Men Were Stepping Up with Housework Early in the Pandemic; Now That They Have Reverted to Old Patters, What Can We Do?
When Huffington Post reached out regarding research indicated that men were stepping up with housework early in the pandemic, here’s what Elisabeth had to say about it:
Couples fortunate enough to work from home throughout the pandemic have seen their household chores multiply and opportunities for alone time diminish. Parents are often balancing work from home demands with virtual classroom supervision, endless meal prep and cascading household chores. Most households are not set up for year long work from home orders and most couples are not used to spending this much time together. And yet, many are rising to meet the challenge.
Couples who are able to move through the collective trauma of this pandemic as a team often report that they are developing a profound appreciation for each other and for the relationship. Many report a deeper connection. So it is not at all surprising that this gratitude translates into a more balanced distribution of household chores. Stepping up around the house is an effective way to express appreciation for one’s partner. So is scaling back expectations and letting go of the small stuff which may explain why the person who typically does more around the house may notice more help from their partner and offer a more positive report.
For couples struggling with chore allocation or for those who fear that progress might fade as restrictions diminish, it is worth having a kind honest conversation about what has been working and strategizing for how to keep the momentum going. For those who want to combine amusement with accountability, check out the card game Fair Play. This strategy turns division of labor into a game emphasizing conception, planning AND execution. If you hold the laundry card, you must own household laundry from start to finish. That means collecting it, washing, drying AND folding the laundry before returning each item to its wearer. No stray socks allowed!
Then research showed that there was major backsliding and Spencer’s excellent commentary is below. Also check out this post on the topic:
I can definitely appreciate how some couples were initially able to more evenly divide housework at the beginning of the pandemic. I am not surprised. Most of my clients, who are around my age (the millennials) place a strong value on achieving gender equality. So if there is a clear way to achieve that (such as a shake-up like working from home more), they jump on it.
In therapy with many of my couples, however, we have run into this interesting challenge: while we hold the value of gender equality in our lives, many of us don’t have the best training and modeling from our families of origin. It’s like our parents’ generation gave us this nice idea, but we didn’t get sufficient guidance to put it into action. Kind of like placing a strong value on being able to play an instrument, but then having very limited instruction on how to actually play it and being sent to perform on a concert stage. Hence the backsliding and bumbling couples do as we figure this out together. My hope for the next generation is that they will get to have both: the value AND the training with much better attempts at modeling equality around the house.
I think you touched on many of these experiences in the article you linked. I have especially seen Professor Jill Yavorksy’s comments play out. We are finding that men were largely left out of the behavior changes needed to actualize gender equality.
Regarding what partners can do to achieve or maintain equality at home, I get a little feisty:
What we can do? We need to support demanding equality around the house in the same way we would support demanding anything else super important to a relationship such as trust or affection. To be blunt, we need to normalize gender inequality as being a deal breaker in relationships. The inequality needs to be seen as more than just a problem for a partner to endure patiently and compassionately alone. I’m not trying to break up homes with this suggestion, just break the cycle. I actually have faith that partners will step it up once we take this problem more seriously. We can stop enabling the inequality by taking more seriously how pernicious it can become. Most people would understand why someone might freak out over cheating or a pattern of hurtful detachment. We need to lean in to calling out toxic patterns of unequal labor, as well.
In my sessions I’ve experienced many clients (women especially) struggling with the existential conflict between being a compassionate supportive partner during this time, and asking their partner to contribute equally. I’ve seen too many clients (again, mostly women) question whether they are overreacting about this kind of stuff. There is a lot of historic socialization that contributes to these patterns of minimization and gaslighting around equality. Including women being considered crazy, nagging, or needy when asking for something reasonable such as equitable labor in the family. That’s got to stop.
Employers need to stop getting away with this as well. The support for equality at home needs to be systemic. Employers need to consider that their employee may have a partner that also works and therefore needs them to pull their weight at home – as opposed to the historic consideration that a man with a partner could put in more time at work because they had free labor at home. I think that men in general may need to become more comfortable speaking up about these needs with their employers, as women have had to do for a while now. Historically many women didn’t have a choice but to tell their employers they had schedule/time limitations due to family obligations. This them in vulnerable positions being perceived as less dedicated to their careers, but also made them more comfortable and better trained in speaking up about it. Men need to start doing this more vocally too, and more employers need to be proactive in making their scheduling leave policies equal.