It started innocently enough. The emotional revelation slapped me in the face, right in the middle of taking Motherly’s 5th annual State of Motherhood survey. While the survey sheds valuable insight into the state of motherhood in America, I never expected that simply taking the survey itself would change the way I looked at my own marriage and place in it.
It was question 40 that did it. “Which of the following household chores or responsibilities are you primarily responsible for? Select all that apply.”
“Hey babe, come take this question with me,” I called out to my husband of eight years, the father of our 3-year-old daughter. I swear I was not being passive aggressive, but genuinely curious about narrowing down who did what in our partnership.
“Meal planning and preparation.” Me.
“Grocery shopping.” Me.
“Maintain social calendar/plan date nights.” I awkwardly laughed. Me.
“Scheduling medical appointments.” Um.
At this point, my husband and I both stopped uncomfortably laughing and became uncomfortable with this line of answering.
Let me back up: like almost half of today’s millennial and Gen Z moms (according to this year’s survey), I am my family’s primary breadwinner. And as I recently discovered, I also shoulder most of our family’s mental load.
I am usually proud of how my husband and I communicate. We’ve embraced couples therapy at different times in our relationship—the first time being after our daughter was born when the division of labor felt very imbalanced. Since I was breastfeeding our daughter and getting up with her multiple times a night, then staying home on leave while he went off to work, I felt like more of the baby duties were on me.
We figured things out then, and in fact, that moment in time led to our decision for me to become the sole breadwinner and for him to take on more responsibilities at home with our daughter. This all translated to him to going back to school to finish his Bachelor’s degree while I worked full-time. We finagled his schedule so he’d go to school two days a week, meaning we’d only need childcare on those two days, and on the other three days he was our baby’s primary caregiver.
It was formative for his relationship with our daughter, and gave him the kind of confidence and autonomy as a parent I don’t necessarily see in all the fathers I know. This setup worked for me, too. It allowed me to focus fully on my job during the day, which eventually led me to the Editorial Director role at Motherly.
So when we were answering the survey questions about our division of household labor, this imbalance of responsibility felt particularly disturbing to me: we’d done so well before. What happened?
Well, a couple of things: he graduated and started a job search. Our daughter started preschool. He was no longer needed as a stay-at-home dad, but his job hunt has ebbed and flowed and culminated in his embarking on a new career as an educator and substitute teacher, while researching Master’s programs. My husband is in a career middle ground that I see as being more flexible than my own full-time job. Even when he does become a full-time teacher, I’m looking at potentially being the primary breadwinner forever, and I don’t know how I feel about that.
Despite my uncertainty, this year’s survey data actually helped me feel like I’m in a sisterhood of primary breadwinners who are also doing the most: not only did we learn that 47% of Gen Z and millennial moms surveyed were contributing more than half of the household income, of those moms, 50% are also handling the household chores.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had failed at eschewing the traditional gender roles I’d hoped to reject since I’d been married. We hadn’t even achieved balance in our roles at all.
I’m looking at potentially being the primary breadwinner forever, and I don’t know how I feel about that.
But after I looked at the list again, I realized that there’s way more that both of us do that qualify as household chores. And, the latter half of the list contained more things my husband handles, and often shares with me.
At the risk of sounding more defensive, I had to ask myself: just because I’m making more money, do I deserve to do less at home?
Related: Housekeeping is not motherhood
Maybe, if I play the ‘if I were a man’ game. It’s a game many women play in our heads when it comes to career and parenting scenarios and the choices we make daily. My mind goes to the stay-at-home moms I know with husbands who work out of the home. The moms own that list of responsibilities. I’m sure many of us would think it strange if she didn’t, or insultingly, ask what she does all day. And yet I wondered, why am I not brought a martini like Don Draper when I sign off for the day?
Because, I begrudgingly admit: that’s not what I want. I don’t think I deserve to do less of the household organization because I make more money. I would resent my husband if the roles were reversed and that’s what he wanted.
I am more organized. I do trust my husband less to handle all the bills and coordinate things like my childcare. I have to work on that. Together, we have to work on how I can delegate responsibilities to him without me feeling like the delegation itself is an extra thing on the list. He needs to be more proactive. And maybe I need to work on letting go of him picking “the wrong time” for our kid’s dentist appointment.
This experience has taught me to keep checking in—with myself and what I’m happy with and with my partner to see who’s overwhelmed and who needs a change. Yes, I have delegated that as a responsibility to him, too. Our careers will evolve, our daughter will grow up, and the “duties” will shift like seasons. We have to shift, too.
Motherly designed and administered this survey through Motherly’s subscribers list, social media and partner channels, resulting in more than 17,000 responses creating a clean, unweighted base of 10,001 responses. This report focuses on the Gen X cohort of 1197 respondents, Millennial cohort of 8,558 respondents, and a Gen Z cohort of 246 respondents. Edge Research weighted the data to reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the US female millennial cohort based on US Census data.