Updated: Mar 26
Whether you’re a mom or a dad, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you need to manage everything in the household from the cooking and cleaning to maintenance and carpool duties while also juggling a career. Add parenting to the mix and it gets even more complicated. Continued responsibility for everything in the household can lead to anger and resentment that can spill over into other areas of your life, negatively impact your self-care, strain relationships, and stall personal and career growth.
This thought crossed my mind this rainy weekend as I heaved my third load of laundry into the washing machine. Even while inundated with a mountain of clothes (who wears all this stuff anyway!?), I wasn’t overwhelmed because my husband was upstairs vacuuming and dealing with the dog. I was grateful for the help and knew that I wasn’t in it alone, but it wasn’t always that way.
Admittedly, being a bit of a control freak was one of my biggest issues. It wasn’t done right unless I had done it. If I let someone else take care of something, I would circle back to conduct a quality control check and make small tweaks if my standards had not been met or the task had not been executed my way. When it came to parenting, I felt a need to solve all those problems too. Bad behavior, low grades, poor sports performance, there had to be a way to solves those too. As a mom, I felt it was my role to make a happy home. All the while, I was bitter, irritated, and tired of doing it all. Why couldn’t everyone just jump in and do what needed to be done and do it the way I wanted? Not a good space to be in.
One day during one of my huffing and puffing, woe is me cleaning sessions, my son asked me to do something for him. I don’t even remember what it was, but my immediate response was no because I had too much to do. My son’s response was, “Why do you have to do everything? Dad doesn’t do anything!” This concerned me and made me sad at the same time. First, because of my son’s perception of me. Second, because of his perception of his dad. Third, because I was to blame. I had perpetuated the imbalance in my home, and it needed to be corrected. Not to mention how it had already been affecting me physically, sabotaging my productivity and wreaking havoc on my overall mood.
My husband pretty much managed the outside of the home, and I managed the inside. I also attempted to manage all the parenting as well. The reality is the division of power was never equitable to either of us, nor did those parameters need to exist. We should have been supporting each other all along. He also wanted a larger say in how we managed parenting decisions and I had been shutting him out.
My husband is not a mind reader and my expectation that he would just jump in and know what I wanted him to do was unreasonable. It took me some time to feel okay with that but it’s true. If you don’t vocalize what you need, you’re not likely to get it. Once I communicated that I needed help with managing everything, he was more than happy to help. He also questioned why I felt I needed to do it all anyway and shared that an extra pair of hands in the yard would benefit him as well. He had a job and other responsibilities too. He was not the only one feeling the imbalance.
Hearing my son’s comment made it clear to me that it was important he see me as more than the keeper of the house, my husband as part of the process of what helped keep everything moving, and that we are a united front, a partnership. What did the way we were currently functioning say about gender roles? Only women can manage the house? Only men can mow the lawn? We were both perpetuating this and doing ourselves and our son a disservice in the process. He needed to see that men do the laundry, put away the dishes, make the beds and that women can trim bushes, rake leaves and wash cars. When everyone does their part, man, woman, they, or them, it all benefits the greater good of the home.
I was very lucky to grow up with a grandfather that was fully involved in my life. Because of him, I learned to cook, repair things, how to study, and manage finances. He didn’t play the traditional role and didn’t expect me to fulfill a traditional role either. I had forgotten that valuable lesson as I strived to satisfy some internal need to live up to an outdated standard.
In a time where women are resigning from positions or stretching themselves thin in a bid to “have it all” or "do it all," and men are feeling more pressure to play the role of provider, equity in gender roles in the home is more important than ever.
Here are a few ways to foster gender equity in your home:
Be an Example – Let your kids see parents doing chores and helping each other out. The first rule is collaboration regardless of the tasks!
Chores – Write a list of chores that need to be done and make it clear that everyone will help, kids included. There’s no such thing as a “boy” chore or a “girl” chore. Avoiding this mindset from the start is key. Let them choose what they want to do and assign out the rest.
Provide Opportunities – If there’s something your child is interested in, let them give it a try (always keep safety in mind). My grandfather taught me how to do electrical and plumbing tasks, so I put up all the fans and light fixtures, as well as dealing with the clogs and leaks. It doesn’t matter who’s doing it, the point is that it gets done. My husband is happy to manage the finances and do the grocery shopping.
Parent Equitably – Both parents should stay involved or abreast of all things related to school, sports, social considerations, and disciplinary matters. When there is clarity and a united approach to these areas, there is consistent support and messaging to children. Dad’s a "softie" and mom’s a "head cracker" creates confusion for kids. Be and stay on the same page. Communicate with each other. If opinions differ, find the middle ground, and present it as a united front.
Maybe in your home, dad watches the kids while mom goes to a hockey game. If everyone feels supported, accepted, and balanced, it’s all good.
Don’t be a martyr, share the load with your spouse or partner and guard your self-care fiercely. You will appreciate each other more; your kids will see that both men and women should manage the home, and everyone will feel the balance that shared responsibility and gender equity provides. Have a spouse that won’t take on more? If you can afford it, sub it out. It took years for me to realize I just needed to pay someone to come in once a month and give this place a good cleaning. I don’t feel one bit guilty about it anymore. Housekeeping, lawn care, whatever it is that will lighten your load and give you back more time and calm, do it.
Are you doing too much in the home out of a need to control or doing more than your fair share based on someone else’s expectations? It’s time to advocate for yourself, reclaim your balance, and set an example for the next generation. As the old saying goes, many hands make light work!
Leave a comment below and share your experiences, struggles and wins in this area to help others!
Take care and be well,