How are parenting responsibilities divided in your home?
Who makes sure the children get up in the morning and are dressed for school? Which parent does the cooking? The cleaning? The lawn mowing? Vacation planning? Who helps with homework and school applications?
Is there equality in your home? Or is there still an unequal division of labor?
In “What ‘Good’ Dads Get Away With,” Darcy Lockman writes:
When my husband and I became parents a decade ago, we were not prepared for the ways in which sexism was about to express itself in our relationship. Like me, he was enthralled by our daughters. Like him, I worked outside the home. And yet I was the one who found myself in charge of managing the details of our children’s lives.
Too often I’d spend frantic days looking for spring break child care only to hear him ask, “Oh, there’s no school tomorrow?” Or we’d arrive home late with two tired kids, and instead of spearheading their nighttime routine he’d disappear to brush his own teeth. Unless I pointed out these lapses (which he’ll tell you I often did, and I’ll tell you I often did not), he was unaware.
We’ve all heard this story before. Thinking about my own relationship, and watching the other couples I knew, I kept wondering: Why is this still happening?
The optimistic tale of the modern, involved dad has been greatly exaggerated. The amount of child care men performed rose throughout the 1980s and ’90s, but then began to level off without ever reaching parity. Mothers still shoulder 65 percent of child-care work. In academic journals, family researchers caution that the “culture of fatherhood” has changed more than fathers’ actual behavior.
Sociologists attribute the discrepancy between mothers’ expectations and reality to “a largely successful male resistance.” This resistance is not being led by socially conservative men, whose like-minded wives often explicitly agree to take the lead in the home. It is happening, instead, with relatively progressive couples, and it takes many women — who thought their partners had made a prenatal commitment to equal parenting — by surprise. Why are their partners failing to pitch in more?
The Opinion essay continues:
While interviewing working parents for a book on parenthood, I spoke with one dad in Vermont who said: “The expectation among my male friends is still that they will have the life they had before having kids. My dad has never cooked a meal. I’ve strayed from that. But subconsciously, the thing that makes you motivationally step up and do something when you’re not being asked …” he trailed off, and then said: “I have justifications. It’s a cop-out.”
Take love out of the equation and focus on the workplace, and it’s clear how this plays out. Studies show that male employees sit back while their female co-workers perform the tasks that don’t lead to promotion. In a series of lab studies, the economists Lise Vesterlund, Linda Babcock and Maria Recalde and the organizational behaviorist Laurie Weingart found that in coed groups, women are 50 percent more likely than men to volunteer to take on work that no one else wants to do. But in all-male groups, the men volunteer just as readily.
The essay concludes:
All this comes at a cost to women’s well-being, as mothers forgo leisure time, professional ambitions and sleep. Wives who view their household responsibilities “as unjust are more likely to suffer from depression than those who do not,” one study says. When their children are young, employed women (but not men) take a hit to their health as well as to their earnings — and the latter never recovers. Child-care imbalances also tank relationship happiness, especially in the early years of parenthood.
Division of labor in the home is one of the most important gender-equity issues of our time. Yet at the current rate of change, MenCare, a group that promotes equal involvement in caregiving, estimates that it will be about 75 more years before men worldwide assume half of the unpaid work that domesticity requires.
If anything is going to change, men have to stop resisting. Gendered parenting is kept alive by the unacknowledged power bestowed upon men in a world that values their needs, comforts and desires more than women’s. It’s up to fathers to cop to this, rather than to cop out.
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
— How do your parents share the responsibilities of parenting? How equal is the division of labor?
— Are you happy with the present arrangement? Or would you want your parents to shift certain responsibilities? Which ones and why?
— The author provides many examples of an unequal division of labor in her home, such as planning vacations, helping with homework and maintaining bedtime routines. Which examples most relate to your experiences?
— Ms. Lockman says that “division of labor in the home is one of the most important equity issues of our time.” Do you agree? How important is this issue to you?
— In a related article, “How Same-Sex Couples Divide Chores, and What It Reveals About Modern Parenting,” Claire Cain Miller writes:
Same-sex couples, research has consistently found, divide up chores more equally.
But recent research has uncovered a twist. When gay and lesbian couples have children, they often begin to divide things as heterosexual couples do, according to new data for larger, more representative samples of the gay population. Though the couples are still more equitable, one partner often has higher earnings, and one a greater share of household chores and child care. It shows these roles are not just about gender: Work and much of society are still built for single-earner families.
“Once you have children, it starts to almost pressure the couple into this kind of division of labor, and we’re seeing this now even in same-sex couples,” said Robert-Jay Green, professor emeritus at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Francisco. “Circumstances conspire on every level to get you to fall back in this traditional role.”
What does this article add to your perspective on imbalances in parenting? Do you agree that our society reinforces inequalities in the home? If yes, what do you think could be done on a societal level to promote greater equality?
— The author laments that it may be “75 more years before men worldwide assume half of the unpaid work that domesticity requires.” Do you agree? Disagree? Do you think things will eventually change? If so, when?
— How do you see yourself sharing the responsibilities of parenting if you have a family?
Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.