I’ll write about dads doing chores one more time, and then I’ll shut up. For now.
As I said before, the mental load can’t get fixed immediately. It’s not about chores alone; it’s about shifting society’s mindset, and it takes hard work to shift a mindset. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and dads doing chores and stepping up to take on more responsibility around the house is a good first step.
Here’s a good second step for dads: Make sure your kids see you doing the work. My 5-year-old daughter taught me this.
One day, my daughter was telling me about classmates’ lunches. “Olivia’s dad packs her an apple every day. William’s dad packs him pickles. Claire’s dad packs her string cheese. Frankie’s dad packs him unsalted kale and beet chips.” I thought two things: First, poor Frankie. Second, it’s great to hear that all those dads are packing lunches.
Then it occurred to me: My daughter has no clue who packs her friends’ lunches. Maybe it’s the dads, maybe it’s the moms, maybe it’s the kids themselves. It doesn’t matter. My daughter assumes all dads pack lunches because I’ve always packed her lunch, and I’ve always done it in front of her. My son, too. So, to my kids, dads packing lunches is the norm. If they become parents, they’ll carry that norm into their own families.
It’s a small thing, packing lunches for your kids. But it’s kind of a big thing, too. Everything we do in front of our kids teaches them how to act and what to expect in life. My son will go into parenthood thinking packing lunches is his job as a man. My daughter will go into parenthood knowing that packing lunches isn’t automatically her job as a woman.
The problem of the mental load is enormous. Maybe solving that problem within our generation—while a noble idea—is too far out of reach. But if we create a new version of normal in our homes now, then things can change over time. Maybe the next generation could be the one that finally shares the mental load.
Dads, by doing chores and taking ownership of as many small things as possible—and making sure your kids witness it—we can take another step toward fixing the mental load problem in the short term and long term. We can alleviate some of the burden on our partners while we raise our children to know dads can and should participate equally.