keeping score

My husband and I got into a fight recently. About the laundry. It was a heated version of the fight we have been having for years now, since becoming parents, an argument that manifests with different melodies and harmonies but which always reduces to a variation on the same theme: our distribution of domestic labor. Who is doing what. Who is doing it when. And, of course, who is doing more.

A few weeks after this fight, I was asked what advice I might give to couples attempting to keep their relationship strong as they scale the frontier of new parenthood. Bearing in mind the exchange with my husband, I felt compelled to answer, with some emphasis: resist the urge to keep score. By which I meant don’t treat life after baby as a competition between you and your partner over who is suffering the most—from sleep deprivation, from the endless cycle of demands, from the vacuum-like suck of time.

And yet, as with virtually all parenting advice, this is easier said than done. For even though I am not the tallying type by nature, it is score-keeping with regard to childcare and household duties that has proved, more than anything else, the Achilles heel of my marriage.

A new Pew Research Center survey, which analyzes how working parents divvy tasks when it comes to raising kids and running a household, leads me to believe I am not alone. The report focuses, in part, on the way mothers and fathers perceive “sharing the load” with their co-parents. It does not address the actual amount of work being done by each partner nor how either feels about the perceived split.

In terms of the health of a couple’s relationship, however, the last point is probably the most important. The results of the survey indicate that mothers are still doing more of the domestic labor across the board, irrespective of whether they are employed full-time, part-time or are “stay-at-home” parents—and this is indeed noteworthy for our understanding of the state of marital equality. But what really matters to marital harmony (an admittedly different beast), it seems, is a woman’s emotional reaction to this fact.

You can read the rest of this essay here, at The Washington Post.

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