work. The flip side of this argument is that I think all women should keep working once they have kids.

This decision is an incredibly personal one, and I recognize no one choice will be right for everyone. But I think many women who make the decision to stay home are very focused on those early infant/toddler years, and not thinking long-term about what is best for their kids, and for themselves.

I already mentioned the benefits of setting an example for your kids that both men and women can be successful in the workforce, and I think it’s very critical to send this message to kids so that they don’t grow up thinking moms are good a dishes and dads are good at business.

Another thing to consider is the parenting end game. The success case for raising your kids well is that they leave you! Although parenting is an incredibly important 18+ year commitment, your kids will (hopefully) go out on their own. Many new parents consider the needs of their infant, but it’s a lot harder to think 18 years ahead about what will be best for mom. Consider, though, that if your kids go off to college when you are 50, you will have a lot of wonderful years left in which you can do incredible things. My mom had 4 kids, and dedicated herself pretty thoroughly to their upbringing for many years. She did work outside the home, but it was always secondary to her job of raising kids. Then when we all grew up and moved away, she was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with her own life. Many moms give up on the idea that they can live their own, rich lives, separate from their kids and their role as mother. Dads don’t do that, and moms shouldn’t have to either.

There are also benefits to making sure that women participate heavily in the broader world. When I first went part-time, I would often take our son to the mall on my day home with him each week.  When it was rainy and we couldn’t go to the park he could climb on a play structure they had there. I remember walking through the mall pushing his stroller and realizing that I looked exactly like all the other stay at home moms around me. None of the people there knew that the other 4 days/week I was a Group Program Manager at Microsoft. It shocked me to realize how different I felt being seen as ‘stay at home mom’ than as ‘Microsoft manager’. My place in the world felt smaller, less important; *I* felt smaller and less important, and it was easy to see how that could sink in over time.

I worry that women who stay home full-time to be moms are at risk of losing their voice. The incredibly hard and vitally important work they do is not valued, and their sphere of influence often shrinks to their kids’ schools. This is the opposite of what happens for men (and women) who stay in the workforce. Some women lose their confidence in their ability to participate in the broader world after a significant number of years at home with the kids. And I don’t just mean they lose their confidence in returning to work – I think many lose their confidence in making financial decisions, in knowledge about politics, and in many other arenas because their sphere is the home.

Take the extra time and do something that is not about being a mom.

Returning to work can be tricky too. For women who want (or need) to reengage in the world after raising kids, a yawning gap in their resume and in their life experiences can be hard to overcome. Despite years of management experience (albeit management of toddlers, and then teens) moms are seen as not having any current work experience.  Keeping a foot in the door via part-time work can make a huge difference in helping women navigate through those post-kid years, and helping them craft a path forward post kids.

Women who stay home full time are at risk for losing economic security as well. I know a surprising number of women who agreed to a partnership with their husband where he supported the family financially, and she stayed home to take care of the kids. When the marriage ended (as 50% do), her earning potential was shot, and so was her confidence in herself and her ability to do many tasks that she relied on her husband to do. She worked just as hard as he did all of those years, but he came out of it in a much better place than she did. Women are too willing to give up their agency and depend on their partner while simultaneously spending years doing work that is not very valued by our society. Of course raising children IS incredibly important work, but there’s no reason it needs to be just woman’s work, to the detriment of the women doing it.

Even more importantly, women’s voices are too noticeably absent in government, in science, in business, everywhere we look. By focusing on the home sphere, we are not sharing our wealth of experiences, knowledge, attitudes, and ideas as fully as we could be. I recently read a fascinating article about ways the world is designed for men, because men are the ones designing it. I look forward to seeing the wonderful way the world improves as women take a bigger role in designing it.

Men Can Make Room For Women

By stepping back from work, my husband has left room for me to lean in to work. My situation is a little unique since I work part-time from home running my own business. I straddle a very tricky line between being very much like a full-time stay-at-home mom, and being a business owner. Because I’m at home all day, it is even easier for laundry, grocery shopping, meal prep, and carpool to fall on me. I often find it hard to fit in any work at all (did you know that kids are in school 180 days/year, which means they are home 185 days??!).  But because my husband works 4 days/week, there is at least one day each week where I’m guaranteed to be able to focus 100% completely and totally on work, and that is golden. By taking on that day, my husband makes room for me to be Entrepreneur Molly in addition to Mom Molly.

And it turns out Entrepreneur Molly is pretty important to me. Although I love being a mom and wouldn’t trade it for anything, I’m very glad I didn’t have to make a choice between working and being a mom. Because Matt is willing and able to be an active participant in our home life, even to the extent that he works part time, I am able to run my business with the confidence that our home life and our kids aren’t suffering because of my choice to work. He gives me the space to pursue my own dreams, and meet my own needs.

Dads Get To Experience the Joy of Parenting

I know a number of moms who choose to stay at home because they don’t want to give up the joy and fulfillment they find in being a mom. I love those moms – they are also usually the ones who drive extra carpool duty, take care of working parents’ kids when  extra help is needed, and volunteer at crazy levels at school. They take care of everyone.

Even if this is the kind of mom you are, and returning to work is truly not for you, consider backing off at least some anyway to give your husband a chance to lean in at home. Take the extra time and do something that is not about being a mom, but is about being you. Volunteer, or pursue a hobby, or go back to school part-time. You will feel more human, be a better mom, and ensure you have connections to the rest of the world that are not just about your role as mom, which is by definition a limited time endeavor!

Did you know that kids are in school 180 days/year, which means they are home 185 days?

And the added benefit is that you will give your husband room to truly lean in at home. This is good for you and him and your kids! One day each week, my husband is the parent in charge, and he handles everything on those days – the planned stuff, and the unplanned stuff. When they were babies, he did all the feedings, diaper changes, play time, entertaining, laundry, etc that’s required when taking care of an infant. Now that they’re older, he gets them to their after school activities/appointments, drives carpool, and manages homework time. He also plans, shops for, and cooks dinner so it’s ready when I get home. On days the kids aren’t in school, he does the grocery shopping with the kids in tow, oversees the play dates, takes them to swimming lessons, or whatever else needs doing. Matt experiences the hardships and joys of parenting that he misses when he’s at work all the other days.

Many years ago a stay-at-home dad I knew said lot of people think it’s not the quantity of time you spend with your kids, it’s about the quality. As a full-time stay at home dad, he called b.s. on this, and all these years later I tend to agree with him (though I was skeptical at the time). Those moments you get with your kids where you connect deeply, or make a memory they will carry into adulthood, or help them in a moment when they desperately need a parent’s love – those moments can’t be planned. They happen when they happen, often during the drudgery of living life. Matt gets more of those moments because he is with them more, living those boring moments that fill the time between the surprising, amazing ones.

Walking In Each Other’s Shoes

We’ve also found it very valuable to experience at least some of the other parent’s world. Matt will be the first one to tell anyone who asks that being home with the kids is harder than going to work.  It just is.  It’s not intellectually harder, but it is physically, emotionally, and mentally harder to do the billion different jobs that need doing, always on the kids’ schedule (never your own), with very few breaks during the day. Potty training kids don’t wait. Tantrums don’t wait. Kids who are fighting with each other don’t wait. Whining is draining. Figuring out how to raise good human beings is hard and often very stressful. Cleaning is just plain drudgery. Driving carpool can be an assault to your system. Adult co-workers, though often very annoying in their own way, are just easier companions to have with you all day long.

By stepping back from work, my husband has left room for me to lean in to work.

When I’m struggling with how hard it is to handle everything at home, and I ask for more help, Matt truly knows how hard it is because he does it too. This first-hand knowledge is invaluable.

The flip side of this is also true. Because I work, I understand how hard it is to put that work aside to just be there for the kids when they need me. I understand how hard it is to be immersed in the work world, and come home tired from a day at work, and walk in the door and be expected to immediately shift gears and help with dinner or homework or whatever chaos is happening at home.

Because we both work, and we both have days at home with the kids, we understand each other’s worlds and needs much better, and are better able to support each other.

This has the added benefit of making our marriage stronger. Appreciating and truly understanding what the other person brings to the partnership is a big deal. We also find that our worlds overlap more with this arrangement. Sometimes that adds work – when we trade off days, the parent who saw the injury happen might not be the one at the doctor’s appointment so there is added work to communicate constantly to make sure the parent in charge that day has the information they need. But this shared approach, rather than a more silo’d approach where he makes the money and I take care of the kids, helps us share more of our worlds and it forces us to work together as equal partners.

How Others Families Can Adopt This Approach

Matt and I have been very lucky to be able to run this 15 year experiment. Many families couldn’t afford it, or are forced to be juggling multiple part-time jobs just to make ends meet, or don’t work for companies that would even consider this kind of schedule. I recognize that we’re operating from a place of privilege. That privilege, though, makes it all the more important for us to help pave the way for better working arrangements for parents who have to work full-time jobs while raising children. By pushing against the current status quo we can help businesses understand the flexibility parents need, or get them to recognize the difficulty of having to work full-time to keep your insurance at the expense of raising your kids the best way you can.

For centuries, men have had time and space to think, to invent, to create, to govern, to participate in the wider world. We now better understand that women are as capable of doing these things as men, but we have not yet found a way to give them the time and space to contribute equally. Across the world, women take on the bulk of the housework and childcare, allowing men to have the time, energy, and freedom to do more. Yes, this is probably a zero sum game. If men take on more of the housework and child rearing, they will inevitably have less time to do big things. But that’s a price we should be willing to pay to give the other 50% of our population the same chance men have always had. Women can participate equally at work and in government, but we’re missing out on all that women have to offer if we keep asking them to also do the bulk of the laundry and the cooking and carpooling.

A great first step towards giving women the time and space they need would be for men to switch to part-time work schedules when they have kids. They will normalize this for women, too. They will help the world acknowledge the added time and work it takes to raise kids, and not assume that all that work should fall on women. And they will be better parents.

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