It’s a Great Time for Men to Do More Housework

Sophia Benoit

Coronavirus has scrambled our domestic arrangements. Most white-collar workers are still clocking in from the dining table, restaurants are either closed, restricted, or simply a kind-of-bad idea, and the future of school remains a messy, uncertain patchwork around the country. The heaviest burdens of the pandemic have fallen on people who have gotten seriously ill or lost loved ones, but for many lucky enough to avoid that, the defining experience of the past few months has been trying to take care of a child between Zoom meetings, or just wondering how it’s possible that you have to do dishes again. There’s more domestic work to be done than ever, and more compromises required to make sure it all happens on schedule. So for the sake of your relationship, it's worth spending some time to take a hard look at who is actually doing the work at home and making adjustments if necessary. 

Among heterosexual couples, women tend to do more housework than men, which probably comes as a shock to no one. What is surprising is how little mitigating factors affect that discrepancy at all—the imbalance still appears in progressive couples, in households without children, and in instances where the woman outearns the man. When there are kids at home, the disparity is only exacerbated—one study showed that in dual-income households, mothers did about 28 hours of housework and child care per week, compared to 16 hours for fathers.

Not every couple chooses to split domestic labor evenly, of course. But as dual-income relationships become ever more the norm, it seems like a fair starting point, and there's evidence that it ultimately leads to a happier relationship.  

Unfortunately, for many couples who say they want to split chores and child care, the lion’s share of the work still seems to fall on women. Part of the problem could be that men are overestimating their contributions. A survey by Morning Consult showed that 45% of men think they’re picking up “most” of the homeschool duties now that kids are stuck at home, while only 3% of women agree with that self-assessment.

If this is hitting close to home, at least you're not alone. For men who recognize that much of this increased labor is being done by their partners and who would like to do better at pitching in, figuring out where to even start can be daunting. So I spoke with Darcy Lockman, psychologist and author of 2019’s All the Rage, for some advice on how men in general—but especially dads—could step up and better support their households.  

It’s not (necessarily) your fault.

The household labor gap often presents as early as the teenage years, with young boys allowed more leisure time while young girls are tasked with more housework. The truth is that we’re all socialized along gendered lines, even if we have the best intentions in terms of an egalitarian household. “Cultural influences are so much more prominent in influencing our behavior than we realize,” Lockman says. It’s not your fault that things are this way, men, but it is your fault if things don’t change in your household. According to Lockman, “There are couples who have success in navigating this dilemma, but it has to be very intentional.”

Cliché as it may be, the first step is admitting there’s a problem. Acknowledging that you’re operating within a sexist system rather than suffering from inherent, immutable personality flaws can actually be really freeing, because it lets you both off the hook a little. “Having some absolution of responsibility is useful," Lockman says. "It goes a long way towards household equality being a neutral goal.”

Talk it out.

Honestly, I cannot imagine anything hotter than my partner sitting me down and saying, “Hey, I recognize that you’re picking up more of the responsibilities around the house, and that must be a huge strain. Let’s talk about what we can do to make that more fair.” As a little thought experiment, imagine if your partner expected you to do 50% more work than them. If all the household tasks always went on your plate. If you were always expected to find time to sign permission slips, pick out summer camps, and schedule the plumber. You’d probably start to resent your partner a bit, huh? Yeah. Do you know what does not foster a loving, sexy, healthy relationship? Resentment.

So sit down and talk. First, do a chore audit with your partner; there are plenty of worksheets available online if you don’t know where to start. Ask your partner detailed questions about what you both want done around the house and how to fairly split up tasks. Also—and this is crucial—you must set agreed-upon standards, what author Eve Rodsky calls a “Minimum Standard of Care” in her book Fair Play. You and your partner may not personally have the same lines regarding cleanliness. That’s okay! But you can both agree to change the sheets once a week regardless because that’s what human adults do, or you can agree to mop the kitchen twice a month even if it doesn’t seem dirty. That way, if you’re not the kind of person who notices grimy floors or remembers how long ago you laundered linens, it doesn’t matter; the schedule is set. When you have these agreed-upon standards, which might seem nitpicky at first, you eliminate disagreements and resentments. You take out the trash bins because it’s trash day; you vacuum the rug because it’s vacuum-the-rug day.

Take full responsibility for your chores.

Rodsky insists that C.P.E.—conception, planning, and execution—of a task should belong to one person. If you’re in charge of lawn care, for example, you shouldn’t be relying on your partner to pick up yard-waste bags; you’re just asking for them to buy the wrong kind, thereby creating even more work. Same goes for your partner. Once you divvy up tasks, you have to be fully responsible for every facet of all your chores.

Spend more time alone with your kids.

Lockman says that one of the best ways to equalize the household workload is to be alone with your children more, starting from a very early age. As she puts it, “Human beings learn by doing. None of this is instinct. So fathers who are alone with their babies have the opportunity to become confident that they are as much a primary parent as their wives.” Neither parent should feel more competent or responsible than the other.

If it’s available to you, take paternity leave. The benefits—including lower divorce rates, closer ties with children, and more equitable divisions of housework—last for years. Not only does this bond you better with your children, it also helps alleviate stress for your partner, gives them more time to build their life outside of children, and fights the commonly if subconsciously held assumption that children are inherently the responsibility of mothers. Yes, it’s tempting to spend any free time with the whole family, but bonding with your kids when you are the only adult around is vital.

Show off.

According to legend, even Bill and Melinda Gates have struggled with equitable divisions of labor around the home. Apparently, when one of their daughters started going to a school farther away from their home—a school that Bill was really pushing for—Bill offered to do the school drop-off. After he did, more and more dads in the community started dropping their kids off at school as well. As one parent put it, “If Bill Gates...can drive his kid to school, so can you!”

Lockman freely admits that this story is an outsize example. “But,” she says, “the fact is that we're influenced by what we see around us. So the more men step up and are publicly doing these things, the more other men will step up and publicly be doing these things.” Being very public about your fatherly duties might inspire the men around you to do more too.

Remember that initiative is hot.

If you came into your job every morning and asked your boss, “Hey, what am I supposed to do today?” you probably wouldn’t have a job for very long. Housework is work; no one wants to be doing it. Think about the two of you as coworkers—if you’re slacking off and waiting to be told what to do all the time, that ultimately creates more work for your partner. Find out what tasks need to be done with your partner, agree on them, divvy them up, and then execute them without prompting. That last part is key—“I want you to want to do the dishes” became a cliché for a reason.

Household work is one of the parts of being an adult that kind of blows, much like bad knees, worsening hangovers, and colonoscopies. You are going to have to do some tasks that you don’t like, and maybe even some things you think are pointless. You don’t have to like the work, but you do need to do it.

Besides, there’s evidence that men who do more work around the house get laid more.

Eve Rodsky's Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live)
Eve Rodsky's Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live)

Relationships

Author Eve Rodsky created a game, Fair Play, to help keep the peace.

Originally Appeared on GQ

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