2020 taught us many difficult, gritty lessons, but one that stands out is that women are expected to do too much. It’s destroying our professional lives, our mental health, and our relationships.
With the amount of work on our plates already, resolutions can be tricky. If you are going to channel energy into something this year, why not work toward making your household more equitable? Here are a few tips that we’ve gathered along the way.
- Remember, you’re a team. Instead of attacking each other, attack the issue of all the tasks that need to be done. A data-driven approach to tracking your work can come in handy here. Know your enemy. Psst…it isn’t each other.
- Educate your partner. Part of the burden of domestic chores is that they’re never-ending. Some men weren’t raised to know all of the work that goes into maintaining a household. Let them in on the invisible work, not just the visible stuff. Tend: Task Manager & Journal is a free mobile app with a comprehensive list of care tasks. Couples can use it to track their work and compare notes – not to scold one another, but to get a realistic picture of who is doing what in the family.
- Try to balance the amount of housework and childcare each partner is doing. It’s helpful to have no kids underfoot when making dinner, but it’s a drag when one person always gets to play with the kids, and the other one has to make a meal the kids will probably refuse to eat. Another example is bathtime versus cleaning up after dinner. One task allows for meaningful time with the kids, and the other is time alone angrily scrapping barbecue sauce off the underside of the table. Be thoughtful about trading off on these tasks.
- Examine daily routes (if you still have them outside the home). What businesses do you both pass on the way to work? If one of you passes a supermarket that also happens to be ten minutes from home, can that person do the grocery shopping? Does the other person drive by a gas station? Perhaps they can make sure everyone has gas (that is if you can handle switching cars for one day a week, or however often you need gas). Where are the kids’ schools/daycares, Target or Walmart, dry cleaners? You see the point. Be efficient. Why have someone make a special trip when you’re already passing it twice a day?
- Let them take the credit. Research shows that some men will more readily perform domestic tasks if the tasks are public in nature. They may balk at doing dishes, but they will drop kids off/pick kids up from school or weekend activities. Some men will even willingly take on birthday party duty! It’s not great that society gives men a gold star for being active parents, but we may as well use all of the tools in our toolbox, right?
- Challenge gender stereotypes in your home. Watching the bumbling dad on the Disney Channel isn’t just annoying — it’s perpetuating the helpless dad/maternal gatekeeping binary that ends with mom doing everything and dad doing nothing. Gender roles are deeply entrenched, so if you want to have an equal partnership, you’ve got to work at it and model it for your kids. A great resource for splitting tasks more equitably is Eve Rodsky’s excellent book, Fair Play.
- Enlist the whole family. You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again — Family Meeting. Get everyone together with a list of tasks. Assign or negotiate each task and then check in regularly to see how everyone is doing. This includes kids. If you want men who know how to clean a toilet, you will have to raise them. Have snacks. No booze.
- Express your personal preference. Not enough is said about sitting down and deciding who likes to do what. One person might have a secret love of vacuuming while another loves to weed flowerbeds. Conversely, someone might loath folding and putting away laundry. Keep the communication going by checking in regularly. Switch things up every once in a while and trade a dreaded task for something you haven’t done in a bit.
- Ask for what you need. In the Bringing Baby Home Training Course at the Gottman Institute, Julie Gottman says, “Describe what you do need, as opposed to what you don’t need.” This seems simple, but it’s an art. Some women will say, “I don’t need another kid to raise!” or “I need help!” The first statement is stating what you don’t need, and the second statement is too vague. What DO you need from the other person? All trash is regularly removed from the home without step-by-step instruction. All clothing removed from the physical body put into the hamper provided. This tactic might seem ridiculously specific, but for some couples, specificity is necessary and helpful. Be specific, not sarcastic.
- Drop the ball. Last-ditch effort: stop doing the chore you know they will do if it doesn’t get done. You might not like how it gets done, but it will get done. Slowly add chores until it seems equal, or they finally speak up and agree to negotiate. Tiffany Dufu writes about her experience with this technique in her book, Drop the Ball.