Brandy Patterson Singleton grew up in a household where her mom stayed home to take care of the family — something she never pictured herself doing.
“My mom laid my dad’s clothes out for him every morning to go to work and everything else to care for the family. She did it all,” Singleton said.
Singleton, a 41-year-old wife and mother from Williamston, is the director of community impact at the United Way of Anderson County, and she has been married to her husband, Jodie, who works for the Postal Service, for 19 years.
They have four sons who are adopted, ages 13 to 19.
Their household labor is managed through team effort — to reduce stress while both parents work full time.
The Singletons, like many other families in the Upstate and nationwide, are trying to stray from the traditional household gender roles that have been around since the 1950s, roles that can result in a struggle to avoid burnout.
“As a husband-and-wife team, if you don’t share the household work, there is no way you don’t burn out,” Brandy said. “It is absolutely impossible for one person to take on all that and maintain a healthy mental health.”
The issue has become increasingly important to women and families. As of 2019, women made up 59.1% of the labor force in Greenville County, though that percentage dropped in 2020 to 51.4%. Nationally women account for 60% of the labor force. Yet pay and benefits continue to lag for women, and women are more likely to handle more of the housework at home.
In 2020, South Carolina women who were full-time wage and salary workers had average weekly earnings of $767, or 77.6% of the $988 average weekly earnings of their male counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Gender roles in traditional American households since the 1950s have had the “man of the house” as the breadwinner who works a full-time job while the woman stays at home to care for the house and children.
Now, as more women are working outside of the home, Furman University sociology professor Sarah Adeyinka-Skold believes there is not enough infrastructure to support working mothers. More time for maternity leave, more flexible schedules and higher, “breadwinning” wages would help, Adeyinka-Skold said.
While the number of working women is projected to keep growing and reach 92 million in the U.S. by 2050, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Adeyinka-Skold said social, economic and political systems and institutions in the U.S. are “not set up to support” them.
“It’s on them to make their families and careers work, and that’s a lot of pressure,” she said.
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The social construct of women as caretakers of the home has been around for a while, said Adeyinka-Skold. It became ingrained for family and gender during the Industrial Era.
The Middle Class created the “cult of domesticity,” which is basically the norm that dictated men worked outside the home in the public and women worked inside the home in the private, she said.
For the Singletons, because Jodie is a few years older and had a career when he met Brandy, he already had a mindset that he needed to do his own chores and laundry, Brandy said. And that helped them divide a full household’s worth of labor.
“When I came into the picture, we talked about splitting duties, and we naturally took on those roles,” Brandy Singleton said. “I took care of the inside of our home, and he took care of the outside. The duties shifted after we had children while both of us continued working full-time jobs, then organized pick-up from daycare, sports and activities — and we were running in all directions.”
According to United Way Data and Research Manager Jacob Jones, from 2015 to 2019, in families where both spouses work full time, women did about 1.16 more hours per day of household work, child care, and shopping for the family, on average, while men did 1.04 hours more job-related work.
In families with both parents working with their youngest child under age 6, mothers did 1.34 hours more work around the house on a daily basis while the fathers did 1.1 hours more of job-related work, Jones said.
“This difference is distinctly not fully made up for by extra work on the fathers’ part,” said Jones. “Even if you balance out the time, you’re getting about 50 more minutes of work for the mother every week, 100 more minutes of work for those with youngest child under the age of 6.”
If you extend that out to a full year, Jones said, that means women are doing 423.4 more hours of work — which translates to nearly 18 more days of work — and if your youngest child is age 6 or younger, it’s 489.1 more hours — or 20.38 days of work for mothers.
Linda Ferguson Fleenor said she would have given anything to have a housekeeper when she was raising her children and working.
“No money for that,” she said. “We tried to do everything on the weekends.”
Like the Singletons, Kristie Mcgregor Herron’s family of four relies on a team effort.
“It gets messy and unorganized at times, but we pull through,” she said.
Tiffany Evatt’s family chose the more “traditional” path but hasn’t found easy tranquility.
“My husband and I used to both work full time and split all of the bills evenly,” she said in a Facebook comment. “In 2018, our daughter was born 3 months early and needed extra care, so I quit my job to stay home with her. My husband takes care of all of the bills, but I still struggle with guilt for not being able to contribute financially.”
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Adeyinka-Skold said the “Leave it to Beaver” way, named for the traditional roles portrayed in the old TV show, is a vision of family structure, “a father who works outside and a mother who stays home to cook, clean and take care of the children.”
“It’s important to understand that this is an ideal, a construction, not the reality,” she said.
In reality, she said, working-class families have long relied on two incomes for one household.
The Singleton family’s outlook on the division of their household labor changed as they added to their family and as her boys got older. Brandy Singleton said chores fell onto whoever could pick them up or was working fewer hours that day, and her sons started helping out more by cleaning up after themselves.
And Brandy said she and her husband have instilled the same mindset in her boys — “that they have to be responsible for themselves.”
“If you made a mess, you need to clean it up,” she said she’s told them from an early age. “I had them start doing their own laundry and chores. I don’t want them going into a relationship or marriage expecting a woman to do all the things for them. Parents should be teaching their kids this.”
Singleton said she sometimes works 12 hours a day but gets home with nothing to worry about because the household has been taken care of – by her husband and boys.
“Also, if you can’t get to it that day, though, it’s not the end of the world,” she reminds herself. “This was one thing that saved our marriage, because my mindset was things had to be done, and now, but I have learned that it’s OK for everything not to be spotless all the time.”
“Things can be done when we can get to it, and spending time as a family is more important,” she added.
Support for working mothers inadequate in U.S. compared to other countries
Expectations of home life didn’t change as quickly as the demographics of America’s workforce.
“And you can see this in our policies,” Adeyinka-Skold said.
Family leave and child-care policies are “inadequate” compared to other developed countries such as Sweden and European countries, she said.
In her studies, she has found that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not have a national paid maternity policy of 12 weeks or more and ranks last in terms of average weeks of paid maternity leave:
- Nationally, only 16% of working Americans have access to paid parental leave.
- As a national policy, Swedish mothers are entitled to 390 days of parental leave paid at 80%, while paternity leave is 10 days paid at 80% of their income.
- In the U.S., federal policy requires that family leave be 12 weeks unpaid for workers in companies with 50 or more employees and paid family leave is dependent on state policies
- To be eligible, people must live where employers are required to have paid family leave: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Washington D.C.
- South Carolina does not require employers to provide paid family leave.
And despite the progressive maternity paid leave policies of many European countries, very few countries have adequate paid paternity leave — the U.S. is no exception, said Adeyinka-Skold.
Having more limited time off after having a child — for men — implies “that women are actually supposed to be at home, not in the workforce,” she added.
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Moreover, wages in the U.S. make it close to impossible to have only one breadwinner in the home, said Adeyinka-Skold, so many women have to work full time to help support their families. This happens as family leave policies are “stuck in a time when it was economically viable for a man to be the primary breadwinner,” she said.
Many men are stepping up and doing more housework and helping with child care, she continued, however, as a cultural practice, men and women are treated fundamentally differently.
“And again, our current policies support this cultural frame,” she said. “We say we are for gender equality, we say we are pro-children and pro-life, we say that we care about families — but our policies and institutions continue to demonstrate otherwise.”
In addition to Adeyinka-Skold’s suggestions of the need for many nation, state, and local policy changes to relieve the pressure on women in the workforce, she agrees with the Singletons’ solution and other Upstate families of running the household as a team effort.
“I am extremely fortunate to be in a very collaborative partnership where my partner and I play to our strengths and serve as back up for each other,” she said. “Household duties are split up based on who is good at what, for the most part. My partner is good at and loves cooking and also better at finances, so he does these things. Childcare is also split up between us. Laundry, dishes, and other chores, are based whoever is free and has time.”
Education and Family Issues Reporter Krys Merryman can be reached at 864.420.7111 or [email protected]. Continue the conversation or join a new one on our Education and Family Issues in Greenville Facebook page or on Twitter @krys_merryman.