According to the latest research in the recent Time cover article, "Chore Wars," by Ruth Davis Konigsberg, "... husbands and wives have never before had such similar workloads." I don't know what goes on in your house, but the She said/He said parental debate of who does more at our house is a constant source of struggle and growth for my husband and me, both of us feeling that our lives are in a state of weighted imbalance.
And we're not alone. Everywhere I turn, I encounter friends who are struggling with the same issues. Whether they are a two career couple, one parent is working part-time, or one parent is staying at home full-time -- everyone is trying to find their way in a world of continually changing roles relating to marriage and family work.
Most intriguing in the article was the research on the differences in how women and men perceive time. Women report having less free time than men, with men better able to take ownership of their free time, while women are often combining their free time with childcare -- i.e., women will spend time with their friends by way of a play date with their children, or attempt to read a book on the couch, experiencing constant interruptions to play referee between siblings or being asked to help their child find a lost toy.
As Ms. Konigsberg writes:
The gender inequity that persists, then, is in access to high-quality leisure time, which, for whatever reasons, men seem more able to claim -- and protect from contamination -- than women. The obvious cost of this leisure deficit is that women have less opportunity to relax in a way that recharges their batteries. This is a real grievance that needs to be addressed, but women also have to acknowledge all the work that men are doing and take comfort in the fact that short-term imbalances, especially after childbirth, can -- and should -- be renegotiated over the course of a marriage, as long as neither partner gets too entrenched in a particular role.
So, if women are blending their leisure time with child care, then does it really count as high-quality leisure time? And, if men are not being recognized for the work they are contributing to the family at home, how can they ever be acknowledged by women as equal partners in family work?
The majority of the people surveyed in the article appear to be either families with two incomes or families with one parent working full-time and one part-time. Stay-at-home mothers got barely a mention in the article, except to say that they have benefited the most from the cultural shift of husbands doing more child care, and that stay-at-home mothers "...now stand out as uniquely low in their total workload."
Ms. Konigsberg ends her article by suggesting that one solution to her having more free time is to work longer hours at the office, so that her husband can deal with the kids and family work at home. Although perhaps written with a bit of tongue in cheek, this speaks of a duck and cover type solution -- both for duping the husband into doing the work, and for falling prey to contaminating her own leisure time with work commitments. As one who works outside the home, she also has the luxury of an "escape plan" by choosing to stay at work longer, which stay-at-home moms do not have.
Perhaps the biggest question here is why so many women believe that they are doing the greater share of family work, and why men believe that the work that they contribute at home is never enough. If both women and men feel that the family work they contribute is invisible, and unappreciated, how we can go about bringing change to those perceptions? Maybe we should be looking closer at how we can take care of each other and ourselves, by truly being a team in our marriages, and by placing a value on what both women and men contribute to the family.
Women are going to have to take ownership of their leisure time, as a separate activity from child care, and not feel guilty about doing it. And, despite our tendency to micromanage our household, we will need to be able to let go and allow our male partners to embrace the task of family work fully -- and acknowledge them for it. A challenge, but crucial to opening up a pathway for men being considered as equal partners in family work, and in their children's lives. If we don't move forward from our respective, entrenched corners, we risk perpetuating the myths of Mother as Martyr and Father as The Slacker Dad.
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