“I need the older children in the family and my husband to step up and help out. I feel like I’ve taken up all the slack and their responsibilities have remained the same. My husband says I just need to ask him for “help” but that just puts it on me to manage everything. I’m frustrated and exhausted and he doesn’t get it.”
“I am literally drowning in overwhelm while my husband is having a great time working from home! Because I’m picking up all the pieces keeping everything together.”
“I told my husband that him “helping” around the house is not enough anymore. He’s an adult and he needs full ownership of at least 50% of keeping our lives together.”
Over 1,800 parents, mostly Moms (98,%) have shared their pandemic stories for our research study. And they’re drained from doing more of everything: housework (78%,) kids activities (54%,) and childcare (73%.) Although they’re overwhelmingly married or cohabiting, in the pandemic, only 30% state their partners are doing more housework or childcare. The gendered division of household labor for Moms partnered with Dads isn’t new. And it’s a corrosive undercurrent for many couples.
The consuming nature of parenting and running a home, has ballooned during Covid. Although the physical work is considerable, the mental energy to plan, triage and react to countless daily choices, adds strain to the situation.
Although some couples successfully divide the work, few share the mental load. And that’s often where the perception gap between Moms partnered with Dads lies. But what if we could make all that hidden work visible? Does it change the conversation between couples?
Mind the Gendered Gap
“I’m doing all the emotional work of parenting (my spouse does only non-emotional tasks like grocery shopping and lawn mowing)…)
“…My personal routine has been overshadowed by helping/dealing with everyone else. If I try to work out, I’ve got kids hanging all over me, when I’m trying to work during nap time my husband wants to chat always preceded by “I know you’re busy but, just real quick…”
A recent Morning Consult survey echoes the stunning perception gap, between coupled Moms and Dads, observed in our study. 31% of men considered themselves most responsible for housework, while fewer than 1% of women agreed. Even when men are active participants in childcare and housework, women are more likely to choreograph the details. And many struggle to convey this distinction.
Felicia Kashevaroff, Co-Founder of Tend, an invisible-labor tracker said, “Some partners are like, ‘but wait, I’m doing the dishes, I’m going to the grocery store, I’m cooking and doing all the things that I’m supposed to do. And it’s still not enough.’ But that emotional and mental load is missing from the equation.” This is work that consumes time and precious mental energy. She added, “We’re often the ones who are thinking about the holiday preparation. And making sure that there’s enough supplies on hand. Or knowing that ‘so and so’ has a test at school. This is real work that has real consequences to families.” Yes. But why is this dynamic so hard to reverse?
Most Couples are Not Prepared for the Conflict
Felicia said, “In relationships, there is this disconnect. Particularly so for millenial moms. They enter into partnerships thinking that there is going to be an equitable split of household labor. Male partners also enter into relationships with the notion that they are going to share this work equitably. So, we go in thinking that things are going to be pretty easy. Then it’s really hard because these are systemic, gendered issues.” Sigh. She added, “And what a ‘good mom’ or ‘good dad’ does or what makes you a ‘good partner’ in a relationship are all burned into us from the moment that we are born.” Unfortunately, it’s not about one hard conversation. Because the needs inside of a household change all the time. How can couples navigate?
And Need Support to Navigate The Difficulty
Many couples benefit from professional support. One surveyed Mother is optimistic that counseling will help and said, “We’re working toward a better, unified relationship.” Yet many couples get trapped in patterns for ‘who does what.’ And as kids grow or family dynamics shift, approaches need to evolve.
Achieving true equality, where both partners share 50% of the household is still rare. Felicia, whose company has been tracking this data said, “It’s not realistic for everybody to have a 50/50 goal. But when partners understand all the steps that are required to achieve something. And that there’s an opportunity to do that, without one partner bearing the full responsibility, they can then assign tasks in a way that makes sense. And readdress it as life changes.” Amen!
‘Invisible’ Tasks Dominated Time Spent in 2020
One of parenthood’s challenges is not seeing tangible outcomes in the moment. Hours blur together. And days evaporate into a flurry of meals, dropoffs and meltdowns. Felicia’s app tracks how time is spent. And for Tend users, despite how extraordinary 2020 was, time was still consumed by those ordinary, unseen activities. Felicia said, “For 2020 the number one most time-consuming task was discipline. Anybody who’s parent knows that consumes a lot of time. It’s the definition of invisible labor! There’s nothing to show but it’s one of the most critical parts of parenting.” Exactly.
She added, “The other thing that consumed a lot of time for our users was email. We spend a lot of time corresponding. And whether you’re working inside or outside of the home, you’ve got to deal with teachers and a wide variety of things. So, those were the top two things on our list. It wasn’t laundry, it wasn’t dishes, it wasn’t mopping the floors, it was it was things that we don’t see.” What can couples do to support equitable sharing of this work?
Couples Can Start Small to Make Changes
There’s very little onramp when faced with running a household. Needs surface and we learn by responding. But is there a better way? Felicia said, “Something that we talk about often is breaking this down into small, manageable pieces of information. If we go in asking a couple to layout their entire workload, to manage a family and review all of it at once, it’s just too much.” And it’s only exacerbated by Covid.
She explained, “We really see this as being small, incremental change. So, what’s the one thing that you argue about the most? How do we improve that? How do we learn from that and gain some skills in communicating with one another about it? And then we can apply that because life is overwhelming, especially right now.” Brilliant!
Most surveyed couples are dealing with increased tension through the pandemic. If you’re partnered, there are amazing resources to make this shift easier. The pandemic has resurfaced the need to fix the uneven responsibilities at home. Felicia is passionate about illuminating this and developed Tend to make smart use of technology. So, track how you’re spending time! And learn how and why to set boundaries that protect it. And reduce the mental load. There are amazing books like, Fair Play and Drop the Ball to help with thoughtful partner negotiation. And you can take steps to reduce friction and strengthen your relationship, with or without the help of a couples therapist.
Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Felicia Kashevaroff!
Felicia Kashevaroff is the CEO and co-founder of Tend. She is an entrepreneur and advocate for mothers and caregivers. She left her full-time career in marketing and publicity to be a stay-at-home mother to her three children which set her on the path to founding Tend, a tech start-up dedicated to tracking, valuing, and sharing the invisible workload of motherhood.