Some ideas are so stupid and inhuman that only an academic could have come up with them; witness the pre-pregnancy contract, which Rebecca Onion is considering having her husband sign before they conceive a child. Excerpt:

When I ask my happily married parents, who both worked while raising three children in the 1970s and 1980s, about division of labor, my father says, “I was always willing to do whatever your mother told me to do.” That’s exactly the problem: I don’t want to be the Captain. My mom was the Captain for our family, and now she organizes compulsively, unable to get rid of the habit. I’m the Captain in my house already when it comes to boring inventory-related things like remembering whether or not we have paper towels, and I don’t much like the feeling. When I hear somebody referring to a “honey do” list—a common cultural artifact of women’s captaincy—I want to puke.

Hochschild describes this as the problem of mothers feeling more responsible—a type of emotional labor that can add much time to the second shift.

More women kept track of doctors’ appointments and arranged for playmates to come over. More mothers than fathers worried about the tail on a child’s Halloween costume or a birthday present for a school friend. They were more likely to think about their children while at work and to check in by phone with the baby-sitter.

Shulman pointed out this difference in her contract, including it as a primary principle: “As parents we believe that we must share all responsibility for taking care of the children and home—not only the work, but the responsibility.”


My cousin, who has a 3-year-old son, is the Captain, and she told me that she combines child care with household chores, unable to just do one thing at a time because of her awareness of everything that needs to be done. The Captain is in critical danger of becoming a “scold,” a “nag,” or the “unfun parent,” always rushing kids from one thing to another because she’s trying to cram in housework and other family admin along with child care. Meanwhile, when it’s his turn, her husband dedicates himself wholeheartedly to child care.

The Marriage Agreement appeals to me because it has the power to distribute the captaincy.

Won’t work. May as well draw up a contract governing you and your husband’s sex life. These things are organic, and work themselves out as they will. It took my wife years to understand that my failure to see something that needed doing re: taking care of the kids was not a slight against her; I literally couldn’t see the thing. This is so common with men. I would tell her, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it” — and I meant it. It’s no big thing. I don’t think it makes her a bitch; in fact, it helps facilitate the smooth operation of the family. I’m one of those modern husbands who believes that the dad should be heavily involved in raising the kids, but the best way for mom to make that happen is to be the captain of the household, and for the dad to be the willing and cheerful first mate.

Parenting is hard, especially if you’re just learning how to do it. You cannot subject biology to a rational legal framework. Rebecca Onion is going to make far more trouble for herself and her husband than she imagines if she goes through with this.

[H/T: Reader Cory.]