What many mothers need is a “Superdad, or a Superpartner,” Ms. Porgrebin said. “We should all be putting in the same degree of energy to succeed at the same goal, which is to have a house that functions efficiently and to raise children who are happy and challenged.”
While men are doing more than they used to in terms of child care and housework, women in two-parent heterosexual partnerships — around 60 percent of families — still spend six to 8.5 hours more a week on unpaid domestic tasks like child care and cleaning. Or, as Dr. Vandenberg-Daves said, “In heterosexual families, men are often doing more than their fathers did, but less than their wives do.” (She points out there is often more parity in L.G.B.T.Q. families.) And men may still be doing different parenting work than their wives: more of the enjoyable stuff, less of the arduous stuff.
“When men started to get involved in child care, child care started to divide itself into the fun parts — like going out sledding — and the yucky parts, the maintenance and enrichment parts, like getting the toys put away or doing the diapers,” Ms. Pogrebin said. “Who skips a half-day of work to go to the annual pediatrician checkup? Who stays home when they’re sick? Who gets up in the middle of the night? I submit that if you have two people raising children, ask who knows their shoe sizes and you’ll know who the primary parent is or whether there’s fair responsibility for those tasks.”
Nowadays, we do have more cultural models of caregiving men — think of celebrities like John Legend or Chris Pratt gushing about fatherhood and wanting to be involved in their children’s lives. But, Dr. Vandenberg-Daves said, we skipped over the hard work of analyzing the different tasks and roles: “We’ve never really trained men to focus on what gender equality looks like in families. We don’t have a Working Father magazine like we have a Working Mother magazine.”
One way to start creating a more equitable household, Ms. Pogrebin suggests, is to simply get a legal pad, draw a line down the middle and mete out the tasks so it’s even between parents.
“If you want to live in a democratic society, you have to start with democratic families, because otherwise hierarchy is built-in and hierarchy becomes expected,” Ms. Pogrebin said. Raising a child in a democratic family, in which parents create a kind of work-life balance within the home, is a gift, she added. “It prepares kids for life in a democratic society where equality is seen every single day. You can’t be it if you haven’t seen it.”