Even if you and your partner or spouse had no job and all your material resources were taken care of, parenting would still likely be an incredibly nuanced and challenging endeavor, as it is for all couples.
In the much more realistic case that you’ve both got full-time careers, parenting becomes even more of a juggling act. To make things more challenging, many male-female couples start out intending to share parenting duties 50/50 fall into old societal gender roles once the baby arrives, where the woman takes on much more than the man despite both spouses having full-time careers.
No offense, men, but based on studies over the last 20 years of male/female relationships, the modern, involved father who shares parenting duties equally is mostly a myth in the United States. If we look at the average numbers for male/female couples in the US, we quickly see a pattern that is much less than 50/50:
Women employed full-time shoulder 65 percent of child-care responsibilities compared to 35 percent for their male full-time working husbands
Mothers are 2.5 times more likely to be the parent getting up in the middle of the night to care for their child
Women are much more likely to miss work when a child is sick or needs care
Mothers are significantly more likely to be the primary parent responsible for managing the details of their child’s life
This 65/35 split for generation X, millennials and generation Z parents may be something many women celebrate, but usually only as a comparison to their baby boomer parents in the 70s and 80s, when the division of household labor and parenting duties split between women and men was 80/20.
Appreciation by men of these parenting and household duties differences may help their wives, but probably won’t alleviate a pattern of inequality that over time results in resentment by their wives. Side effects include women who suddenly are no longer “in the mood” for passion and intimacy in the marriage.
Today’s couples would be wise to be mindful that in the United States, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, studies tracking partner child-care participation between partners show that lower levels of male participation in domestic chores is highly correlated with separation or divorce compared to men who do more.
Men would also be wise to be careful to avoid benevolent sexism. Compared to hostile sexism, when women are directly devalued, benevolent sexism occurs when men flatter women with how “capable their wives are” to care for their kids, while simultaneously undermining their wive’s ambition and autonomy. Many of today’s women are still paying a price for this imbalance financially, emotionally, and existentially.
Despite the challenge of overcoming millennia-old, gendered parenting expectations, it is possible to share the parenting burden equally and to optimize the massive collective responsibilities you and your spouse share together. However, guidance on how to address the deeper challenges that many couples face in parenting responsibilities is surprisingly scarce.
If you and your spouse are steeped in a negative pattern where childcare responsibilities are dividing you, and anger, resentment, and guilt have taken over, we recommend enlisting the help of one of our best marriage counselors in NYC, along with considering the following suggestions to alleviate some of the resentment and negativity that may have built in your relationship. The couples who can thrive with their love, work, and childcare responsibilities follow some of the patterns listed below:
1. Set equal expectations and patterns of parenting early in your relationship
How you and your spouse parent and set parenting expectations together at the beginning of your parenting journey are sure to reverberate through the rest of your relationship. It’s much harder to change these habits once they’re solidified and have become habitual for you both (but mostly the partner who may be getting away with doing less work).
A habit only takes 28 days to form. A great way to do this early on is to agree to split your chores equally by making a spreadsheet of tasks — more on this below. With a spreadsheet, the tasks and plan are quantified, and it is less likely to turn into a he-said, she-said argument of different recollections or perspectives.
Also, do everything in your power to make sure your male partner gets paternity leave so he can contribute as much as he can during the crucial early days after your baby comes home.
To accomplish your parenting equality goals, try one of the steps described below.
Practical Applications for Equal Parenting
1. For you and your spouse, list all your duties as a parent and spouse separately for a week that represents your typical schedule, tracking who does what. What results do you both come up with? Are you outside the typical range in American households where men do 16 hours of housework while women do 26 hours? These tasks include shopping for the family, cooking, cleaning, managing day-to-day care for your children, among others.
A large part of the perception issue that men are doing more than they are stems from simply not knowing how much their wives do, so this can be a key starting point for both of you.
We have a strong social norm in our country that mothers should be responsible for childcare, and women generally fare much worse than same-sex parent relationships.
Gay couples, for instance, have become used to challenging gender parenting norms. They are much more likely to divide the childcare and household responsibilities more equally and stick with their plan together.
However, in gay and lesbian couples, if one partner or spouse has a significantly higher income than the other, gay and lesbian couples tend to fall into similar patterns as male/female couples, albeit to a lesser degree. These studies with gay and lesbian couples show that parenting and household roles go beyond gender – perhaps our society is still catering towards single-earner families. The traditional role of one parent taking on primary parenting duties while the other takes on the primary caregiver responsibilities dominates parents’ roles, regardless of gender.
More than a dozen studies of gay and lesbian couples have consistently found that same-sex couples divide unpaid chores and parenting responsibilities in a more egalitarian way than male/female parents, especially when both partners share similar earning potential. Without traditional gender roles, they still tend to be more committed to equality between partners, which helps their love dynamic significantly. They are more likely to avoid the resentment and guilt that can so easily develop when parenting responsibilities are lop-sided.
I’ll note that studies have not yet been completed regarding the division of labor and parenting responsibilities with couples where one or both partners do not identify with a single gender, though some research has found that transgender couples are more likely to divide chores in their relationship more along masculine and feminine lines.
In the last two decades, as women have gained a significant share of the labor force, love relationships and marriages have become more about partner companionship. But as I’ve noted, this shift has not yet translated into equal parenting and household duties. Even when women earn as much or more than their husbands, they still do much more domestic work, studies consistently show.
Scientists have identified household and parenting duties as society-norm gendered, so feminine chores like cooking, cleaning, laundry and childcare mainly take place in the home, while more “masculine” chores like taking out the trash, mowing the lawn or washing the care usually take place outdoors and less frequently.
For gay and lesbian couples, they are much less likely to view household chores and parenting duties as masculine or feminine, but instead as functions that need to be accomplished.
If you’re in a male/female relationship as a parent, without a parenting/household duties plan, you’re much more likely to fall into social gender parenting norms without even necessarily realizing it, until resentment and guilt creep in and eventually take over your love relationship.
Keep in mind, regardless of the type of relationship you are in, the idea of a totally equal partnership may be more of a fantasized utopia, especially after a child enters your household. However, working together as a couple you and your spouse can still minimize resentment and guilt, and come closer to equality and your ideal roles in your household and as parents.
2. After tracking your results, if you both realize your duties are unequal, it is time to renegotiate your parenting and household tasks. Don’t forget to include everything, like who takes your child to their regular doctor checkups, picks them up from school, and deals with illnesses when your child is sick. Who gets called when your child has an issue at school? Who schedules an appointment when your child needs to see their dentist?
My advice: focus on dividing tasks rather than taking turns doing the same tasks if your goal is more equality. Dividing tasks can help you both hold each other accountable while avoiding the need to continually discuss what happened when one spouse lets the other down.
If your roles in your career and parenting responsibilities suddenly change, such as the woman suddenly becoming the primary bread winner in her career while the man steps into primary caregiver role for the kids, be sure to work together on this enormous adjustment. Identities can change, and you both need to stay up to date with these transitions in each other’s lives.
An equal relationship involves equal opportunities to pursue careers, along with equal household and parenting duties, and adjusting as needed striving for a goal of fairness rather than succumbing to societal gender parenting norms.
Gay and lesbian parents feel their roles are generally equal, even when they take on different roles, which studies show is more challenging for male/female relationships.
What helps the gay and lesbian couples feel more equal in terms of actual tasks? They communicate more openly instead of making assumptions about the division of labor of parenting and household chores, and one partner was much less likely to take on an unfair role (still more likely a result of societal gender parenting norms).
When lesbian mothers gave birth, for instance, they may have taken a pay cut to care for their child, studies show. However, unlike their heterosexual counterparts, their earnings recovered after five years. For heterosexual women, their earnings after childbirth never did recover, on average.
2. Overtly coordinate your work schedules and draw clear boundaries
If both parents have traditional 40-hour workweeks outside or in the home, it’s easier to set an equal share of the work. One night, you may attend a vital after-work event, and your partner will watch your child. Another night, your partner may have a friends’ night out, and you can watch the child.
If one of you works from home and the other has a more traditional out-of-the-home work schedule, it can be a little trickier. For the partner working from home, plans to get loads of productive work done while watching your child will easily go out the door the minute your child has some inevitable emergency.
Also, despite your child’s golden heart, they will not be coordinating their ear infections with your most productive working hours. If you find valuable time to get your remote work done on the weekend when your partner is home from their traditional job, draw a boundary by leaving the house to do your work because, despite their best intentions, your partner may inevitably interrupt your workflow and reduce your productivity if you’re stationed at home within earshot.
Just make sure you have the privacy, time, and space to get your work done too. Whatever you need to do, draw the boundary, and take the time and space for yourself without feeling guilty — you deserve this!
3. Always have a clearly defined primary parent
In today’s day and age, it’s all too typical for young professionals to bring their work and all the stress that goes along with it home after work is supposed to be “done.” Sometimes this can lead to assumptions that they will get this work done without interruption once they’re home.
But as we know, assumptions are never a good idea. If you do have extra work that needs to get done at home, make sure to ask your partner ahead of time and plan when you will make up for that parenting time and give your partner that same amount of free time on another night or weekend day. If you don’t always have a clearly defined parent, the female parent will most likely end up becoming the de facto or assumed primary parent.
If you’ve agreed to be the primary parent, it means you are responsible for their health and well-being. Full stop. It’s on you. You can’t go run to grab something from the neighbor and assume someone will be there to watch them or pick up the slack. If it’s your turn to be the point parent, but you have more pressing work needs, hiring a babysitter for that time is fine too. Doing the labor to find the sitter, arrange for their arrival, departure, and pay is legitimate parenting work too.
4. Trust your partner to parent: don’t micromanage them
Parenting is a partnership, not a manager-subordinate relationship. Thus, when it’s your partner’s turn to lead the parenting charge, allow them to do just that. People are much more motivated to accomplish tasks when they are in control over them and have the freedom the be creative, find solutions, and trust themselves.
Plus, your partner will only learn what to do and what not to do by making a few (hopefully minor) mistakes along the way. Tasks as mundane as choosing your child’s outfit (we know you have the better taste in fashion, but still) or something more critical like choosing what to feed them. If your spouse gives them unhealthy junk food repeatedly, then respectively bring it up as a point of concern, using a “softened startup,” without accusing or attacking them.
Of course, there are many more important lessons to learn in successfully finding ways to equally co-parent your child when you’re both working full-time jobs, but this is a great place to start. Check out one of our expert marriage therapists in nyc now: Best Marriage Therapists NYC
Key Takeaway for Parents
Keep in mind that happiness and marital satisfaction don’t necessarily depend on having an equal division of household and parenting duties between spouses, but rather depend much more on how closely the actual division of duties correlates with each partner’s ideal.
If your spouse is not as committed to gender equality and reducing your resentment and guilt as they claim to be, you may have a different problem. One of our experts at the best marriage counseling in NYC could always help you address this with your spouse.
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