A new study by Forbes Woman and the pregnancy website TheBump.com found that 92 percent of working moms and 89 percent of stay-at-home moms feel overwhelmed by trying to balance responsibilities as a worker, homemaker and parent.
Meanwhile, a survey of fathers working at Fortune 500 companies conducted by the Boston College Center for Work and Family shows that although more than half of the men would consider not working if the family could live on their wife’s salary, they did not view the daily tasks of taking care of children as a top priority.
While women routinely make compromises with their careers in order to take care of children, it seems that fathers aren’t stepping up to the plate in the same way. They reportedly want to be more involved with their kids but they rarely cut back on work hours. Although most men have good intentions regarding doing an equal share of keeping hearth and home, it rarely happens. The result? 70 percent of the working mothers reported feeling resentful toward their partner because of all they felt was left up to them.
The resentment isn’t limited to women in the workforce, either. 68 percent of stay-at-home moms also complain that their partners feel free to take a break for personal interests and relaxation but don’t support them in doing the same thing.
The Forbes study, as reported by Reuters, then puts the responsibility for the disparity in household workload on mothers. It claims that women can’t let go of tasks because it makes them feel less like a mother when they do. The suggested solution is that women swallow their pride and have a conversation about housework with their partners.
Hold on! In my experience, the situation is much more complicated. It will take far more than an honest talk with our male partners to fix.
For perhaps millions of years, men protected the family and quite literally brought home the bacon, or mastodon, or antelope while the women cared for the children, gathered what they could for food and fuel, and kept the home fires burning. More than 40 years of feminism isn’t a match for millions of years of history. Despite the fact that physical strength is no longer the determiner of someone’s ability to protect; despite the fact that women are now able to hunt up what is needed to sustain the family; despite the fact that men are able to nurture and care for children; the default in most of us is to go back to male = provider, woman = nurturer, even when the natural inclinations or talents of the real people involved argue for the opposite.
Women aren’t to blame. Neither are the men. It takes time and real, concerted effort on everyone’s part to change the settings that have been established by time.
I suggest that there is urgency to making such changes. It wouldn’t surprise me if a major cause of discord in marriages and ultimately in divorce is that very resentment the Forbes study identified. Women start to feel some version of, “If I’m doing this on my own anyway, why should I have to accommodate him?” He feels, “I’m working so hard and I come home to an irritated, resentful wife. Who needs it?” Nether wants to do housework. (Who does?) Both want the other person to do it so they can get a break. Meanwhile, the kids clamor for time and attention and everyone is stressed to the max.
Change first requires a commitment by all involved. Unless both members of the couple are willing to reevaluate roles and make substantive changes, all the honest communication in the world isn’t going to make it so. Moms who have the idea that nurturing has to be done only their way have to let go. Dads have to pick up the less than wonderful aspects of parenting (changing diapers, doing laundry, and washing the kitchen floor) as well as the tasks that are sweeter and more fun (reading bedtime stories and going to the park). Women need to refuse to be the managers and to insist on a model of co-leadership in the household. Men need to stop looking to their partners to delegate the responsibilities. Men need to be sure that their partners get the time to do their jobs well and to have a regular break. Women need to stop feeling guilty if they don’t pick up the slack when things start to unravel at home. Men need to be willing to advance at their jobs more slowly so they can be real partners in parenting. Women need to give their partners the room to learn how to do tasks of homemaking their fathers didn’t teach them to do.