Updated: May 10, 2021
I hear it all the time, from conversations with friends to mommy groups online. Our male partners are not getting it. Fathers are too often working all day then coming home to rest and recharge, working all week then using the weekend to relax. This means a Father's workweek is averaging anywhere from 40-60 hours per week. By comparison, Welches surveyed 2,000 moms and found that we are working on average 14 hours per day 7 days per week, that is 98 hour work week! I can relate. Forbes found that stay-at-home moms could earn $115,000 per year for the work they do.
I remember being a newlywed non-parent saying to my husband, “Of course I will take care of everything in the house if I’m home with the kids! Stay at home moms with messy houses and no meals cooked are ridiculous. If you’re staying at home that is your job!” Bhahaha! Could I have been any more naïve? I find I relate to so many stupid parenting cliches. I also remember telling my husband, “We will never take our babies on a flight! Why don’t these people just stay home and let their family come to them, or wait till they are older to go on trips?” I think our son had 16 flights on the books before age 2 LOL😊.
Boy did parenting hit me like a Tokyo speed train. It was early on in my first child’s life that I realized this is bogus! How is this normal?! What the hell were all these women doing for so many years?! Oh, I know! They were getting beat by their husbands, oppressed by our laws, culture, and communities, and forced to have children over and over again. I have been fortunate enough to live in a time and place that has not oppressed me in such a way that I have no voice and no perspective. Here is my perspective.
I have been working from an incredibly young age. Eight if I am being precise. I had my first paid babysitting job with children who were not my siblings when I was eight years old. Don’t make me laugh, of course I had been watching my 3 siblings before that, and of course there was no pay for me to watch my own siblings! When I was twelve, I had my first full-time nanny position during the summer. When I say full-time, I mean it. 8 hours a day 5 days per week all summer long. By fourteen I had my first job on a payroll. I was working at the concession stand at the local little league ballpark. I worked many places in between high school and college. At one point during college, I was working 3 jobs on top of being a full-time student. After college, I entered the full-time teaching world. It was like an easy vacation, a walk in the park. I got weekends and holidays off! Up to this point, it was rare for me to have weekends, holidays, or nights off. Don’t get me wrong I would often put in 50-60 hours per week for my students. It’s just that the nature of being in a salaried position with time off and benefits greatly improved my quality of life.
So, why am I telling you all this? I’m telling you because I’m fortunate enough to know. I know what a 40-hour week feels like, I know what a 70-hour week feels like. I also know what three years of full-time parenthood feels like. Guess what people?! Full-time parenthood is HARDER.
My husband works outside the home and earns a paycheck with a demanding, influential, important position. I too am a working parent, but I work inside our home. I provide childcare, scheduling, meal planning, shopping, cooking (3 meals and 3 snacks per day), cleaning, laundry, learning opportunities, patience, engagement, connection, routines, hygiene, emotion coaching, and co-regulation. I too am in a demanding, influential, important position every. single. day. The difference is my job does not provide me weekends, vacations, or even bathroom breaks. I must actively take and prioritize these things for myself. And I do, mostly by the grace, acceptance, understanding, and love from my wonderful husband. Let me tell you how he participates in our home life.
Reading childcare and parenting books
We have an arrangement with this. I am the “researcher” and he learns about the great things I find. I read about respectful parenting, potty training, tantrums, eating/mealtimes, sleep, routines, development; then sift through the bulk to find the gold. When I find a particular system, philosophy, or author that I love; I pass the torch to him and he does his part to learn and practice the new things we decide to implement.
Participates in discussions about transitions, big decisions, and challenges
When we are in times of transition or change; he actively, willingly, consciously participates in problem-solving with me. For example, both boys are transitioning with their nap routine. Big brother soon will not need a nap and baby brother will move from two to one nap per day. My husband talks with me and together, we figure out the best sleeping arrangements, boundaries to hold, boundaries to drop, schedule to keep.
Laundry and cleaning, like really cleaning
Last night, I came home after two episodes of Game of Thrones with a girlfriend to a calm, clean house. The boys were sleeping in their beds after bath, books, and PJs. He had put dinner away, done the dishes, wiped the counters, swept the floors, picked up toys. This is all after a full workday for him. He also does things I have requested because I hate doing them. Cleaning the stove, microwave, windows, and blinds for example.
When he has time and energy on the weekends and in the morning, it is quite common for my husband to prepare meals for our family. In fact, he has consistently prepared our breakfast for the past 6 months now. Thank you pandemic for making that possible!
He will take the boys to Costco on Saturday while I get stuff done around the house. He will also order for grocery delivery if we cannot get to it during the week. It is common for me to go shopping while he does stuff at home. It just depends if I’m more annoyed with the boys or the house that day.
Selecting and wrapping gifts
It is ordinary for him to get a gift for a birthday party or event we are going to. Don't underestimate this one. It takes energy, time, and thoughtfulness to find, and wrap the gifts for the endless string of birthday parties after becoming a parent.
Plans weekends together and reads emails, texts, and other messages
Often he says things like: “Want to try this hike, museum, site, or restaurant with the boys this weekend? He also stays on top of messages, group chats, and emails about plans, get-togethers, outings, family events. He keeps track of when things are happening and with whom.
Participates in mealtime, bedtime, clean-up, dressing, prepping
Together we eat with the kids and together we get it cleaned up. Usually, he will play in the living room with the kids while I clean the kitchen. I say "together" because childcare is an important part of having a clean kitchen. However, tonight I am not feeling well and want to get this blog done so he is in the living room playing with the boys and he said, “No problem, go lie down, I will clean the kitchen later.” He also helped the kids get dressed, snacks packed, bags packed, and out the door this morning too.
Participates at our co-op Preschool, and does pick up and drop off
We are at a co-op school which means once per week we need to “work” at the school. He works our day as much as he can. The same goes for pickup and drop off, if he can swing it, he does it.
Pays bills, books our flights, hotels, and car rental
Without fail, every time we go somewhere, he takes charge of these things. He even books flights for trips that I am the only one traveling. Don’t get me wrong, we budget and make financial decisions together. It’s just that he has taken on the responsibility of completing these tedious tasks because he knows it’s impossible for me to sit in front of a computer and get them done with two small children around.
Supports me in my passions, work, and interests
Any project I start, goal, or inspiration I have he responds with, “That sounds great!” and listens when I tell him all about it.
Goes to therapy and meditates
Yes, he goes to therapy! He does this because he is not too proud or ignorant to think he knows everything about himself, his career, his past, and his family. He goes so he can process things with a professional before bringing hard stuff to the kids and me. He goes because he knows it’s his responsibility to work on himself. He uses the Calm app so he can be in a good space to provide support, compassion, empathy, love, and understanding for his family. Two toddlers and a high-strung wife are a lot to handle and he comes prepared.
Plays with the kids
My husband plays with our kids. He gets into wrestling matches, pillow fights, play scenes, cooking delicious meals, horsey rides, dance party’s, and more. He has read books to teach himself how to engage in play in a way that honors the child, and he is very good at what he does.
I know it gets tiring when our culture is constantly praising men for things they should be doing. Everyone has their own awareness and their own journey, but I am so grateful I have a husband who is willing to come to this level of understanding. Also, I believe that we will never achieve equality until men start to value and participate in the unseen and unpaid work of women.
So, how did I do it? How did I support him with participating in family life more than what his past, culture, community, and family have taught him? First, I had to realize what Jancee Dunn, author of How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids also realized, “Doing everything ourselves isn’t heroic—it’s toxic.”
I started by having a conversation without judgment. Why judge or blame ourselves for doing it the way we were taught? I said, “We were taught in ways that don’t bring value to our family right now. Our backgrounds, religion, and culture are not serving us, and I want to do this a different way. I have worked full time outside the home, I have worked overtime outside the home, and this is harder. I need help.” I continued telling him about my experience, how much there is to do, and to think about when taking care of an infant. Finally, we concluded childcare will be my full-time 40-hour workweek, just childcare. Cooking, cleaning, organizing plans like playdates, doctor's appointments, grocery shopping, laundry, organizing toys and purchases, and everything else in between will be my overtime. This meant we both have full-time jobs and we both needed to work overtime on the extras.
The next thing I did was leave him alone with the home and the baby. “…many experts tell me that the best—some say only—way to teach one’s husband to learn the ropes and appreciate the volume of work you do is often the technique that is least used: leave the damn house.” -Jancee Dunn. This was imperative because it enabled my husband to feel the full weight of home life. A little tip: Don’t cook meals in advance or leave him little notes and reminders. Tell him not to text or call you unless it is a serious emergency. If you help him he won’t feel the full weight of it. Checking out and trusting him fully also stops you from something called maternal gatekeeping. This is when women consciously or unconsciously act as the final authority of the home and childcare. As the gatekeeper, I felt responsible for what and how things get done. The problem with being the gatekeeper is that my husband used me as the default manager. I needed to switch from gatekeeper to collaborator. Here is a great article if you want to learn more:
Last, it should be said; this is NOT a 50/50 partnership. Sometimes he is at 0 and I’m at 100 or vice-versa. 80/20 is a common ratio we experience. For various reasons, one of us is usually running at 20% capacity and the other picks up the missing 80%. For us, it is okay to have a day or week, or month at 20% or even 0%. We trust that there will come a time each of us needs a break and each of us needs to step it up. I step it up when he needs a break, and he does the same for me. Now we both know the immense time, energy, and work it takes to build a home that runs smoothly. The two of us show up first for ourselves, then for our family to make this work.
Now it's your turn. Go define your terms then start communicating with your husband. Your kids AND husband will be better off when you do.