Mom's viral TikTok about plane seats sparks debate about parents' labor divide

The TikTok video has been viewed over 5.5 million times in two weeks.

September 20, 2023, 2:25 PM

One mom's experience on a flight is sparking a bigger discussion about the division of labor between two parents, specifically between a mother and father.

Kristine Sostar McLellan, a mom of two from Canada, was on a flight with her family earlier this year when she offered to switch seats with what appeared to be another parent.

Sostar McLellan said she was sitting near a fellow mother and her two small kids -- a baby and a toddler -- when she realized it appeared the children's father was sitting in another row ahead of them.

She offered to switch seats with the apparent father, who agreed and then sent another young child to switch seats with her instead.

PHOTO: Kristine Sostar McLellan shared her experience on a plane which has since gone viral.
Kristine Sostar McLellan shared her experience on a plane which has since gone viral.

From her perspective, Sostar McLellan told "Good Morning America" it seemed the other mother was "really struggling" and had "a lot on her plate" with her children, and she was "pretty surprised" by the entire exchange.

Sostar McLellan posted a video on TikTok about her experience this month, expressing her anger and disappointment about the situation.

"I just thought it was a really good example of the way that the load of domestic tasks, child rearing, even the mental load -- because there's a lot to keeping kids pacified on a plane ride and everything -- how that, by default, is given to the mother often," Sostar McLellan said.

PHOTO: Kristine Sostar McLellan is a writer, mom of two and the business owner behind One Tough Mother, which sells postpartum care kits.
Kristine Sostar McLellan is a writer, mom of two and the business owner behind One Tough Mother, which sells postpartum care kits.
ABC News

In a follow-up TikTok video, Sostar McLellan said she thinks "the only reasonable option in this situation was for him to say, 'No, thank you. I'm actually sitting here with my other child. Thanks anyway.'"

Sostar McLellan said she made a conscious effort not to include any identifying details about the other family. She said her goal in posting about it on social media was to discuss an important issue she said she often sees among her parent friends and in society overall: the unequal division of parental responsibilities.

"I think that it often comes down to mental load," the 36-year-old said. "Moms know that they're the ones going, 'OK, but [their child needs] this size shoe next week, and they're the ones, when your male partner [says], 'Just give me a list and I'll do it,' it's like, 'OK, but can you just make your own list and understand how this whole thing comes together without needing me to be the thinking part of it?'"

"That is still on women," Sostar McLellan said.

A 2019 study from Arizona State University researchers supports the idea that many mothers often feel they bear the brunt of "invisible" parental labor, with nearly 9 in 10 women saying they felt they were the only ones responsible for organizing their families' schedules, even if they were also employed.

The study also found at least 7 in 10 women surveyed said "they were also responsible for other areas of family routines like maintaining standards for routines and assigning household chores."

Sostar McLellan said the response to her TikTok video has been divided among men and women.

"There's been lots of women, saying, 'This is my experience' or completely aligning themselves with the message in the video," she said. "I've even had someone reach out to me and say, 'This is hitting really close to home.'"

But at the same time, she said, not everyone had the same reaction.

"There were a lot of people who were angry about it," Sostar McLellan said, noting that most of the heated comments she received were from men, and that many comments suggested that many fathers could be equally involved in child rearing.

In a second follow-up TikTok video, Sostar McLellan, said she said she thinks "both parents should be all hands on deck, helping with domestic tasks, helping with child rearing."

"It's not right either way for it to be unequal," she added.

Sostar McLellan, who is also the business owner behind "One Tough Mother," a company that sells postpartum care kits, said she hopes her viral TikTok raises more awareness of what many mothers face on a daily basis.

"What I would hope is that this would be [an] awakening for all of the dads who are sort of doing a good job but maybe don't quite understand the extent of the pressure and the extent of what it means to be the default parents in society," Sostar McLellan said.

"And [if] they don't really understand how that feels for their partner, maybe this can help them see how big it is ... that this is not something that their wife is making up or nagging them about," she added. "That the backlash to this and the people who related to this shows how deep that runs for their partner, and maybe that can help them see them more and understand more where they're coming from."

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