I can’t remember exactly what the final straw was. It may have been my husband watching Netflix and eating peanuts while I folded his t-shirts and undies after a long day at work, or him forgetting to collect the 3 items I’d requested via WhatsApp that afternoon, required for someone’s book week costume the following day. It doesn’t actually matter, because that night, the camel’s back was (metaphorically) broken, and, years later I can say that I am grateful it was.
Rather than throwing a wobbly like I had become accustomed to, I decided it was time to make some changes. I grabbed my trustiest side-kick (my laptop) and furiously typed everything that was driving me wild about our home life. Within a few minutes of the most hectic typing I have ever executed, it was clear to me, not only that this camel was carrying more on her shoulders than was necessary, but also, that I was part of the problem.
When I took time away from work to birth and raise our babies, I was also gifted with the lion’s (camels?) share of the domestic workload. This made sense in our family, and for the most part, I relished at owning the running of our home and the nurturing of our offspring.
But when I returned to work, and as our children grew, I retained responsibility of the physical and mental load of running our home and raising our family and it was making me grumpy and intolerant. And tired. Did I mention how tired I was? You probably guessed that.
An unintended consequence of combining work and family commitments, can often be that the partner who is considered the primary carer during the early years of children’s lives, retains more than their fair share of the workload at home, even after they return to paid work. The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2009 report on Social Trends in Household Work* found that even when mothers work full-time, they still do more than twice as much household work as their full-time working partners. Studies in the United States and United Kingdom unfortunately report similar results.
Juggling home and work responsibilities really is thirsty work, but it’s not all bad news. After having some critical conversations, getting out of my own way (read: curbing my urge to control everything – there, I said it), and changing the way we approached the physical and mental load at home, we redistributed the way that things get done around here, and we’ve maintained a much more equitable split of responsibilities for a number of years. I’m still tired, but at least now we are both satisfyingly tired and there’s no resentment over folded undies.
The solution? It’s not rocket science. Actually, it’s a bit art and a bit behavioural science, and it does take time, effort and a bit of structure, but gee, it’s worth it. If you, like me, didn’t get it right when you first divvied up the chores at home after having kids, or you’re looking to make a step change in how the load is shared at your place, here are 3 principles that underpin what we believe works.
1. Ask for ownership, don’t ask for help.
When you look at the work that needs to get done, divide things into Responsibilities, rather than Tasks or jobs. Responsibilities require ownership, encompassing both the thinking and the doing. A common barrier to equitably sharing the load at home is asking your partner (you can substitute ‘partner’ with ‘children’) to “help” with getting things done, rather than handing over responsibility to them. This doesn’t mean you can’t help each other out to get things done, but it does mean that you’re not the only one who is carrying the mental and physical load when it comes to home and parenting related responsibilities.
2. Let it go.
If principle number one made you ever-so-slightly uneasy, then principle two has been created just for you. Curbing your urge to control, or to have things done the way you’d like them, is more important than ever when your partner and/or kids are willingly sharing the household load. One of the outcomes of our critical conversations was that my husband became responsible for managing the laundry. Does that mean my smalls aren’t folded the way I like them and my kid’s clothes often end up in the wrong wardrobes, or the wrong colour? Yes it does. But is also means that I don’t think about the laundry, or have to fold it and put it away myself.
The Let it go principle extends to letting go of the notion that every job or request matters. There’s never enough time to do everything, even when you are sharing the load, but there is enough time to do what matters most. Figure out what you’re willing to let go of together; it might be weekly vacuuming, home-cooked meals every night, or other people’s expectations of you. When you put your energy into what matters most to you, chances are you’ll feel lighter and more productive.
3. Keep talking.
As children grow and your home or work situation changes, so does the list of household and family duties. A regular check-in chat to discuss how things are going, identifying what you’d like to change, add or remove can pay dividends. Keeping communication open and regular is key – just like working in any other team or partnership, it’s the way to ensure that things don’t brew up and boil over.
Finally, it’s important to remember that every family situation is different, and there is absolutely no perfect way to blend the commitments of work and home life. Our split of the workload at home isn’t 50/50, but it’s a fair and achievable split given our personal ambitions and work commitments, and it feels right.
Using your gut-feel to estimate how equitable the split of domestic work is at your place is the first thing we ask participants of our True Partnership at Home Program to do. It’s a great stick-in-the-sand way to see where you are currently at, and it opens up the conversation of where you’d like it be. For many women we’ve worked with, shifting the stick is easier than they think, when they apply the principles I’ve introduced above, and work through our 4-step process.
Our True Partnership at Home access-anywhere online program gives you the know-how, the tools and the confidence to achieve a more sustainable split of the mental and physical load at home. 5 easy to watch videos, 30-pages of discovery tools and the support of our coaching team. For a limited time, you can access a free sample of our program here. Create a true team approach at home using strategies that actually work!
Link to ABS Report: