“We’re like, ‘Wow, this is intense work,’” said Mr. Marrocco, whose family relies on a part-time nanny. “In many ways, our own work is so much easier than being a parent.”

Dr. Swenson at New America helps families experiment with ways to better divide the mental load of running a household. One method, called the “kitchen buddy” experiment, requires the couple to pair up for certain tasks; for example, one person always loads the dishwasher and the other unloads it. Unless each person fulfills their role, the dishes cannot get done.

Creating a built-in nudge system can also work, she added, because it does not require a “C.E.O. of the household” to issue commands. In her own home, Dr. Swenson, who is married to a woman, uses fridge magnets to remind everyone whose turn it is to clean out the litter box.

Dr. Swenson, who is bisexual, said that in her relationships with men, she “wore the cruise director and quality-control hats” and “was the textbook example of a woman who was carrying mental load.”

“I wore it almost like a silent feminist badge of honor,” she said.

When she eventually married a woman, the tables turned. Her wife, who is part Cuban, had been raised in a spotless household where cleanliness was prized and an important part of her culture. She had a “strict make-your-bed-every-morning” routine, Dr. Swenson said. And right after they ate, the dishes were cleared and loaded in the dishwasher.

“For the first time, I felt like the dude,” said Dr. Swenson, who had been raised in a family where if things were “clean enough,” that was OK.



This story originally Appeared on Nytimes.com