Mon, Feb 23, 2009 - Page 9 News List

An experiment in equal parenting

Mothers do more housework than fathers. Twice as much, according to a recent report. So could a US couple’s scheme of strictly dividing childcare and chores redress the balance?

By Viv Groskop  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Or maybe not. Simon has drawn up a spreadsheet. He reckons he can do most of his childcare hours in four-and-a-half workdays; he just needs to put in two hours before school and two hours after work.

He will leave late so he can do the school run and he will come home early at 5:30pm or 6pm. He will take a half-day on Friday and do a day’s childcare at the weekend. And he promises to attend to all nighttime wakings.

It’s double or maybe triple his normal load. It means he will be rushing to and from work and won’t have any free time at home at all. But I am still not happy. I want him to work a three or four-day week. He, however, wants to prove that you can work an almost five-day week and still do equal parenting. We shall see.

I behave pettily on the first day: Simon does the school drop-off and so I ostentatiously do the pickup even though the nanny could easily have done it. I then cook a batch of fiddly pancakes for the children to prove that I also do the larger share of the housework (actually untrue).

Simon quietly gets on with the laundry, tending the fireplace, loading the dishwasher and organizing the recycling bins. Later I fume in my office, surfing Web sites about maternal feminism.

“I hope you will be writing in your article that while you were busy researching the resurgence of the patriarchy, I was cooking your tea,” Simon shouts up the stairs.


I spend all day looking after the children and feel extremely virtuous. I realize, with a twinge of sadness, that I am being childish. Why am I so angry and competitive? A visit to the dentist reminds me. Simon very rarely has to negotiate everyday life when he looks after the children. He does whatever is easiest — and often they just hang out at home.

Isn’t this what most men do when they look after their children? The fun stuff. Mothers, however, do supermarket shopping, visits to banks and post offices, hairdressing and doctor’s appointments — all with at least one child in tow. It’s exhausting.

In his defense Simon offers to get home in time for the dentist appointment, but it’s at 3.30pm, which would mean him leaving the office at 2.30pm — and taking half a day’s holiday. It makes more sense for me to take them myself and swallow the stress of it.

“Do a lot of mothers bring their children in with them?” I ask the dentist.

“Oh, yes, we get it all the time,” she replies.

“What about fathers?” I ask.

She looks at me blankly. Ha!


I work my longest day of the week today and am at the computer at 7am, although I also seem to run up and down stairs for two hours trying to get Vera dressed. (Why isn’t Simon doing this? He is supposed to be “on duty.”)

Simon does the school run with Will. I re-read an e-mail from Marc Vachon. He says one of the biggest problems is when the man’s contribution is seen as “helping” the woman out; that puts her in the position of primary carer. Is this where I’m messing up? Do I think it’s Simon’s duty to “help” me?

Vachon says that men who sign up for equally shared parenting “get guilt-free recreation time for themselves, plus all the benefits of a happy wife who also gets time to pursue her own hobbies and a marriage with true and lasting intimacy (less chance of divorce, a better sex life between two people who appreciate and are attracted to each other).”

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