How equal is your relationship? According to a recent survey, in the average American household where both parents work full-time outside the home, the wife does 28 hours of housework and the husband does 16. These numbers hold true across every income demographic. Not surprisingly, there's a quietly growing movement afoot to even the score.
Writer Lisa Belkin interviews a handful of couples who have made a conscious choice to share housekeeping and childrearing chores 50/50, straight down the middle.
[The Vachons] would not be the kind of parents their parents had been — the mother-knows-best mold. Nor the kind their friends were — the "involved" dad married to the stressed-out working mom. Nor even, as Marc put it, "the stay-at-home dad, who is cooed at for his sensitivity but who is as isolated and financially vulnerable as the stay-at-home-mom."
Instead, they would create their own model, one in which they were parenting partners. Equals and peers. They would work equal hours, spend equal time with their children, take equal responsibility for their home. Neither would be the keeper of the mental to-do lists; neither of their careers would take precedence. Both would be equally likely to plan a birthday party or know that the car needs oil or miss work for a sick child or remember (without prompting) to stop at the store for diapers and milk. They understood that this would mean recalibrating their career ambitions, and probably their income, but what they gained, they believed, would be more valuable than what they lost.
According to the article, the path to nigh-perfect equality isn't smooth. It's paved with lists, spreadsheets, painful emotional honesty, and the realization that you may have to make some career sacrifices. (Interestingly, the article suggests that one of the reasons why women's careers often play second banana to their husbands' after children enter the equation is because employers are willing to be more flexible in terms of letting women work 9-to-5 hours and take leave days when children are sick; men, on the other hand, are judged if they act as anything other than ambitious "company men".)
The issue of relationship inequity is a touchy subject. Complicating factors include your own parents and upbringing, societal expectations and norms, and of course, unavoidably, money.
But while these are major obstacles, they're not insurmountable. Interestingly, the article discusses the fact that, while many same-sex couples struggle with the division of household and parenting chores immediately after becoming parents, most eventually arrive at a working equilibrium. Belkin speculates that this is because the partners can't hide behind gender-based assumptions about who does what.
"Heterosexual couples can learn from gay couples about sharing housework and child care," says one academic. "They are good role models."
If you were to suggest to most of us that we were in an unequal relationship with our spouse or partner, we'd probably bristle. But how many of us have sat down and tabulated our household and parenting responsibilities, and the time it takes to fulfill them, in order to measure how much weight each person in the relationship is pulling? Does this seem daunting to you? And if so, is it because you fear what the results will reveal?
Read the full article here.
Image: Achim Lippoth for The New York Times