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5 Lessons Stay-at-Home Dads Can Teach Women

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Liz ODonnell
Liz ODonnell

For the past eleven months, I've been using whatever free time I could find to write and publish a book that will be released in November. As a sole breadwinner with a demanding job and two children, finding the time to write hasn't been easy. Some mornings I've gotten up at four to squeeze in time before work. And some nights I've downed Diet Coke like water in order to stay awake and productive past 10. Meanwhile my husband, a stay-at-home father, has continued to keep our life organized... mostly.

My book is about the challenges working women face managing both career and home. After all, women do, on average, 30 percent more housework than men do. In researching my book, I interviewed more than 100 working women about how they do, or don't manage; these women had fantastic lessons to share. But perhaps I should have added my husband to the list of interviewees.

According to a new report from Pew Research Center, my husband is one of 550,000 stay-at-home fathers. And like my husband, these men are doing more housework than their working partners, but less than their female counterparts. Men who stay home average 18 hours of housework per week, while their working partners average 14. Stay-at-home mothers on the other hand, average 26 hours of housework. Their working partners average just a third of that time.

Certainly, men need to "lean in" more at home. An unfair load at home can impact a woman's relationships, sleep, overall wellbeing, and career. In fact, there's a correlation between the housework gap and the gender-based wage gap. But while we look to men to carry their fair share, we can also look to some of the stay-at-home fathers, who by the way, manage 43 hours per week of leisure time -- double that of their partners, for some lessons on how women can lean out a bit at home.

And so here's what I've learned from observing the life and habits of one stay-at-home Dad. I can't confess to embracing all of these lessons, but I'm trying (and really, with my schedule, what choice do I have?).

1. Beds are just going to be slept in again. Is making the bed every day really worth your sanity? While clean sheets are non-negotiable, made up beds really aren't critical. A wise man tells me, you're just going to get back in it at the end of the day. And if you just can't take the mess? Buy a duvet cover you can quickly straighten over the unmade sheets and lose the bedspread and throw pillows.

2. Kids don't care. Play dates shouldn't be contingent upon clean houses. Kids just don't care if there is a mess; they only want to have fun. Besides, if you don't clean before a play date, the house won't look so bad afterward. Now, if like me, you're thinking, "But what about when the friend's parent comes to pick them up? I don't want them to see the mess." Well, if that's a concern for you, then just clean the kitchen or front hall. Better yet, be waiting in the driveway when the parent arrives to pick up their child.

3. Laundry piles are like bureaus without drawers. Clean clothing, especially underwear and socks, is also non-negotiable. But putting the laundry away is not. Really, is it any more difficult to pick out a shirt and matching pants from a pile of clean laundry atop the washing machine as it is from a drawer in your bureau? It is not.

4. The house does need to be cleaned. For the sake of the children, the marriage, and the board of health, the house does need to be cleaned. But does it need to be cleaned everyday? Are you expecting company on Tuesday? If the answer is no, then the mess can probably wait until Friday.

5. And finally, throw two big parties a year. Every house needs a deep cleaning a few times per year but it can be so hard to motivate to do the dirty work. Consider throwing a big party in your home at the start of summer and during the winter holidays. Nothing motivates you to clean the inside of the refrigerator and oven like 40 relatives and friends coming over to judge, er I mean, celebrate.