We have a pact that fights in the middle of the night don’t count.
If you’re a parent of children young enough to be waking up once…or twice…or more a night, you probably understand the resentment I felt during those first few months of motherhood.
I had the boobs, so I was the one to wake up. I was the one to change her, feed her, and get her back to sleep. Tim had to work the next morning. I was on maternity leave. It was lonely, being up at all hours of the night and early morning.
And so it goes with most heterosexual* partnerships when you have children. I consider myself to be very much a feminist and my husband to be quite progressive, but these were the roles we had plugged ourselves into. We didn’t realize it would take such effort to break out of them.
Even though 75% of mothers are employed full time, the majority of the child care, housekeeping, and general adulting falls to women. Even though 40% of mothers are also breadwinners, they more often take responsibility for their children’s schedules and appointment, volunteer more at school, and are more likely to handle all the family obligations and activities including vacations, yard work, finances, and home maintenance. Women with careers say that they carry the majority of the mental load (source). If you’re still unfamiliar with mental load, check out this handy cartoon on the subject.
And yet, women are still paid less than men, neither men nor women receive adequate leave following the birth of a child, and decent childcare costs an arm and a leg. We were chatting recently with a couple from Colorado whose weekly daycare costs the same as a month here in Tucson! Add to this the pressures modern women have to have a career AND be a full time mother AND be balanced. It’s enough to drive anyone insane!
A few months after the birth of our first daughter, I returned to work at the hospital in Professional Practice. I made her lunch, dropped her off, picked her up, breastfed her, took her to all of her appointments, did all the things. When my husband would offer his help, he couldn’t understand why I got so angry.
Even though we had divided up all of our household responsibilities prior to having kids and even though he was a helpful and loving husband and father, I was carrying the mental load.
Fast forward a couple years and we are a much better team. My husband takes on just as much of the mental load, if not more, than I do these days. He anticipates our kids’ and home needs and we communicate about our own. Sure, it’s not perfect. Sometimes we find ourselves in uber survival mode. But, I know that he’s right there with me, and it makes all the difference in our marriage. Plus, I know that he is cultivating an incredible relationship with our daughters and demonstrating equal partnership. It’s taken a lot of work, but we truly have become co-pilots in this whole parenting and life thing.
However, I know that this is still probably a thing for you, just like 69% of other women with careers. So, I’ve compiled a few strategies that will get you to a place where you’re not carrying the majority of the load in that head of yours. I fully acknowledge that I am privileged to have a diamond in the rough husband, but I am hopeful that at least one will resonate with you.
Talk to your partner.
I know, this is a pretty simple concept, and yet the most important one. If you are unhappy, don’t push it down. Claudia Black’s first rule of dysfunctional families is to not talk about it, and this idea goes way further than addiction talk. If you’re not talking about it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It just means it’s going to fester, and resentment in a marriage is toxic to everyone involved.
If you have a partner that you can talk to, sit that person down and say what you need to say. If you have heard of nonviolent communication, here’s a great chance to employ it. We discovered it eight years ago and it basically has saved our marriage a thousand times. Here’s how you do it.
First, state an observation, using your senses. For example, “when I see you going to work without helping M1 and I get ready for the day…”
Then, state what you’re feeling. “I feel abandoned and rushed in the mornings.”
Next, state what you need. “I need to feel like we’re in an equal partnership, without me needing to nag you about it.”
Finally, finish with asking for what you need. “Would you be willing to make M1’s lunch every morning before you go to work?”
It never doesn’t work.
Talk and talk often!
Listen to your partner.
You are a part of a partnership, and yet you only see one side of it. So listen! Hopefully, you partner gave you the same respect. If they did not, lead by example.
Be fully present. Don’t rehearse your next retort while they talk. Truly stop, breathe, and listen.
As a coach, I do this a whole lot, and let me tell you- sometimes we just need to be heard. My favorite way to show that I am listening is to use nonviolent communication to reflect back on what they are saying. For example, “I hear that you are frustrated that I am angry with you every morning.” When Tim does this, I feel seen, heard, safe, loved, and totally understood. Do this for the person you love. Cool?
(On that note: if you just need to be heard, tell your partner to cool it with the fixing and advice.)
Examine your priorities and the possibilities.
Back when M1 was born, my husband was in the middle of a few years of trying to figure out where he wanted to land his career. About a year ago, he landed a job that’s allowed him large stretches of time off between stretches of work. Since she was born, I have also worked from home for corporate. We’ve rearranged things about 20 times in 3.5 years.
If something’s not working for you, find what you can change. Suffering through life is not actually a requirement, despite what we’ve been taught. You don’t need to work yourself into the ground to be successful or happy. In fact, you could be doing yourself a disservice.
While the both of us have been privileged enough to have well-paying careers, we also acknowledge, that we don’t need to prescribe to anyone else’s ideas of success. Tim works 75% of those of his coworkers so that he can be present in his girls’ lives and take care of the home and his own needs. I gave up a job that paid $85,000 per year so that I could start a business that I love and be home with my kids more often. While this is another example of my privilege, I picked what was important in my life, and so can you. What’s important to you? How can you start to work your way towards it? Get creative.
Divide and conquer.
This one is pretty simple, but I heard a really great strategy the other day in Origin. Write down all the things that need to get done- the activities, the cooking, the cleaning, the pick ups, everything. Then, go back and forth and pick what you want to do. When you have the things at the end that no one really wants to do, either outsource it or suck it up and divide it between you.
Tim does the majority of the money, dishes, and lunches. I do the cooking, laundry, and the majority of the tasks that need the flexible parent, like doctor visits. We outsource housecleaning. We share a lot of tasks, too, so you’ll have to find what works for you. Please note that this stuff may change over time, so be flexible and talk about your needs often.
Work on your lane.
This is such an underrated thing. In fact, I think we overlooked it for a long time. When one person in your family unit is struggling, the whole family struggles. When one person in your family unit begins to work on their shit and begin to thrive, the family begins to follow and also get healthier. Energy begets energy.
You can’t control the actions of another being. You can only control yourself. If you have things that you need to work through, take responsibility for them. You will all grow.
This can take the form of therapy or coaching, which I highly recommend. However, it doesn’t have to. Figure out what you need to work on before taking your partner’s inventory.
My husband has been doing this since before we got married and I didn’t even realize the weight that it held in our relationship. Now that I’m working on my own shit, it makes a whole lot more sense.
Let go of the imperfections.
Let go of the fact that he doesn’t fold laundry just like you. Or that he doesn’t empty out the sink after he does dishes (ugh). Be okay that his version of a healthy meal looks a little different, that he didn’t get the right kind of whatever at the grocery store, or that he gets the kids a little riled up at bedtime. I know, I know. You can do it so much better. But just let it be. It’s just different. And different is okay.
Let go if things just don’t get done. The important things will always find a way to get done and you all will survive.
And let go of the expectations you have for yourself. I know what it’s like to be torn between mothering and work. You’re not going to get it right all the time, and that is truly okay. You are the best mother for the job and what you do is more than enough.
This is a process.
Old habits are not broken overnight. It may take time and a lot of effort for you both to be heard. Remember that parenting and relationships will not always be 50-50. At times you or your partner may take on more than their share when the other needs a break or space, and that’s ok! The scales will recalibrate if you tend to your relationship.
Or, perhaps you’re in a relationship with someone who is just not willing to meet you half way. If this is the case, I encourage you to speak with someone you love and trust to work through your life decisions moving forward. If this is you, I see you and send you love and light.
I’d love to hear from you! If this was a helpful article for you, I want to know. What was your biggest takeaway? What is a strategy that you could employ right now to help empty out that mental load that you carry around? Email me at email@example.com if this resonated or not.
May you be happy and healthy,
*Note: I would love to see statistics on LGBTQIA+ couples with children.