<![CDATA[A good friend called one day to express disappointment about how little her husband participated in child care. When they got married, they were both committed to creating an equal partnership in every way. They both have careers, and now they have a small child. But while tracking all the child-care details takes up a lot of space in her brain, he doesn’t seem to notice the number of arrangements, doctor appointments, play dates, and school dates and the amount of paperwork required to manage their child’s care. He still says all the right words about having an equal partnership, but much of what that means seems invisible to him. She wonders:
- Is he lazy, or not really committed to equality?
- Is she doing it all so well that he doesn’t feel a need to do more?
- Are her standards so high that she doesn’t trust him to “do it right” regarding child care?
- Is she really unwilling to let go of control?
What is clear to her is that she is becoming resentful and exhausted. Why is this important? There is the obvious potential damage to her relationship if her resentment continues to grow. There is also a potentially negative impact on her career.
In an article in the New York Times
, Judith Shulevitz noted that it takes “large reserves of emotional energy to stay on top of” all the details in the management of family life. Shulevitz cited research on heterosexual couples (she noted gay couples as being more egalitarian) from all strata of society that confirms that my friend’s experience is not unusual—women do the larger share of “worry work” about the details of family management. Tracking all these details can actually be a significant distraction for women at work and can scatter our focus, potentially disrupting our careers. Shulevitz speculated that these distractions “may be one of the least movable obstacles to women’s equality in the workplace.” Wow! Think about the possible significance of this statement.
What, then, could be our part in keeping this inequality in place? Shulevitz related a story about young women in a recent undergraduate course on women and work who were making presentations at the end of the course. Many of them slipped in their language and talked about the importance of men “helping out” with household tasks and “babysitting” the children. Helping out and babysitting are not the same as sharing responsibility. These slips in language probably reflect traditional societal stereotypes that create pressure for women to be the right kind of mother. These pressures seem to be alive and well in our society, and even young women seem, to some extent, to be internalizing them.
I think my friend may be asking the right questions. As women, have we internalized the traditional role expectations for us as women and mothers? If so, are we acting out these expectations by
- Sending a mixed message to the men in our lives about whether we really want them to do an equal share?
- Feeling we “should” do more of the household/child-care tasks to be the right kind of mother?
- Keeping control of the lists because we really like being in control?
- Being inflexible about our standards for doing family management?
What is the truth of the matter for you on the questions above? What can you let go of? What has worked for you to equalize the load with your partner?]]>