Lately, the idea of equal parenting has been discussed at great lengths. Equal parenting is the idea that parents share equally in parenting and household duties—diaper changes, bedtime rituals, bath time, feeding, etc. But for many burned-out moms, equal parenting seems like a myth.
Research has continued to show that women take on more of the domestic labor. A recent study published in the journal Work showed that even mothers who out-earn their husbands were more likely to do more housework. Clearly, we still have a long way to go toward equal parenting, so parents need to make a conscious effort when it comes to achieving a good balance that works for them.
But a day-to-day 50/50 split isn’t necessarily what equal parenting is, rather it is embracing the basic idea of a shared balance. Each parent does some of the heavy lifting of tasks so it doesn’t all fall on one parent. However, it can feel like mothers usually get stuck with some of the more difficult tasks of parenting. Let’s explore some of the why.
Equal Parenting Can Be Tough Early On
I hate to admit this, but I don’t think the fact that equal parenting doesn’t exist is necessarily a male partner’s fault. Especially in early parenthood, there are things only mothers can do—be pregnant, give birth, and breastfeed. There are plenty of other ways for partners to step up their support, but some of the toughest parenting responsibilities fall disproportionally on mom early on.
Why Equal Parenting Takes Ongoing Work
Take a look around most parent-teacher organizations, and you’ll likely see a disproportionate number of moms in the room. Societal expectations for the unpaid labor of women stretches from our homes to our schools, workplaces, and beyond.
Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, D.O., psychiatrist, and Chief Medical Officer at LifeStance Health said that unfortunately, women frequently experience a gender bias when it comes to societal expectations around parenting. “It’s important to remove the stigma and gender bias often associated with parenting roles. Equal parenting can exist if both parents are open and honest with each other about their needs and collaborate effectively to ensure that one person doesn’t become responsible for taking on the majority childcare and household responsibilities.”
A recent study published in Plos One showed the idea of women being better multi-taskers is also a common misconception. This study showed that women do tend to process information faster and men did a better job at tasks with spatial relations, but one sex was not actually better at dividing attention when it came to multiple tasks.
Women manage to do it all and on top of it, make it look easy. Maybe that’s part of the problem. We manage to work, take care of the household, cook, clean, AND raise our children, so in our partners’ heads, we’re making them think we’ve got everything under control. And even when partners offer to help more, we might say OK and then realize that things would be better handled by us. Alas, we end up doing the same task over again. I know I’m guilty of this, and research shows I’m not alone.
So, to be fair, there may be a reason partners sometimes just step back and let moms handle more. But taking on too much can be a slippery slope toward resentment, burnout, or partners using weaponized incompetence to avoid doing task they actually do know how to do.
Why the Work Toward Equal Parenting Is Worth It
With all these points being said, the truth is there are many benefits of equally shared parenting. “Equally shared parenting has so many benefits, both for the parents and the children” says Dr. Patel-Dunn. “Having a trusting and close relationship with both your parents gives a child a greater sense of reassurance and security at home, rather than mostly interacting and being disciplined by one. A shared partnership can also help both parents feel more whole, where they can share responsibilities at home and have other interests as well.”
To make equal parenting work, rules and expectations must be set between parents. “This includes the form of discipline, reasoning, choice of words, etc” says Lena Suarez-Angelino, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker. “When it comes to boundaries, it is especially important to be on the same page and have equal parenting and position yourselves as a united front. Outside of parenting and protecting children, including the boundaries maintained for family members, equal parenting also speaks to the balance of additional responsibilities such as financial, medical, and household responsibilities,” said Suarez-Angelino.
If you are planning on attempting equal parenting, take some time to discuss the rules, consequences, and rewards for behaviors without having your children present. This will only work if you and your partner are on the same page.
Suarez-Angelino noted parenting itself—the raising, disciplining, and entertaining of children—should be more of a 50/50 contribution. “It does not feel good to always be the ‘mean’ parent because they are the only ones that find themselves saying no or establishing boundaries for their children.” For me, I have found myself in this position too often.
The more your household works toward an equal parenting system, the less stressful it will become. While we’re still a long way from actual equal parenting, hopefully we’re headed in the right direction. Men are more hands-on than ever when it comes to parenting, and little by little, we’ll get to a better balance.