Uncovering those hidden childcare chores: 3 steps toward changing your family life

I love the on-going discussion about the hidden tasks of childcare and family life. (For a great run-down, see Lisa Belkin’s Leaning Together on Huff Post.) We can debate endlessly why so many working mothers feel drained and exploited. Meanwhile, at Atlantic.com philosophy professor Alexandra Bradner has offered up a list of common “underground” home and family chores. Identifying these activities and acknowledging that they are work is a first step toward rebalancing the power, reshuffling priorities and reinventing family life in ways that benefit everybody. To get the conversation started in your own home, try this quick exercise:

STEP 1. Read over the list below of childcare-related chores (based in part on Bradner’s) and initial those that you mostly do. For each, write down your time estimate for completing them (including prep work).

STEP 2. Put your partner’s initials next to the chores that are more often accomplished by him or her–and add a time estimate for this work as well. (If you share a task equally, put both of your initials.)

STEP 3. This is the most important step! Ask your partner to complete steps 1 and 2 on a separate screen or sheet of paper. And then compare your results.

To what degree do your perceptions of who does what (and how long it takes) jive? Any surprises? Use the results to have a calm, respectful, problem-solving discussion. Even if you can’t shift the load right away, just having all of these tasks acknowledged as work and duly appreciated can be powerful for a couple.

Let me know if you found this exercise helpful and any categories that you would add to the list.


Daily Childcare

  • Getting kids ready for school, dropping them off, meeting the bus in the afternoon.
  • Preparing school snacks or lunches
  • Putting kids to bed
  • Middle-of-the-night kid care
  • Managing babysitter or nanny
  • Overseeing hygiene (bathing, teeth-brushing)
  • Transportation to and from school or daycare
  • Coordinating and attending doctor appts.
  • Other_________

General Parenting

  • Staying home with sick kids
  • Emotional work (resolving playground disputes, offering advice, proactively keeping the peace among siblings)
  • Disciplining kids (establishing and enforcing consequences for misbehavior)
  • Other___________

Kids activities: Planning, coordinating, equipping and transportation for…

  • After school programs or tutoring
  • Weekend activities or religious school
  • Summer camp
  • Playdates
  • Other_________

School-related tasks

  • communicating with teachers and administrators
  • delivering forgotten items
  • overseeing homework
  •  volunteering
  • attending sporting events, school plays, etc.
  • Other____________

Family-life chores

  • General family scheduling
  • Family vacation planning and packing
  • Party planning and holiday preparation (cards, meals, decorations, cleaning)
  • General social outreach (interacting with neighbors, making plans with friends, etc.)Documenting family history (taking and organizing photos)
  • Communication with extended family (calling mom, mailing gifts, etc.)
  • Other_______________

Financial chores

  • Long-term financial planning (for retirement, college tuition, etc.)
  • Bill paying
  • Tax preparation
  • Health insurance matters
  • General shopping and consumer research (for clothing, gifts, technology, media, etc.)
  • Other_______________