For three years, I’ve promised to lớn make a chore schedule và take over weekly meal planning. I"ve yet to do either of these things. So what"s my excuse? Well, it"s complicated.

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Illustration: Stephanie Hofmann

When my wife & I had only been dating a few months, I crashed with her for two weeks between apartments. The first day I returned from work, I found my clothes folded—lovingly, I felt—and stacked on her bed. When we later moved in together & then tied the knot, the fact that the detritus from my pockets never made it to lớn the trash and that I rarely operated a broom caused minor skirmishes. This is my second marriage, so these disputes weren’t exactly surprising, but this time I was trying to vị better: cooking the odd dinner, making sure the sink was empty before watching TV và regularly shoving all my dirty clothes into my corner of the closet. Back then, my wife, who relies on tidiness for her peace of mind, mostly put up with me—a semi-hoarding slob with good personal hygiene.

But a few years later, when our baby arrived, the housework quad-rupled while the amount of time in which we had to bởi vì it was shaved to a sliver. When we filled our first four-foot-long diaper pail bag, I proudly held it up like a trophy marlin—but that was definitely the last moment of triumph when it came khổng lồ post-baby drudgery. While trying khổng lồ keep up with the incessant, daily laundering of onesies và change pad covers, I once wore the same pair of socks for an entire week. & although we were so exhausted at the over of the day that the last thing we wanted to vị was sweep dust from the corner of every room, our newly crawling son, who used to cry at the sound of the vacuum, left no floor untouched. Our responses khổng lồ this new normal diverged: My wife’s orderliness moved toward OCD, while I began to wonder if it was worth doing anything when there was so much I could never do. In short, our child, who is now three years old, has provided a continuous stream of gasoline for the fire storm of our household’s gender inequity.

Sharing the project of raising our newborn did renew our bond as a couple, which is a good thing, because the daily grind of parenting—feed, crap, wash, repeat—many times threatened to lớn tear us apart. During my wife’s mat leave, I spent most of the week at my job while she had lớn face the housework constantly, và it was always on her mind. In retrospect, her resulting anger and resentment shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Those emotions are not new—articles by mothers commenting on inequality when it comes to lớn division of domestic labour are as steady as the seasons. While times have changed and men are more involved in the home—with both the housework & taking care of the kids—women are still doing more, even if their careers are just as demanding. That’s no doubt incredibly frustrating, but what makes it even worse is that in your average heterosexual relationship, women are still the ones doing all the organizing và “project managing.” They’re the ones who, on their lunch hours, are reading reviews of tear-free shampoo. They’re the ones who are thinking ahead lớn swimming lessons và booking milestone appointments with the doctor. Having a kid produces a never-ending to-do list, & for the most part, mothers are the ones taking sole charge of it.

Although the balance between my wife and I did improve after that first year, & I now vì chưng more cleaning & picking up around the house than I ever have in my life, my wife’s primary planner-researcher role has definitely stuck. & while our arguments happen less often, they are still among the most horrendous fights we have. Nothing in particular seems to lớn spark them, but it’s as if the accumulation of grit (soap scum on the sink) and stuff (loose change on every surface in the house) finally becomes too much for her. Whole Saturdays can be laid to waste by hurt feelings & defensiveness. Sometimes, I have successfully convinced her khổng lồ let it all go, to just let the crumbs on the counter be, và that blissful state (in my mind, at least) can even last for a few days. As I’ve found, though, the comedown from those laissez-faire stretches are harsher the longer they last. And my wife is always the one lớn bring us back lớn the ground, which needs to lớn be mopped.


Illustration: Stephanie Hofmann

I want things to lớn change—I want to change. And yet, I clearly don’t. For three years now, I’ve promised khổng lồ take some of the mental burden from her. I’ve said I’ll make a chore schedule khổng lồ take that management off her plate, và I will take over weekly meal planning at least half the time. I have yet to vì chưng either of these things. Meanwhile, once each fight ends & we get the place back in order, everything just returns to lớn the way it was. So now I’ve moved onto the logical next step: shifting blame. I should have enough motivation khổng lồ change and yet haven’t, so what made me this way?

In the middle of our fights, my wife often refers to housework as “invisible labour,” since it produces the absence of something (mess and dirt), along with the absence of anybody else caring. But it’s possible, I’ve learned, that mothers are the ones who care most about the state of our homes & children because they’re the only ones rewarded, or judged, for them. Some women may laugh at the “rewards” half of that, having never seen any, but I’m sure we can all agree that when things are not in good order & blame is laid, it’s never put on us fathers.

According to Joshua Coleman, a psychologist và author of The Lazy Husband: How to lớn Get Men to vày More Parenting và Housework, when it comes lớn domestic tasks, we focus most on the ones that we feel are more key to lớn our identity. “Mothers have a higher identity cost if friends come khổng lồ the house and it’s a mess, or if little Johnny shows up and has a rip in his clothes,” he says, explaining that this fact serves to lớn make women more anxious about these things & thus more on top of them. Fathers are given a pass on that stuff but, in turn, suffer from a different assessment: “A guy who isn’t providing enough for the family may feel a greater sense of shame than a woman might.”

While that equation may sound dated, Coleman says even couples with progressive ideas of gender often revert to more traditional roles once they have kids. He supports couples finding a system that works best for them, but he points out that the stress & uncertainty parenting brings can make us seek a more familiar landscape: “One value of those more traditional roles, however problematic they are, is that there is clarity lớn them. Today’s egalitarian households require more & better communication, negotiation and compromise.”

I realize now how naive I was throughout my twenties with my first wife—I used to argue that we didn’t need khổng lồ clean up before dinner parties because friends và family should care only about hanging out with us và should overlook the state of the apartment. “But I care,” she used to lớn counter, followed by lots of yelling và tears.

Having learned that lesson, in my current marriage, I’ve stopped fighting for universally lowering the standards, and I schedule some intense cleaning time before anyone comes over. But no matter what gains I’ve made on this front, there’s always a host of things forgotten by me and done by my wife. She’ll make sure that the downstairs bathroom has hand soap và that guests don’t have to wipe themselves with Kleenex. She brings out the nice serving spoons (from which cabinet, I’m not sure) and the cloth placemats.

There are a few grey areas, though, like when we moved last summer and needed some new furniture và a living room rug. She pressed forward with that hunt, while I tried to delay the purchases until I could get my head around how khổng lồ pay for them on đứng đầu of a higher rent; one of my own pieces of invisible labour, along with taking care of our car, is keeping track of our budget. Subconsciously, she may have known she wouldn’t be blamed for us being in the red, while I was OK with putting off the task indefinitely because, as a man, I’m not on the hook for that. Both of these roles are necessary, of course, but it was hard lớn value each other’s contribution when, on the face of it, they seem opposed. It occurs to lớn me that while this type of household specialization worked in the past, it no longer makes sense now that women are present in the workplace as much as men.

Nonetheless, these roles can become so entrenched that, sometimes, women even guard their tasks from their husbands—something sociologists call “gatekeeping.” Over the past several years, I’ve witnessed this take place between my friends Jean and Chris. While these parents of two daughters under six both tóm tắt housework & parenting, Jean is the one keeping track of what needs to get done, delegating tasks và doing most of them. “I plan & buy the Disney on Ice tickets, và I wake up at seven in the morning to lớn register the kids for swimming,” Jean says. “I plan the entire summer schedule, which involves multiple spreadsheets và has khổng lồ be done in February.” This fall, khổng lồ take something off her plate, she put Chris in charge of signing their eldest up for skating lessons. When he didn’t vày it right away, she reminded him a couple of times before doing it herself.

Chris paints a somewhat different picture. “On the whole, the accusation is fair—I don’t think about anything in terms of organizing our lives,” he said, but pointed out that the average person could not keep up with Jean. “She’s five steps ahead,” he told me. “I would have gotten those skating lessons booked. We had a gazillion years to bởi vì it, and she just isn’t comfortable with not taking care of something right away.”

Although Jean agreed her desire lớn immediately check things off the list is indeed part of her personality, one also has to lớn wonder whether both of them are just too close khổng lồ the situation to lớn see that they’re ultimately motivated, or not, based on the expectations of their gender.

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My friend Tracy, who has a five-year-old son and works part-time, knows very well how the professional expectation on men can affect a father. Her husband, Carey, holds a senior position at his company, is paid handsomely for it and, according to her, is always on the clock even when he’s home. As a result, when it comes to lớn tasks around the house, she does 80 percent of the mental planning for them và all the actual doing of them.

“When we’re done with dinner, he only cleans his own plate. Or if we’re going out, he gets himself all ready và stands at the door, asking me why our son’s shoes aren’t on,” Tracy tells me, explaining that he regularly takes responsibility for only one person—himself. While she keeps in mind the highly demanding nature of Carey’s job, and admits he’s mentally weighed down by stresses she can’t imagine, she says the imbalance is just too much.

Recently, before heading off for a week-long trip lớn visit his parents, Tracy asked Carey khổng lồ pack the family’s suitcase—something he had never done, not even when it was just the two of them. Carey said she should vì chưng it because she already knew what they needed, but she explained lớn him that that was the point: He needed to be responsible for their trips going well, too. “I know too much,” she told me, by way of an overall statement about their life.

The suitcase remained in the living room, unpacked, for an entire week. Tracy even wrote a list & placed it on top, but Carey didn’t put one công trình into it until she insisted for the 10th time. “I don’t think he ever figured out why he had khổng lồ pack it, but he saw a look in my eye and realized he should just bởi vì it, & he did.”

The trip went fine in the end. & it’s a good thing, because, Tracy says, without a doubt if something had been missing, her in-laws would have blamed her.


The other reason it’s hard for men to lớn carry their weight in regards lớn what we used to gọi “women’s work” is this: We’re new here.

According to a Statistics Canada survey, while one in three dads in 1986 was directly involved in their child’s care, that proportion increased khổng lồ one in two by 2015. But while we’re improving on this front & breaking không tính phí of the old roles, that shift hasn’t always been welcomed, và stay-at-home dads can still feel lonely among the throngs of moms. When my son was 18 months old, I began working part-time, & the first time I took him lớn circle time at the local library, I was surprised to lớn find I was the only father there. Nobody intentionally made me feel out of place, but it’s an oddly off-putting experience nonetheless. I didn’t go back, telling myself I just didn’t lượt thích the format—everyone forced to stare at everyone else—but I know I would have felt different if there’d been at least one other guy present.

Andrea Doucet, a professor of sociology at Brock University and author of Do Men Mother?, has interviewed hundreds of couples và stay-at-home dads khổng lồ document their experiences. One of the parenting roles she examines is what she calls “community responsibility,” the linking of the household to the larger networks that are crucial to lớn raising kids: schools, extracurricular organizations và other parents in the neighbourhood. While a lot of this organizing can now be done on social media, the ground zero for these connections is still the playground or the play group, and in this regard, Doucet says, mothers start with an edge. “If she takes all or most of the parental leave, women over up having the advantage because then they have the networks,” she explains.

When you think about it, a lot of that mental household planning work is accomplished through these almost exclusively female channels—we rely on them lớn figure out which daycare lớn put our kid in and, later on, which summer camp và which university. We also use them to lớn suss out which of those baby shampoossunscreens khổng lồ buy. In this respect, a glitch occurred in my family, because my wife is not on Facebook, so I had to join a mom group in order to ask some of these questions. I’ve ended up using this resource on our behalf dozens of times, but I can’t help feeling lượt thích an interloper.

Doucet is encouraged by the ongoing trend of fathers increasing their involvement in these community networks and particularly pleased to see stay-at-home dads formally organizing their own groups. But she also hears tales similar to my library one—that their time as a primary caregiver can be isolating. Rather than being welcomed by other moms, she says dads often feel watched, and the assumption is made that they’re just filling in. In one worst-case scenario she encountered, a mother in a mom-only play group went back to work và wanted the dad khổng lồ keep bringing their child. When one of the women objected lớn having him join, everyone took a side, and the conflict almost dissolved the group.

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In addition to the necessity of actively welcoming men into the daytime parenting fold, if we want things to balance out more with housework, we have lớn undo some of that gatekeeping. If you asked my wife (as I did recently) why she’s never taken me up on my offer to plan meals, she’ll admit she’d rather vị it. She’s never said out loud that she doesn’t think I’m as capable of organizing healthy meals for our family as she is, but she doesn’t have to—we both know it’s true. But just as Chris needs Jean khổng lồ take a leap of faith và trust he’ll pull off one organizational task, I’ll never learn to bởi meal planning unless I start doing it.