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Psychologist Darcy Lockman: This is why the parenting workload is rarely equal

Author Darcy Lockman says, “We make this assumption that our egalitarian values are going to make their way into the homes, and that’s not the way it plays out."
Darcy Lockman, author of "All the Rage."
Darcy Lockman, author of "All the Rage."Courtesy of Darcy Lockman.

When Darcy Lockman, author of “All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership” became a parent, she had a burning question that continued to nag her throughout her early years of motherhood: “Why are we still living this way?” Lockman was referring to the challenge of maintaining an equal partnership when raising children—a nearly impossible balancing act that many families face when both spouses work outside the home.

Although Lockman went into parenthood assuming that she and her progressive husband were going to equally share childcare responsibilities while pursuing their careers, she quickly realized that this was much easier said than done. “I was really surprised when we became parents — of how much of the workload of our children’s needs fell on to me,” Lockman recently told MSNBC’s Yasmin Vossoughian.

She wasn’t referring to the playing and loving aspects of parenting, but the logistics, like knowing what the children needed for school, scheduling doctors’ appointments and so on. “I found myself both overwhelmed and angry a lot of the time,” she admitted. She discovered that many other working mothers felt the same way.

At a time when roughly 57 percent of women are working, compared to 69 percent of men, many people assume there should be a shift toward an equal distribution of parenting duties. However, despite more women working, they’re also taking on more of the parenting responsibilities. In turn, for many women, leisure time, social lives and sleep are compromised, Lockman said.

Lockman spoke to Vossoughian about the myth of the equal partnership and emphasized there is much more work to be done.

“This is not the days of our parents, where the father went out and worked and the mother stayed home and took care of the three kids all by her lonesome,” Vossoughian agreed.

Despite many women’s expectation that the sexist world that we live in won’t impact our most intimate relationships, the contrary holds true, Lockman explained. “We make this assumption that our egalitarian values are going to make their way into the homes, and that’s not the way it plays out,” she said. This expectation leads couples to never have a conversation about how things are actually going to go and how tasks will be divided.

“Before you become a parent, you have no idea of all the work that’s going to happen, so you can’t break things down so much before it all begins,” Lockman explained.

While writing her book, Lockman learned that many women felt their complaints about the unequal division of childcare responsibilities fell on deaf ears. In some cases, it was hard for women to convince their spouses that this was a problem at all.

Some women shared with Lockman that if they wanted things to get done the way they expected, such as their children getting to bed on time or eating healthy meals, then they needed to do it themselves. Other women believed that they had the more flexible occupation that allowed them to tend to childcare duties more easily, and this proved true even when occupations were reversed in the husband/wife pairs studied.

“There’s something about the way boys and girls are raised,” Lockman said. “Girls tend to be communal and think about others, and boys are raised to think about themselves and their own needs. This plays out in relationships in very predictable ways.”

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For a shift to happen, we can perhaps begin with the way preschool children are responded to. One study that Lockman mentioned suggests that both girls and boys are equally aggressive in their earliest years, but preschool teachers tend to intervene in boys’ behavior three times more than they do for girls. As a result, the aggression continues on for boys since they get more attention for their behavior, whereas girls turn to talking, babbling and whining as a means for attention, Lockman said.

In a partnership, there are also negative emotions associated with what Lockman refers to as over benefiting—such as the husband playing on his phone while the wife cooks dinner—and under benefiting—which refers to the one who does most of the work around the house. Over benefiting leads to feelings of fear and self-reproach, such as fear of the wife becoming angry, whereas under benefiting can lead to anger and rage.

“We’ve internalized this idea that women should do two-thirds of the work,” Lockman said. To truly change the dynamic, she believes a little knowledge about this societal expectations can go a long way for partners to truly put their heads together and figure out how to change things as a team. “If you have the information and understand what you’re up against, you’re in a much better position to make other decisions,” she said.

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