This one’s for all the dads out there. Well, not all the dads—but the dads who sit on the couch while their partners clean the house. The dads who somehow happen to be in the basement or the garage whenever the stink of a diaper fills the air. The dads who ask if their favorite shirt is clean instead of cleaning it themselves.
To my fellow dads I say this: Do more.
Chores and the Mental Load
At this point, most of us have heard of the mental load. It’s the term for the intangible burdens placed on moms while oblivious dads sit on the sidelines, assuming everything will just get done. If you haven’t already, check out the comic titled “You Should’ve Asked,” which has been making its way around social media since 2017.
The mental load imbalance is a significant issue, and it’s one that can’t get fixed overnight. A complete mindset shift and a million subsequent small changes need to happen before moms and dads actually share the mental load. Until then, dads, if you want to know how you can help, I’ll say it again: Do more.
Make no mistake, the mental load is NOT about who does which chores.
Rather, it’s about managing every little thing that comes with having a family—making the appointments, emailing the teachers, knowing which kid loves scrambled eggs and which kid hates them. All of that adds up to a job that’s bigger than chores. Still, the more chores we share, dads, the more we can allow the moms in our lives to free up some mental space, get back some physical energy, and maybe not be as stressed. And that’s a start, however small.
Six Things Dads Can Do Now
Here are six things you can do. Already doing these six things? Great! Keep doing them, and come up with six more. Next month, come up with another six. Repeat until she’s happy.
Vacuum. If you have carpeting, vacuum it. If you have area rugs and hardwood floors, vacuum and sweep. Whatever the case, just do it. And don’t do it because your partner asked you to. Do it because you’re an adult who noticed the living room needs to be vacuumed.
Do laundry. I remember the one time I saw my dad do laundry. It was 1986, the same year Halley’s Comet last appeared. Don’t be like him. Do the laundry, dad. Every step: sort, measure, load, transfer, fold, put away. If your kids are old enough, have them help with any or all steps, as long as you’re the one initiating.
Change diapers. No excuses. If you can wipe yourself (and I really hope you can), you can wipe your child. And don’t just change diapers at home, where all necessary supplies are within reach. Do it in public, where soiled or absent changing tables, dried-up wipes and countless other obstacles can get in your way.
Attend parent-teacher conferences. Show up. Ask questions. Engage in a discussion with the teacher. Then, engage in a discussion with your kid about what you learned. This is part of your job as a parent, which is why they’re called parent-teacher conferences and not mom-teacher conferences.
Schedule and attend pediatrician appointments. If your kids aren’t in school yet, this is a great way to practice for parent-teacher conferences. Call the doctor. Schedule the appointment. Mark it on the calendar. Show up with the list of questions and concerns that you and your partner came up with together.
Bake cookies. If you’ve assembled a dresser from Target, you can follow a cookie recipe. Then, when your kid brings homemade cookies to school and some adult asks, “Did you help your mom bake those?” your kid can answer, “No, I helped my dad bake them while my mom went out with her friends.” Boom. In your face, gender norms.
Step It Up
Maybe you’re thinking, “I can’t do these things because I have a full-time job.” Guess what. Full-time working moms have been performing these tasks for years.
We can’t wipe out the mental load imbalance by tomorrow. But I know you can wipe your kid’s butt tomorrow. Let’s step it up, dads.