Women in the UK take on more than two-thirds of childcare duties and do nearly four weeks a year more unpaid work in the home than men, according to a new report.
In a study of 37 countries, the Overseas Development Institute found that men in Ireland carried out just seven per cent of childcare. Sweden, on the other hand, came out as the most equal - with men responsible for 37 per cent of unpaid care. What is it that Sweden is getting right and how are they convincing their menfolk to engage more with childcare responsibilities and domestic duties?
Let’s not kid ourselves that dads in Sweden are just a bit nicer. There is far greater support by the Swedish government for dads to take on childcare responsibilities from the get-go. New parents are granted 16-months of leave of which three months are set aside specifically for fathers - during which time they receive 80 per cent of their salary. In the UK fathers get a measly two weeks with basic statutory pay.
But even after all parental leave is over and both parents are back at work it’s still women who undertake the larger share of childcare-related responsibilities, especially in relation to managing children’s schedules and handling child sickness. Perhaps because mothers have become accustomed to the responsibility during maternity leave and perhaps because society expects it. But because Swedish men are encouraged to take a more active role in the home from the start, it is seen as more of a cultural norm for them to be the ones to pick the kids up from the school gates, for example.
So until the UK government catches up with a more progressive stance towards parental leave, what can you do to optimise the balance of childcare and domestic drudgery carried out by you and your partner?
Childcare and household chores are an inevitability, so think about what each family member needs - and what they can contribute - and consider what your goals are. Once you let go of perfection your stress levels will reduce immediately. Sit down with your partner and prioritise which chores are important.
DIVISION OF LABOUR
It may be useful to keep a week-long log of all the childcare-related tasks and domestic jobs you do - and for your partner to do the same. It’ll give you a chance to assess your work-load and also to appreciate just how much you each do. Look at the list and see how you feel about each task. Is there any that you really dislike - is there a chance of swapping it for one of your partner’s chores? Be realistic: a fifty-fifty division of domestic jobs may not be the way to go - especially if you work reduced hours, or haven’t gone back to work - but try to agree on a split that you find mutually acceptable.
Do whatever it takes to make life easier: Get smart with cooking - when possible cook extra and throw a batch in the freezer. Invest in a larger washing machine so you can get more done in one go and perhaps use online grocery shopping and a set list of favourites each week.
Realise that you both have different parenting skills and that these differences are valuable for your child. Try not to criticise or micro-manage your partner if they do things slightly differently to you. Divvy up daily tasks when possible - maybe one of you can take morning breakfast duty and the other can do the evening bath. Take turns having a weekend lie-in or getting up in the middle of the night. Make sure each parent has their share of fun things like reading the bedtime story as well as the mundane tasks like emptying the nappy bin.
Discuss whether a few pounds spent here or there could be a wise investment for both your sanities. Maybe you cook Mondays and Wednesdays, your partner does Tuesdays and Thursdays - and Friday you order a takeaway. Perhaps consider hiring a cleaner once a week if it’ll improve your quality of life.
Even if you do write down a list, it’s not set in stone and can be changed at any time. Everything is negotiable! Keep talking to each other, work as a team and stay flexible. If you can’t manage to do some of your tasks don’t stress yourself out - no-one’s perfect. Above all make sure you have family time as well as time for just the two of you.
As a final thought, a recent study in the journal Psychological Science suggests that dads who share household chores with their wives tend to have more ambitious children - particularly daughters. They were found to have girls more likely to aspire to careers in medicine or accountancy than men who didn’t share domestic duties. And another study from the US suggests that sharing child care means a better sex life for couples than if one partner shoulders most of the burden alone. Amen to that.