Sharing Child-Care Responsibilities

shutterstock_131099513.jpgToday, fathers are more involved in their children's day-to-day lives than ever before. But it's also true that women still take the lead when it comes to child-care responsibilities, even when both parents work full-time. Because of this, women are more drained and more frustrated than their male counterparts. For the sake of women and marriages everywhere, there are ways to establish and maintain a better balance of responsibilities.

  • Discuss what is fair when it comes to child-rearing responsibilities.

You may not agree on what is fair, but it helps to understand one another. A good rule of thumb—especially for dual-income parents—is "Once we are home together, we are each 50 percent responsible for child care." Obviously, flexibility on a day-to-day basis is always in order. If one parent had a particularly strenuous day and really needs a break, he might ask for a night off ... but it should be mutually understood that "breaks" aren't always possible, and that in the long run the 50/50 balance needs to be maintained. And it can't always be "talked out." Sometimes, if one parent is very exhausted and the other is very, very exhausted, it isn't worth debating who deserves a break. Flip a coin if you can't agree.

  • shutterstock_135460664.jpgEncourage and be non-critical of the less-involved "other parent”

 The less-involved parent is not likely to do things as efficiently or expertly as the more involved parent would. A mother who asks her husband to "watch the kids" may expect him to interact with the kids in a constructive and creative way, only to find out he is sitting in a central place and simply observing them. (Men tend to follow directions literally.) Be specific about what you want and be willing to express appreciation. (Yes, he probably doesn't express enough appreciation for all you do, but show him appreciation anyway. He'll feel good about it and maybe he'll take the hint that you could use some pats on the back, too.)

  • Avoid negative labels

As strongly as you may feel it, claiming that the less-involved parent "just doesn't care about the kids" will only invite a debate, not create a real solution. It's true, the husband may temporarily comply with your wishes under that kind of pressure, but he'll resent it, and you'll both lose ground in the long run.

  • The less-involved partner who agrees to more involvement should be open to your ideas, and the more-involved parent needs to meet her halfway.

Imagine an example where your less-involved partner gets more involved but is gruff with kids (or acts too much like a kid herself that no one seems to be taking charge). You complain, then she gets annoyed at your complaint and says, "I'll do things my way, you do things your way." Now what? The best approach is to find common ground rather than insist your way is best. But each parent must be willing to accept some of what the other suggests.

  • Motivate the less-involved parent. Remind him of the payoffs to being more actively involved.

If the husband is more involved with the kids then the wife is freer to do  other things. She will feel less irritable when treated more fairly

  • "Shared responsibility" as a process that needs regular adjustment and alignment, rather than a problem that can be solved.

Whatever agreements you reach, there will always be exceptions to the rules. Illness, extra work hours or increased demands from children can tip the delicate balance you and your spouse have agreed to. So view this issue as ongoing, one that requires periodic discussion and realignment. Having to talk about "who does what" again isn't a sign of weakness, it's just part of the parenting process.

  • Equal Sharing of Housework:

Tips and Tricks

Countless tasks go into running a household, day in and day out.  If ever there were an apt example of ‘the devil is in the details,’ equally dividing all of these tasks to the satisfaction of two people would be it.  So, don’t aim for absolute perfection!

  • Division of Essential tasks

shutterstock_125118692.jpgIt’s easy to assign the tasks that must be done that day to the person who is available to do them.  For example, the at-home parent could do the basic grocery shopping, run the dishwasher, and cook or otherwise procures dinner.  On days when both parents are available to take on these absolutely required tasks, the couple must communicate and make decisions about who will do what.  A general rule might be that if one parent is making dinner, the other is ‘on’ for parenting. 

  • Non-Critical tasks

Assigning responsibilities for all the Non-Critical tasks is more difficult. 

Here are some common pitfalls:

Automatically assigning tasks along classic gender lines.

Loading up Mom with far more tasks than Dad.

Loading up the parent who has higher housework standards.

The goal of equality must be foremost, which is not a natural practice for most couples.  This equality is not in the number of tasks assigned to each parent, but in the time required to do the tasks.  Furthermore, we do not believe in equally dividing every chore, although there are some tasks that work well when each parent does them 50% of the time.  There are many ways to divide tasks; for example, divide them down the middle (e.g., you each do half the laundry), 2) divide them by owner (e.g., each spouse does his/her own ironing), and 3) divide them by task (e.g., one spouse does the laundry, the other does the ironing).  The best way to divide a specific task is usually the most efficient way, as long as overall equality is reached.

Assign the obvious to the parent who cares the most

Some jobs may be deeply important to one parent but totally unnecessary to the other.  In these cases, as long as there aren’t a huge number of them, the parent who cares should be the parent who does the task almost all the time.  Even in this scenario, the parent who is opting out of the task should know it is being done, appreciate the time and effort the task takes, and be able to do the task in a pinch.

  • Divide and conquer

Still other jobs are not necessarily fun for either parent, but one parent is more critical of how well or often they are done than is the other parent.  This gets tricky!  Equal sharing of the housework begins with consensus on three fronts: 1) what needs to be done, 2) when it needs to be done, and 3) how thoroughly it needs to be done.   Once these difficult negotiations are complete the assignment of tasks becomes a bit easier.  The ‘perfectionist’ parent should be especially careful to avoid controlling the decisions, and should be prepared to ‘let go’ to some degree.  Good enough is good enough.  The achievement of equality is the real victory.  In any case, the parent who wants the task done to higher standards should NOT automatically be the one given this task now and forevermore! 

Tips and tricks

Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • shutterstock_58077349.jpgLaundry

One parent does ‘whites’ and the other does ‘darks’. 

Groceries:  Keep a list of what is needed on the refrigerator so that the parent who goes to buy it can get everything at once. 

  • Share the grocery shopping 50:50 

shutterstock_90095377.jpgCooking:  Assign meal preparation to the parent who is home with the kids, and trade off preparation of the meals when both of you are around.  As long as the food is reasonably nutritious, do not criticize each other’s cooking.

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