My husband and I were busy making dinner the other night while our two boys were reading their favorite books – Diary of a Wimpy Kid for my 11 year old and Dogman for my 7-year-old. We worked effortlessly together, moving around the kitchen almost in concert. We’ve been married for 15 years and have made our fair share of meals together. We are equal partners in the kitchen – and around the house in general – and that makes things move smoothly.
For childcare though, I still handle the lion’s share of responsibilities, from being home when the kids are done with school every day to taking the kids to their doctor appointments and sports practices. My husband is a great parent and cares for the kids whenever he is able to, but with a job that demands quite a bit of travel, that means he’s not able to spend more time with us.
As I was preparing to write this blog post, I chatted with him on how he thought other fathers could level the childcare playing field more. At first he wasn’t sure but as we talked through the ways he and I have built equity into our relationship and our household responsibilities over the years, he quickly thought of several ways that dads could step up. Here are the top 5:
- Help whenever you can – my husband learned at a young age that he is just a member of his household, and as a result, it’s everyone’s responsibility to help whenever they can, regardless of gender. He has carried that life lesson into adulthood and is instilling that in our kids as well. The same goes for childcare – whenever my husband isn’t traveling he jumps right into taking care of his kids – no questions asked. That’s because he’s a member of the family and helps whenever necessary – to my relief – without ever being asked. When the kids say “mommy, can you help with…” he answers with “what do you need buddy?” Knowing that the kids are just looking for help, vs help just from one parent, has made it easy and efficient to co-parent.
- Understand what the Motherhood penalty is – My husband said the first time he read about the motherhood penalty, a groundbreaking research study done in the early 2010’s by social psychologists, which states that women earn less and have less upwards career trajectory once having children, he didn’t believe it. After I had left my career and began focusing more on this area and ways to support working mothers trying to return or stay in the workplace, we talked about it regularly, and it became clearer and clearer to him how privileged he was to have a spouse at home with the kids. When I attempted to re-enter the workplace and was told that the gap on my resume would set me back competitively, he saw how much it affected my morale. At a dinner party several years ago, he spoke with a colleague who said his wife was having trouble finding a job after taking time off with her kids. I was proud to hear my husband not only reference the motherhood penalty, but apparently, he sent his colleague an article on it. As more fathers understand what the motherhood penalty is, as well as the fatherhood bonus, which states that men actually earn MORE and have more upward mobility once becoming fathers, the more fathers can support their spouses.
- Be an accomplice at work – It’s difficult to be an accomplice at work but it can be done – this one is still a work in progress with my husband. He works in a male-dominated industry (sports) that demands a lot of travel, and since his organization is not as supportive of working families, less than 5% of his colleagues identify as women and even less are mothers. We talked about several ways to be an accomplice – from recommending implicit bias training as mandatory, to changing recruiting standards and go-to job listing sites to hire more moms, to providing the right benefits that support working families. And it’s not just HR related – being an accomplice means speaking up on behalf of other working parents, supporting working moms in your office who have to leave early by helping take some of their tasks on, and even relaxing policies around bringing kids into the office. Benefiting from the fatherhood bonus means that you also have a responsibility to use your privilege to advocate for working women.
- Get involved locally – Even if you don’t work in HR or aren’t able to be a true advocate or accomplice at work, there are still ways to level the childcare playing field professionally. Our local chamber of commerce has been a great source of professional networking opportunities, but also has been a great soapbox opportunity to speak with other business leaders in the community about childcare as a benefit. Although it will take sweeping reform from a federal level to provide subsidized childcare access for all, starting at a local level and educating others on how we can collectively support one another is a fantastic start.
- Be fully present – This is especially true and important during the pandemic. We all have been faced with having to juggle all.the.things at once, and figuring out how to work while being present with our kids has been tough. As a working mom, I’ve found that I still end up being the default parent, even though my husband was home working for over 6 months. In that time he was somewhat present, although the TV was primarily on. We did talk about setting screen boundaries – both for ourselves and our kids. That helped tremendously, and he took the kids on hikes, walks and bike rides while I worked for a few hours, and then we switched. He found that setting healthy work and screen boundaries for himself allowed him to be much more present with the kids, which then took the burden off me.
In order for childcare to be more equitable, it is going to take intentional effort on the part of all parents, working together, to make this collectively easier. It cannot and should not fall on one parents shoulders – or in my opinion, on parents’ shoulders alone – but instead should be fairly and equitably shared among families and society as a whole. Learn more about how Flexable is changing childcare.