Equitable parenting: How can you have a 'healthy division of labour' at home?

Parents share techniques on how they split duties fairly.

Mother working from home while holding toddler, family in background
Moms and parenting coaches gave Yahoo Canada tips on how to share workload fairly. (Getty)

In traditional (and outdated) gender roles, fathers were the designated breadwinners, while mothers shouldered the bulk of caregiving duties in the family. Today's parenting landscape is changing, with both moms and dads teaming up to tackle parenting responsibilities in creative ways.

But what are the benefits of equitable parenting? Moms and parenting coaches gave Yahoo Canada tips on how to share the workload fairly.

Toronto-based media personality Danielle Graham created a system with her partner for when their two daughters, aged three and seven, need "routine maintenance." Graham's husband takes on "neck up" tasks, meaning he's responsible for their daughters' hair washing and cuts as well as their dentist and optometrist appointments, while Graham handles the "neck down" tasks, like vaccinations, nail grooming and pediatrician appointments.

"I think we have a really good and healthy division of labour," Graham said. She added it took some trial and error before landing on a system that worked for them. It's also a system that needs to be renegotiated as their children's needs change over time.

Apart from routine maintenance, Graham and her partner try to be equitable when it comes to planning extracurriculars and household tasks. For example, she will take her kids to gymnastics and do meal prep, while her partner takes their eldest to Girl Guides and helps with homework.

"Letting go of some of these tasks and not having to think about them has made the world of difference in managing stress," said Graham, who added parenting can feel like having 500 tabs open on your computer.

Another benefit of their delegation system is both Graham and her partner can spend some bonding time with their kids, while also having time for themselves.

How equal parenting benefits children

According to the 2021 Child and Family Research Partnership, involved fathers who spend time with their kids and have "high-quality father-child interactions" can lead to children with better health and well-being. Since dads in the past were traditionally seen as less involved, it's beneficial to challenge this gendered stereotype.

"If they're less involved everybody loses out, including the dad, because a lot of connection comes from nurturing and caretaking," said Sarah Rosensweet, a Toronto-based parenting coach.

It's widely known that caregiving duties fall disproportionately on women.

This means invisible labour (or mental and emotional labour) like organizing, motivating children, comforting them and maintaining a running to-do list. Rosensweet said this also includes noticing when things need to get done, rather than having one parent relying on the other to tell them what to do.

"I think the biggest way it can impact a child day to day is seeing a parent who's chronically stressed and burnt out, which isn't good for anyone," Rosensweet said.

Stressed mum at home. She has her head in her hands at a messy kitchen sink and her children are running round in the background.
Caregiving duties fall disproportionately on women, including mental labour, which can lead to burnout. (Getty)

How to divide tasks equally

For parents struggling to divide their tasks equally, Rosensweet recommended Eve Rodsky's book, "Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live)."

Rodsky's book explores gender inequality in the division of domestic labour and the impact of this inequality on mothers. She develops the "fair play method" or a card system, which has tasks that you and your partner "deal out" to share the workload more fairly. For example, these cards can pertain to doctor's appointments, pet care or extracurriculars.

"It's a really great system for parents to actually look at who's currently doing what and then maybe redivide the tasks if it doesn't feel fair," said Rosensweet.

There can be a lot of fights where you feel like you're doing everything and the other person might feel unnoticed.Sarah Rosensweet

She added everyone is predisposed to paying more attention to the tasks they're taking on, rather than what their partner has been doing. "A system like this is good because it's objective. You can see it in front of you."

Rosensweet encouraged parents to remind themselves having children is hard, and even if you're swamped with the needs of your children, making time for each other is still important. This way, if you feel overworked and you want to discuss it with your partner, your connection can help you have a better understanding of each other.

What if you have different schedules?

Hispanic father washing small toddler son in a bathroom indoors at home.
Splitting duties fairly ensures both parents can spend quality time with their children. (Getty)

For parents who simply do not have the schedule to split tasks equally, parent-coach Allana Robinson, a Petawawa, Ont. resident and mother-of-two, can relate. Since her partner is in the military and deployed often, both parents plan around his absences and unpredictable schedule.

If Robinson's partner is home, he takes on the role of being the primary parent so Robinson can have a break. That means deferring things like making snacks or finding a lost red marker.

They also split tasks based on the time of day. Robinson's partner takes care of morning and evening duties like waking the kids up, making breakfast, packing their backpacks, doing dishes after dinner and getting them ready for bed. Robinson, who is self-employed, has time in the afternoons to deal with tasks like dentist appointments, picking them up from school or making their lunches for the next day.

"It's based on our availability," she explained.

She added that parents who are planning on offloading one duty or anticipating a change in routine should try to gradually transfer those responsibilities so the child can accept that transition more.

For example, if you want to offload the duty of brushing your child's teeth, maybe stay in the bathroom while your partner does it until you can eventually leave. "Otherwise it's almost impossible to make the switch overnight."

Lastly, Robinson said children absorb and learn from what their parents are doing — so if they see their mom and dad breaking "generational pink versus blue jobs," that will be reflected when they grow up.

"If they've never seen a man do something, they're going to assume it's because men don't or can't do it,” she said. "When they see their dads engaging in things like taking them to parent-teacher interviews or changing their bedding and doing laundry — to them, that's just normal."

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