Here's what this article isn't: a b*tchfest about how incompetent our co-parents are. This is also not a list of passive aggressive tips to trick or shame your partner into becoming a different person. The tl;dr version of this article is as follows: when I asked moms how they successfully got their partner to contribute more, the answer was almost always "talk to them." Honestly, if I've learned one thing in 34 years, it's that the self-help industry would cease to exist if we all learned that, more often than not, the answer to any interpersonal issue is "talk to them."
My partner and I both identify as feminists and, as such, were well aware of the societal tendency of women to take on (and be expected to take on) a disproportionate share of childcare responsibilities even before we had kids. We were determined not to fall into that paradigm when we had children, so we made it a point to talk a lot about our thoughts on child-rearing and how we hoped to approach it cooperatively. "So you just sat around talking about hypothetical babies? That's kind of weird," you might think. Well, yes and no. We were talking about our hypothetical babies, but we also did that while observing actual children while watching a whole lot of Supernanny. Seeing actual parenting situations and challenges helped give us a better idea of what we might be up against and provided a great jumping off point to discuss bigger ideas. And we watched enough Supernanny marathons to know that continued discussion between parents is always important, especially when those conversations are hard to have because everyone is so busy and overwhelmed.
How did other moms get the conversation started? It's usually straightforward, but sometimes the catalyst for communication was crisis:
"We keep the communication ongoing. Although we have tasks that we prefer to do, we understand that these tasks are 'ours.' When we feel like the balance is tilting, we do a state of the union type chat — I list everything I am doing, he lists his and we find out where we might be able to balance things. Right now, I do pick-up and drop-off, so he gets up and makes the lunches for all three of us. At first, I was annoyed that he had the chance to sleep later and not have to worry about anything in the morning, when I brought it up, we found where we needed to adjust."
"I can't complain. My husband is an equal partner to me with household duties and on our relationship. While I do most of the day to day with parenting, mostly due to the differences in our work schedules, we did go through a hiccup when our first child was born. So I planned a full day for myself. I left at 7:00 a.m. and came home at 10:00 p.m. He got a crash course in all the little things I do. He understood after that and came into the fold quickly."
"I was very pregnant with our third child and had been really struggling and asking him to help. We took our older two for a walk around the pond in our neighborhood. Our 18 month old took a corner on her tricycle too fast, he was chatting with the neighbors not watching. She went off the side walk down a steep hill toward the pond. I went running down after her and fell down the hill. I saved her from falling in but ended up in labor and delivery with contractions. He completely turned a corner at that moment."
"My husband is a great partner who actually does his fair share of work around the house. But there was a huge transition period of learning how to equitably divide work after the kids were born. Here are some things I suggest: If you are into attachment parenting ... be very vigilant and aware of how much of your time and energy and resources are going to parenting. Breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and baby-wearing alone can make mothers "on call" and exhausted 24-7. So, if that's your choice, be aware of how much of your resources you are using, and talk to your partner about it so that you can make conscious voices about how you will have enough time and energy to do all of the stuff you need to keep your family alive and healthy and your marriage intact. If one partner is doing something like co-sleeping or waking up at night with the baby and the other isn't, then the one doing the task has to communicate clearly and non-judgmentally how this task is affecting them and what they need.
For example, when I was getting up with the kids, I also got to sleep in every day that my spouse wasn't working and nap with the baby whenever possible. My biggest piece of advice is don't try to be a martyr, don't try to be super mom, don't keep your spouse from doing parenting tasks because you're so great at it and your spouse is lame — delegate and take care of yourself. Speak up when you need help. You don't have to be mean about it (and BTW, that probably won't help your situation), but be honest and always ask for what you need."
"We were going through a rough patch when my oldest was about 9 months old. We had used 'the D word' a couple of times, once shortly before I went away for a bachelorette weekend. Normally my mother-in-law would have come to help with the baby, but she was away that weekend, too. I'm so thankful she was, because without having someone there to basically do everything for him, my husband saw just how much is required to care for a child. He'd been slacking pretty hard before then, but having to do everything on his own, along with our talk of divorce was his 'come to Jesus' moment. We had a really great talk after that experience and he's been great ever since."
"I'm a pretty data, schedule driven person, so I have put together a pretty detailed task list, divided it up and emailed it. That worked for a while, but my husband's work schedule is sometimes intense and some of his task, he physically wasn't there to do. I've found now that just asking works really well. He doesn't always see or realize what needs to be done, but he will do what I ask him to do."
"My husband is really egalitarian, so we are equal contributors for the most part with parenting and relationship. Of course, they always want mommy more, but that is not his fault! With the household stuff, we accepted our limitations and outsourced!"
"Well, my spouse is actually a neater person than me, so I sometimes feel like I need to catch up to him when it comes to my fair share of helping around the house. Way, way back before our son arrived, we briefly tried keeping a chore chart, which ultimately went out the window. Though we've lived together for more than ten years, so the way we handle household duties has evolved, and I'm sure it will continue to change given our kids' ages and our jobs and lifestyle, etc."
"I actually didn't do anything. His dad actually pulled him aside and told him to man up. I'm pretty sure he did this after my mother-in-law noticed how much I was taking on and mentioned something to him. It didn't even strike me I should be asking for help. I don't know why, but it just didn't, but they saw I needed [my partner] to share the load a bit more. [My partner] was so embarrassed and, I think, a little ashamed, that his dad called him out. I love my in-laws. (Now there's a good team.) "
"With us, my schedule sends everyone else out of whack (rotating shift work, continuously changing what shifts, what hours of the day each week) ... [which means] I work 24/7 shifts. So having a schedule written out at least a month ahead of time is a must. On days/nights when I'm at work, he has to pick up the kids and do dinner (even if that means mac and cheese or cereal for dinner). We talk, and I usually have to remind because hello, there is 45,8634 things going on each week. He's a great contributor!"
"I actually asked. It was that simple. I realized not telling him on principle because 'he should know' was making me kind of miserable. It took me a while to get there and realize that he was never going to 'just know' that something needed to be done, at least not at first. His priorities were different from mine. He needed a jump start for us to be on the same page, so I just started asking for help. Eventually it mostly became habit for him and he did 'just know.' Sometimes I still have to remind him of things I think are very basic, but it's much better to be kind of annoyed and ask for help than huff and puff and wait around for him to get it on his own."