It is 7pm, the baby is not falling asleep, and I have a ton of things to get done; but my boyfriend is too tired to help, so, instead, he goes through all of his social media. As a new parent of a three-month-old, I have discovered the inequality that exists in parenting.
Becoming a mom has been the best experience life has given me, but sometimes it gets overwhelming. All I need is help. It could be as simple as holding my baby for a few minutes while I get the dishes done, or keeping her entertained while I get a quick shower. Writer and mother Chloe Shama writes about this dilemma in her 2015 article "There's No Such Thing As Equal Parenting" for Elle magazine. Shama notes that, even though she has a healthy child and helpful husband, she still feels "resentment about the disparity in our household labors" and wonders "if the dream of an egalitarian marriage… inevitably collapses under the responsibilities of child-rearing." Doing this research has shown me that I am not alone and that there are many other moms that experience this inequality.
Studies show that parenting can be more stressful for moms partly because they are responsible for more childcare. In the article "Why Parenting May Be More Stressful for Moms than Dads," Sarah D. Young notes that "the time women spend taking care of the kids and doing chores related to childcare adds up to ten more hours than fathers each week." In my house I do roughly 80% of the childcare while my boyfriend does about 20%. I dress my baby, change her dirty diapers and bathe her. When it comes to feeding her, that's all my responsibility, which I love because breastfeeding gives me even more time to bond with her. My boyfriend might rock her to sleep or play with her after she nurses while I pump breast milk for the next day, but only if he's not too busy doing something else.
Apparently, this is common in many families. "Men are not doing close to an equal share of the baby and toddler-related work even on evenings and weekends," claims Gideon Burrow in an article for The Guardian. "Only a third of couples report taking it in turns to get up for a new baby during the night. One in three dads don't regularly change nappies, and a third don't bathe their babies," Burrow reports. My boyfriend does help me get our baby out of her tub. He helps, but only with the simplest things that won't take much of his time. Not getting help when I most need it makes me feel really angry.
Hillary Kelly wrote about this issue as a pregnant woman in her article "I'm About to Have a Baby. This Is How I'm Going to Encourage Equality in My Own Family" for Glamour. Kelly writes, "When your partner is around to work in tandem on baby care, or more precisely, when mom and dad are home together in those first few weeks, I wonder if fathers can too easily mistake the (relative) ease of that shared work for what a typical string of days alone with a baby really looks like." I think she is right.
In my situation, my boyfriend believes that a day with our daughter is easy. The first couple of days after coming home from the hospital, parenting seemed so easy for both of us because we were taking care of her together and learning with each other's immediate support. When I asked him how he would take care of our daughter for an entire day alone, he said, "Well, it's easy: I can just hold her." It would be the easiest thing ever to just hold my baby all day without having to change diapers, change her clothes multiple times, feed her, read to her, or encourage her belly time! Active parenting is really time consuming, especially when you need to get stuff done for yourself.
In another article revealing that "Moms Continue to Work More than Dads," Rick Nauert writes, "On their days off, men were relaxing 46 percent of the time while their partners did childcare. In contrast, women were engaged in leisure only 16 percent of the time when their partners were taking care of their child." On the days that my boyfriend doesn't work and I don't have school, he does help me with Adalynn until she starts to cry. Then he's done helping.
I understand that mothers are usually the primary caregivers when babies are infants, but I think that there should be more equitable ways in which childcare is divided between the parents. I would like if my boyfriend helped me with jobs that do not necessary have to involve me, like changing our daughter's diapers or bathing her.
In addition to managing the majority of childcare, mothers are also responsible for most of household chores. An article titled "When they're off the clock, working dads have it better than working moms" cites a 2017 Ohio State University study. The study's lead author partly blames "intensive mothering ideals in the United States. If your mother-in-law comes to your house and it's a mess, it's not your husband who is in trouble—it's you. Women feel more responsible for childcare and house care, and men feel less responsible."
In my situation, I feel like I have to have everything clean and in order because that's what is expected of me. Whenever something isn't clean, my boyfriend points it out to me instead of fixing that problem himself. Surprisingly, I have found that ignoring his remarks when something is not done makes him want to help. He helps because he thinks I don't care about it enough to do it. I do care, but sometimes I don't have time. I have noticed that the most important chore for him is having our bedroom clean and organized, and, because it is important to him, he helps me clean it and does a pretty good job. Maybe we need to give men more credit for their abilities at home.
Shama's article for Elle includes a photo of a man standing in front of a sink filled with dirty dishes. He looks clueless, holding a rag in one hand and book of instructions in the other. The caption explains, "If you search Getty for 'father washing dishes,' this is what you get." When I saw this image I thought it was ridiculous because men definitely don't need instructions to wash dishes. I think that some men believe that they are not capable of doing things because some women think they won't meet their expectations. I don't believe all men have lower standards for completing household chores. I have men in my family who have higher standards for household chores than women.
For me, I let my boyfriend do things the way he can. I feel like if I set my expectations so high, he will feel useless and the inequality will just grow. So, instead, I help him. Sometimes he does things in ways that I like better. When this happens, I learn from him. Household chores are things that both men and women can do, but for men to do them I believe we have to shift our expectations so they feel comfortable helping. Men and women have to work together to maintain a home and a family that feels equal.
Traditional gender roles are a huge part of the inequality experienced in parenting, and maybe that's one reason why Shama titled her article "There's No Such Thing As Equal Parenting." It is a bigger issue than just one family. Shama quotes author Josh Lev making the point that "when a woman is given time to stay home and a man is not, it reinforces a pattern of traditional gender norms." Me having time to stay with my baby and my boyfriend going back to work made him believe that he is only supposed to work and provide for us.
I'm finishing high school and looking ahead to college, and I think being in school can be considered working; but my boyfriend sees it as me being away from my baby for four to five hours every day to just sit in a classroom. He values work more because he was never taught how important it is to get an education. At times I wonder if we will be able to share household tasks equally without anyone getting upset.
It is interesting to me that same sex couples do not struggle with the same kind of unequal parenting and housework divisions that happen in families with more traditional gender roles. Shama quotes Brigid Schulte about this: "Free from provider father and ideal mother expectations, gay couples share labor more fairly and split tasks based on what people like to do or are good doing." I think my family can learn from this.
I believe that my boyfriend and I think differently about gender roles in our relationship because of the ways we were raised. I was taught that, just like women, men can clean and care for a child. What my boyfriend was taught is the opposite: Men are not supposed to care for a child and women are there to do the chores. The traditional gender norms make it difficult to parent equally, especially when you get taught these things as you grow up. Talking with my boyfriend about what he likes to do can probably help us divide our household chores more equitably. That way, we can focus on the chores we like to do and not feel as burdened by the ones we don't like as much.
Before having my daughter, I expected to get help with changing her diapers, changing her clothes, making appointments and cleaning. Deciding to research this topic helped me start a conversation with my boyfriend about inequalities that I noticed but that he did not. Now that I have started talking about this topic with him and sharing the information I found, my boyfriend has started to help more with childcare. He takes care of Adalynn while I do chores like wash dishes or do laundry.
He still thinks he's not capable of taking care of her when I'm not around, so that's something we have to work on. When it comes to household chores, I see less of a difference but there is some improvement when he sees that I have my hands full with something else, like feeding the baby or getting my homework done. Limiting gender roles are still present every day, but we talk about them more. Even though we disagree most of the time, being able to talk about it feels positive for me as a young woman and as a mom.
I think fixing inequalities in the way we parent now, when our daughter is so small, is important because as she gets older she will see that her mom and dad are equal. She won't grow up believing that boys and girls have to be limited by their gender. Writing about this topic has lifted so much stress for me. I never knew how to start this conversation because I thought we were the only couple going through this. I have learned that speaking up about the things that make you angry will change the way things are done.
Melanie Jaime Cervantes completed the Mother Tongue Project English class and Mentor program at Capital High School, where she wrote this essay (and many others). She also co-composed and presented an original poem for the 2019 New Mexico Public Education Department Town Hall Event in Support of Young Parents. Melanie graduated from Capital High on May 23, 2019, and plans to continue her studies toward becoming a RN at Santa Fe Community College.