How to share the double burden of housework more equally
The burden’s only getting heavier at home during our unique situation - but is Dad doing his fair share? Here’s how to ensure he’s pulling his weight, and contributing to an equal partnership
A mother’s work is never done. The “double burden” often falls on our shoulders; “having it all” often means doing it all as well, doing the bulk of housework after long hours at the office.
The burden has gotten even heavier due to “the new normal”’s limitations on movement: more moms are now playing the additional role of teacher or assistant teacher, guiding their kids through their classes and schoolwork.
These many obligations can be impossible to shoulder if you find yourself lacking any assistance from your hubby. The tasks you need to accomplish may suddenly multiply greatly and become overwhelming, especially if you’re the only one taking them on!
It’s something of a revolution that more dads have started stepping up and helping their partners out. But for many more women, getting men to do their fair share has been an exercise in frustration.
Inequality impedes happiness
This comic has made its rounds on social media, highlighting how this aspect of being a mom often works. It underscores how society’s expectations have lightened the load for men, while almost doubling the load for women.
It goes to show the gender gap in doing household chores has never really gone away. That goes for millennial-aged couples2 too: "Women in marriages or cohabiting relationships are still more likely to clean the house, wash the dishes, do laundry, grocery shop, cook and make decisions about furniture and decorations ― even among younger generations who are otherwise more egalitarian in their views."
Millennial or not, inequality in one’s relationship3 can become a hindrance to your happiness, at worst a systemic failure that will doom your marriage.
So, what does it take to shift that perspective? How can you both rediscover the fact that marriage is a partnership, one that extends to all aspects of family life from household management to parenthood?
Overcoming a cultural blind spot
If household management is starting to take its toll on you, remind yourself that your husband is your partner, not your child. “If you need my help, just ask” is not going to cut it, especially not now. Doing the housework is not optional and not everyone can pay for an extra pair of hands to take care of them.
To start with, get into a serious talk with dad. Drive home the fact that you need help—his help.
To be fair, he may be laboring under a massive cultural blind spot; men are just not raised to feel as responsible for inside messes as women are. "Keeping house is as much about gendered expectations as it is about actual dirt," explain University of Melbourne researchers Leah Ruppanner and Brendan Churchill. "Men do see dirt, but they aren’t told from a young age that leaving a mess makes them bad men."
Secondly, he may not be aware that his help at home isn’t scratching the surface. This can be particularly true for those who are new to working from home. Adding a new routine to your work schedule, after all, can be challenging, representing a steep learning curve all its own.
Expanding responsibilities at home
If helping around the house is not yet part of his routine, lay out his responsibilities explicitly.
You can start with the chores that he may think he’s already been helping with. If he clears and sets the table before meals, remind him to make sure that the things removed from the table are put away properly and not just moved somewhere they don’t belong.
Does he clear the table after meals? Tell him that wiping and putting away the placemats is part of it, as is storing food in containers and putting them in the refrigerator.
By pointing out the little things that come with doing a specific task, you can help dad realize how one chore will often tie into another and that “helping” means completing each task in its entirety, not just accomplishing a portion of it.
Dad may assume that, because you are able to get things done efficiently, the tasks are “easy”. This is your chance to show what the physical load actually is like and why the mental load on mom can be quite significant.
No bosses, only equals
The goal here is to create a better partnership between you and your husband. This means being able to seamlessly work together to get the household running smoothly, without wearing mom out.
Your home should not be a place where one partner (you) assumes the managerial role while the other (him) takes on the role of what would, in the corporate world, be an employee. After all, you are called “partners” for a reason: you are meant to share the burden.
Discuss how you can balance the things that need to be accomplished at home and at work. List down all the things you do in a day, each day of the week. This will help you get a clearer picture of what it takes to run your household, and how dad can take over some of the load.
If mom cooks, then maybe dad can wash the dishes. If dad is great at cooking, maybe dad can take over kitchen duties so mom is free to take care of other things like helping the kids with school. Is schoolwork something dad is more comfortable with? Then he can manage the kids’ schooling while mom takes care of something else.
Striking a balance is not necessarily going to create an even, fifty-fifty split. However you work it out, though, the burden will become much more manageable. Because this time, mom isn’t the sole bearer of responsibility—dad’s sharing in it, too.
It can be frustrating to do a roles reset, particularly when you’re swimming against the cultural current. Once you get started, however, you’ll realize that the benefits of sharing a truly equal role in the household far outweigh the stress of talking the problem through with your partner. Team work really makes the dream work.
● Emma (comic). "You should’ve asked." May 20, 2017.
● Huffington Post. "Millennial Men Are All For Gender Equality, But Don't Ask About Housework." February 21, 2020.
● Greater Good Magazine. "How an Unfair Division of Labor Hurts Your Relationship." November 5, 2019.
● The Conversation. "Sorry, men, there’s no such thing as ‘dirt blindness’ – you just need to do more housework." August 6, 2018.
About The Writer
Rosabelle Fontelera-Yong is married with two kids ages 8 and 5, and also calls herself a mom to two dogs and six cats. She is a Creative Writing graduate from UP Diliman and has been a freelance writer since 2009, with a wide range of uncredited and credited work under her belt.
Some of her work can be found in print via Animal Scene and Wedding Essentials, and online via Mantle and edamama.
When she is not writing, she spends her time crafting, painting, and baking, occasionally with help from her kids. Rosa enjoys encouraging creativity in her children which is evident in the number of drawings and diagrams they have plastered on various walls around the house.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and do not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.