'For men to lean in at home, women need to lean back'

Breaking free of gender stereotypes takes thoughtfulness and hard work, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for couples. But as more men take the lead at home — and more women give them the freedom to do so — everyone will benefit.

By Rachel Thomas | President and Co-founder of LeanIn.Org

Running LeanIn.Org is deeply important to me. So is being a mom to two amazing kids. On my busiest days, it doesn't escape me that I could not lean into my career as much as I do without my husband Scott leaning in at home. His support makes it possible for me to say yes to work travel, to stay late in the office to analyze data on the state of women, and to take on the opportunities and challenges that come with supporting a global community of women.

Leaning in — together — has been beneficial for our family and our careers. It isn’t just the right thing to do for men. It’s also the smart thing to do. Couples who share household responsibilities have stronger marriages. Children with involved fathers are happier, healthier, and more successful. When parents have 50/50 partnerships, children grow up with more egalitarian views and can envision more possibilities for themselves.

Yet despite the many benefits of 50/50, women still do a majority of housework and child care. Women with a partner and children are almost six times more likely than their male counterparts to do all or most of the household work. And millennials are only faring a little better — although younger men are twice as likely to do household chores compared to their older counterparts, women under 30 still do the majority of housework.

We need to break free of these outdated norms — men need to do their share at home, and women need to give them the freedom to do it their own way. It’s worth noting that if you’re in a same-sex relationship, you’re probably already getting this right. On average, same-sex couples share housework and child care more equally than heterosexual couples.

At LeanIn.Org, we offer tips on how men can be a 50/50 partner and all-star dad through our #LeanInTogether campaign (for more, see leanintogether.org). And in the spirit of everybody doing their part, here are some ideas for what women can do to lean back at home:

Let go of perfect. Women are more likely to be perfectionists and often hold themselves to overly high standards. Free yourself from the binds of perfectionism and accept that your husband may have a much lower, yet still very reasonable, bar. So what if he isn’t bothered by clutter or uses paper plates to set the kitchen table? Avoid the urge to default to “you’re not doing it right” and instead ask yourself if he’s onto something.

Divvy up the work you hate to do. Some family errands and household chores are more taxing and thankless than others. Who wouldn’t prefer taking the kids to the park over cleaning the bathroom? Think through the type of work you and your husband do around the house, and make sure you’re divvying up the assignments that nobody wants. If you talk through who’s doing what, you may even discover he likes a chore that you hate — in my house, that’s folding laundry.

Don’t fall into the mother trap. Women don’t have a special parenting gene or get secret instructions when we have kids. The sooner you internalize this, the better. Like you, your husband needs to learn to be a good parent through trial and error, and it is no benefit to him — or you — if you don’t give him the space to find his way. It is also liberating when you realize his time with the kids is equally as valuable as your own time with them. (And in that same vein, we need a federal paid family leave policy that allows both parents — not just moms or women who work for companies with generous policies — to welcome a new child into their family.)

Make household decisions as a team. When your husband does half of the household work, he should have an equal voice in household decisions. He very well may have opinions on the weekly dinner menu and the specifications of your new dishwasher. Ask him what he thinks and encourage him to be vocal about his preferences. Better yet, encourage him to take the lead on decisions. My husband Scott chooses our family movie each week, and let’s just say our kids are grateful.

Approach your relationship with a growth mindset. Where you are in your relationship right now is not fixed. You’re evolving as a person, and so is your partner and your relationship. Be open and honest about your goals for your home and career, and listen carefully to what he wants, too. Work together to find the right balance in your relationship and evaluate your success over long periods of time — few couples manage to have 50/50 days!

One story from my own life comes to mind. I always bake a fresh loaf of banana bread for the kids before I leave for a work trip — it’s our tradition. Once, on my way to the airport, I realized I’d forgotten to make it as promised, so I called Scott. Before I could finish explaining my oversight, he’d offered to leave work a little early, make the bread, and pass it off as mine. My response: YES and THANK YOU!

If I rewind to our mid-thirties, I’m not sure Scott would have so readily volunteered or I would have so easily accepted his offer. But we’ve invested a lot in our partnership, so it seemed like the natural thing to do — and we were both smiling when the kids commented on how yummy the banana bread was that night.

Breaking free of gender stereotypes takes thoughtfulness and hard work, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for couples. But as more men take the lead at home — and more women give them the freedom to do so — everyone will benefit.

This article is adapted from a piece originally published on Rachel's LinkedIn page.




Rachel Thomas is cofounder and president of the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation, the nonprofit organization behind LeanIn.Org and OptionB.Org. Prior to cofounding LeanIn.Org, Thomas cofounded and served on the executive teams of several consumer technology startups. Thomas frequently writes and speaks on issues that affect women and advises several women’s advocacy groups. Follow Lean in on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.