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Dads are partners—not just ‘helpers’

He helps a lot: It’s a phrase that’s passed my lips on more than one occasion. But, according to a family scientist, I need to quit saying it.

“Women need to ban ‘my husband helps me a lot’ from their language,” says Claire Kamp Dush, associate professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University.

This is actually because our husbands deserve more credit than that: They aren’t just helpers doing the jobs someone in the yellow pages could perform. They are partners making investments in our homes and children.

Yes, my husband is a champ when it comes to housework. He does all of our laundry and probably mops more often than me. But, as Kamp Dush explains, calling that “help” implies that those aren’t the responsibilities an equal partner in this household would have.

“He’s not helping you because it’s not ‘your job.’ We’ve got to change some of the conversation around these things,” she says.

Calling my husband’s contribution to the housework “help” not only implies that I’m supposed to be doing everything around here, but it also diminishes my husband’s role and efforts as an equal partner in this household.

If my kid was vacuuming up dog hair every day, I might call that help (and a miracle). But when my husband is doing it, he’s just being a responsible adult. He did plenty of housework before we got married, after all.

“The average age of marriage has increased. Men spend a lot of time living on their own without their mothers,” Kamp Dush says, adding that the mean age of marriage for men is around 29 years old. (The average age for first-time dads is closer to 31.) “That’s a lot of years where you’re doing your own laundry.”

By calling dads “helpers,” we’re hurting ourselves.

Kamp Dush’s research indicates that while men know how to do laundry, dishes and everything else, sometimes they don’t actually do them. In a blow to the notion of gender equity in modern marriages, her recent study published in the journal Sex Roles found that on on days when couples were not working, men were often pursuing leisure activities while women did housework or cared for the kids.

When we call a husband’s housework efforts “help” we’re implying that this is okay. The language suggests we’re content with old gender roles that keep women working the double shift—instead of moving toward the more equitable partnerships many modern couples seek.

So instead of saying “my husband helps a lot,” I’m going to start saying “my husband does his fair share.” Or, if I’m being honest, I may even admit he often does more than this.

This morning, for example, he threw away the empty Starbucks cup I left on the kitchen counter. But that’s not help, it’s just love.

Heather Marcoux is the News Editor for Motherly and mom to one little boy. A former television journalist, Heather lives in Canada with her husband, son and a foursome of adorable pets.

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