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Who Does The Work of Parenting?

Fathers Day is a day to celebrate the contributions that fathers make to all of our lives. One of the main contributions any parent makes is performing the labor it takes to have a clean house, have children who are clean/dressed, and all of the other housework tasks it takes to “produce the family” everyday. In this post Nathan Palmer explores the research on how heterosexual couples divvy up these tasks and invites dads everywhere to reflect on gender inequality.

It’s Fathers Day! So before I do anything else, I want to wish a happy Fathers Day to all of my fellow dads out there.

This got me thinking about the work of parenting. Because make no mistake, parenting is WORK. You have to feed your kids, wash’em, learn’em, drive them everywhere under the sun, and don’t get me started on all of the gross things I’ve done in the name of parenting. Now factor in all of the indirect parental work: grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning the house, etc. It’s A LOT of work.

Sociologists have long been interested in the work of parenting and specifically how that labor is divided up between parents. And the research is clear: women do more housework than men. For instance, one study compared time use journals of men and women from 1976 to those from 2005. These researchers found that while the gender inequality had decreased, women still performed more hours of housework than their male counterparts Stafford 2008. This finding holds true even if both men and women work outside the home (Stohs 2000).

But the inequality of housework doesn’t stop there. Let’s think about the tasks that are commonly associated with moms and those commonly associated with dads. As a dad, I’m commonly expected to be responsible for mowing the yard, taking out the trash, changing the oil in the car, fixing broken things, and investigating a strange noise in the night. Moms on the other hand are typically responsible for the more direct care giving; tasks like cleaning, cooking, bathing/dressing the children, laundry, etc.

Take a long look at the housework stereotypically associated with dads and those stereotypically associated with moms. What do all the dads tasks have in common? What do all of the mom’s tasks have in common? How are these two lists of tasks different? It’s cool, I’ll give you a second.

Did you get it? The answer is, all of the chores associated with moms have to be done nearly everyday. While the chores commonly associated with dads only need to be completed occasionally and they can always be delayed. If dad wants to put off mowing the lawn for a day or two, no big deal. If mom wants to put off bathing her children for a few days…. um.

Parenting IS a lot of work and how that work is divided has an affect on families. Research suggests that both men and women are happier and more satisfied in marriages that equally divide household chores (Frisco and Williams 2003). Heterosexual couples that mind the equality of domestic labor are less likely to experience marital conflict (Stohs 2000). Furthermore a recent study found, “Fathers who help with household chores are more likely to raise daughters who aspire to less traditional, and potentially higher paying, careers.”

I’m going to spend this fathers day with my family and celebrate the contributions of fathers everywhere. I’m also going to take this opportunity to reflect on how domestic labor is divided up in my own family. Being a father is the most important job I have. Thinking about family equality and what you’re role modeling for your children is a great way to honor fatherhood.

Dig Deeper:

  1. Who raised you? Describe how housework was divided up between the people who raised you as a child. Was it fair in your mind? Did the adults in your childhood feel the division of labor was fair?
  2. As we discussed above, in heterosexual families where both parents work outside the home, women still do more housework than their male counterparts. What are the social and cultural reasons for this inequality? That is, what cultural messages do women and men receive that make this inequality more likely?
  3. What do you think is a fair division of household labor between two parents? How would you negotiate this with your spouse/partner in your life?
  4. Patriarchy is the term we use to describe how society treats men and all things associated with masculinity as being superior to women and all things associated with femininity. How could we view the unequal division of household labor as a product of patriarchy in our society?

References:

  • Frisco, Michelle L. and Kristi Williams. 2003. “Perceived Housework Equity, Marital Happiness, and Divorce in Dual-Earner Households” Journal of Family Issues 24(1) Pp51–73
  • Stohs, Joanne H. 2000. “Multicultural Women’s Experiences of Household Labor, Conflicts, and Equity.” Sex Roles. 42: 105–126