The Simmering Resentment of Dual-Earning Moms
Meet my friend, Samantha. That is not her name, but she didn’t want me to use her real name because she is about to go off.
Samantha is 36. Her husband—we’ll call him Ryan—is 37. Both of them have impressive careers. She works in a senior management position at a financial institution. He is a partner in an accounting firm. Each of them earns six figures and each of them sits on the board of a nonprofit organization.
They are both also parents. Samantha and her husband have two girls, ages 5 and 3.
On a hot, sunny afternoon in July I made the mistake of asking them if they had an egalitarian marriage—one wherein both of them take equal responsibility for all the things necessary to keep a home and family running.
“Absolutely,” Ryan replied.
“For the most part,” Samantha countered.
“What do you mean?” asked Ryan. “We take turns making dinner. We both put the girls to bed every night.”
“That’s true,” said Samantha. She took a sip of wine, gave me a significant look, and changed the subject.
Two days later she called me.
“I hate him,” she said flatly when I answered the phone. Oh boy. “I mean, I don’t hate him, hate him. I just sometimes hate him.”
Samantha proceeded with a litany of reasons she “sometimes” hated her husband:
“He thinks he is this super modern guy who shares all the work equally and is such an amazing partner. But has he ever cleaned a bathroom? Never. Do you think I get the luxury of picking which parts of the house I do and do not want to clean?”
I barely managed a sympathetic “uh-huh” before she was on to her next point.
“And is it really splitting the work and responsibility when I have to tell him to help me pack up the girls every time we leave the house? Seriously, we have to be somewhere at 10am and I start getting us ready an hour before. Snacks, diaper bag, bathroom breaks, water bottles. He rolls down the stairs at quarter to and is all, ‘ready?’ And here I am--I don’t even have pants on yet!”
She is getting pretty fired up by this point. I don’t think she remembers, or even cares, I am on the other side of the phone. She lets loose with a few other choice examples, and choice words to give full flesh to her frustration before sighing deeply. “It’s just not fair. I work just as hard as he does. I am just as successful. But I do twice as much work at home. He doesn’t see it or notice. He pats himself on the back for being the best partner. And I am so angry.”
Samantha’s story is one women have told for decades, and while men and women have come a long way in sharing the demands and hard work of creating a home and raising a family, American Time Use Survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals women still shoulder a larger burden than men.
On average, women spend roughly one hour more on household activities per day than men. They also devote more time to care-taking, spending twice as much time per day caring for and helping household members than men (.6 hours versus .3 hours). Despite increasingly egalitarian domestic partnerships, women remain the primary source of labor in the home.
But herein lies the rub. The demands on a woman’s time has increased dramatically. She is killing it in the c-suite, the board room, and still sluggin’ it out at home. The work women—as wives and mothers—have performed for centuries hasn’t altered much, they’ve simply added work outside the home to their resumes. Have men kept pace? Have they added work in the home to their resumes in equal measure to what women have added outside of it?
In some cases, yes. In some cases, women and men have traded traditional gender roles when it comes to work and home. Many of us know men who take on a lion’s share of work in the home and women who are the primary bread winners.
However, single-income families are on the decline while the number of dual-income families continues to rise—up 60% from 1960 to 2012 compared to a decline of 30% for families wherein the father is the primary earner. As men and women share in the responsibility of providing financially for a family, they must continue to determine how best to share in the myriad of other work required to make a family run. The physical labor. The emotional labor. Often, this work is invisible and it is certainly not as glamorous or valued as work outside the home.
Back to Samantha. She’s not alone in what she is feeling. In fact, New York Times bestselling author Jancee Dunn recently wrote a book about exactly this sentiment. How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids is a candid exploration of the feelings parents go through when navigating things like caregiving and household duties and how expectations are often left unfulfilled. Dunn offers advice for women to help them manage their feelings and encourage more equal participation from partners.
I had Alexa send a copy to Samantha.
“Really?” Samantha asked me in response to what I thought was a considerate gesture. “The book’s title should read, ‘How Not to Be a Douche of a Husband After Kids.’ Every time I look at this book I think, ‘one more thing I have to figure out.’ Why doesn’t he figure it out?”
Ok, good point. We do need a book, written by one of those amazing dads and husbands out there who really gets it, explaining what it means to participate fully in a partnership with a modern woman. What a read! What a man!!
In the meantime, I’ll have Alexa send Samantha a case of wine.