Last night, I came home from the gym on a bit of an exercise high.
In a random turn of events, my husband had left work early and I took advantage by running to the gym while he went home to relieve the babysitter.
It was about 6:30 by the time I got back, and I was a little euphoric knowing that I had missed out on one of the busiest parts of the day: the after-school rush of homework, unpacking backpacks, re-packing lunches, unloading the dishwasher, and trying to stave off my four children dying of hunger while preparing dinner. It’s the part of the day that firmly falls on me and it felt like a treat to know I got a free pass on the craziness. I had already gotten dinner in the crockpot before I left, so I fully expected to walk in and see that my husband would have taken care of what I always do in that time.
What I actually saw was very different. There were half-eaten lunches strewn about the counter, the kids were still in their school uniforms, the baby was emptying out the contents of the cupboard, and the house in complete disarray. I tried to not be a jerk, but later that night as I scrubbed down the kitchen, I vented my frustrations to my husband.
“I just don’t understand,” I sighed, wringing out a dishcloth. “I can never seem to fully get a break — my work just waits until I get back. It’s like I just trade time instead.”
I hurt his feelings, of course. In a moment of frustration that I’m not proud of, I strongly implied that he wasn’t picking up my slack, and it started a stupid and ugly fight that was completely pointless.
And while I, myself, am tired of the same argument we seem to have of who does more, because obviously caring for a family can’t be divided perfectly, one revealing study opened my eyes to what might just be the heart of our disconnect — the fact that fathers frequently think they are carrying an equal load at home, even when they are not.
There are many reasons for this misunderstanding, one being that women are more likely to carry the emotional burden of caring for a family, causing more of those “pressure points” of stress that make you feel like you can’t just take another second. Another is that women actually really do perform most of the household chores. Full-time working mothers are also more likely than working fathers to report feeling “always rushed.” No matter how much a working mother does in a day, it can be hard to feel like there isn’t something pressing to be done.
And there may just be an ingrained difference in the expectations we are brought up with as women — we place a lot of value on how much we are able to accomplish for our families, our jobs, ourselves, and our home. I mean think about it, when is the last time you saw a men’s magazine proclaiming “8 Easy Ways to Get Dinner on the Table,” or “10 Tips for a Flat Belly,” or “Spruce Up Your Living Room on a Budget”?
There are different internal and external ways men and women, fathers and mother, view the world. And a new Pew Research Center survey confirms this point when they asked two-parent families to assess how much of a workload they were taking on at home. Not completely unsurprisingly, 56% of fathers say they share household chores and responsibilities about equally with their partners, while 46% of mothers agree. And while half of mothers in two-parent households say they do more than their partners, only 32% of fathers would cop to it.
The fact of the matter is, we’ve advanced to the point where we know that theoretically men and women need to take on a shared workload when it comes to raising kids and taking care of a home, but there still seems to be stumbling block in how exactly both parties perceive that workload.
So here’s the question: do we just see household and child-care differently, or do moms really do more? And if they do, should they be doing so much? One thing I know is that research like this study can show us that instead of attacking our partners for what they do or don’t do, it may be more helpful to recognize that we simply see our responsibilities in different ways — and then move forward from there.
In my case, I know that I just need to chill out. Instead of focusing on making sure the lunches were packed, and the dishes were done, and the laundry was folded, like I would have been doing in the after-school rush, do you know what my husband was doing?
He was playing with our kids. He was tickling them, and reading to them, and making them laugh those delicious, deep-belly laughs that I can never get them to do.
The truth is, we do things a little differently.
But that’s not always a terrible thing, now is it?More On