I read a quote about motherhood the other day and it really resonated with me. It was something about motherhood being comprised of 50% feeling like your head will explode and 50% feeling like your heart would… I can totally relate to both extremes of this multi-dimensional role.
So many mothers today seem to be carrying the weight of their families on their shoulders, and heading closer to burnout and overwhelm than ever before. On closer consideration, it’s not just the physical tasks they undertake that seems to be taking its toll, it’s the often unrecognised and unqualified weight of the mental tasks required to keep a household and a family thriving… ok, just surviving.
I’d be stating the obvious if I was to highlight that with the welcoming of children into our world comes the introduction of a huge, additional domestic workload. Managing everything is an enormous job, and for many, the duration of parental leave is spent learning the ins and outs of what’s involved in parenting our children day to day.
Typically, the parent who takes on the primary carer role during the parental leave period, tends to spend the most time learning what’s required in parenting young children and keeping the household running smoothly - simply because they have the time available in a way their partner doesn’t. What research also highlights, is that when the primary carer returns to work (currently data shows this is still most often the mother), they typically retain the lion’s share of both the physical and mental load – and boom, the seeds of mental and physical overload are sown.
Most often, the imbalance of mental load within a partnership is an unintentional default that you’ve slipped into over the years. Recognising and addressing the imbalance is one of the simplest and most positive things you can do for your partnership – a good conversation, a solid commitment to follow through and the ability to let go and relinquish some control, will see your mental load lightened faster than you can say “Can you please help me with the laundry?”.
If the distribution of the mental load within your partnership has become a little off-balance and you’re feeling weighed down, here are 5 ways you can get some balance back:
1. Share entire responsibility areas, not just tasks
Taking an hour to sit together with your partner to list all the things your household needs in order to run smoothly is a key first step. To ensure you account for the ‘thinking time’ as well as the physical chores, divide your household duties into Responsibilities, rather than Tasks. Responsibilities require holistic ownership of the area. They allow each of you to develop expertise and confidence in managing it yourself. If you own the ‘laundry’, for example, this means not only washing, drying, folding and putting away the clothes, but also ensuring school uniforms are ready when needed and that your washing liquid doesn’t run out. By carving out all-encompassing responsibility areas, it also prevents overlap, which can be a source of friction and frustration.
2. Choose chores that play to your strengths or interests
As you split up the responsibility areas, choose chores that either play to eachother’s skills and interests (as much as that is possible!) or areas that you already feel competent in. This will increase the likelihood of sticking with your duties and not letting the team down.
3. Identify which areas need joint management
There are some parenting tasks that call for joint ownership where possible. These could be areas relating to your child’s health, schooling or decisions that impact the longer term. It still makes sense to allocate an overall ‘owner’ or ‘champion’ for each of these, but it’s useful to recognise the need for contribution from both partners when these areas crop up.
4. Let it go
Curtailing the control freak in you is more important than ever when your partner is willingly sharing the household load. Resist the temptation to critique and fix their work - support them, yes, but let them get on with it. Perfect is not important here. Getting the job done to a good enough standard great. In our True Partnership at Home Program we dive deeper into the barriers of Maternal Gatekeeping and give you some strategies and ammunition to embrace the concept of good enough being great.
5. Constantly review
As children grow and your household or work situations change, so does the list of household and family duties. A regular check in chat with your partner to identify what could drop off the list and what may need to be added will ensure you keep things running smoothly and that the split of responsibilities remains relatively equitable.
Remember, equality looks different in every partnership and you don’t necessarily need to achieve a 50/50 split of responsibilities for each partner to feel content. Negotiate what feels right for you and maintain an open and positive dialogue.
If you feel like you’re carrying more of the load at home than is fair, take our free quiz and find out how fair the division of domestic chores is at your home, as well as what to do next.