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Equal Opportunity Parenting

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

On my flight to L.A. on Friday (for the annual Midsummer Night’s Dream party at the Playboy Mansion in L.A., which was a blast, by the way), I read this week’s Time cover story: “Chore Wars.” Not surprisingly, the headline grabbed me the second I saw it at the airport kiosk. Incidentally, one of the many things I love about traveling for work is the rare alone time I score at the airport and during the flight, and even rarer opportunities to read (yes, read!)—magazines, books, in-flight publications, anything I can get my hands on. So I couldn’t wait to board my flight to LAX to dig into this week’s hot parenting topic about the great chore divide.

The cover line of the Time story is what really piqued my interest, as well as the cheeky cover art—a photo of a couple pitted against each other, her holding a mop, and him holding a spray bottle presumably of Windex in one hand and an innocent baby in the other, both in business attire. The cover line read: “Let it go. Make peace. Men and women, it turns out, work the same amount.”

The same amount in terms of the kids? The same amount in terms of their jobs? Household chores? A collection of data, interviews and years of research culled for the article by its author, Ruth Davis Konigsberg, came to this conclusion: Now more than ever there’s less of a gap between Mom and Dad in terms of household chores and hands-on parenting. And one of the more interesting conclusions made suggests stay-at-home moms are reaping the biggest rewards from this cultural shift. Because working dads are feeling the pressure at home to step it up in the chores department, especially in dual income families, and are rising to the occasion—they’re actually paving the way for men whose wives don’t work. It’s no longer the norm for men to take a backseat as a parent, whether their wives log office hours or not. Bottom line: More is expected of dads now (they change diapers!). And guess what? More is expected of moms, too, as more women are returning to the workforce out of necessity, a trend that’s been increasing since women entered the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s, according to the article.

Double income families are the rule these days, not the exception (I grew up in a dual income family so it's all I've ever known).

The “Chore Wars” article validated what I’ve been preaching since I had an opinion (I came out of the womb with an opinion): With marriage comes responsibility—bring kids into the mix and those responsibilities increase ten-fold. I do not believe the responsibility of parenting, or “chores,” is any more mom’s than dad’s, regardless of who works, or who works more. Do I think it’s entirely up to the individual couple to figure out their own balance of these chores? Of course I do. There isn’t one right way to split things up, but I do feel strongly that they should be split between both parents. And in my household, that split is very equal: 50-50 for everything. There isn't a single "chore" my husband is exempt from, and vice versa.

My husband happens to be the one who’s home more—he takes care of Preston one day a week, and we have a nanny the other four days (I work out of the house full-time). I usually get Preston up on Jay’s mornings, to help out before I leave for the office. And I’m usually the one who gets up with him on weekend mornings, especially if Jay’s pulling late hours at his restaurant, but we’ll alternate and be fair to each other. Dinner, bedtime and baths are a pretty even split, too, depending on who’s home first, and/or who’s having a harder, more exhausting day (hey, we all need—and should be allowed—a break once in a while). We try not to keep score, but sometimes we have to remind each other who has more on their plate in a given week, and we try our best to accommodate each other’s needs—and generally speaking, it all comes out in the wash anyway. We are equal partners in this business of marriage and parenthood, and why shouldn’t we be?

Of course there are some jobs that we deem more mom’s than dad's (like scheduling doctor appointments and haircuts, for example), and some jobs that are more dad’s than mom's (like assembling complicated toys or taking the dog for his late-night walk), and we almost always agree about these individual responsibilities. But since we both work, and we’re both contributing financially to the future and care of our family, we pull our weight pretty equally at home.

I don’t consider myself lucky to be married to a man who’s a hands-on dad, a point I want to make very clear. I consider us fortunate to have a marriage and family that works. I wouldn't have it any other way, frankly.

According to the article, “In a 2009 analysis of results of the National Study of the Changing Workforce, Scott Hall at Ball State University found that only 9% of 810 people in dual-earner couples split everything.” So I guess that makes us somewhat of an anomaly in the world of Coupledom. But that’s what works for us, and I honestly wouldn't be happy with it working any other way—whether I worked full-time or not. I don’t think paid work vs. unpaid work should factor into parenting. Ask any SAHM and I think she’ll tell you that her job is no easier or less burdensome than those of her husband and working mom peers.

I guess I have a hard time understanding why one parent should do more of the “chores” than the other parent (assuming both parents are able to be home to do them), regardless of who gets paid for their work and who doesn’t. What does working have to do with your involvement as a parent anyway?

I found this data interesting too: “Moms with full-time jobs have the largest total workload, logging five more hours a week than dads—and just 10 fewer hours of child care than stay-at-home moms—when kids are under 6.” 

Do you agree or disagree, based on your own experience? How does the great chore divide work in your house? Do you split the chores evenly, or does one parent do more around the house or with the kids, and how do you feel about that?  

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