For Men to Lean In at Home, Women Need to Lean Back

LeanIn.Org President Rachel Thomas on how couples can support each other at home.

Today, in partnership with the NBA, LeanIn.Org is kicking off our second season of #LeanInTogether—a campaign focused on how men can do their part for the women in their lives.

Leaning in at home isn’t just the right thing to do for men. It’s the smart thing to do. Couples who share household responsibilities have stronger marriages—and more sex. Children with involved fathers are happier, healthier, and more successful. When parents have 50/50 partnerships, children grow up with more egalitarian views and can envision more possibilities for themselves.

Yet despite the many benefits of 50/50, women still do a majority of housework and child care. Even in dual income marriages, only 9 percent of couples say that they share child care, housework, and breadwinning evenly. And millennials are only faring a little better—although younger couples split household chores more evenly, women under thirty still do a majority of child care.

We need to break free of these outdated norms—men need to do their share at home, and women need to give them the freedom to do it their own way. (It’s worth noting that if you’re in a same-sex relationship, you’re probably already getting this right. On average, same-sex couples share housework and child care more equally than heterosexual couples.)

As part of the campaign, we offer tips on how men can be a 50/50 partner and all-star dad (see the end of this post). And in the spirit of everybody doing their part, here are some ideas for what women can do to lean back at home:

Let go of perfect. Women are more likely to be perfectionists and often hold themselves to overly high standards. Free yourself from the binds of perfectionism and accept that your husband may have a much lower, yet still very reasonable, bar. So what if he isn’t bothered by clutter or uses paper plates to set the kitchen table? Avoid the urge to default to “you’re not doing it right” and instead ask yourself if he’s onto something.

Divvy up the work you hate to do. Some family errands and household chores are more taxing and thankless than others. Who wouldn’t prefer taking the kids to the park over cleaning the bathroom? Think through the type of work you and your husband do around the house, and make sure you’re divvying up the assignments that nobody wants. If you talk through who’s doing what, you may even discover he likes a chore that you hate—in my house, that’s folding laundry.

Don’t fall into the mother trap. Women don’t have a special parenting gene or get secret instructions when we have kids. The sooner you internalize this, the better. Like you, your husband needs to learn to be a good parent through trial and error, and it is no benefit to him—or you—if you don’t give him the space to find his way. It is also liberating when you realize his time with the kids is equally as valuable as your own time with them.

Make household decisions as a team. When your husband does half of the household work, he should have an equal voice in household decisions. He very well may have opinions on the weekly dinner menu and the specifications of your new dishwasher. Ask him what he thinks and encourage him to be vocal about his preferences. Better yet, encourage him to take the lead on decisions. My husband Scott chooses our family movie each week, and let’s just say our kids are grateful.

Approach your relationship with a growth mindset. Where you are in your relationship right now is not fixed. You’re evolving as a person, and so is your partner and your relationship. Be open and honest about your goals for your home and career, and listen carefully to what he wants, too. Work together to find the right balance in your relationship and evaluate your success over long periods of time—few couples manage to have all 50/50 days!

On my way to the airport a few weeks ago, I realized I’d forgotten to make the kids banana bread (as promised) and called Scott. Before I could finish explaining my oversight, he’d offered to leave work early, make the bread and pass it off as mine. My response: YES and THANK YOU!

If I rewind to our mid-thirties, I’m not sure Scott would have so readily volunteered or I would have so easily accepted his offer. But we’ve invested a lot in our partnership, so it seemed like the natural thing to do—and we were both smiling when the kids commented on how yummy the banana bread was that night.

Breaking free of gender stereotypes takes thoughtfulness and hard work, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for couples. But as more men take the lead at home—and more women given them the freedom to do so—everyone will benefit.