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.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
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.
"When our kids were born, for the first couple of weeks, I did more with them, and Marc did more of the other things. Then I started pumping and storing milk, so he could have the experience of bonding and feeding, " says Amy. "There are ways around these issues. For example, Marc took two vacation days per week for those first few months, so he could have time alone with the baby. It became more equal once I went back to work."
What About Stay-at-Home Parents?
Ah, yes. If one person's job is to be the stay-at-home parent, there's just no way to parent equally if one of you is, literally, the professional. All the same, consciously dividing your lives into those four domains helps because it separates parenting from housework--and honors the fact that both parents have needs in all four domains. Housework isn't kid-work.
The Vachons add that even if one parent stays at home for a year or more, that doesn't mean that he or she can't retain some kind of professional training. "That could mean taking classes, networking or volunteering in their chosen field," says Marc. "After five or six years, the intensity of that at-home parenting is going to diminish, and you're going to want something you can go back to--so stay as fresh and plugged-in as you can."
"Our society tends to say that being a nurturer is less valuable than being an earner," adds Amy. "Obviously, we think that's ridiculous, and society's sort of redefining masculinity right now in response to that."
Being Equal Means Not Being the Only Expert
In the end, one of you can't be the "expert." And that's hard to get used to, especially as a woman.
After a lifetime of feeling like we're second-best to men in so many ways--we earn 77 cents for every male dollar--it's intoxicating to be the one who fixes everything with her magic touch. But giving up that "gatekeeper" role is absolutely essential in order to be an equal parent, and to give yourself a break.
Being the only one who your kid will allow to kiss her boo-boo? Feels good. The relief when your husband says, "Relax, I've got this." Now that's priceless.
Amy Keyishian moved from the most expensive city in the world--New York--to the other most expensive city in the world, San Francisco. She's an expert at finding free, cheap and offbeat fun for herself and her kids--and she tries to make work fun as best she can.