Shame on all dads if this COVID-19 shut-in doesn’t forever close the gender gap with our wives in the battle for household-related equity.
Let’s admit it: While today’s dads help far more around the house than our fathers did – nearly three times as much — most still are not doing their fair share. Women in the United States spend on average of 72 minutes more a day than men doing housework and performing childcare tasks, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic data. On any given day, 22% of men reported doing housework, such as cleaning or laundry, whereas 50% of women reported doing the same; days when 43% of men did food preparation or cleanup activities, 70 percent of women also did.
Pulling even, however, is not only about performing more of these routine chores we should already be doing. I can best illustrate what I mean by describing my pre-pandemic morning routine.
Each weekday during the school year, I’d help get the kids’ breakfast together before unceremoniously exiting just as my five children reach a fevered pitch of gathering books and papers while snarfing their Cheerios. With a quick glance and a confident, “Welp, gotta go! Have a great day, all,” I’d leave, and turn off my dad switch for the next eight hours or so.
My wife, on the other hand, has no such shut-off switch. Even though she holds down a part-time job while attending graduate school, she does not convince herself that once she physically sends the kids on their way that she can mentally do the same. This subconscious difference, this ability to compartmentalize, is a major reason dads and moms don’t always perform an equal share of familial burdens.
Children bear witness to parental gender gap
The kids see me leave before their mom for work each day. Why wouldn’t they automatically assume that my job must be more valuable, more important and less interruptible than mom’s work?
I’m also gone from home for a longer period of time most days. As a result, my children instinctually ask their mother to help them with homework, chaperone a class field trip or to take them to the next assembly — even if I am there and available to lend a hand.
Topping it off, my five little ones have heard me outwardly relish the escape going to the office provides me. “Sitting in gridlock beats listening to this middle-school bickering any day!” I might say. How can they take me seriously as an equal household/parenting partner if I charge out the door snickering about my rank in the pecking order?
As seen each day through the eyes of my kids, my work is a more important piece of my life and ours as a family than their mother’s is. This coronavirus pandemic can change that – and it must.
Parents in dual-income families like mine are now on equally clumsy footing. Together, we struggle to homeschool our kids while juggling our professional responsibilities. Gone is the daily respite of leaving for the office. I’m at home indefinitely with my family, my dad switch locked in the “on” position. I have no choice but to be up to the challenge or risk forever losing credibility in the eyes of my kids as being on the same level as their mom when it comes to being a true caregiver.
But our dad switches must also stay steadfastly on when this awful, disruptive virus finally relents. That is when the rubber will indeed hit the road.
This is the same rubber we dads should be telling our teens to use during our “birds and bees” sex discussion.
It’s the same road in front of our homes that should serve as a makeshift baseball diamond where we play catch with our sons and daughters whenever we can.
It’s attending the next PTA meeting where a dad’s perspective should be welcomed and appreciated.
It’s taking home our newborns without the worry about having to hurry back to work the following day.
Pulling even is bigger than just doing so in my household or yours. It’s a global need to close the gender gap on issue of parenting equality. It means overcoming decades of conscious efforts and subconscious thinking that make people believe fathers are inferior as caregivers. This will allow us to garner the credibility needed to tackle bigger issues at the root of household gender equity — issues like requiring men’s restrooms to be equipped to allow us to change our infant’s diapers; guaranteed universal, paid paternal leave; and ensuring a fair balance on the legal scales of custodial courts.
COVID-19 can help change fatherhood forever if dads make it so. Shame on us if we don’t.