By: Mary Beth Ferrante
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Mornings in our household are nothing short of a three-ring circus. Similar to many families where both parents work, it’s a hurried time of breakfast, feeding the baby, getting ready for school and making sure both adults are also put together and out the door on time.
It is far from the Leave It to Beaver days where mom is standing at the door, handing out lunches and kissing everyone good-bye! We’re all too familiar with this picture of the idyllic American family where the father works and brings home the bacon. Mothers, of course, tended to the children and domestic life in this archetypical unit, which defined family life in the 1950’s. But the days where white picket fences encompassed breadwinning fathers, stay-at-home mothers, 2.4 kids, and the beloved family dog truly are a thing of the past.
Busy mornings and a constant juggle of both parents working and caring for the children is much more typical and, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my children (and I hate that I feel the need to publicly say that before my next statement), and I also love my work and think that it’s important for me to stay invested in my career for a number of reasons: I want to show my two young daughters that women having successful careers is normal. I live in an expensive city, so there is the reality that I also need to work. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve worked hard my entire career, and it’s part of my identity.
And I’m not alone. Just look at the numbers, in 66% of households, both parents with young children are working, moms are the breadwinners in nearly 40% of households, and only 27% of households still hold on to this traditional version of only the dad working.
While the father-as-breadwinner model is far from extinct, more families are dual income households with men and women identifying as breadsharers — couples who earn money and care for the children equally. But for couples to strike a real partnership in their work and home lives, particularly in heterosexual relationships, it often comes down to how men perceive the worthiness of their wives’ work.
Researcher Erin Reid studied how men identify as breadwinners or breadsharers, interviewing 42 heterosexual married men working at a consulting firm and what she found is that the men who value their wives’ work placed equal importance on their partner’s career growth, as well as, their own . These breadsharing men were more open to being flexible in their own careers, noting that give and take is necessary for both individuals to pursue their professional goals and personal dreams. ultimately didn’t think the traditional path to success within their companies was necessarily going to be applicable to their situations.
On the flip side, men who still identified as breadwinners seemed to diminish their wives work, even if that woman was financially successful; making similar or more money than their husbands. So while the financials matter, it seems that for these men who cling to the breadwinner status, they lack respect and therefore support for their wives’ careers.
The question that remains is why? While there is still more research to be done to unpack why some men don’t respect their wives’ careers, it’s important to recognize that it’s not always about money and this dynamic can impede a women’s ability to rise in her career. It is certainly complex, but I see it play out for moms, especially when it involves a sick child or caretaker.
It’s 7:00 am and your childcare provider calls in sick, or your kid wakes up ill and is unable to attend daycare or school. What happens? Who stays home? Is the default, mom? After working with hundreds of moms, I can assure you the answer is almost resoundingly yes. Jaws drop when I share that it plays out very differently in my house. The first thing that happens is that we both open our calendars and look at our days. Then together we make a decision – whether it’s one of us taking the full day, splitting our days, or sometimes scrambling to find backup care, we recognize that both of our careers are important to us, and it’s not an automatic assumption that I will give up my work to tend to the children.
If we want to see more gender parity in both our personal and professional lives, it’s not just about which parent covers a sick day. Here are five ways men and women can commit to breadsharing at every turn:
1. Men must take parental leave. If we want the policy to shift in a way that benefits working mothers and de-stigmatizes maternity leave, then men must take leave as well. Otherwise, parental leave is regarded as gender-specific and reinforces the perception that women are somehow less committed to their careers once they have a baby. Companies like American Express are doing their part to push fathers in the right direction.
2. Men must step up at home. Feminist author and working mother, Jessica Valenti, sums it up this way: “…American men are doing more than they have in past years: Fathers report spending about eight hours a week on child care, or three times as much as fathers in 1965…Men doing more, however, is not the same thing as men doing enough. Despite progress made, mothers are still spending almost twice the amount of time that men do, 14 hours a week, on child care.”
3. Women must pass the torch. If women are asking men to step up on the home front than mothers must be willing to step aside when it comes to childcare. Women need to let their partners take the lead. If your child is sick, the burden of caring for your child shouldn’t by default be mommy’s job. Dads are perfectly capable of cradling a feverish child, making soup and dosing medicine. It’s up to us to let them do it.
4. Communication is paramount. A happy home is a balanced home, and the key to every healthy relationship is communication, especially as it pertains to expectations. Take the time to sit with your partner and hash out a protocol or plan for who will do what in the event of childcare being unavailable and kids out of school. Keep a tally, and trade off whenever possible.
5. Be flexible and think big picture. Things will ebb and flow, and perhaps there will be periods of imbalance between partners. Different careers have different trajectories and timing, so the best any of us can do is communicate with our partners and be willing to remain flexible. As long as you’re both on the same page regarding family goals and responsibilities, it’ll only be a matter of time before getting things back on track.
Times have certainly changed. We now live in a world where dual income families rule the roost, and to successfully navigate this modern dynamic, couples must be willing to respect and value each other’s careers, while also communicating frequently and efficiently regarding family needs. Breadsharers are the edge of a new frontier, and I’m hopeful for what we see on the horizon.