Women typically spend more time on household chores and caring for children than their male partners (something called the”gender leisure gap“).
However, that dynamic doesn’t apply to all households. Single fathers, two-father households, and dads who are making it a point to split home and childcare responsibilities evenly are finding strategies and approaches to split the load more evenly. Since working moms are routinely asked how they balance work and family obligations, in honor of father’s day we asked some busy working dad’s how they “have it all.”
Stay Organized And Communicate
Paul Rochford and his wife, Ellie, underwent a major life change when Ellie went back to work as a middle school teacher a year ago. Paul had worked as a school administrator and special education teacher over the past 20 years. His work has evolved to the point where he has more flexibility, while Ellie is trying to get her second career off the ground, so he took on the lion’s share of household responsibilities and childcare for their 8-year old daughter.
“I always said her job was always harder than mine, but now I proved it this year that [being] the stay-at-home (parent) is so much harder than working is,” he says.
The secret to making it work? “Google Calendar,” he says. The minute they’re aware of a new event, task or to-do, it goes in their digital calendar so nothing slips through the cracks. And constant communication needs to take place to keep everyone apprised of what needs to get done. He says one of the biggest challenges is all of the “little things” that Ellie knows from taking care of them for so long often go undone if he’s unaware of them. “I’ll literally put ‘change the air filters’ on Google Calendar. I’ll put every single thing on there as I’m learning about them, because I’m not going to make the same mistakes again,” he says.
Charlie Hinsch and Jose Neilsen mapped out their daily schedule of responsibilities based on their work schedules.
Neilsen is up at 4 a.m. to leave for work at his new bakery, Elite Custom Cakes, which is about two blocks away from home. By 7:15 a.m., he is back at home and takes care of getting their 8-year-old son off to school while Hinsch, an instructional technology coordinator for Virginia Beach City Public Schools, gets ready for work.
After his work day is over, Hinsch typically takes over childcare duties, since Neilsen has been up since 4. Throughout the day, they keep up a stream of texts to make sure that after-school activities and household needs are covered.
The couple also uses each person’s strengths to their advantage. Hinsch says he’s “the more organized one,” so he fields things like food shopping, scheduling appointments, and arranging for camp. There are times when he does have to call out tasks that he needs Neilsen to field right away. “I’ve designated certain things that he needs to take care of like the pest control or the car insurance,” he says. “Some things can be put aside until another time down the road, but if we have a water leak, this needs to be fixed now.”
Because Neilsen is focusing on building his business, Hinsch says their household responsibilities are somewhat uneven now because the bakery is so new and needs a lot of attention. As it gets more established, he says responsibilities will shift to be more even again. Being flexible about adapting for the long-term good of the family is another essential element in the process, he says.
“You just have to realize that it may not be fair today, it may not be fair this week, this month, or even this year,” he says. “We were able to figure things out, but right now it’s heavier on my plate because I have a steadier schedule. But it’s more about being understanding and knowing that this is for right now and things will change.”
Get In The Zone
While his children are now grown up, Robert Cichielo was a divorced single father able to spend much of his time at home with his children from the time they were ages 2, 4, and 6 years old until they went to college. An inventor, technology professional, and cofounder of etherFAX, a secure communications company, he says that he was rigorous about creating “time zones.” Within the inevitable chaos—unexpected days with sick kids at home, forgotten homework, or last-minute school projects—you need to find ways to block out time to get your work done, he says.
“Finding those zones, even if it was 2:00 to 4:00 a.m. or whatever it was, or from kids went to bed at seven and I would stay up ’til midnight or 1:00 a.m.—finding those zones where I could focus [was essential],” he says.
Being reliable and building goodwill with customers also gave him flexibility when he needed to make adjustments to deal with household or childcare responsibilities. By focusing on building strong relationships, he found it was less of an issue if he needed to tend to personal business during work hours.
“Now, if I have an issue, my child is in the school play, or he’s sick, or whatever, that trust—that relationship that I built and the communication I have with my customers—allows me to say, ‘Hey, Customer So-and-so, I’m having an issue today,’ and people, I think, when you give, or when you over-give, I think it gives you a lot of leeway,” he says.
Build Your “Safety Net”
When Scott Teel and his wife, Cami, moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to Denver last year to follow his career, they loved their new home, but missed their friends and family. Being new to the area and both holding jobs that sometimes require long hours—Scott is head of organizational development for Agility Recovery and his wife is an account executive for a local television station—is more difficult because they don’t have people they know well nearby to help care for their 2-year-old daughter. Recently, when Cami had a medical issue and went to the emergency room, they were left with few options.
“We were left basically asking a neighbor who we had never met to come to our house, and I quickly handed off our daughter to this person. We knew we could trust her, she was a pediatric nurse, and our other neighbors whom we had met recommended her, but we just hadn’t met her,” he says. To build their network of people, they’ve used the Nextdoor app and asked other friends to help them meet people.
Cichielo says that kind of support network was “crucial” for him. Working from home, he was often called upon to help neighbors. “I was seen as the super, if you will, in the neighborhood. ‘My sink doesn’t work’ or whatever, and I built relationships with the people around me,” he says. When you focus on building relationships instead of just asking for help when you need it, you’ll find that people are more than willing to give you a hand, he says.
Dividing household and family tasks evenly isn’t easy. But, by dividing responsibilities, remaining organized, and building both time for their priorities and a system of backup support, these fathers are making strides in the right direction.