What’s the secret to a strong marriage in the early days of parenthood? It may be as simple as as hanging up a chore chart for mom and dad and splitting responsibilities down the middle—even when (or especially when) mom is only working part-time.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, marriages suffer when moms believe they are sacrificing their careers and doing more than their fair share at home. As a trend, the researchers also found part-time working moms “experience greater parenting inequalities” than working dads.
But there is good news: A solution may be as simple as having a serious conversation with your partner about responsibilities inside and outside of the home, says Jill Whitney, licensed marriage and family therapist.
“Women who are mothers and also work outside the home often feel they handle more domestic responsibilities—and they often do,” Whitney says. “They look at the householding and childcare that gets done, see that they handle much more than half of it, and resent their husbands for not carrying more of the weight.”
She says men with the best of intentions are still surprised to hear their wives feel this way. The way they see it, they’re doing a lot more at home than their own fathers or grandfathers.
That’s why it’s important for couples to have some hard and honest conversations—and not just about how much work each partner is doing at home, but about what working outside the home means to each partner.
Finding the right balance will look different for every family
While some women very much want to stay home with their young kids, others are happier to work full-time, Whitney says.
“Some women find part-time work the perfect balance of personal challenge plus time with kids. But for others, working part-time means constantly feeling they’re not giving enough to their jobs or their kids. All of these are legitimate ways to feel,” she explains.
If you feel torn in 100 different directions and think you have too much going on at home, honestly communicating that to your partner can prevent resentment from growing and may present an opportunity for compromise.
That’s because dads may welcome a new balance, too
Men also have mixed feelings about work and may embrace a conversation that helps shift some of the money-making pressure off of them. Not every dad is going to want to be a stay-at-home parent—but more and more are opting into the role, at least on a part-time basis.
“Some dads deeply wish they could have more time with their kids,” Whitney says. “They may be envious to be missing out on family life.”
If that means helping out with sweeping and dusting a bit more often while mom is away at work, we may be pleasantly surprised to hear how many dads are down with that compromise. And, as the new study shows, that may very well result in happier moms and marriages.