“You should have asked, babe! I’m happy to help.” This is a common refrain from my husband.
Let me set the stage: I’m in a marital situation where my husband does a fair number of chores around the house. Especially his chores, like laundry, making his lunch, paying his bills, etc. He also manages morning drop-off to day care and does bedtime most nights with our son. And we split the cat care.
However, even though by many modern standards I have an involved husband who’s a hands-on dad, I still find myself carrying a heavy mental workload within our family. You know the drill — the person who keeps track of when we’re about to run out of groceries, cat litter, and toilet paper, in addition to staying in touch with family and scheduling doctor visits. It’s exhausting, and I’m guessing you can relate.
This isn’t me complaining; no way. I love my family and I’ll do anything for them. Which is likely the problem. When things need to be managed and done, I initially think it’s easier if I just do them rather than wait for my husband to get to it.
Since I own my own business and often work from home, my availability is much more flexible than my husband’s, so I’m able to accommodate days my toddler is home sick and the occasional daytime doctor appointment. So, naturally, it makes sense for me to manage the doctor appointments.
For many families, it’s often the case where mothers assume more of the mental workload within the household. One root cause of this is the lack of paid parental leave in the U.S. Fathers might take two weeks off after the birth of a baby, or perhaps none at all. Mothers might have three months at home (either paid by their company or unpaid), though about a quarter of moms in the U.S. return to work within two weeks of giving birth. Since moms are home more with babies from the start, their role in the household is quickly crafted. Unless families consciously re-distribute roles within the household, the mother will likely continue to carry the mental workload of managing the house, even within the most egalitarian relationship.
This is a problem because it’s exhausting to keep track of everything, all the time. It’s non-stop, and it means chaos if mom ever gets sick, goes out of town, or simply wants a day "off." Additionally it leads to the perpetuation that mothers are the “lead” parent, thus re-enforcing gender roles.
So, what’s to be done about the mental workload within the home? Perhaps someday, if there’s not already, there will be an app for that.
Jennifer Mayer supports parents through pregnancy, birth, new parenthood and the transition back to work. Shes the founder of Baby Caravan, a birth & postpartum doula agency and Baby Caravan at Work, a corporate consulting practice based in New York City. Jennifer lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.