How Couples Are Struggling Through The Pandemic Couples are struggling to redefine their own roles as they look to navigate a pandemic that has upended many aspects of domestic life.
NPR logo

'I Come Up Short Every Day': Couples Under Strain As Families Are Stuck At Home

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/929551120/934062394" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'I Come Up Short Every Day': Couples Under Strain As Families Are Stuck At Home

'I Come Up Short Every Day': Couples Under Strain As Families Are Stuck At Home

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/929551120/934062394" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NOEL KING, HOST:

Historically, women with families have done most of the housework in their households. Lots of studies back this up, but the pandemic is forcing couples to reconsider this. Here's NPR's Rafael Nam.

RAFAEL NAM, BYLINE: For Bianca Flokstra, the breaking point came two months into the pandemic. She has a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, and she was starting a challenging job in international aid. And Bianca was especially unhappy with one person - her husband.

BIANCA FLOKSTRA: Those first couple of months were really hard. There was, I think, a lot of fighting, a lot of tears (laughter), a lot of just trying to make it through mostly just logistically.

NAM: Victor Udoewa was sure he was doing a lot of the housework, half at least, until one day his friend asked Bianca...

VICTOR UDOEWA: Does he do 50%? She's like, no, I definitely do more than he does.

NAM: Bianca clearly saw things differently. She needed Victor to do more. So she took matters into her own hands.

FLOKSTRA: I had to start sleeping a little bit more in the morning, so I just started to send the kids his way in the mornings.

NAM: And then came the list, the things Victor had to get done every day. Victor had the time. He's a software designer for NASA, but his job provides a lot of flexibility. So now...

UDOEWA: I sweep twice a day because the kids in the kitchen, they mess the floor up a lot. The dishes - I'm doing dishes at least two times a day, trash.

NAM: Marianne Cooper, a sociologist, says men are helping out at home more than they did decades ago. But she says women still typically do 30% more of the childcare and 40% more of the housework. It's many reasons. She says traditional gender roles are a big one, and changing that dynamic is hard.

MARIANNE COOPER: At some point - and I've heard many women say this - it's easier and more efficient for me to do it than to voice over all the communication that would need to be voiced over for my husband to pick this up.

NAM: Not all couples can share responsibility equally. Raul Carrillo runs a law firm in El Paso. Thirteen employees and their families depend on him. It's a lot of work, and it often takes him away from his own family.

RAUL CARRILLO: I feel like I come up short every day.

NAM: Raul's wife, Laura Uribarri, handles the bulk of the housework. She takes care of their 11-year-old and their 6-year-old. She also has a big job as an assistant dean at the University of Texas, El Paso, which means her daily life is intense.

LAURA URIBARRI: The days are just nonstop - right? - because now you are cooking three meals and getting everybody online and trying to do your own work.

NAM: And more often than not, there are rough days, like when they found out that schools were reclosing in El Paso only a few days after opening for the year.

CARRILLO: I got home last night and Laura was very brittle, and she was on the verge of tears. And she managed to hold that off for about 2 1/2 or three hours until the kids went upstairs to go to bed, and then she broke down. And that's absolutely the worst possible feeling.

NAM: So Raul is doing more. He handles breakfast for the kids. And when he comes home, he takes out the kids so Laura can enjoy some alone time.

CARRILLO: Sometimes that was, you know, sort of voluntary on all of our parts. And now it's every day absolutely mandatory.

NAM: As Laura soldiers on, she has a word of advice for husbands and fathers, and it's not sweeping the floors or setting up the IT for the children.

URIBARRI: I would tell husbands out there maybe every morning when you get up, ask your wife, is there one thing that I could help you with today? That's it. Just is there one thing that would make your life a little bit better?

NAM: It's a simple question, one that Laura thinks husbands should be asking everywhere.

Rafael Nam, NPR News.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.