For many couples, parenting inequality in child rearing is a hot button topic. And now, six months into a pandemic, homeschooling children, balancing work-life, and days on end, face to face with our kids and spouses without relief from one another, is even more challenging. In our private practice, the prevailing theme among wives has been the disparity in shared parenting responsibilities with their husbands. Without good relational tools to combat this issue, resentment can build and cause even greater division with our spouses. The goal should always be to move closer to one other and grow as a couple, and model this for our children.
So, it’s important to understand the origin of this imbalance, how it shows up, and what you can do about it if this occurs in your marriage.
What does inequality in child rearing mean? Basically, it means one parent is carrying much more of the child rearing load than the other and there is an imbalance in the shared parenting responsibilities.
The shared parenting responsibilities would include:
- The emotional and mental load: You are invested in being emotionally connected, available, and present to your child. You are modeling for them consciously and with intention.
- The Discipline
- Meal planning
- Grocery shopping
- Diaper Changing
- Extracurricular activities
- Household duties
- Yard work
- Story time
- Waking up early and getting everyone ready, fed, and out the door
Ideally, couples decide together what the most equitable and realistic division of these responsibilities would be according to their lifestyle and what works best for them. The problem is, most couples don’t have these conversations or have a contract about what this division of responsibilities will look like before they have children. So, if you’re in that boat, you must begin to have this conversation now. The bottom line is, kids need consistent care, presence, attention, nurturing, and protection EQUALLY from both parents as much as possible for the benefit of their human development.
We are in the year 2020 and get asked often why inequality in child rearing is still even a problem in our culture today?
Let’s break down why
- PATRIARCHY: Sad as it may be, we are still living in what we call “The Fringes of The Patriarchy.” Meaning, we have come a long way, but these outdated ideals are still very ingrained in many people and we have a long way to go.
- GENDER ROLES: Yes, we are in 2020, but with Patriarchy still alive and well, women are still looked at by many men, as the ones largely responsible for the rearing of the children. The problem with this is: Generation X moms and Millennial moms are all like: “HELL TO THE NAH. YOU’RE GONNA RAISE THESE KIDS AND BE JUST AS RESPONSIBLE FOR THEM AS ME!” Women have begun to rise, and more women are rising every day, claiming their desires and making their voices heard. We aren’t our mothers and our grandmothers. We want more from our relationships today than ever before.
- EXPECTATION: We don’t get in life what we want. We get what we EXPECT. And our expectations in love, marriage, and in parenthood come from our upbringing, whether it is dysfunctional or not. We are programmed subconsciously, and we become what was modeled for us.
- COMMUNICATION FAILURE: Most couples are not talking about this stuff because they don’t know HOW to talk about it in a way that is productive. Over time, the resentment of finding no solutions together builds up, and living on the “contempt conveyor belt” becomes a way of life and causes a lot of chronic arguing, fighting and eventually withdrawal from one another.
- LACK OF CONSCIOUSNESS: On the part of any person who is choosing to show up as a passive partner and parent by shoving the majority of the child rearing onto the other parent and being emotionally uninvested and unavailable to their children.
- LACK OF ASSERTIVENESS: On the part of any person who is carrying the bulk of the load in the child rearing department, who is also not speaking up and standing up for what they want and making more requests of their partners.
- NO VISION: Just like you need a vision for your life and your marriage, your parenting plan needs a vision. Without a vision, we are like a ship at sea with no rudder and have no direction. Without a vision, there can be no shared parenting contract made up of our shared values as a couple.
As newlyweds, it is the rare occasion that we get to see our partners as parents before they become parents. So, many times we don’t know how this parenting journey will work out until we are living it, or what kind of parent our partners will be.
None of us have a crystal ball.
Listed below are seven symptoms of parenting inequality in child rearing so that you can recognize if there is a problem in your marriage…
- RESENTMENT: One partner feels like they are carrying the bulk of the load in the child rearing, and this causes resentment which is destructive to the marriage relationship and eventually leads to repetitive cycles of fighting. If you’re a person who usually stays quiet as to avoid conflict, you risk stuffing emotions and eventually exploding. Resentment is poisonous to your marriage because it eventually leads to contempt, and contempt is toxic.
- TOO MUCH TECHNOLOGY: We hear a lot from our women clients that men, in particular, are very distracted by video games/phones/laptops/sports/TV and that they are zoned out and withdrawn from their partners and their kids. This is an entitled attitude and can lead to feelings of loneliness and abandonment on the part of the wife and children, although the husbands are physically present. Conscious parenting requires us to be present and willing to really look at ourselves.
- ENTITLEMENT MENTALITY: Men (or women) thinking that because they are the breadwinners, they get a free pass to do whatever they please and that the wife just needs to “deal with it.” This is part of the patriarchal model that unfortunately still exists today. Examples of this could include staying out late at bars or drinking with your buddies, coming home late, strip clubs, gambling, porn, chronic emotional/sexual affairs, being immature and irresponsible while your partner is stuck at home dealing with the kids alone. No Bueno.
- GOSSIPING ABOUT YOUR PARTNER: Complaining to your friends, family, coworkers, or anyone outside the marriage about your spouse and the parenting/or other problems to get support, advice, or validation. This is a HUGE “NO-NO” for more reasons than one. Also, who are you going to for advice? Do they have a great marriage and one that you would want for yourself? When you talk about your spouse with other people, you’re dishonoring them and being unfaithful. You are dismantling trust. It is immature and unloving to talk about your partner in a negative light to anyone. And when you start talking about your spouse negatively with someone of the opposite sex, it is like opening Pandora’s box. Time after time we have seen emotional affairs start from this place. Common places this could occur are church, in the workplace with coworkers, and on social media.
- CARRYING THE MENTAL EMOTIONAL LOAD OF PARENTING: The mental and emotional load of child rearing being shoved onto one parent. This is very stressful for any parent to take on alone and is not fair to your partner, but it’s also not fair to your kids if you are the one bowing out from this duty. Our kids need rearing equally from both parents and when kids don’t receive emotional availability from both parents, they sometimes feel unsupported, unsafe, or like they’re not being taken care of.
- CARRYING THE PHYSICAL LOAD OF PARENTING: The physical load of child rearing being thrust onto one parent. The cooking, cleaning, meal planning, grocery shopping, laundry, bathing, homework, logistics, transporting, feeding, etc…MUST BE SHARED EQUALLY.
- TRIGGERS OUR OWN UNMET CHILDHOOD NEEDS: When we have a partner, who is not dialed in and connected to our needs or our children’s needs, it is going to naturally trigger all of our own unmet childhood needs and insecurities.
Can you relate to any of these? Have any of these themes been showing up in your life? If so, here’s what you can do to shift things pretty quickly:
We invite you and your partner to get off of the “contempt conveyor belt” and begin to live a nonviolent life between you and your partner and between your ears. Contempt is violent no matter how it shows up. It is not an energy you want in your body, in your home, or in your family, especially with kids around. It is so TOXIC.
- COMMUNICATE: Honestly and openly. You’ve got to check in with one another regularly. Don’t ever assume what your partner is thinking. ASK THEM. Kids are a huge challenge. We no longer live in a framework that affords us being silent as partners.
- SHOW UP: For each other as partners. Show up for your kids. Appreciate and cherish what you have. Decide to be solutions oriented instead of focusing on all of the problems that are bound to come up in life.
- VISION: Create a vision for your parenting plan. What are your shared values? What are your shared life dreams for your family? Just like you your marriage needs vision, so does your parenting.
- CREATE A CONTRACT: Decide together as a couple exactly how responsibilities will be divided and then be open and flexible to change things up when they need to be changed. This means literally script and write everything out and keep it in your notes, on your phone, keep it in an app like Evernote. But keep a copy so that you’re always on the same page about what the agreements are.