I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook Mommy groups. On one hand, they’ve been a wealth of information and support for me as a first time mom, and a safe space to ask questions. But on the other hand, man are they a cesspool of dysfunction! But what actually bothers me the most is the posts I see almost every day, from different moms but with the same refrain - some version of “how do I get my husband/boyfriend/partner to do more to help me?”
We Have A Problem In Our Homes
Emotional labor, equity in child rearing and household management, career progression for working moms - all topics that have been discussed ad nauseam. I grew up being told that feminism would one day lead to equity between the sexes, that we’d be able to work like men and have our families at home and everything would work out just fine. Instead we now have to work ourselves to the bone at soul-sucking jobs, and then go home and do all the work to maintain our households and tend to our children. We’re damned if we sacrifice our careers to stay at home with our kids, and we’re damned if we put our kids in daycare so we can work.
Meanwhile, what are the men doing? Apparently they just getting on our damn nerves and being lazy.
Each time I read a post from a burned out mom on Facebook, or scroll through a never-ending list of depressing comments on an article, I’m filled with an emotion that can best summed up a combination of rage and pity. I’m filled with anger for all the women who are stuck with aint shit partners who do nothing to help maintain the households or parent the children they helped create. But I also feel some pity for this women too, because the answer (to me at least) is so simple and yet to eludes so many of them.
So What’s The Answer?
We see it all the time, the tired tropes of the bumbling dads who can’t figure out how to dress their kids without calling their wife. We overhear stories from men who brag about purposely putting on diapers wrong, or bringing back the wrong groceries, so they won’t be saddled with the chore again. We also the moms who are never without their children because they fear their partners can’t handle the children alone.
The answer is not to beg or nag or threaten your partner for help with the kids and around the house. We - as partners, as mothers, as members of our society - must demand that men act like adults and then hold them to it. But that means that we also must allow the men in our lives to parent in their own way, without our micromanagement or supervision.
The vast majority of men are more than capable of acting like adults, and taking care of themselves and others, both most of them find it easier to pretend to be clueless so they can be lazy. Instead of challenging them to be and do better, most women find it easier to just do what needs to be done themselves, but all that does is reinforce the idea that most men in heterosexual relationships don’t have to do anything, and doing slightly more than the bare minimum wins them the title of SuperDad.
We - the collective we - need to demand and expect the men in our lives to do more and be active participants in our homes.
Holding our partners accountable means that we learn the value of letting go of how things are done, and detach ourselves from doing some things entirely. It’s not responsibility to remember that your husband needs to buy his mother a birthday present. Leave that work up to him! If it doesn’t get done, his mom can take that up with him. Your kid might go to school in pajama pants, a tutu and rainboots - if they are clean and (relatively) dressed for the elements, don’t stress it. Yes, some things absolutely must get done, like feeding the kids and making sure the bills are paid, but I’d wager there’s a lot of things that we as women do because we feel like we’re supposed to do them, not because we actually care. And in that regard, we should be more like the men in our lives, and ditch those activities that aren’t serving us in the long run.
What This Looks Like In Practice
I’ve written before about my hesitancy to become a mother, and my greatest fear was that I’d end up a “married single mother”, doing all the work while my husband lounged on the couch with a beer. But before we even got married, my husband showed me that he truly believed in the equitable arrangement I envisioned. Will doesn’t believe in “emotional labor” as a thing, because it’s something he’s never asked of me. We both manage our own relationships with our families, and thus he’s responsible for remembering his mom’s birthday, or booking our trips to see his family. He manages his own appointments, pays his individual bills on his own, and communicates with me about our household needs. We use tools like a joint Gmail account and calendar to make sure we’re both in the know on things happening, and we have regular check-in meetings to align on our family and individual priorities.
Along with owning his own shit, I always expected him to do as much of the stuff he was able to do, but to his credit, he jumped in enthusiastically. We wound up combo feeding our daughter, so while I nursed and pumped, he was in charge of making formula bottles, and cleaning the dirty bottles. He’s a night owl, and he willingly took the middle of the night feedings so that I could sleep. He changed diapers, helped with baths, and rocked her for hours. Now that we’re in the toddler phase, we each take a weekend morning to get up early with Phi, so that the other can sleep in a bit (as much as you can with a toddler). He’s encouraged me to stay connected with my community of friends, and encouraged me to take some trips without him and the baby, including a week long girls’ trip to Greece. In the 2+ years of our daughter’s life, we’ve settled into a pretty equal division of labor in our home, both with childcare and household tasks, and I’d say we’re both pretty happy with how things have shaken out. That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect though - we’ve both had to initiate the “I need you to do more to help me” talks with each other; but thankfully, we’ve both been apologetic and receptive to the feedback to each other. We care about being good partners to each other, and a good example to our daughter, and so we do the work to make sure we both have what we need.
While my husband is pretty awesome (I mean, if he wasn’t, why did I marry him?) but he’s not some type of unicorn. He’s just like any other guy and he has the same quirks and annoyances as any other man. The difference is that I clearly communicated to him what was and wasn’t acceptable, and he gives a damn about our family so he does the work that needs to be done. I also have learned to detach from ownership and allow him to parent his own way, with his own relationship with his daughter. He truly can do everything I can do for her, including her hair (which is a thing, trust me!). He’s an adult, so I don’t need to manage how he parents our daughter and dictate every little thing - as long as she clothed and fed and happy, everybody is good.