Even in the best of times, being great at both parenting and partnership requires deft maneuvering. Throw in a global pandemic, and many of the struggles two-parent households are experiencing shine in glaringly bright light.
But it’s possible this time could forever redefine our roles in the home and our relationships with our partners. Simply put, sheltering-in-place together has answered the question around what we do in a day. We’ve always juggled a lot but there’s less curiosity about what the other parent has done, is doing, and will do for the family. Still, I’d like you to ask yourself:
- Who’s the default parent in your child’s eyes?
- Are you happy with how well you work with your partner to tackle the never-ending list?
- Do you fairly split the domestic work in (and out of) your home?
Your time should be valued equally to your partner’s. You shouldn’t have to feel resentful or like you’re nagging to receive help from your spouse. If things feel inefficient at home or you feel like you’re secretly keeping score on what they do versus what you do in a day, there’s an opportunity for improvement.
[Related: Will my relationship survive this virus?]
My husband and I share two children, five and one and a half years old—both boys. I run two companies. He works full time and is the breadwinner of our household. We’re making it work during the pandemic by having clear discussions, separate tasks and respect for each other’s roles. Here’s how you can get started on the path to equity in your partnership.
- Have a direct conversation. Changing the dynamic with your spouse is a difficult conversation to have, but it’s worth having. Most folks will react positively to a direct approach, an explicit and collaborative request for help.
- Consider your approach. How you communicate directly affects the way you are heard in the world. This also holds true in your own home. It’s important to be thoughtful in your approach. Deliver your ask for help in a way that engages and invites your partner to have a conversation with you. To start you might say, “All this time at home has me thinking about how we run our house and manage the kids. I think we both see how much it takes. I’m wondering if there’s a way to make things feel easier, so we can get stuff done faster. Want to make some time to talk about later?”
- Know your intention going into the conversation so you can manage the outcome. You’re asking for a true collaborator in the system, so put some value behind it. Give them a reason for buying-in to the plan so there’s mutual understanding. For example, your partner may be really happy to hear that buying into this will bring you more happiness, that you’ll be a more fulfilled spouse. Or they may be happy to hear that they’ll finally be taking the lead on certain things.
- Keep tasks separate. There needs to be a clear division of who’s doing what, and when, to maximize efficiency and minimize disappointment. Trust matters, so give your partner space to take care of things from start to finish. In my family, important dates and details are added to a shared calendar so the person responsible for that to-do has all they need to pull it off without bothering the other person for information.
- Continue the conversation. This is an ongoing conversation. It’s about teamwork and the mutual respect you have for one another. My partner and I talk household/kid-stuff regularly so nothing is left up for interpretation. We do this every day while making the bed in the morning or while we’re having breakfast. While it took time for both of us to fall into this way of life, we now unapologetically rely on it, and as a result, are less exhausted by day-to-day adulting.
[Related: What it's like to be a parent with Covid]
When couples habitually choose to divide and conquer their to-do list, they are choosing a new way to talk about what they need. They’re recognizing that time is precious and by creating household efficiencies, there’s space in the day for what matters. Like laughing and having fun. And lots of snuggles.
For me, that means I see my partner raising two boys without any stereotypes of toxic masculinity. In turn, my kids see his full, vulnerable heart and this helps their emotional development. They also see two dependable people managing the mundane to the outrageous for our home, while juggling their careers and hobbies. This is valuable modeling for their future, one where there isn’t a helper parent but an equal partnership while parenting. I’d even dare to say we’re creating new patterns to make life a little more fair one day. At least that’s my hope.