Parents across America, and especially moms, have had to adapt over the last few months of the coronavirus pandemic and take on unexpected responsibilities as the lines between home and work and school have blurred.
Job losses and health crises can cause further strain on an already stressed household. And while it might be your impulse to take on more and more, because things just have to get done, you can't be of help to yourself or anyone else if you are burned out or resentful of the valuable but uncompensated tasks you've taken on.
Weeks and months of the same dynamics can turn into years if they aren't properly addressed. And this can be especially problematic for women. As of 2013, women were breadwinners in 4 of 10 families, but many still scale back or opt out at work when they have young children. Doing that for even five years, though, can mean losing out on an average of $900,000 in earnings; and if those moms decide to go back to work, they often return to lower-paying jobs with lower earning trajectories.
Without equity in the home, it's easy to lose a significant amount of time, opportunity, and money.
Communication is key for your family's bottom line, in other words. And changing family dynamics by identifying problems, and coming up with hacks to help, can make a real difference.
Has this ever happened to you? You planned a night out, made a reservation, and are ready to go, only to realize no one will be watching the kids because both you and your partner thought the other was supposed to call the babysitter. And even though it's irritating, it just keeps happening.
In my book "Fair Play," I call this phenomenon a "double up." I've found that when two people tackle the same tasks without clearly defined expectations, it is doubly inefficient and a symptom of a much bigger issue.
Here's another example: For her son's seventh birthday, Angie ordered decorations, rented a bouncy house, and bought enough sandwiches for every kid and their parents. She had everything set and came in under budget. Angie's husband Ted wanted to recognize the hard work she did and support her, so he decided to get the food for the party: a 54-by-54 inch Sicilian pizza from Big Mama's Pizza.
Video by Courtney Stith
On the day of the party, everything was going great and the kids were having fun. Then the pizza arrived. Although Ted had the right intentions, the pizza order produced enough leftovers to feed a professional football team. And it cost $300.
You can save yourself money and time when one one person fully owns a domestic task from conception to planning to execution. Have one person in your household handle groceries from start to finish, for example. They will survey everyone in the house for what is needed, monitor what is running low, make a list, and buy the groceries, so one day you don't come home to a lifetime supply of laundry detergent.
Maria and Paoula received an email from their child's teacher about an upcoming chemistry unit called Mystery Powders that read: Your child has been identified as having a food allergy. Since we will be experimenting with six different Mystery Powders, please fill out the following school form to be 100 percent sure your child can touch and experiment with each powder.
Easy enough, so both Maria and Paoula unknowingly fill out the form and hit "submit." Double efficient, right? Wrong. The next day they each get a call because one of them said that powder #2 is unsafe, while the other indicated otherwise. They must now fill out a corrected form that requires both their signatures and a hand delivery to the school.
How much time would they have saved if only one of them had filled out the form?
So what can you do right now to avoid a double up? Remember that it isn't on your partner to fill in the gaps if you forget to complete a task. If your kid plays sports, for example, get the schedule outlining when it's your turn to bring snacks, find out how many you need and what type, go to the store or leave enough time to order what you need, and bring it to the game. Expect to own the entire task yourself and then give yourself the reminders you'll need.
Simple hacks like a recurring calendar alert, or Post-it notes where you'll see them like on your computer or fridge, will be your friend in this kind of situation.
Holding yourself personally accountable and getting a handle on who takes on those regular tasks, like groceries or party planning when it's safe to do so, are great. It's also important to revise your plan and the distribution of labor as your needs change.
Even if it seems like there is no time, a discussion about the division of labor in your home isn't a one-time event. It is an ongoing conversation. Setting a regular time to meet, to talk about what is working and what isn't, even about something that seems as small as not overbuying detergent, can be a boon to your relationship, and your money and career goals, in the long run.
Start by being clear about your expectations and taking toxic time messages out of our vocabulary, like "their time is more valuable because they make more money than me," or "I can save time by doing it myself."
We all have the same 24 hours in a day, so it's important to recognize the value of your time and your contributions. It takes a lot of work to keep a home and family running smoothly, even under the best of circumstances, and that work should be shared.
Eve Rodsky is the New York Times bestselling author of "Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live)." In her work with hundreds of families over a decade, in foundation management at J.P. Morgan and the consulting firm she founded, Philanthropy Advisory Group, she realized that her expertise in family mediation, strategy, and organizational management could be applied to a problem closer to home, and developed a system for couples seeking balance, efficiency, and peace in their home. Rodsky was born and raised by a single mom in New York City and now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three children.
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