"I Wish Parenting Felt More Equal" — One Mom Is Opening Up About The Lack Of Help She Receives From Her Husband When Their Child Is Sick, And It's All Too Common

An adult and a child cuddle while sleeping on a bed. The adult is wearing a short-sleeve shirt and leggings. The child is dressed in a short-sleeve dress
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This year, respiratory illnesses are on the rise, and our family has added to that count more than once. Well, most of our family.

You see, I’m sick in bed — because my kid has coughed, sneezed and, oh yeah, vomited all over me. But my husband is completely fine, living his best healthy life out in the world, trying to locate his phone and food in the fridge.

When our kid is sick, my husband’s parenting “fight or flight” response kicks in, and his usual can-do attitude vanishes, along with our much-needed stash of tissues.

“Honey, can you get us a cold cloth?” I text my partner. My son’s fever is high, and my little guy has asked me to stay with him because his head hurts. After reading my husband’s response, I immediately reconsider the request.

Maybe I should ask my mom (who lives 15 minutes away) to bring us a washcloth. I wouldn’t need to text her detailed instructions on how to make a cold cloth. Texting my partner with one hand, I comfort my crying son with the other.

The sleep-deprived knot in my stomach won’t let me ignore the truth: I wish parenting felt more equal. Why isn’t taking care of our son when he’s sick more balanced between us?

Close-up of a parent holding hands with a child who is lying in bed with a stuffed animal
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Slate reported that 74% of moms (versus 40% of dads) stay home when their kids get sick. Julie Spears, a licensed clinical social worker, told HuffPost that for many heteronormative couples, a “she-fault” situation can occur in the parenting dynamic.

“Women are typically expected to be caregivers,” Spears said. Historically, girls have been expected to be caring and empathetic, gender socialization theorists say, while boys have typically been taught to inhibit these kinds of prosocial behaviors. Connecting these caregiving dots, we see how gender beliefs form in childhood and continue to influence our parenting in adulthood.

In many households, it’s the moms calling the pediatrician, cleaning up the vomit and attending to the needs of their feverish children.

Supatra Tovar, a clinical psychologist, told HuffPost this pattern persists due to factors including implicit expectations and practical habits.

“There may be unspoken assumptions (or expectations) that the mother should take on more caregiving duties,” Tovar said. Plus, some mamas take on more caregiving responsibilities from the start, and Tovar said this can form a lasting pattern.

Any of this feel familiar?

If the responsibility to care for your coughing kids is all yours, know that you are not alone. Linda P. from Aurora, Illinois, told HuffPost that taking care of her three children when they got sick fell to her because “I made less money than my kids’ dad, so the potential of losing my income would be less impactful than him losing his.”

One 2012 study found that even if working mothers and fathers have similar access to paid sick days, mothers miss work more often to care for their kids.

Choosing between your career and comforting your children when they’re ill isn’t a choice moms should face, but many do. “Men don’t feel empowered to take off work, and that’s a societal shift we need to work on,” Spears added.

A woman lovingly holds and looks at a toddler in a cozy, comfortable environment
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Amanda J., a mother of two from New Albany, Indiana, told HuffPost that looking after her sick littles was a job she wanted as a stay-at-home mom. But when her kids were 2 and 6.5, she started working outside the home again.

Parenting duties became more equal, but her husband was easily overwhelmed and frustrated when caring for their sick kiddos. “I felt like it was my fault they (the kids) had to deal with it,” Amanda said. So she took over caregiving duties when she could to ease tensions.

“The research tells us that moms generally worry more than dads, and this worry may push moms to stay home to care for a sick child even when it may make more sense for dad to stay home,” said Katie Smith, a licensed clinical and child psychologist who treats children, adolescents and families.

Societal expectations, family habits and conflicting work schedules are a few reasons a mother’s workload can unfairly increase when kids are sick.

And then, in some cases, it’s about “perceived caregiving competency” — as is the case in my family.

“If the mother has historically been the one to handle most caregiving tasks, she might be viewed (by herself or her partner) as more adept at managing the children’s needs,” Tovar said.

She added that for working mothers, the dual expectations and pressure to perform both as a professional and the primary caregiver can create potential mental health issues and feelings of resentment.

A woman in a gray sweatshirt is seated on a couch, placing a thermometer in the mouth of a resting child covered by a yellow blanket
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But there is a way to make all this “nurturing” more equal between partners — or at least, there is a place to begin.

“Working parents should be in frequent communication about the equity of shared parenting responsibilities,” Smith told HuffPost.

It’s a good idea to have a plan in place before the kids get sick.

“I think it’s a talk that needs to happen, and having that intentional proactive conversation about who’s on point for the week can help,” Spears added.

When talking to your partner, clear communication about boundaries and expectations is crucial, Tovar said. Express your needs using “I” statements, and suggest practical, divided responsibilities so you can both see a clear plan of action.

Smith added that moms and dads need to get more comfortable allowing and expecting dads to enter this role.

From the beginning, I’ve been the go-to parent offering comfort to our little guy, so it’s no wonder the simplest caregiving instincts elude my husband.

Awareness can break any pattern, so I think I’ll start small: This time, my text reads, “Honey, can you sit with him while I shower?”

My husband peers around the doorway, and our 10-year-old smiles at his dad — giving my husband the little confidence boost he needs.

For many families, the model of a caregiver has always been Mom. But with communication, commitment and collaboration, this model can change. In our 10 years of parenting together, it’s clear that my husband and I bring different parenting strengths to the table, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn some new ones, too.This article originally appeared on HuffPost.