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Divvying up chores among parents takes work

Tanika Davis
Tanika Davis (Jeffrey F. Bill / Baltimore Sun)

It's a few days before back-to-school-night at our boys' school, and my husband and I are negotiating. We can't find a baby sitter on such short notice, and we both want to go.

Eventually, he gives in. "You go," he says. "I'll stay home with the kids."

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So while I was learning about our boys' daily schedule and meeting their new friends' parents, he was making dinner, running to Lowe's, and preparing for bath and bedtime.

On my way home, I started to feel guilty. Why did I get to go to back-to-school night when we both wanted to be there? It was just as important to him to talk to the boys' teachers and sign up for the year's 10,000 class parties as it was to me.

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I know the answer to that question, and it bothers me. I won that give-and-take because somehow, deep down, I felt like I was the one most qualified to be there, simply because I'm the mother. I'm the one who needs to know the school stuff, the medical stuff, the enrichment stuff, the schedule stuff. He's the father — he needs to know the barbershop stuff and the teaching-them-to-stand-up-to-pee stuff. Right?

This way of thinking is contrary to what the two of us would say we believe. We would say we believe each parent is able and qualified to do all the things, big and small, that go into raising human beings. We would say mothers are no better at braiding hair, just as fathers are no better at fixing broken bicycle chains.

But do we mean what we say?

In most things, I would say we do. A quick tally of the chores shows that my husband and I really do divide household things up remarkably evenly.

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He does all the laundry washing and folding, bathes the kids most nights, takes out the trash, handles all the yardwork, does the dishes, mops the floors and cleans out the refrigerator more often than I do. He handles all the finances, insurance matters and repair orders, and does 90 percent of the grocery shopping and Target/Costco runs. He also gets the kids breakfast on weekdays.

I make the grocery lists and plan and cook all the meals (except for weekday breakfasts), prepare the lunches, change the kids' sheets, shop for/order/swap out the kids' clothes and shoes, arrange the doctor/dentist appointments, research and buy all the educational/developmental stuff, plan and maintain the family's social calendars, fill out all the school forms, pick out all the gifts for friends and family, and do our daughter's hair.

I look at that division of labor, and I feel proud of us. No one is shouldering an unfair portion of the burden.

But perhaps, just maybe, I am assigning myself an unfair portion of the competence.

My sister once told me she loved her son's pediatrician, because on the rare occasion that she couldn't attend an appointment, the doctor would urge my sister's husband to get my sister on speaker phone.

"She knows that mothers are the ones who have all the questions," my sister said. "And you know that men never tell you everything the doctor says. I want to hear all the details."

Intrigued — and in agreement, I admit — I asked my own kids' pediatrician if he would do the same if ever I couldn't be at an appointment. He didn't say "no," but he was less than enthusiastic.

"I think fathers are perfectly capable of handling their children's appointments on their own," he said.

Much has been written about how today's fathers are not like the fathers of yesteryear. I know for a fact that this is true. My own husband is not just capable of doing what I do; if I'm being honest, he's much better at a lot of things.

The truth is, I don't doubt my husband's capabilities. Like my sister needing to know "all the details," I just don't want to give up control. I need to know all the things!

It's not my best trait, but I'm working on it.

So next year, for sure, we're getting a baby sitter for back-to-school night. He wants to be there, and he should be there, scrunched in a tiny chair. Just like me.

(Note: I actually am better at braiding hair. Just for the record.)

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works as director at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin sons, a daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap.

Her column appears monthly.

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