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MarriageA 40-something year old female attorney complains that she feels overwhelmed with the responsibilities of being a partner in a law firm, a wife, homemaker, and mother. Her husband, who believes he helps her as much as he can, doesn’t understand why she is so overwhelmed.

Of course he doesn’t. He is not involved in arranging for the soccer dates, play dates, creating shopping lists and shopping for food, planning menus, arranging doctors appointments, taking care of the social calendar, arranging for vacations, and the list goes on. He is merely her helper, her assistant, doing her a “favor”, and does whatever she has asked him to do. She, on the other hand, has all of this in her head. She is the domestic chief operating officer as well as being a partner in her law firm. She may have a helper, but not an equal partner.

Women have made great strides in the workplace where they have become CEOs of corporations, walk the halls of congress, and run for political office at all levels including President of the U. S.

But when it comes to their role as wives, not so much.

I constantly hear from my female patients how difficult it is for a woman to juggle a career and being a mom. Based on my experience, women, even in the 21st century, still are expected to take on the majority of the responsibility for all things domestic, including childrearing and taking care of the home. We still continue to hold on to the notion that women are the primary caregivers, while men are merely helpers.

The so-called equality between the sexes only seems to mean that in addition to all of the traditional responsibilities they have had, they are free to take on a career – as long as it doesn’t interfere with family responsibilities. Women continue to be expected to balance being a wife, mother, and hold down a job. They essentially have two full-time jobs: homemaker and career person.

Men, on the other hand, merely have to work and be available to lend a hand. And when they do lend a hand, they want lots of recognition for do so.

The role of men in domestic life hasn’t significantly changed in the last fifty years. I rarely hear from married men how difficult it is for them to juggle their roles as husband, parent, and worker. Oh, sure, some complain that they can’t find balance in their lives between holding down a job, doing the honey-do list, attending a kids soccer game or school event, and still have room for a round of golf.

I think men who are single parents get it. They understand that merely hiring a nanny or housekeeper is not enough. These people can’t do the thinking, planning, oversight, coordinating, arranging, and make the decisions necessary for running a household and caring for children. They are employees. As such, they think like employees. CEOs (parent-homemaker) have much greater responsibility including planning, oversight, and designating of duties. Most married men have never been in the position of having to run a household as well as holding down a job. Perhaps all men should take some lessons from a single father.

I have always found it curious that when two people decide to develop a business partnership they usually create a partnership agreement that spells out all of the responsibilities, expectations, etc. for the partnership in a provision for dissolution. But when it comes to a marital partnership rarely do couples spell out the terms of the marriage. They simply get married and hope for the best replying upon traditional sexist models. And too often they are disappointed. Interestingly, I am finding that gay and lesbian couples, when married, often have similar issues as straight couples; it is if they, too, rely upon traditional marriage models where one person takes on the lion’s share of responsibility.

I would love to hear from married couples who have worked out a truly egalitarian marital partnership where responsibilities for homemaking and parenting are equally divided. I am certain there is more than one model for creating such partnerships where all responsibilities are shared equally.