Nobody was as shocked as I was to read last year’s article in Time Magazine, “Chore Wars,” which showed that today’s working fathers encounter workplaces that don’t fully understand their family responsibilities.
The author of the article had planned to confront her husband about how she was the equivalent of the human Giving Tree, doing her unfair share around the house. But after doing some research, she came away surprised: During her sleuthing, she found that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the combined daily totals of paid and unpaid work done by working moms and dads came out … about even.
But if my own home and friends are any indication, the cold, hard facts are distinctly at odds with people’s actual feelings. If I had a dollar for every snarky comment that my husband and I lobbed about the state of our living room, we’d be able to pay for a cleaning lady. Weekly.
Plus, in my experience, waving a sheaf of statistics does nothing to change those feelings.
How Do You Avoid Turning Into a Bad Episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond”?
To get to this answer, I spoke to Amy and Marc … er, Marc and Amy. At any rate, I spoke to the Vachons, a married couple who equally authored “Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents.”
“I think the trap we fall into is focusing on ‘who does what.’ If you’re arguing and nitpicking, something’s not working,” says Marc. “You want to feel like a team.”
To that end, they’ve split up parents’ lives into four domains:
- Time for self
Notice how housework and child-raising are separate. That’s huge. Because lumping “tea party with Angelina Ballerina” in with “laundry” does a disservice to a really wonderful, fulfilling experience (properly folding T-shirts, that is).
I’m kidding! Seriously, when parents see all home work as drudgery, it dooms the whole conversation. So the first step, as with anything, is to reframe the discussion. It’s not about “doling out chores.” It’s about committing to a family structure that works for everyone.
Division of Chores Isn’t the Point
“Division of chores ends up being part of the territory, but the underlying reason is that you want a certain life,” says Amy. “We’re not saying ‘don’t discuss the details.’ Of course you have to discuss them. But don’t make them your focus.”
For one thing, trying to draw every aspect of family life down the middle with a piece of tape, like Bobby and Peter Brady’s bedroom, is impossible.
Some well-intentioned parents of the 1970s–friends of my parents–went so far as to choose not to breastfeed, so that the onus of 3 A.M. feedings wouldn’t fall on the mom. I’m not saying that correlation is causation, but the couple eventually divorced. The take-away: An impossible standard sets you up for failure, which is why the Vachons recommend the four sectors.