Fall in: men, housework, and the will to do dishes

Is there a husband in the house?

No one ever mistook Mr. Mom for Superman. No lavish praise for the stay-at-home dad. No kudos for bucking the stereotype. Dads who buy groceries in the middle of the day look less like superheroes than the unemployed. Those who leave work at five to start dinner feel like corporate welfare cheats.

As I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, I couldn’t help concluding that the burden of housekeeping will continue to fall on women until cultural expectations change for their mates. For men who struggle with the issue of leadership at home as well as work, I offer a few observations based on the chapter titles in Sandberg’s book:

  • Fill the ambition gap. “Men are expected to be ambitious,” Sandberg writes. “Women are expected to be nice.” Men can be both. Offer to split the chores. And when your spouse has to work late, don’t carp when she gets home. She’s heard enough complaining at the office.
  • Set the table, don’t just sit at it. Arrive home early and make dinner, maybe on alternate nights. On the days when your spouse cooks, offer to wash the dishes.
  • It’s a jungle gym, not a ladder. The kids were your idea as well as hers. Offer to split the chauffeur work. Watching the ballgame instead of reading to your kids will feel better now, but your children have long memories, and one day they’ll be taking care of you.
  • Speak your truth. If you feel a disproportionate amount of the work is falling on you, don’t slam a door you don’t really want to close. Talk about it with your spouse. She might give you a “now you know how it feels” look but eventually she’ll realize that she can’t function effectively at work without your support at home.
  • The myth of doing it all. Now you know what women have known for centuries: you can have it all but not all at once. There isn’t time to clean, cook, take care of the kids and work on your doctorate. You’ll fall asleep during one of those activities. “Instead of perfection,” Sandberg writes, “we should aim for sustainable and fulfilling. Success is making the best choices we can . . . and accepting them.”

So lean into your family and home. So lean into your family and home. Only then will you truly become the man of the house.