The Gift Mothers Really Want

With Mother’s Day looming, many fathers and children are scrambling for the right gift. A bouquet of flowers? Jewelry? A trip for a pedicure? So many options!
But the gift that could have the most impact is some understanding.
What? What does that even mean?
Well, in my work with couples recently, I have been seeing a theme lately with mothers feeling overwhelmed with the household tasks and men struggling to understand what they can do to help, or, more troubling, believing that they should not have to because “they actually work”.
In our culture, we often undervalue the work that needs to be done to maintain a household.
The mental load of maintaining the household is a huge task!
There is a comic that explains this so simply and beautifully. It is constantly managing and remembering everything that needs to be done and trying to delegate. It’s organizing the big tasks for the day: getting the kids up and ready, how much sleep do they need/did they get, meal planning, prepping, cooking, school, homework, work, cleanup, etc.
But it’s also managing other aspects of childcare and the household: cutting fingernails, haircuts, doctor appointments, extra school activities, parties, gifts, weekend plans, etc. It becomes a second shift of work after the first shift of work — whether that work was out of the house or at home with children (because let’s be clear, managing kids all day is work).
Now, at this point, I do want to say that there are often great partners that share the burden. But just as often there are partners that either don’t share enough or don’t share at all. Or as the cartoon above suggests, they help but rely on the delegation of the household manager to actually help. I don’t want to discount the partners that do try, merely ask the question: is it fair?
The idea of fairness in housework can sometimes be a touchy subject. “Well I work full time and she’s home all day, these should be her tasks!”
But let me ask this, what do her evenings look like compared to yours? Is she making dinner, watching kids, cleaning while you are relaxing?
What does her time off on the weekends look like compared to yours? Are you only doing chores that she asks you to do? Are you even aware of what needs to be done in the household?
Is it fair?
This idea of the mental load and the second shift is a hard concept to wrap your head around if you have never been put in the position to do it. Women are often the default to chores while men get to opt in.
It’s the attitude of “if I don’t do this, no one else will”, which is an exhausting way to live and truly builds resentment.
What a wonderful gift it would be for some understanding of the dynamics in the household and for a shift to happen to alleviate some of that burden. For her to be able to kick back and relax without thinking “I can’t afford to spend 30 minutes doing this, there are 3 loads of laundry to do!” What a wonderful gift to sit and relax and know that her partner will see the laundry sitting there and do a load himself.
Shifts in the relationship can have a profound impact on the family in a really positive way. Less stress, more appreciation, more time… All wonderful things to improve your marriage and family relationship. But how do you get there?
How to work on gaining fairness in your relationship:

● First, try to understand if and how things are unbalanced. Have both people write out a general schedule of your week and what you generally do during different time blocks.

Sometimes this is really difficult because we may feel ashamed or frustrated with what our schedules actually look like. Use that feeling to motivate you to try to do better for yourself and your partner.

● Next, go through this list of household duties* and note who does what currently. What would you rather it look like or is it working as is? If it’s not working and it feels unbalanced, how can you change it? What duties can you shift?

● Finally, don’t forget to plan in time for your relationship, special family time, and individual time. These are all crucial elements to making sure both partners are feeling connected, happy, and rejuvenated. It can feel overwhelming to look at this list and think about adding more to it, but there is more to a happy marriage and family than just household duties. Put the time in the relationships as well and everything else will seem easier.

And, as always, if you are having a hard time talking about issues like division of labor, it may be a good time to enlist the help of a relationship counselor. We can help you to navigate issues like these without damaging your relationship.
Happy Mother’s Day!
References and Links
This Comic Perfectly Explains the Mental Load Working Mothers Bear by Joseph Barberio
*Adapted from Negotiating Power: Who does what in the relationship? By The Gottman Institute, Inc.