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_______________

2 thoughts on “Uncovering those hidden childcare chores: 3 steps toward changing your family life

  1. It’s a great exercise and a good list. I would suggest, however, that by beginning these discussions with “childcare” related chores, we’re starting too far down the pyramid. Childcare chores–as long a list as it is–are only one part of family responsibilities. Alexandra Bradner, I believe, missed that point entirely. Lisa Belkin began to acknowledge that, and your list at least includes “Other” under each category (which I very much appreciate). But I think these lists can perpetuate the misconception that childcare = family responsibilities and everything else remains unimportant or invisible. My weekend was taken up by investigating and dealing with a leaking window, purchasing and laying mulch in the yard, researching, purchasing and installing the pull up bar my son needed for gymnastics practice, checking the oil and air in the cars, doing dishes, straightening up around the house, doing my consulting work that can’t be done during my “real” weekday job, fixing the coffee maker, sorting the recycling, walking the dog–in addition to several things that are actually on the list above. Basically, the “other” category seems to be reserved for many of the things that men have traditionally done for the family while they are not “doing their fair share” of the “real” work. Your list is so far the best I’ve seen, and I know your post is about the work that must be done, not whether men are doing enough of it (again, refreshing, thank you), but I would love to see the conversation move to “family responsibilities” from “childcare chores” so we can truly capture the range of “work” that we all do to make our families the healthiest and happiest we can. That family-life chores category is massive, yet seems invisible in almost every post about domestic chores. Thanks for at leas including it as an option. At the end of the day, it’s not about doing 1/2 of anything–it’s about acknowledging that in any relationship, true partners recognize each others’ strengths and work as a team to ensure all family needs are met equitably. Thanks!

  2. I have to agree with Barmy. This is a great list but overlooks the chores that “traditionally” fall to the male parent. Who is going to fix that runny toilet, or maintain the family’s information network (now a major time sink!). Just because your guy makes it look easy doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. My ex-maintained it didn’t count, because I “enjoyed it.” She was confusing the act of doing it well and on a timely basis meant “enjoyment.” When asked who else would do it, her attitude was “I’ll just hire someone.” Of course, “just hire someone” is not an affordable or practical solution for everyone. In her particular case, she also “just hires someone” to take care of her end and calls the check signing “getting the job done.”

    PS: Guess who had to balance the books?

    I really enjoy your blog! Keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *