I suppose there are some couples who feel as though divide household chores and childcare exactly 50-50 and are perfectly happy all the time and give each other foot massages every night.
But for most people I know, every day is a particularly exhausting combination of whack-a-mole, an obstacle course and a flogging. And it can be difficult, while in the midst of the flogging, to not feel resentful if you think you’re taking on more than your fair share.
Enter Equally Shared Parenting, a website run by Marc and Amy Vachon, the authors of Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents.
They are proponents of dividing the load equally, and to that end they offer “equality calculators”, or worksheets for child care, housekeeping, breadwinning and “self time”, as well as a financial evaluation calculator.
Now let me just say that these worksheets are certainly not meant to be weapons, bludgeons with which you can clobber your partner after she once again fails to remember that “cleaning up after dinner” also includes sweeping the kitchen. (Doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?) They’re meant to be conversation facilitators and tools for discussing whether you’re happy with how you divide the load — and how to adjust if you aren’t.
In my family, we had a no-restaurants rule for our kids for about two years. This is because they ate either at lightning speed - which meant one of us parents had to gobble too, and then take them outside to whack sticks on trees - or at a snail's pace, which meant the closing waitstaff was turning up the air conditioning and blasting Jimmy Buffett as a subtle hint. Or the kids were simply rambunctious, pissy, or messy, an unpleasant experience for everyone involved.
My partner and I have two kids, ages seven and four, and we are constantly divvying up child care and paid work based on who has more paid work at any given moment. So I was curious. I printed out the child-raising equality scale, and filled it out with an = for tasks shared equally and either an L or an F for the chores that each of us mostly takes on.
OK, fine. But this was not the precise mathematical breakdown of what each of us does, so I figured out a percentage for each task. Some things I do 100 per cent, some things he does 100 per cent. Others are split 80/20, 70/30 and so on.
Because I am not terrific at algebra and calculus and can’t make a tidy equation, I figured out my overall percentage like this: I gave each task 100 points, and for each task that is relevant to us (26 on the list) I came up with percentage that I am responsible for: I do 100 per cent of “seasonal clothes rotation” (so that is worth 100 points for me), for example, but roughly 70 per cent of “playdate coordination” (worth 70 points for me). Then I added all the points up and divided by 2600, and found that... I do 58 per cent of the child care, by this model. Pretty fair.
If your kid zones out while doing his homework, maybe he should put on a cape.
However! Changing nappies and feeding are obviously sucky chores compared to buying birthday presents. My friend pointed out that some chores are “worth” more than others — toilet-training kids is vastly more effortful than shopping for gifts, for example, so he suggested assigning the more arduous chores a higher point value.
So I will assign “cleaning up bedwetting” a greater number of points and “present-buying” a smaller number of points... and now I’m geeking out on maths puzzles while my partner is handcrafting paper dragons with the kids. We all have our strengths.
Don’t feel like working through a mathematical function with your partner? Use the worksheets the way they were intended: To start a conversation about whether you’re happy with your division of labour. And don’t forget to sweep the floor.