Anne Tergesen

My last blog—essentially a complaint that moms, even when they're the primary breadwinners, are often the ones to take primary responsibility for organizing the household and the kids—certainly struck a nerve, especially with working dads. The comments from dads were varied: Most said they try hard to do their fair share; A few argued that moms like me should shut up and go home, where we belong. Here’s my favorite from the latter camp:

“Many feminists seem to me to be angry at God for designing biology so that the hardship of childbirth falls on them. They never stop to think maybe there are good reasons for that design - maybe women as a whole are just better at taking care of home and hearth. Maybe our kids and our homes miss something when women aren't the "primary caregivers". So instead of railing against "traditional" roles of men and women, perhaps try embracing them and making your family and society the better for it.”

Almost all seemed to agree that when inequality occurs, women are at least partly to blame:

“I can’t think of one husband that would be able to handle the flak for doing things less than the wife’s way,” one commenter said.

To get more insight into what the struggle for a 50/50 split feels like from the dad’s point of view, I spoke to Marc Vachon. Marc and wife Amy recently launched a web site called They practice what they preach: Both work part-time so they can divide the parenting and housework. They also make an effort to have equal time for recreation. For tips from Marc and Amy, see my colleague Lauren Young’s recent blog. Here’s what Marc had to say:

Q: Do you think women—and their high standards—are part of the problem?

A: I don’t think women are often very comfortable with letting guys do things their way.
I think women believe society expects them to take care of the house and childcare. Amy and I have this discussion. For example, when we were planning a birthday party for our daughter, I said, “I’ll plan this one.” She got a little concerned. She felt the party would reflect on our family and on her ability to do a good job.

Q: How can men tell women to back off?

A: When Amy went back to work after maternity leave, she left me a list of thing to do – the times to feed the baby, the clothes to dress him in, etc. I took the list and ripped it in half. She was shocked, but I said, “You’re going to work and I’m at home. I’m doing it my way.”

Q: How can women learn to stifle the urge to micro-manage?

A: The difficult discussion most couples don’t have is “What is the standard the household is going to meet?” That keeps guys from doing their share. If the woman has a higher standard, he thinks to himself “I’m not going to fight it.”

If a husband and wife agree the house needs to be cleaned up before bedtime, then the wife has to learn to get out of the way if it’s his responsibility. Just go to bed – and if it doesn’t get done, then you have a discussion about it the next day.

Amy and I have agreed that one person’s expectations cannot dictate the way the other does a job. For example, when it comes to the laundry, I do all the darks and she does all lights. But I like to wait till there’s a couple of baskets and then spend an afternoon doing it. She likes to do it right away. So, if she needs dark clothes because I haven’t done the darks yet, she has to buy more dark clothes. She had to be open to operating on my timetable.

If she wants to dust every day and he wants to dust every six months and what they agree upon is to dust once a month, then she will have to spend her recreation time dusting if she wants it done more often—because that’s not the standard that was agreed upon.

Q: What if a couple is not equal in the breadwinning department? How can they figure out a way to split the domestic work 50/50?

A: The model we’re proposing is equal across all domains. Once you start skewing that model, it gets more complicated. The person home will do more childcare and probably more housework. But if a woman, say, is home all week, I would make a strong effort to have the guy spend more time on the weekends with the kids so the woman can go out and pursue interests. The problem is if a guy never gets to the point where he’s comfortable taking care of the kids, he can dread being with them. It takes a commitment on the part of a father, in this example, to get to know the kids.

Q: How can a couple try to divide the job of organizing the kids’ activities?

A: Have him worry about the dentist’s appointments, while you deal with the doctors. Recently, Amy said she was feeling like she was doing more than her share of the childcare and housework. She asked me to take over a yard sale for the preschool. I said fine. I’m committing to taking this on. But if I decide not to participate—if I decide it doesn’t meet my threshold—you have to be able to let it go. You cannot nag me or remind me.

Q: Is it going to happen?
A: I don’t know yet. The flyer is on the table. I only mention it because it’s a good example of the woman learning to let go.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.