A few weeks ago a friend of mine shared an article about the mental load many women bear in running a household and how labour is never really “equally” divided between spouses because of all the additional planning, administering and remembering that falls onto the plates of wives and mothers.
I have this love/hate relationship with feminism, and reflecting on what I expect of myself as a feminist and what other women/feminists expect of me as a feminist is an entirely different blog post or, frankly, series of blog posts. So for this post I’m just looking at what equal division of labour and mental load of household management means to me in the context of raising a son who believes in the equality of all people and whose actions reflect it.
So back to the article, the comments and discussion that this article generated were prodigious and I shared the article with my husband late one night as it really did reflect a lot of what I was feeling.
I don’t think of myself as someone who needs a lot of verbal reassurance. Generally I’m pretty confident, probably to a fault. However, the thankless and unnoticed work I do behind the scenes to keep our home running sometimes grates on me. Something simple like taking DK to the pediatrician is not just the time travelling to and from and at the appointment – but the mental exercise of finding the pediatrician in the first place, scheduling the appointment, calling our insurance company to make sure the provider I found was “in-network”, paying the bills afterwards, remembering the correct dosage and timing of his medications. These were all “background” things my husband did not realize I spent any time doing.
My husband works full-time and he provides for our family so that I can stay home with our son. This is what we both want and I’m happy that I have the opportunity to be with my son every day. As such, I don’t really have an issue with taking on the huge bulk of the household management. I’m better at it than my husband and I’m home all day, so it makes sense that I would take it on. But that doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t need some recognition for how much work it actually is and it doesn’t mean I want DK to grow up assuming that household management is “women’s work”.
We’ve talked about me one day going back to work and my husband has always been keen saying we’d split chores more evenly when that day comes, but I’m honestly scared to go back to work because I know that even though the intention will be to equally divide the labour, I’ll still be the one managing the household and deciding, organizing, planning, delegating, asking, reminding, and remembering all of the things on top of my for-pay job. That thought is exhausting and this article was helpful for us to open up dialogue on these real fears.
And then our dishwasher broke. And for three straight nights my husband patiently siphoned gross water out of the bottom of the dishwasher and solved the problem, only for it to come back again with the next wash cycle. The third night after he got home from work he spent over three hours fixing the problem, pulling out the dishwasher and dealing with mucky water.
And I realized that I did not give him enough credit for his mental load in household management.
Yes, my jobs are constant everyday small things – but his house-tasks are usually at super inconvenient times, unpredictable, time intensive and expensive problems often involving grey water or sewage and multiple trips to Home Depot. Toilet clogs? My husband is on it. Shower won’t drain? I don’t even have to ask him. Our bike tires never need to be pumped up because he always makes sure they have air. Our car almost always has gas in it.
I think I am just as much to blame for not noticing all the mental load he carries and all the little things he does around the home for us as he is for not noticing my mental load and all the little things that I do.
When it comes to how we raise our son, I want DK to help around the house because he’s a part of our family, but I don’t know that equality has to mean getting my husband to do my traditionally female jobs and me to do his traditionally male jobs. While hypothetically I like the idea of raising a son who doesn’t consider chores “pink chores” and “blue chores”, but just “chores”, I think the chivalry involved in picking up a dead mouse in the yard or unclogging an overflowing toilet is nice. It makes me feel loved as a wife and thankful that my husband will protect me from ugliness. I would be honoured to raise a son who takes his future spouse’s disgusting hair ball out of the shower drain without being asked because he knows that’s what husbands do. And if this means that as a result of teaching him this he fails to learn how often one needs to clean a toilet – I’ll still feel like I succeeded as a mom.