As I write this story, my 4-year-old’s preschool has been closed for two days due to a snowstorm. So she’s home on a weekday, along with her baby sister. But I’m squirreled away in our home office, typing furiously, while my husband, Dan (currently on paternity leave), changes diapers, supervises art time, and makes the nap schedule happen. When the roads are finally plowed, he takes the girls to the grocery store to replenish our dwindling supplies from the shared list we sync on our phones. When they’re back, I pop down to do lunch so he can shovel our steps and grab a shower. “Three people told me I was a hero,” he reports of their shopping expedition. We laugh. We both know nobody has ever congratulated me—or any mom—for being with my kids and buying milk at the same time.
This is the paradox of modern parenting. We’ve moved past the era of moms doing everything by default. Dads want to take a more active role: About two thirds of young fathers say they should share caregiving equally, according to research by the Boston College Center for Work and Family. However, only 30 percent of those surveyed are actually able to pull it off.
That’s because even when both partners are hands-on parents, moms still handle more of the “mental load.” We make the doctor’s appointments, research summer camp, and call the mom of that classmate who keeps fighting with our kid. “We can calculate the time spent on physical tasks like cleaning the bathroom, but it’s much harder to quantify how many hours go toward this kind of cognitive labor,” says Sheryl Ziegler, Psy.D., a psychotherapist in Denver and author of Mommy Burnout. Speaking as someone who recently spent half a day filling out kindergarten registration forms, I can say: It’s a lot. Why are these kinds of logistical parenting tasks so much harder to divvy up fairly? And how do we move the needle on this? To find out, I talked to experts and families who are already doing just that.