I had my feet up sipping wine after dinner, chatting with my mom and dad, when my youngest toddled by. Suddenly, the entire family room smelled like an outhouse and, as we all shot accusatory glances at each other, my husband did the proverbial baby butt check.
“We’ve got a live one!” he announced loudly and threw her over his shoulder for a diaper change.
My dad looked over at my mom. “The times have certainly changed, haven’t they?”
He went on to say he had never changed a diaper in his life. He didn’t say it as if he was proud of it; simply that his generation didn’t even consider it.
There’s no doubt that modern men share and participate in parenting duties far more than their own fathers ever thought possible. Diaper changes, feedings and waking up in the middle of the night to rock and soothe are now the norm — and thank the good Lord because women have about had it!
Many families can’t afford for a mother to stay home full time, so the natural equity in household income has translated into more equity when it comes to parenting and even household chores. Even men have reportedly conceded — it’s only fair.
But let’s pump the breaks a little. While there seems to be an intellectual shift, many women found out rather quickly that while their man upped his chore game, his heart wasn’t really in it — if you know what I mean. I remember once in early motherhood, my husband loaded the dishwasher and the timing was lovely because I was in walking-dead mode. But it wasn’t until much later that I realized he had left absurd amounts of food in the bowls, turning our dishwasher into a soapy trash bin. With fluffy bags under my eyes, I started to rewash everything by hand, but thought my time might be better spent Googling divorce lawyers.
In fact, studies show the discrepancy in household work even gets a bit weird. Men who are stay-at-home fathers statistically still do 60% less housework. Some have even shown that the more income a woman makes, the less her husband contributes to household chores.
While that alone makes me want to break out in hives, that doesn’t necessarily tell the entire story. When interviewed, many men have admitted they would gladly do more, but their partner feels their efforts are inadequate, so they just take it over. It may just be that many of us women simply have higher expectations of how it should be done and if you want the job done right, do it yourself, etc.
Recently, I wanted to try mowing the lawn. It looked like good exercise and I wanted some sun. My husband shrugged and showed me how to use it before I embarked on a mowing extravaganza. I even mowed my elderly neighbor’s lawn, giving her a thumbs up as she enthusiastically waved at me through her window. Then I came inside and saw the living room had exploded with toys and nonsense as my husband was relaxing watching soccer. Covered in lawn clippings and a sweaty upper lip, I threw my hand on my hip and said, “So I have to take care of the inside and outside of the house now? I’m sorry, what exactly do you do?”
I have to admit. That was, um, a little unfair.
It may very well be that many men would gladly share more equitable responsibilities, but they’d like to do it their way and on their timetable, and their wives are very opinionated about graciously allowing that kind of agency. But at the same time, can you blame us? The kids are out of clean underwear! Spit-spot into the laundry room you go!
Studies can only reveal so much, and I believe modern family dynamics are much more complicated. There’s no doubt we’re long past the June Cleaver days, and as more women either choose or have to share in income responsibilities, men must then share in parenting and household responsibilities. How that looks depends on the nuances of very specific relationships and personality dynamics.
My suggestion? Don’t share at all. Determine who will be responsible for what and when and then just let it go. Sort it out on the first date and don’t take any chances! It sets expectations and limits resentment. I mean, I may not like how he loads the dishwasher, but I’ve never changed a diaper when he’s home, either.
Household equality is in the eye the beholder, I guess.
Anna Lind Thomas is a humor writer and mom to daughters Lucy and Poppy and English bulldog Bruno, wife to Rob Thomas and founder of HaHas for HooHas. She writes for momaha.com.