More Thoughts on Shared Parenting and Shared Housework
My husband and I have arrived at a form of shared parenting. I wouldn't say that it's "equally" shared in terms of hands-on time or mental energy, but the division of labor is significantly different from our parents' division. In a previous post I called it our "Two-Thirds Solution". His effort for the family is spent 2/3 on earning income, 1/3 on household/child duties, while my effort goes 2/3 household/child, 1/3 earning income on the mommy track. We also outsource a portion of the cleaning and childcare.
I think it all begins with attitude. My husband has often said that he doesn't believe that all the childrearing and household tasks should fall on the wife -- he is responsible for participating in the hands-on work of the home as well. I think that if a man believes otherwise it could be very difficult to get him to take on the tasks that are traditionally the woman's domain. I see a similar attitude in some of the couples we are friends with, and can only be encouraged that perhaps things are changing for the better.
The key for us is that he has been willing to step up, and I have been willing to relinquish control. The biggest task that he has taken over is cooking dinner. I have no tips for how to get your husband to start cooking -- mine just naturally enjoys it, where for me it's a necessary but unwelcome chore. When we were dating, I would sometimes throw him out of my kitchen because he couldn't resist sampling whatever I was making and adding things to it. We laugh now about how foolish I was. Before kids, we'd informally take turns making dinner -- whoever was hungry first would start cooking. It turned out he was hungry first a lot more often than I was, to the point he thought I was deliberately delaying in the hopes that he would fix dinner. When I got pregnant I would come home from work and fall asleep on the couch almost immediately, and he began cooking almost every night. Once the baby was born, I wisely chose to just step out of the way and let the pattern continue, even though I was a SAHM and thought I technically "should" be cooking dinner.
Where I had to relinquish control was in the matter of veggies. DH is content to have a single-dish meal -- lean cuts of pork, chicken, or fish baked or grilled in a yummy marinade, but no veggies to be seen. The controlling thing to do would've been to insist that he make a veggie side dish. The self-defeating thing to do would've been to take the over cooking dinner to ensure we were nutritionally correct. The smart thing to do was to step up and make the side dishes myself while he makes the main course. But if I'm in a rush or pressed for time, we skip the veggies with no nagging on my part. On the one night a week that I have to go into the office for a status meeting, I make sure not to criticize if he chooses to order pizza or cook frozen popcorn shrimp.
Stepping back in hopes the other person to take over doesn't always work. Laundry is a case in point. When he was single DH saw no need to move clean clothes from the basket to the dresser, and introduced me to the concept of "just-in-time" ironing. I could see before we married that laundry might become a problem. DH will volunteer to carry laundry baskets up and down the stairs, but is never inclined to do so at the moment I actually need the baskets moved. He might occasionally move clothes from the basket to the washer, but I have to ask every time. It's definitely the case that if I want clean clothes on a regular basis, it's easier to do it myself than to nag or wait for him to volunteer. So rather than make laundry an issue in our marriage, I've chosen to outsource the folding.