Keith Gessen, a friend of mine and the author of “Raising Raffi: The First Five Years,” said, “In defense of the dads, they are wherever it is that she’s seeing them, at drop-off or pickup. And dads of a previous generation would have been at the office. In that sense, this is the transitional generation. You do the drop-off, but you can’t make plans.” For the record, Gessen said that he would absolutely give his email to a mom in the original interaction, but that his wife, my friend Emily, runs the scheduling for the family. “I’m bad at scheduling,” he said. “But I’m willing to concede that could be a learned helplessness situation.”
While some families don’t mind dividing labor in this normative way, with moms controlling the scheduling, other hetero couples would prefer to make scheduling more egalitarian. So I called Allison Daminger, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who studies how couples divide labor, to see if she had any thoughts about how to divide this work.
Daminger said that kid scheduling tends to be particularly difficult to equalize in heterosexual couples, as parent social networks tend to be very gender-segregated, and it can be awkward for dads to break in. (She’s currently working on a research project with queer couples and says they tend to find dividing this labor to be a bit less fraught.) She also said that even when parents try to encourage outside parties or entities, such as schools and doctors’ offices, to call the dad first, there may be good reason they are hesitant. Anecdotally, Daminger said she has heard from office workers that they’ll call the dad and then the dad will say he has to ask the mom, and it’s just wildly inefficient and frustrating for the people trying to do the scheduling. In those cases: Get it together, dads!
Those caveats aside, Daminger suggested two potential ways to help divide scheduling. One is a shared family email address or calendar. The latter is a tool my husband and I use — he’s more proactive than a lot of dads, and has organized many a playdate, but I still do more than half of the scheduling. The other is dividing tasks by area. For example: “Partner A does the school stuff and Partner B does extracurriculars,” Daminger suggested. Or Partner A does the dentist appointments and Partner B does the pediatricians’ appointments. It might help to specialize because then you can build relationships and learn all the peripheral information you may need, Daminger said — you’ll know how long the dentist appointments take and how your kid responds to them, and you’re the one who always interacts with the staff.
In the particular case of Sonya Bonczek and the party emails, Daminger wondered if the situation would have turned out differently had Bonczek’s husband asked the other dads for their information — perhaps they would have felt more comfortable sharing it with another bro, though it’s still possible they would have just forwarded the email to their wives anyway.
For her part, Bonczek is glad she started a conversation. “It’s just good to stop and think about this,” she said. It has caused her to reflect on the division of household labor in her own family, which is pretty much all any of us can do day-to-day, as we muddle through our overbooked routines and try our best to fit it all in without having yet another tiff about who didn’t clean the kitchen after breakfast.