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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Women can do anything, but they shouldn’t have to do everything

If you’re a wife and mother trying to hold onto your sanity in the eighth month of a global pandemic, Jessica Alba feels you. During a recent appearance on The Drew Barrymore Show, the actress, producer and hugely successful businesswoman told the host that she needs a vacation — from her family.

Alba and her husband, actor Cash Warren, have three children, ages 12, 9 and 2. “I’ve had enough,” Alba said. “And they all come down on me. Every time they ask me, ‘Mom, can I download this app? Mom, can I get on the Facetime? Mom, I’m hungry. Is this outfit OK? Can you help me?’ ”

“And then Cash is like, ‘I guess I’m just going to go back into my man room,’ And I’m like, ‘What else is new?’ Just disappearing for me to deal with everything,” she said.

As a husband and father myself, I do appreciate a nice man room. Preferably one that’s soundproof.

Meanwhile, the shutdown of schools and businesses due to COVID-19 is crushing women. They always had to juggle. But now, they have to do it with the professional skill of a circus performer.

It’s not so easy to make sure your kids engage in remote learning, have something to eat for lunch, do their homework, walk the dog and do their chores — all while trying to remain part of the workforce.

Many women have given up and left the workforce. After decades of being told they could have it all, they’re exhausted from trying to do it all.

According to a study by the U.S. Census, women are almost three times more likely than men — 32.1 percent to 12.1 percent — to currently not be working because of COVID 19-related childcare issues.

As many as one in four women is considering cutting her work hours or leaving her job entirely to care for children, according to a recent study from LeanIn.org and consulting firm McKinsey &Company.

You hear countless stories of women who thought they were married to enlightened, progressive, hands-on dads and 50-50 “woke” life partners until they realized that — with everyone working and studying under the same roof — they’re still doing most of the work around the house.

It’s a tale I’ve heard before. Memory transports me to the warmth of my grandmother’s kitchen, which served up great food and even better stories. One day, I was hungry for the scoop on what the division of labor was like in the 1940s, when she and my grandfather and their five sons — including the youngest, my dad — were farmworkers in central California.

My grandfather, Roman, was an incredibly hard worker and good provider. Still, my grandmother, Esperanza, made him look like a slacker.

If he got up at 4:30 a.m., she awakened at 4 a.m. She made breakfast, packed lunches and washed dishes before following her husband and sons into the fields. After work, she made dinner and washed more dishes. After dark, when my grandfather finally got his only real break of the day and could socialize with other male laborers, my grandmother completed her final tasks of the day — doing laundry, sewing clothes and making sure the boys took baths, brushed their teeth and went to bed.

Me, I got tired just writing that paragraph.

Like most men of his generation, born at the turn of the 20th century, my grandpa never — according to my grandma — changed one diaper, cooked one meal or washed one dish. Sadly, that tradition was largely passed on to my father and uncles.

My generation of husbands and fathers doesn’t roll like that. I changed my share of diapers, and I cook meals and wash dishes.

Even so, while I only sleep six hours per night and I’m constantly working, it still feels like my wife does more. I can think of at least a dozen things she does so I don’t have to — in addition to starting a graduate program and holding down a part-time job. They include doing laundry, paying bills, buying groceries, going to the bank, washing dishes, picking up dry cleaning, planning vacations, booking doctor visits, etc.

We need to do better. Government has to make childcare a priority, and employers have to be flexible. But it starts in the home with men. We have to step up. I want my son to know that it takes a tremendous amount of work to run a household, and he has to do his share — and a little extra.

Hopefully, help is on the way.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

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