I said/hissed that to my husband the other night, a thought I usually keep on the inside. He was supposed to have stopped at FedEx to pick up a box so I could return clothing I’d bought online for the kids, only he’d forgotten. Again.
I fell in love with my husband for his easygoing way. He balances my Type-A tendencies, calming me and helping me realize that things don’t always need to get done right this very second. I know that but still, things actually need to get done. And so, I was upset the other night. Irrationally so, given that it was just a box. Only it wasn’t just a box. It was about the number of tasks of childcare, housework and parenthood, and how overwhelming they can be. Especially when you have a child with special needs, as we do.
I sometimes feel I pick up more than my fair share of the boxes in our relationship. A whole lot of women feel the same, it turns out, as I discovered when I posted a question on Facebook asking friends how the division of childcare and household labor played out in their marriages, and whether they ever felt resentful about having too much to do. Dozens of responses quickly poured in.
Most of the 80 women said they handled the majority of childcare—and the vast majority of household work. Half of the respondents said that yes, at times, they have resented it (and I’ll bet more weren’t willing to publicly admit it). “I do too much plus I work nearly full time and I totally resent it most days,” said one mom. Not much has changed since PhDs first started researching the whole marital division-of-labor thing.
I think it’s safe to say that, in the last couple of decades, there has been some breaking down of traditional gender roles in childcare—real dads do diapers, of course. My husband sure does; he is as hands-on with our two kids as I am. We both have jobs and on weekends we are equally likely to give the kids a bath, play Connect Four with them or drive them to an activity or birthday party. It’s the 29,631 other to-dos—ones unrelated to actual childcare but still critical to keeping our family and home running—that often fall on my shoulders.
Of the Facebook respondents, even women who work full-time are handling the lion’s share of cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, and errands. We are usually the ones coordinating schedules, be it booking a time for parent-teacher conference or figuring out when that summer trip to Vermont can happen. We are the ones who know exactly when to make the annual pediatrician appointment, when it’s time to to stock up on t.p. and, oh, that violin teacher hasn’t been paid in a month.
If a scientist ever sliced open my brain, in the name of seeing just how moms do it, hundreds of to-do lists would fall out.
“I sometimes feel the stress of being more responsible,” said one mom, summing up the sentiments of many. To me, time and labor aren’t the core issues—it’s the mind-boggling (and occasionally terrifying) obligation of it all. The feeling that I alone am steering this rickety rowboat we inhabit and we will all go down if I don’t keep frantically paddling away.
My husband and I have had discussions about this. Synching up our schedules on iPhones have helped, as had a weekly state-of-the-union on Tuesday nights where we discuss what needs to get done and who’s doing it and what hasn’t gotten done and please don’t make me send you another email reminder. I haven’t yet resorted to the Nag-O-Meter, an actual app one could stealthily download to a partner’s phone to spout nags ranging from passive-agressive (“You fell asleep again“) to in-your-face (“WHAT have you been DOING all day?”).
Probably wouldn’t help, anyway. One woman told me, “I used to resent things, but then we saw a therapist.” Wonder how the therapist got her husband to do more, was my first thought. Then I decided that probably hadn’t happened—and that this woman had probably just gotten new perspective. I’m guessing a shrink would say I must be getting something out of this, too, and it’s true: I like being in control. Sometimes, I’ll do things myself—make the bed, do the whites laundry—because my husband doesn’t handle them the way I like them done. As one mom said, “I’m more picky so it’s my own fault I do more.” Said another, “I’m not always willing to give the control over.” Perfectionism is definitely a job hazard of motherhood, and we need to own that.
Actually, parenthood is a job hazard of motherhood. We have so much more to do than before we had kids; maybe that’s something some of us never quite get used to or accept. There’s a part of me that still longs for those days when I could sit around in a coffee shop all afternoon, nursing a latte and reading a good book—but the truth is no matter how much my spouse did, that would not be my life. I’ll admit, too, that I take a certain pride in all that I accomplish. I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME MOP THE FLOOR! or something like that. I manage to juggle, to keep track, to get things done. I am supermom, superwife, superhousekeeper, superchauffeur, supertakeout-orderer, super-everything rolled into one! I rock!
POP! goes that thought bubble, back to reality. My son’s in danger of going shoeless very soon if I don’t pick up a pair that fits him and my daughter’s sleepover birthday party is next weekend and I’ve gotta find some paper plates with peace signs and why didn’t he think to do any of this?!
Sigh. I will probably never stop resenting my full load, but it might be far lighter if I let go when possible.
Now will SOMEONE named MY HUSBAND please get me the damn FedEx box?
Image source: istock/Mark Wragg
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