For the last 11 years that I’ve been a mother, I have often heard my mom wistfully say something like, “It’s so nice to see your husband helping with the kids.” And every time I reply with something like, “He’s not helping me with the kids. He’s being their parent.”
But she was raised with a kind of 1950s “Leave It to Beaver” view of what home life looked like: Dad worked, Mom took care of the house and the kids . . . and never the twain shall meet. They were super old school. My dad never put a dish in the dishwasher, not even his own. He just left it on the table for my mom to clear. He says he can count on one hand the number of diapers he changed for all four of us. He has changed more of my kids’ diapers than he ever did his own kids. He wasn’t a bad or selfish man; it was just a different time. The expectations were different.
But these days, whether both parents work outside the home or whether Mom stays home with the kids or Dad does, in most families, people recognize the importance of co-parenting—both parents being actively involved in parenting and sharing household responsibilities. It’s just logical—making sure we have a fair division of labor so one person doesn’t feel overwhelmed or start to resent the other. It is so important for kids to have both parents actively involved in raising them. Think about the message it sends to our kids when parents who have been working outside of the home all day still take the time to help them with their homework or brush their hair out after a bath or help make dinner or do dishes. Think about the message it sends to our kids when they don’t.
It’s hard to give you “4 Ways to Balance Parenting Responsibilities” because every single family dynamic is different, and every single person is different. It depends on your daily schedules, your other responsibilities, and even your gifts, passions, and preferences. Maybe you are a person who loves doing the dishes because it soothes you, so my suggesting you ask your spouse to help with the dishes would actually be detrimental to your mental health. (I have heard people like this exist, but I am not one of them!) So instead of giving you specific tips, I’m going to give you some questions to ask and principles to consider that I hope will help you and your spouse sit down and come up with a plan that works for you. For both reasons—so that the division of labor is fair and so that the kids experience a healthy model of both parents being involved in parenting. How that actually plays out in each family’s life is going to look different for every family, so it’s important for you to work out what will work for you and your spouse and not to compare your family to anyone else’s—especially to some invisible standard that our culture, not the Bible, has put on Christian families.
What Are Each of Your Passions, Skills, and Gifts?
Maybe you love cooking and don’t want to share that responsibility. Maybe you are a math person and you’re really good at budgeting, paying bills, etc. Maybe you have a natural teacher personality and you love helping the kids with their homework. Or maybe you don’t have the patience for it and it makes you want to pull your hair out! Both you and your spouse need to come together and talk through what you enjoy doing and what you are naturally good at doing and work out together how you can divide up household responsibilities and parenting so both of you are using your gifts and everything is getting done well and efficiently. Too many of us have some traditional picture of what this is “supposed” to be like—that the dad should be the one to handle the money or the mom should be the one to cook. Let go of that picture and discuss openly what will work best for your family, with each of the unique passions, skills, and gifts you bring to the table.
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” 1 Corinthians 12:4 NIV
What Does Your Schedule Actually Allow You To Commit To?
Maybe one spouse travels a lot for work or works long hours and the other spouse stays home with the kids. It only makes logical sense that the stay-at-home spouse will have more household responsibilities in that scenario. But that doesn’t mean the working spouse has no responsibilities at home. Maybe that spouse could be responsible for weekly or monthly things rather than daily, like making sure the trash is at the curb, cleaning the windows and baseboards, cleaning out the gutters, mowing the lawn, reorganizing the kids’ clothes for each season, etc. Or if a spouse works at night, they can choose responsibilities that can be done during the day, like parent-teacher conferences or taking kids to doctor’s appointments or grocery shopping or picking kids up from school. If your family dynamic is more even with work outside the home—let’s say you both work a typical full-time job—then your workload at home should be more even. You may even have health issues that come into play. If one person struggles with anxiety or depression or one of you has a chronic illness, certainly include that in your distribution of household responsibilities! The important thing is to make sure that you are balancing it all as evenly as possible, in a way that uses your gifts and works with your schedule. That everything gets done and that all of the load doesn’t fall on one person.
“The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat. . . never tire of doing what is good.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10-13 NIV
What Is Important To You To Have Your Kids See Their Father Or Mother Do?
Up to this point, we’ve looked at spouses evenly, as individuals, including their gifts and their schedules. But in raising Christian kids, as Christian families, we do not deny that there are differences between the genders and that gender roles matter. They just may not look exactly the same as they did in previous generations. (Just look at the Proverbs 31 woman if you want to see a biblical text that challenges 1950s gender roles!) You and your spouse both need to talk about what is important to you specifically and why.
For my husband, who grew up without a father, it is very important to him that our sons be involved in Cub Scouts and that he be involved with them because it’s something he felt like he never got to do. For me, the weekly meetings don’t fit well into my schedule and I’m not passionate about it, so in our family, it is 100% his responsibility. But we have lots of single mom friends who are the involved parent at Cub Scouts and they love it. We also have friends who do it together as a whole family and even bring their daughters and that works for them. We even have single mom friends who have decided it’s important for their sons to have a male role model to do Cub Scouts with, so the involved “parent” is a grandfather, uncle, or close family friend.
That’s just one example, but there are so many different things that may be important to you, for whatever reason. For me, it’s not one particular thing; it’s just important for my kids to see their father involved in household chores regularly so they grow up to be men who don’t expect their wives to do it all alone. You may be passionate that your kids see their fathers leading family devotions as the spiritual leader of the household or you may rather share that responsibility. You may really want your kids to see a mother who takes an active interest in their sports or a mother who knows how to change a tire. It’s different for all of us, and it may even change over time. That’s why it’s important for each of us to ask this question of ourselves and discuss it openly and honestly with our spouse.
“A man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh . . . Each individual among you is to love his own wife even as himself and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:31-33 NASB
What Does Your Spouse Need From You?
Last, but definitely not least: the first three questions were all about yourself—what are your gifts, what fits into your schedule, what is important to you? This one is about what your spouse needs from you, which is perhaps the most important question because the agape love of God is all about sacrificing our own desires and needs for the sake of the other, especially in a marriage. When the Bible talks about how husbands should love their wives, Paul writes, “love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” This is how Jesus loved us and this is how we are to love one another—by sacrificing ourselves for the other. Both husbands and wives. The last night of His life, Jesus said to His disciples, “Love one another as I have loved you. That is how people will know you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35). As Christian families and Christian parents, when people look into our marriages and see two people who willingly sacrifice themselves for the sake of the other, they will see Jesus. They will see true love, real love. And they will be drawn to that and want to know Him. So ask your spouse what they need from you. What will lighten their load? What will help them to be a better mother or father to your kids?
“Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 NKJV
Again, it will look different for each person and each marriage. So instead of just listening to other people’s tips or reading blog posts or scouring Pinterest for chore charts, sit down with each other and ask these four questions. Be honest with each other and make a plan together. Most of the stress over these kinds of things in a marriage happen because we don’t actually have a plan. We just both have unspoken expectations of the other person and then get frustrated when that person doesn’t meet our expectations, even if we have never told them what they are! But when we sit down together and make a plan together—a unique, individual plan that works for our unique, individual family dynamic, then we will work together as a team, as “one flesh,” and model a healthy marriage and family for our kids.