I’ve been married for four years. We’re raising a dog and don’t yet have kids, but as we race toward turning 30 during the next year, the topic of raising children while growing in our careers has been top of mind. My wife, Kaci, and I both intend to continue working after having children.
And after moderating the Lift IOWA event and spending countless hours prepping via in-depth discussions with our publisher, Janette Larkin, and our leadership staff, I feel like I have a firm framework from which to navigate the future challenges of balancing career and family. One of those challenges I think, will be overcoming my own blindness to household duties, and at the same time recognizing when my wife might be hoarding those duties.
After moderating our Lift IOWA event about sharing the second shift on May 4, I sat down to pen my takeaways but instead ended up writing the column that follows in order to more fully explore that thought, and provide advice from a male perspective on how women can better share the burden of the home with their husbands. The discussion from our event was wide ranging and what I write about below is merely a slice of a very complex topic, and far from the only solution.
If this column resonates, I'd encourage you to check out additional coverage of the event, including video of our panelists opening comments, advice from our audience, and our staff's takeaways.
- Chris Conetzkey, Editor of the Business Record
How to lean back ... at home
An audience member mentioned a frustration with her husband for not knowing to do a variety of the things she instinctively does to care for their kids. Specifically, she talked about why was it that she always had to remember that winter was coming, and that the kids need their winter coats?
I’m really glad she expressed her frustration, because the same example popped up during our pre-event meeting and it’s one many women feel. And it’s not just coats, right? It’s the totality of all the home tasks that undoubtedly drain energy and leave women wondering why their husbands aren’t sharing the load.
At the time, I wasn’t sure how best to articulate a response from the stage, but it made me think about my own blind spots and also a New York Times guest opinion piece. The author, a woman, wrote about about maternal gatekeeping, in which mothers hoard the responsibilities of the home and child care for a variety of reasons - societal pressure and norms being one, and another, more controversial, idea being that mothers could be more genetically evolved to worry for their children in a way men aren’t. Mothers serving as the “designated worrier” leads women to do more planning to prevent harm from coming to their children, and in turn is the reason why the mother knows winter is coming and it’s time to get the coats. Here’s the article.
Now, please don’t misinterpret this as me simply saying, “See it’s genetics, let men off the hook.” That’s not my intention. Quite the opposite. But the article talks about how husbands are often viewed as being unable to do certain tasks, and how women are frustrated when their husbands don’t inherently know to do certain things.
To me this feels like a classic management pitfall that often happens to new managers. The new manager knows all the things that need to be done, and the manager knows how to do those things best. So rather than delegating and involving the team, the new manager does all the tasks behind the scenes that keep the team running, because instinctively as the manager, he or she knows what needs to be done. In a management setting, we of course know this leads to long- term problems for that manager.
When it comes to the home, I might not instinctively know it’s time to get the winter coats, but if my wife takes on the responsibility of getting the coats every year, it’s easy for me to be blind to the fact she is performing a task. Make me aware, and I can respond and learn. I can’t do the tasks I don’t know are occurring - even if I SHOULD know.
It doesn’t matter how you got to the point you are at; the reality is you’re there, and if your husband isn’t sharing the load you want him to, it doesn’t do any good, in my mind, to fret that you feel he SHOULD know to be doing them.
So how do you navigate this? You could throw up your hands, go on strike and see if your husband steps up. But that could leave your child coatless and your family stuck with the doctor’s bill. The reality is that there are some tasks even more important than winter coats that you likely juggle and can’t just let drop.
I’m also not advocating for simply creating a weekly to-do list on your own with tasks you assign your husband. That would mean you’re still holding the burden of planning.
But what would it look like if you wrote down all the tasks you do that your husband doesn’t? Does your husband know all you do, or is he blind to it? Then, how do you cede control of some of those tasks, which as the New York Times article suggested many women might not be so willing to let go. And how do you do it permanently?
Share that list, talk about it, then divide it - permanently. Empower your husband so that next year you don’t need to remember to tell him to get the coats; rather, he will have adapted that into his role.
I think you’ll find your husband will respond in a positive way. Perhaps he’ll handle the task differently than you would, but if it is his responsibility and he is empowered to be active in his children’s lives, he will do the job. And your mind will be liberated from that responsibility.
When I have children, I will at least be aware that maternal gatekeeping might occur. Looking back, I know it happened at times with our dog, and I wish I hadn’t been blind. Being aware should allow me to be a better partner for my wife, by helping identify times when she might be taking on something I could be doing before I even had a chance to do it.
One of our audience members’ pieces of advice was for women to find ways to “lean back.” How interesting. At a time when women are more and more learning to lean in at work, the next challenge becomes finding ways to lean back at home.
My advice: Don’t try to do it alone.