Daniel L Carlson Ph.D.

The Chore Chart

Advice for Dads on How to Get More Involved at Home

6 tips for dads to begin crafting a more egalitarian division of labor.

Posted Mar 25, 2020

With many ordered to shelter-in-place and many more asked to telecommute from home, families are experiencing new domestic arrangements blurring the lines between work and family. Families are juggling and crafting schedules for homeschooling, caretaking, housework, and paid work. Because mothers already shoulder a lot of these responsibilities, there is potential that they will be burdened even further, exacerbating domestic inequalities. Therefore, though everyone is facing competing demands, having the majority of America home-bound is an opportunity for partners to craft more egalitarian divisions of labor and for men especially to get involved at home. Here is a brief checklist of things men can do to take more responsibility for things at home.

  1. Communicate. The first step in crafting a more egalitarian division of labor at home is to talk about it with your partner. This is important because if you haven’t been very involved, your partner, who has been managing these responsibilities, will provide you with important insights on what needs to be done and where you can get involved. Remember, there are probably a lot of behind the scenes activities and schedules you are unaware of.  At the same time, there are probably a lot of changes going on and new situations to manage. This is an important time to get on the same page and work together to tackle your new reality.
  2. Don’t think of this as “helping out” your partner. Dads are not babysitters or mother’s helpers. If you want to share the load, then you need to think of these things as your responsibility. Part of sharing responsibilities for housework and caretaking is keeping a mental checklist of what needs to be done, so you can anticipate needs. If you think of yourself as a helper, then you will wait for direction. Having to always ask for help will exhaust and frustrate your partner. In fact, they may stop asking and just do it themselves. This will leave you right where you started.
  3. Try and try again. There is a learning curve for everything. If you haven’t been changing diapers, giving baths, cooking dinner, etc. it will take a minute to learn these things. You are smart. Housework and childcare is not rocket science. If you put your mind to it, and really care to learn, you will figure it out. Encourage patience on the part of your partner. They might get frustrated by inefficiencies and mistakes and want to take over as a path of least resistance. Be insistent that your partner let you figure it. In the long run, learning from a few mistakes early will lead to better sharing between you.
  4. Don’t get defensive. Your partner is the expert and has lessons to share. Don’t get defensive if your partner has advice or critiques for you. Listen. Take direction. Learn. At the same time don’t be afraid to do it your way. If you find something that works, then do it and when your partner asks, explain why you like doing it that way and why the outcome is just as good or better. Remember that sharing domestic labor is an ongoing conversation, always.
  5. Be flexible. This is a message not only for men, but for women, too: The lines between work and family are now not just blurred but demolished. How will you manage to get your work done as well as take care of your kids, be their teacher, and complete the necessary housework? Again, the first place to start is communication. Each night discuss what you have the following day and how you can accommodate each other’s needs. If you have flexibility in your job, be flexible. Additionally, don’t expect that you will stay on top of everything. Do what you can, when you can. This means prioritizing and possibly letting go of low priority tasks. (My wife and I haven’t picked up our house in a week-and-a-half. And laundry? Ha!)
  6. If you can, do it together. In order to avoid having one partner over-burdened, or to avoid one partner slacking on their assigned tasks, try to do tasks together. What I mean is if it is time to pick up the house, you should both pitch in and do it together. When couples divvy tasks between them (e.g., I do laundry, she does dishes) there is a possibility for inequities to develop, especially if the tasks are of unequal desirability (no one wants to do dishes, honestly). Though it might not always be possible, if you can do things together, you will perceive your division as more equitable and you will both be more satisfied.

At a time when so much is in flux, partners have the opportunity to start fresh and remake the division of labor. Although these situations will not last – we will eventually return to some semblance of normal – the patterns you establish now can carry over. When men take paternity leave, for instance, they not only increase their household contributions while on leave, but they stay involved after going back to work. The vast majority of men in the U.S. want to share housework and childcare equally with their partners. However, structural barriers like a lack of job flexibility and time prevent this. But that barrier has been removed for many. Men are home now. Time put your money where your mouth is, guys.