How We Divide Parenting Roles

When Anel and I were young and falling in love before we were married and had a child together, we excitedly talked about our future constantly. At the time, he was a personal trainer working for a gym in Manhattan and my marketing career was taking off, so we assumed that he would take on more of a primary caretaker role with our future babies.

But our careers have both changed pretty drastically. By the time we had Amalia, it was clear that the primary caretaker role would fall on my shoulders. When I was pregnant, that scared me a lot. I didn’t know how much work it would be or what it would entail. In Amalia’s first year of life, I was so anxious that I really didn’t know if I could handle it.

Now I am happy to report that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being able to take care of everything she needs and still provide income for my family is something that I’m incredibly proud of. Read on to find out how we handle parenting responsibilities in the Dzafic household.

From the early days

From day one, Anel was on top of his dad game. I was so out of it and anxious for those first two or three weeks of Amalia’s life that I pretty much didn’t have any emotional or physical capacity for anything beyond feeding her. Anel literally taught me how to change her diaper and put her to sleep once I started to come out of the fog. He knew how to feed her bottles, clean my breast pump, give her a bath, and calm her down. I felt like the worst mother in the world because it came so naturally to him and it was such a learning curve for me.

But in addition to being a stellar dad, he’s a stellar husband and stayed patient as he walked me through everything and tried to keep my anxiety at bay. He also did all of the grocery shopping, cooking, taking care of the dog, and more in the first month of parenthood. I’m literally crying as I write this because I feel so lucky to have him! I hadn’t thought about those days in a while.

At that time, however, he had just left his job in the city and he didn’t have a lot of clients out in Connecticut yet. He was able to be home a lot. It was a blessing because we couldn’t really afford for me to take any time off of work. I took two weeks of maternity leave (I don’t recommend that to anyone!) and he was able to pick up the slack. As his business grew and he took on more work, however, he was home less and less over the months, and the roles started to reverse.

How we divide parenting roles today

Because Anel was so involved at the beginning, it was a struggle for him to take a step back. Ideally, we would divide up parenting tasks like daycare pick up and drop off, buying diapers, cleaning Amalia’s room, and making her meals. But because of his long, crazy hours and the responsibility of owning a new business, it makes far more sense for me to take on most of the parenting responsibilities in addition to other responsibilities around the house.

Studies (and obviously lots of anecdotal evidence) have shown that mothers, even if they work full-time jobs outside of the home, take on more parenting responsibilities. But one interesting thing I read about this was that this inequality only harmed a relationship when the mother herself thought of this division of tasks as unfair (source).

From my personal perspective, I don’t find our unequal divide to be unfair (although after reading this article yesterday, I got a little fired up) because there is really no other solution and because I love doing it. I’m a caretaker by nature and feeding, bathing, and clothing my daughter brings me so much joy. I really believe that an equal division of labor matters less than understanding the roles of who does what and appreciating each other for those roles.

On most days of the week, I take care of the morning routine, nighttime routine, and every other detail in between, so Anel works really hard to step up in other ways to balance the parenting workload. He’ll take on things like bringing her to swim lessons, cleaning up her toys on the weekends, and always gives her a bath and puts her down when he’s home at night. And because he has more trainers working for him now and he makes his own schedule, he’s started taking off two nights per week so he can be home with us and take on half of the work. We’ve had countless conversations about emotional labor and they have really paid off.

“Mental Load”

The hard part for me isn’t being the primary caretaker of our child, but taking on the emotional labor or “mental load” that involves everything from making sure our fridge is always fully stocked to booking a babysitter if we have to go out, to organizing playdates, to scheduling doctor appointments.

It can be draining and most of the work goes unseen by anyone else, including your partner. I’ve written about this before but our therapist gave us an exercise that has drastically helped us in the emotional labor department. I spent a week writing down every single task I do for the house, from making sure the dog’s food is fully stocked to getting oil changes for the cars. It didn’t matter how big or small the task was, it made it on that list.

Then we sat down one night for almost a full hour and Anel took as much as he could off of my plate. Although it’s still not 50/50, it feels more even and I don’t feel so much pressure to keep our house running perfectly on my own. I found this resource after the fact, but here are some free downloadable worksheets, that are organized in a similar way to how I did mine.

Until we did that exercise, Anel really had no idea how much I was doing to keep us all afloat. It was eye-opening for him because he saw what went through my head on a daily basis, but it was also eye-opening for me because I realized that he really wanted to take on more, I just hadn’t asked.

Letting go

The biggest challenge for me with my Type-A personality is to fully let go of the responsibilities that he has taken on. But for anyone out there reading this who is similar to me in that sense, I promise you that after a few weeks, you’ll be so happy that you let things go.

OTHER RESOURCES

A Practical Guide for Working Parents to Divide Household Responsibilities (Fast Company)
What a ‘Good’ Dad Gets Away With (New York Times)
Dividing Household Duties With Your Partner (Baby Center)
Worksheets for dividing household responsibilities (Here’s the Plan)
Don’t be Grateful That Dad Does His Share (The Atlantic)

WHAT DO THE OTHER MOMS THINK?

Happily Eva After
Danielle Moss
Isn’t That Charming

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I’d love to hear how you divide parenting roles in your households.

Check out my previous mom talk posts on screen timesleep training, and eating.

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  1. Ellie said:

    Thank you so much for posting this! One of my top fears about having children is exactly this. I already have so many thoughts (TM) about emotional labor and I can only being to imagine how things could change with a little one in the mix. I think this post is a good place to start a conversation :).

    5.8.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      It’s definitely not something to be fearful about as long as you and your partner constantly communicate about it! If you don’t, that is where the problem lies.

      5.8.19 · Reply
  2. Erica said:

    I’m so glad you wrote about this topic! I love your message about it only affects a relationship if you feel the division of labor is unfair. As a stay at home mom, I fall into the do everything on my own and sometimes I do resent it. I have a hard time balancing it with my desire to stay at home with my kids. I think the emotional labor activity could be helpful. Maybe I just want a little more recognition for everything that I do around the house!

    5.8.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I know what you mean about the recognition. I had to have that conversation with Anel too beause I felt like I was doing a thankless job every day! Now he’s a lot better about even just saying thank you for making dinner or doing the laundry. And even though that’s silly, it feels really good to be acknowledged.

      5.8.19 · Reply
  3. Erin said:

    I have to say that all of the things that seemed difficult with number one are nothing compared to figuring out how to divide and conquer with two! I have a 4 year old and a 9 month old and we both work full time. For the first two years of my oldest’s life my husband was getting his MBA at night so he was gone at least two nights a week and then a good portion of Sunday afternoons studying. Thankfully with two, he is home more and we take turns picking a night to go out with friends during the week . The hardest has been splitting up the duties of taking care of both kids and the household. My husband makes most of the calls about the house, pays the bills/ handles our finances, fixes things, cooks and grocery shops. I do the laundry, handle the cleaning lady/ baby sitter/ lawn guy relationships, most of the stuff for school (silly hat day, more diapers, etc.) shopping for the girls and morning routine, pick up and drop off unless i am traveling. At night, he gets home first and makes dinner, then I do the dishes and make lunches while he gives the older one a bath and gets her ready for bed. We take turns putting the baby down as the other completes dinner with the older one. It’s definitely not easy, but i find that the majority of fight with my husband step from the household responsibilities and one person not doing “their job” but wanted to do the other person’s job. I really think it makes sense to talk about how you want to divide those things and stick to it.

    5.8.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      OMG I’m SO scared for what will happen when we have a second. I don’t know how you moms do it! It sounds like you guys have a really great division of the work though. I’m jealous that your husband can cook! You’re a lucky lady 🙂

      5.8.19 · Reply
  4. Katherine said:

    Love this! I am expecting our first in November and nervous about how that transition will go. My husband is always willing to do more around the house but he says I need to ask him. I guess it all comes back to “emotional labor” piece, I just know when things need to be done. However, I will say since I know he is willing I just need to get better about asking.

    5.8.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Congratulations, Katherine! Anel says the same thing. Just make sure when you ask it’s not just for tasks, but for more ownership of certain areas.

      5.8.19 · Reply
  5. Tiffany said:

    Thank you for this!

    My husband and I are in the kid discussion phase – so this gets brought up a LOT. We often share articles about mental load (which he takes most of), parenting philosophies, nutrition, schools, etc.. Sharing this with him next!

    Keep these conversations going! I love hearing different parenting journeys.

    T

    5.8.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      It sounds like you’re doing all the right things if you’re already reading up on it!

      5.8.19 · Reply
  6. Amy said:

    I’m currently pregnant with our fourth and even though the workload certainly gets greater with more children, it’s easy (and necessary) to let a lot of things go. I also think it forces my husband and I to be clear about what we need from one another. Don’t get me wrong, it has been a 12 year long journey, but we are in a groove and I think that’s possible for all parents with a dose of healthy communication (and no “hidden” resentment).

    5.8.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Congrats Amy! You are my superhero! I’m so impressed with all of the parents that have children that “outnumber” them. It seems physically impossible to me, but you make it work and that is incredible. It sounds like you and your husband are pros at this point!

      5.8.19 · Reply
  7. Christa said:

    This is one of my biggest fears about having children! I already feel like I take on so much of the emotional labor and I too have a Type A personality (in the NYT article when the husband said his wife “just likes to be busy” GRRR lol) but I have a wonderful husband who is willing to work with me, so I just need to communicate that better. Thank you for writing this and providing so many additional great links!

    5.8.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I’m so happy this was helpful for you, Christa! That line in the NYT article boiled my blood too. I feel you!

      5.9.19 · Reply
  8. Laura said:

    Glad to hear you guys have figured out what works for you! Although I have to admit I was a little sad to see you say you were “lucky” to have Anel help so much in the early days of Amalia’s life. It seems like that should be the minimum expectation for dads not something to be extra thankful for. I think it was on my mind because of this article which I read yesterday: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/05/mothers-shouldnt-be-grateful-their-husbands-help/588787/

    5.8.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Such a good point, Laura. That article was interesting and I’m going to add it to the list above.

      5.9.19 · Reply
      • Nancy said:

        That article’s author, Darcy Lockman, has a brand new book out on this topic All The Rage. She’s just appeared on CBS (here: https://youtu.be/uJaV0QSjL-g). She’s a NYC mom and psychologist who’s got informed research backing the discussion.

        5.17.19 · Reply
  9. Jennie said:

    My favorite post in this series yet (and I love this series). It’s fascinating to see how other families divide up roles to make everything work for them. And yes to the other commenter who mentioned being recognized. I work a few hours a week, but I’m mostly home with our son, and I kind of love managing all the pediatrician appointments, preschool drop offs and pick ups, and Amazon diaper subscriptions. That said, it’s important that my husband knows all those things aren’t just magically happening while my son and I go off on adventures, and we’ve had a lot of conversations about that. And the more conversations when I started my job. And more ahead now that we are expecting our second. It’s all about putting your stuff out there, because no one should have to guess at what you need help with, or be expected to “just know.” The book How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids has an AWFUL name, but is another great conversation starter when it comes to this topic.

    5.8.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I love how much you and your husband communicate. That, to me, is the key to a happy marriage with kids. I read that book while I was pregnant and actually had a lot of conversations with Anel pre-baby from that. So helpful!

      5.9.19 · Reply
  10. Emily said:

    Amen to this! I feel like we’re in very similar situations because my husband works long hours (which was very tough for him to adjust to also!) and a lot of those responsibilities fall on me. But I never view it as unfair because he’s taking on so much of the financial load, and he DOES help whenever he can at home. I loved the articles you cited too, can’t wait to read them! xx

    5.8.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I hear you. We’re all doing our parts in one way or another, right?

      5.9.19 · Reply
  11. Christine said:

    I absolutely loved this post, Julia! I like how you and Anel try to equitably divvy up parenting and household duties, among other things, and can appreciate what you both contribute to your household. I’m a single mama to one (he’s now 15!), and have been since day 1, so I never had another parent to help me out. I just did it, and didn’t think about it, because stuff just needs to get done. Planning ahead helps me so much, as well as simplifying life. When I need help, my parents, grandparents, and sister (she and her hubby have 3 kiddos!) were always there as my little village. I totally agree about the “mental load”- so many small things that add up and have to get done but can go unnoticed fast. At the end of the day, I try to do my best and let the small stuff go. You’re doing awesome!

    5.8.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Thanks, Christine! You are a true superhero. I hope you know how amazing you are. It sounds like you have an incredible support system and a great organizational system. I’m very impressed.

      5.9.19 · Reply
  12. Shannon said:

    Thank you for this post. I have this conversation/argument with my boyfriend often.

    I (sometimes unfairly) compare what I do around the house and for us versus what he does. I feel that I do much more and I always take on the “mental and emotional load”. I worry if it feels uneven now, then it’ll get much worse when we’re married with kids.

    Did dividing household chores prepare you for dividing up childcare duties?

    x Shannon

    5.10.19 · Reply