Sharing Care Work in Your Family

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No matter where you are on your parenting journey—pregnant, newborn, older children—you may have noticed that it’s hard to share care work equally with a coparent. You’re not alone! Worldwide care work, which includes elder care, care for disabled people, and childcare, is not balanced. According to a report [1] published recently by a global campaign called MenCare, women do three times as much care work as men. The authors of the MenCare report also write that, at the current rate of change, it will take about 92 years for care work to be truly equal.

If you’re not interested in waiting that long, read on to learn what the authors of the MenCare report suggest in order to make care work more equal right now. The seven suggestions they make in their report have a broad focus, as change needs to happen on a system-wide level, but there are ways that you can apply the ideas to your own family today.

Put Policies In Place That Redistribute Care Work 

In the MenCare report, the authors recommend changes on the national level that include funding universal childcare, encouraging and supporting engagement of fathers and non-primary caregivers, as well as defining care to include nontraditional families. While this is clearly important at the national level, some of these ideas can also be implemented within your own family. For instance, make family policies that equalize care work by planning specific days or times for parents to be on caring duty. You might wake up with the baby every day, while your partner is responsible for doing bath time and putting baby bed. Perhaps your coparent wants to be completely in charge of doctor trips, while you handle the dentist visits. The benefit of making these kinds of family policies is that it also relieves whoever was doing the emotional and logistical labor of keeping track of everything. If you never bathe your child because your partner always does, there’s no reason for you to wonder when you’re going to get the kid a bath.

Parental Leave 

According to the authors of the MenCare report, providing equal, job-protected, fully paid parental leave should be a national policy. And while many countries have parental leave policies on the federal level, the United States does not. It’s always a great idea to contact your lawmakers to advocate for parental leave policies, but you can also do this on a smaller, more individual level. During your pregnancy, maybe you and your coparent-to-be can both plan to take time off after the baby is born. If you both work outside the home, find out what your employer policies are around parental leave well in advance of baby’s arrival. If you want to advocate a little closer to home, you can also speak candidly with your employer if you find that the leave policies are inadequate. Having both parents home at the beginning of baby’s life, as well as having options for each of you to take time off of work for childcare will help equalize childcare from the beginning.

Get Both Parents Involved Prenatally 

Another suggestion from the MenCare report is to promote the non-gestational parent’s involvement from the prenatal period through birth and childhood. In other words, if your partner is pregnant, get involved! There are lots of things you can do, from researching car seats and cribs, to taking a childbirth education class, to pampering your pregnant partner. Once baby is born, you can be in charge of diaper changing, give baby plenty of cuddles, as well as focus on all house-related things, so that your partner can focus on recovering from birth and—if this is something your family is doing—breastfeeding the baby. As baby gets a little older, think about some of the tasks that happen for your child daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly, such as the doctor and dentist visits that we discussed above. Be aware of how many things your partner does for your kid and be proactive in taking things on as you see a need—don’t just wait to be asked.

  1. Barker, G., Garg, A., Heilman, B., van der Gaag, N., & Mehaffey, R. (2021). State of the World’s Fathers: Structural Solutions to Achieve Equality in Care Work. Washington, DC: Promundo-US.
Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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