(By Samantha Ettus)
“When you split housework and childcare based on current earnings, the sub-earner can never reach her potential because she is unduly burdened with the housework and childcare. To help the sub-earner meet her full career or earning potential, there needs to be a more equal division of labor at home.“
“How can I get my husband to share household and parenting responsibilities despite the large difference in our salaries?”
What happens when the primary breadwinner uses making more money as an excuse for doing far less or none of the childcare and housework? Lately this question is coming up all the time. Women call in to my radio show, they comment on my Facebook posts, they approach me after I speak at conferences asking how to handle a partner who uses earning the dough as an excuse not to hold the vacuum.
Most of the research in this area focuses on the fact that women take on more housework regardless of their incomes. When a woman out-earns her husband, she still does far more of the housework. But what happens when women earn less and this earnings disparity is used as an excuse for the husband not to do more?
Let’s rethink this.
You can’t look at tall trees and short trees and value some less than others. As a family, you have to look at the entire forest. When one partner tries to slice the breadwinning loaf any other way, the collective unit suffers.
Here are six ways to transform the division of labor conversation:
1. Embrace the Collective Entity
It isn’t about the collective numbers, it’s about the package. If you asked your partner to get a 25% raise, it wouldn’t be so easy, but you’re already making an important fraction of the total. What your partner can add is more time helping at home, while keeping your less lucrative job protects the family financially regardless of the fact that you’re making less.
2. Consider Utility
The economic concept of utility is a measure of fulfillment or satisfaction. We all know that when the parents in a home are not happy and fulfilled, it is hard for the kids to have a positive home environment. We all want a happy and functioning household. The reality is that a spouse needs to appreciate the non-economic return (job satisfaction, personal fulfillment and confidence) that impacts daily household happiness.
3. Maximize Your Future Potential
When you split housework and childcare based on current earnings, the sub-earner can never reach her potential because she is unduly burdened with the housework and childcare. To help the sub-earner meet her full career or earning potential, there needs to be a more equal division of labor at home.
4. Focus on Kids’ Success
Kids are so much more successful when both parents are involved in their care. Research shows that absentee fathers are the single greatest risk factor in teen pregnancy for girls. And girls who see their fathers contributing at home are less likely to end up in traditional marriages.
5. Seek Out the Right Cultural Environment
We tend to mirror the habits of those around us. It’s why you care so much about who your teens spend their time with. So spend time with the fifty-fifties – the couples who are clearly a team, the ones whose marriages look less like June and Ward Cleaver and more like Michelle and Barack Obama. In this case, peer pressure is a beautiful thing.
6. Prepare for the Unexpected
The sub-earner needs to keep up their career in the event that something unexpected happens to the primary breadwinner. When a woman leaves the workforce completely, she will likely have a hard time getting back in, and even if she does, she will likely never reach her full financial potential. So keeping her network warm and her skills sharp is essential to the financial safety of the family.
Samantha Ettus is a bestselling author, radio host and speaker focused on work/life balance. Connect with her here.