Now is the time for Dads to reset the division of domestic duties at home

Now is the time for Dads to reset at home


How do we get men to take more action on gender equality at home and at work when they think they’re already doing a great job?

A new poll for The New York Times, on how families are handling domestic work during COVID-19, shows why this question matters more than ever.

Of the 2,200 adults polled, almost half of all men said they did more to help with the homeschooling of their kids than their wife or partner did. Only three per cent of women agreed with them.  

Additionally, 70 per cent of women said they’re responsible for housework during the crisis, and 66 per cent said they’re responsible for child care, but only 20 per cent of men agree with them. About twenty per cent of men say they are the ones mostly responsible for these domestic duties, while only 2 per cent of women agree.

Men are lionising their own achievements and discounting what their females partners are doing.

We have ample social research at our disposal proving women do considerably more unpaid caring work than men. According to the long-running HILDA survey, even when women are the main breadwinner in a household they still do more domestic work than their male partners! That is gobsmacking and infuriating.

One teeny sliver of a silver lining from this pandemic is that more men are home more than ever. It is an opportunity to hit reset on the division of domestic duties, to finally more equitably share the exhausting burden of the mental load and the emotions that come with it. But, as the NYT poll shows, we still have to get the problem identified by men.

Australian research shows that men believe gender equality is important, and that young fathers want to be involved in sharing the caring duties.

What the new NYT Poll reveals is the massive gap not only between what men say and what they do, but how they view their own contributions at home compared to their partners.

Men think they’re super helpful in doing domestic labour and homeschooling kids. They see themselves as equal partners in the face of adversity. They’ve fixed gender inequality (you’re welcome). Their perceptions are not reflective of reality.

The reality is that the bar has always been so low for working fathers when it comes to helping out at home. Any help still tends to be lionised as a major achievement within families and the community generally.

For instance, when we see dads dropping their kids off at daycare, how many made breakfast, got their kids dressed, packed their bags, brushed their teeth and hair before bundling them out the door? And how many were just the lift at the end of the process?

If working dads really want to check whether they’re evenly carrying the load then there are some practical questions they need to answer, like:

  1. Are you using flexible work and parental leave policies to help out more at home during the day?
  2. Which parts of your kids’ school routine are you directly responsible for?
  3. Do you take the initiative in doing domestics, or do you wait to be handed a to-do list?
  4. Do you help track the family budget and how spending has changed during the crisis?
  5. Have your kids opened up to you about how they are feeling at the moment?

This shouldn’t only be about burden sharing, it should be about an equal spread of joy too. All men with kids deserve time to be a father and not just a worker, and to be intimately involved in the lives of their children.

For too long, demanding hours at work have stolen time away from fathers and they’ve missed many of the moments that make having kids so special. While more dads are at home, they will experience some of what they have been missing out on, as well as the inevitably stressful and infuriating parts.

I know loving fathers who are splitting caring as evenly as possible at the moment with their partners. I also know of families where dad disappears into the study in the morning and emerges at dinner time, as if he had just moved his office home. Men, let’s work to ensure the latter becomes the relic of history, and not the former.

Rob Sturrock is a working parent of two, fatherhood advocate and author of his new book, Man Raises Boy: A revolutionary approach to raising kind, confident and happy sons which is out now.

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