Episode 205: The Mental Load of Household Labor and Fair Play
You’re listening to Live Free Creative, an intentional podcast with practical tips for living your life on purpose. I’m your host Miranda Anderson. And I believe in creativity, adventure, curiosity, and the magic of small moments. I hope that every time you listen, you feel empowered and free to live the life that you want.
Hey there. Welcome back to the show. You’re listening to Live Free Creative podcast. I’m your host Miranda Anderson and today is Episode 205. Welcome. Welcome. I’m excited to talk today about relationship strengths and the power of fair play.
We discussed this earlier in Episode 96, which was an interview I did with my husband, Dave, and the episode was all about dividing household duties. I wish I would’ve thought of this–before I started recording–to go back and listen to that episode and to see how things have changed in the last several years.
Today’s episode, I’m going to talk about our current method of dividing up responsibilities for our home and family and some of the background to the changes that we’ve made, even that have really lightened the physical and mental load of household responsibilities and home responsibilities and family responsibilities.
I am excited to share all of that with you as much as I can. Of course, it’s always a work in progress. Our relationship is always a work in progress. The way that we manage things, the way that our kids are growing up and are able to–at different ages and stages–hold pieces of the household load as well is really a beautiful thing.
Pause For A Poem
As I begin, I want to share a segment that I call Pause for a Poem. I think I may have shared this poem before on the podcast, and I think it warrants a revisit because of how related and poignant it is to today’s topic in today’s episode.
She keeps an office in her sternum, the flat bone in the center of her chest with all its urgent papers, vast appointments, lists of minor things. In her vertebrae she holds more carnal tasks: milk jugs, rotten plants, heavy- bottomed toddlers in all their mortal rage.
She keeps frustration in her hallux, senseless chatter, jealous fangs, the spikes of a dinosaur’s tail. The belly is more complicated—all heartache and ambition. Fires and tidal waves.
In her pelvis she holds her labors, long and slippery. In her clavicle, silent things. (Money and power. Safety and choice. Tiny banquets of shame.)
In her hands she carries their egos, small and flimsy. In her mouth she holds their laughter, gentle currents, a cosmos of everything.
- Motherload, by Kate Baer
I think right there. That is such a beautiful representation, beautiful and somewhat stressful and somewhat overwhelming representation of the mother load, of the weight that we carry primarily as women.
And I will say this isn’t just like a hearsay or colloquialism. According to the scientific research that has dug into this, women–still in the year 2022–overwhelmingly carry the mental load, the mother load, of the household.
Today’s podcast is in no way meant to be prescriptive for all families because every family, single parent families, homosexual couples, heterosexual couples, single child, multiple children, dynamic families are made up in lots of different ways.
Households are made up of lots of different value systems and lots of different things that matter in different ways and different depths to different members of the family of the household.
Of course, there’s not going to be a one size fits all approach to this is the way it should be done in this podcast. However, I hope to introduce some concepts and ideas of a way you may like to think about the division of labor, emotional, cognitive, and physical labor within the household.
Depending on your own circumstance, whether you have a partner, whether that partner is engaged in the household or is interested or willing to be engaged in the household, those are all things that you will decide on your own.
This podcast is meant to be a jumping off point–a place where we explore curiosity about: Could this look different? Could this feel different?
If you are really loving the way that your household is being run right now and you don’t feel stressed out or overwhelmed by what feels like an unequal distribution of load, then maybe you will get some insights and just ideas and nod your head in agreement as I share today.
And maybe there’s some of you listening who could use a different perspective, who would be interested in some ideas and new ways of thinking about labor that happens in your household and family that could help balance out a little bit more what feels like an unequal distribution of mental, emotional, and physical labor.
And I’m going to introduce the idea that partly some of that may be your own unwillingness to let go of things, that you feel like you must carry, that you don’t necessarily have to carry.
All of that coming up in a little bit.
How We Started
I want to start by sharing a little bit about the household that I grew up in. I had a wonderful, free-wheeling childhood. I laugh sometimes that I was a somewhat of a free range child. I was the middle of five. And then when I was 14 years old, my youngest sister was born. So then I became the upper middle of six children.
My dad owns a construction company. He’s an entrepreneur and he was actively engaged in building his business during my childhood years when I was young, my mom worked full time as a newborn ICU nurse, and she worked nights. And it actually is really interesting to me to think back on those early childhood years, because I was unaware that my mom had a job.
I think maybe I did know in some way, but she would go to the hospital after bedtime or maybe around bedtime. And then she would be home in the morning. I remember her helping me get off to school and she would pick me up after school and we’d have the day together in the afternoon, going to lessons or whatever. And then she would be working again at night.
She worked nights as a NICU nurse all the way until my youngest sister was born. And it’s just fascinating to me to think back that I was almost completely unaware that she worked outside of my household. I knew she was a nurse. I could have said my mom’s a nurse, but I couldn’t have told you when she was working as a nurse.
I also had an interesting relationship with my dad where I knew that he was building a business and I felt somewhat more involved in that because, from a young age, we were invited to have jobs under the umbrella of his business. So my very first job, I mentioned in a segment a long time ago that I was a custodian for my dad’s office, my sister and I would go in and clean the toilets and dust the desks and vacuum. And we earned maybe $20 a week.
And that was our first official job where we were working. It felt very official. We were taking out the garbage and putting it in the dumpster and working. And I was young, maybe 11 or 12 at that point. And then had lots of opportunities throughout my growing up years to work for my dad under the umbrella of his company.
I never actually built buildings, but I did a lot of cleaning of buildings. And my brothers did a lot of mowing of lawns of buildings where my dad was working.
And this brings me to an interesting point that I grew up in a very specifically divided household chore situation, where there were very entrenched ideas about women’s work and men’s work.
This is partly generational, partly the families that my parents had been born into. Maybe some of you have similar memories or had similar ideas or still have similar ideas about the types of work household work that men and women should do, or what naturally falls to one or the other.
One example is that at home, I never took out the garbage ever, not one time in my whole youth. I did take out the garbage when I was working as a custodian in this professional setting, pseudo professional setting, at my house.
When the garbage was full, my dad called upon one of the brothers to take the garbage out. There was a similar idea around lawn mowing as well. I mentioned that my brother often mowed lawns or were given the opportunity if they wanted them to mow lawns at some of the properties where my dad was working.
And I didn’t know how to mow a lawn. I never mowed a lawn until I was much older, maybe in adulthood. I might have done it one time helping my brother in my teenage years, besides that I was fully comfortable with lawn mowing being boys’ work, men’s work and garbage being men’s work.
And then some examples of women’s work may include cooking dishes. We did divide up dishes among the brothers and sisters, but for the most part, dishes seem to be more of a women’s work and just general kind of household light cleaning the garbage was the men’s work, but most of the cleaning around the house chores, things like that were more women’s work.
I took these ideas about who did what or who was supposed to do what within a household, into my own marriage, whether or not I recognized them as entrenched beliefs. These were just things that I assumed to be universal about the world.
And it was really confusing to Dave. Not even remember the first few years we were married, that I would just let the garbage be full. And I didn’t ever even consider that I should tie up the bag and take it out to the back.
And I remember asking him a couple times: Are you going to take that garbage out? And he would look at me like sure, but are you going to take it out?
He didn’t have the same idea around garbage being 100% boys’ work because he must not have grown up with the men being the ones in the household that took out the garbage. I bring this up just because I think there may be some relatability in the idea that we inherit certain ideas about household labor from the families that we grow up in.
It isn’t until we are adults that we even sometimes recognize the opportunity to question some of the beliefs that we may have been raised with, the traditions that we may have been raised with. And I don’t say question in order to just throw everything out. I say question in order to make sure and double check that the beliefs we have around house labor–the division of labor at home–aligns with our personal values and our household values.
As adults in a new partnership, we get to take all of the good, and we often bring along some of the bad from the homes that we were raised in and adulthood and partnership in our own families is when we have this beautiful opportunity to say:
Okay, here it is. Here’s everything on the table. What do we want to take forward consciously into our family, this new family that we’ve formed? And what do we want to leave behind and say, that worked for my parents, that worked for growing up, and that’s not something that I see working for us for this new union, this new family moving forward.
Have you had those conversations? Even if you’re years and years into marriage, I’m going to mention in this episode, a new sort of system arrangement that Dave and I adopted one year ago, we’ve been married for almost 16. So after 15 years of marriage, we made an adjustment into a new arrangement, a new division of labor that feels more sustainable for us now and our stage of life now.
And I just want to invite you to consider how amazing and beautiful it is that we can, as adults, make changes to our betterment, towards our wellness, towards the benefit of our family. At any point, there isn’t one right time or one right point. And if you’ve passed the point and you feel like, gosh, I don’t even know if our household system is possible to be revised in a way that feels better for me or for us, my hope is that you’ll remain open to the possibilities of things that you might not have expected to be.
Okay. So now for another quick walk down memory lane. I mentioned coming into my family with my family, with Dave, in this way that I had a pretty clear idea about what men did and what women did.
When we started out our first five, six years of marriage, one, or both of us was in school while the other one was working and we had very little money and we had very little time, we were super busy. I was in nursing school. We did law school together. I was working full-time while Dave was in law school and then I had a baby.
So then I was working part-time and had a baby while Dave was in law school. And then I had another baby and I was working part-time with two babies while Dave was in his first, very intense law job, working for a law firm where I saw him probably less in those two years of working at that job than I had in the years previous.
And those had been busy years. We were just in basic survival mode. And yet I felt very underwater acknowledging that Dave was up to his eyeballs in the cognitive work and academic work of being in school full time. And that was where his main priority needed to be. And that the greater portion of his hours and of his mental and emotional load needed to be there in order to be successful.
There were some really hard years in there, and I remember one time going to dinner on a date night, we luckily were pretty good at date nights even then with very little time. I think we recognized we really needed to have a date night in order to make sure that we didn’t just completely lose touch with each other, through some of these entrenched years.
I remember being at dinner and explaining to Dave that I was just feeling underwater, that I was working and managing the kids and managing the household and trying to show up as a good wife and also be a good friend and had all of these things.
And I said, I am not going to be able to do this forever. I know that this is a special time and I know that I’m going to, that I can hold on, but this can’t be the way that it is forever.
And Dave said, I know. I recognize that. Let’s make some changes. And it was within that next year that we said, this work isn’t sustainable for the lifestyle that we want. And then we made a change to a different job.
And honestly in the years, there were five years that we were at the next job and things shifted a little bit. And then in the five years, since we’ve made the shift to the lifestyle that we have here, a lot of the changes that we’ve made have been not upward mobility in career path or in salary necessarily, but a shift sideways into the lifestyle that afforded us the freedom of the way that we spent our time so that both Dave and I could feel more balanced in our ability to care for ourselves, each other and our family and home. And that has been a really interesting priority for us that is somewhat counterculture.
And a few years ago when we did our year without shopping and our family minimalism challenge. And then we downsized our home and our belongings by over half and moved across the country, all of this sort of aligned with this real pivot that we felt in making sure the decisions we were making as a family, as a couple aligned with our vision for our family as a whole.
What were our highest priorities, the highest use of our time, our money, our investments, emotionally, our relationships? These are the things that we have been chasing, this ability to live our life with a really engaged level of agency and curiosity and connection, both for ourselves as individuals and our children as individuals and for our family as a whole.
So back in 2013 when I had Plum, so this is now my third child, our first house, we built a house in Texas. It was bigger than any we had ever lived in. And I felt like I was managing a lot more just by virtue of space, a lot more children, more space, more belongings, more stuff, more laundry.
And laundry was the thing that gave out, something’s gotta give, and laundry was the first thing that gave.
Honestly, I don’t remember if I even had a conversation with Dave about this. I just stopped doing the laundry and I was overwhelmed enough mentally, emotionally, and physically with a newborn and two toddlers and this big house and a big yard. And I was still working at the time. And I was writing on my blog full time.
Looking back, I had far too much on my plate and it was unhealthy. And so what gave was the laundry. I had to stop doing the laundry. And silently Dave started, he picked it up and I don’t remember having a conversation about it until, a couple months later, I mentioned to someone, oh, I don’t do the laundry anymore. I stopped doing it. And so Dave started doing it.
I don’t necessarily recommend that method of just like stopping. However, it was really interesting because I think that maybe if I hadn’t done it more in the past that Dave would’ve stepped in sooner. He wasn’t necessarily looking for things to do, to add to his plate, but he was willing and had the capacity that I didn’t to then contribute in that way.
I want to say that over the last 10 years, since then, there has been just a slow, what I consider a forward movement or this readjustment of the work that we do at home. Dave works full-time, he’s the primary breadwinner of our family.
I have always either worked part-time or full-time, and that depends on the year. And especially now as an entrepreneur, it really depends on what I want. And so we’ve had this kind of evolving relationship with who is doing what, when, why, how.
It wasn’t until last year, September 2021. And this is definitely on the heels of the pandemic. And also having heard about some different ideas of the way that this could be more intentionally handled. The idea of fair play and of balancing out household labor isn’t that things are divided equally, that everyone has the same amount of tasks or holds the same amount of cards or spends the same amount of time doing things at home.
That’s going to depend on your circumstance, on your bandwidth, on your individual preferences.
The idea is that you are at least taking a look at it as a partner. At everything that is required to run a household and that you’re choosing with intention where to lay that labor. Taking into account all of the things that it requires to run a household, including the full-time work of the breadwinner, including the full or part-time work outside the home of the other partner, including all of the unseen, undocumented, and unpaid labor that takes place to run a household in a family that is often invisible.
And that’s the piece that becomes really important to look at with intention. And we did this last year and it has been really transformational for us. I’ve said before, and I want to reiterate that Dave has been willing from the beginning of our relationship to carry an equal or equitable portion of the load, but because we hadn’t clarified with intention, what that load looked like as a whole, we weren’t able to equitably distribute it.
And that is the piece that we often miss, because so much of the labor that goes into a household is simply unnoticed by one or often both partners. We are unable to then get to the point where it feels there’s some balance in the distribution.
The term ‘fair play’ comes from a book by Eve Rodsky, who is a mother of three and a Harvard-educated lawyer.
She was on her way home from a business trip one time and had an experience that made her realize that. There was a really unequal distribution of labor in her family. And she wanted to do something about it and also help other couples to do something about it.
The main components of the system of fair play as outlined in the book are basically to outline all household tasks. What does it take to manage your home and family in the way that you want to have it managed and then to distribute those whatever way you see fit as a partnership–in the way that highlights your skills, your desires, the time that you have, the way that you want to spend that time.
And then following up and checking in on a regular basis, she recommends weekly. It could be weekly. It could be monthly. It could be quarterly. However works best for you to check in and make sure that you are still on the same page, that things are still working, and that you’re feeling good. You’re feeling supported and supportive.
The fairplay method enables you to bring your own individual and collective values and standards as an individual and as a partnership to the table so you can decide the way that you want things to be done and then distribute those tasks accordingly.
Conceptualizing and Planning
I think the most important detail of the system that Eve puts forward in fair play is the idea of CPE, which stands for conceiving, planning, and execution in this system.
Not only are you dividing up the actual physical task. For example, we’ll use cooking dinner. Not only are you saying, okay, I’m going to cook dinner, but the person who holds the cooks dinner task also holds the conceiving and planning of the task.
What are we having for dinner? Do we have those ingredients on hand? I am going to go to the grocery store and get the ingredients that we’re lacking and I’m going to then cook the meal and serve it.
Oftentimes, when we’re feeling overwhelmed in our partnership and the majority, again, I’m going to reiterate research shows the vast majority of the load of household labor load falls on the women is because of the CPE being missing.
We as women feel fairly comfortable giving away tasks sometimes. Would you please cook dinner? And then we don’t give away the C and the P. We don’t give away the conceptualization and the planning. So we still carry the mental and emotional load of the meal, even though we’re not carrying the physical labor or the time it takes to make it.
We’re still stocking the house with groceries. We’re still planning the meal. We’re giving ideas.
I know some people go so far as, if they’re going out of town, to cook meals ahead of time to leave in the freezer so that their partner has meals to just heat up. And that’s, I’m not saying that’s wrong, but that is a great example of someone carrying the CP and E for a task that they won’t even be there to see the beneficial side of.
Who is carrying the conceptualization and planning of the household tasks in your.
Have you thought about those things as labor?
In preparation for this episode, I read a really interesting article about advancing equality at work and home by Heejung Ching. It was just published in 2022, and I love their definition of mental load. I want to share this with you in case you don’t have your mind wrapped around about what mental load is.
They say, we argue that the way mental load operates within families and society has three characteristics. One it’s invisible in that it’s enacted internally yet results in a range of unpaid physical labor. Two, it is boundaryless in that it can be brought to work and into leisure and into sleep time. And three, it’s enduring in that it is never complete because it is tied to caring for loved ones, which is constant.
The idea of mental load is a combination of the cognitive work of household duties, as well as the emotional work. And that’s where number three comes into play. This enduring, never ending, idea of worrying about your kids about:
Are they getting the cognitive development that they need? Are they being well fed? Are they active? Am I providing the possibilities that I hope for them? Do we have a birthday present for that birthday party so that they can be well liked among their peers?
I think we often exclude the emotional labor piece of work. When we’re thinking about household duties, we, very often, fall straight to the labor itself, the physical, what needs to get done.
When we back up to the cognitive, that’s more of the planning phase of, okay, here’s the list of things. Here’s how it needs to happen.
And sometimes we forget about the emotional labor.
This is completely invisible and often not even spoken about or shared in a worthwhile way, the emotional load of care. Of caring deeply of worrying, of having expectations of hoping of being able to project how the decisions being made today may or may not impact some future possibility.
This is all enveloped in the caring for our family, and that is in and of itself emotional labor. Someone is doing that caring, and more often research shows it is women and mothers that are bearing not only the physical household labor, but also the cognitive and the emotional, which all contribute to feeling quite overloaded. As you would imagine.
And to some of you listening to this podcast, this is going to be obvious, but why does this matter?
I want to take a quote directly from another study done on wide segments of the population. Particularly women are carrying larger domestic loads and suffering physical and emotional health consequences as a result.
Why does this matter? Because women, particularly women, are suffering physical and mental health consequences as a result of the unequal distribution of household labor.
So one of the beautiful pieces of the fair play idea is that it brings in that conceiving and planning, the conceiving, planning, and execution, all go into making up one task or one chore.
I have to admit, I have actually not read the book fair play. And I have intended to. But I think what Dave and I did this time last year was basically what the book outlines, just without having read the book or having there’s also cards which I would be interested in looking at. So I am talking about the fair play method without actually having read the book itself or use the cards.
I believe that I had learned enough about it to understand the basics of following along. And this is what we did. You could get the book or the cards or both and follow along.
Divide Up The Labor
Similarly, I loved the idea of just the really clear intentionality be behind the division of labor.
We were on a road trip last September and Dave and I spent about two hours listing out together every single task that we think of that it takes to run our household. We did it in a Google sheet, a Google document. And I’m going to just read out a few of these so that you get an idea of what this list looks like.
This section I pulled up has to do with the house itself. Change light bulbs. Change air filters. Smoke detector. Batteries. Clean Gutters. Power wash. Siding. Touch up paint, manage pest control service, clean the grill, replace propane in the grill, clean the dryer vent, pay utility. Pay mortgage, hot tub care, filling, draining, cleaning, internet and wifi subscription review and management, trampoline management, hose maintenance. Getting ready for church. That last one was not having to do with the house. I don’t know that ended up in the brainstorm right there.
Plumbing issues, electrical issues, HVAC issues. Cleaning furniture, paint touchups in the house, power washing the fence, cleaning out the refrigerator, and on.
Here are some from a different section, mow the lawn, edge the lawn, clean up the branches, rake the turf. Take out and put away the bikes in the morning, vacuum and sweep the wood floor, vacuum the rugs, manage the donations, trim the bushes, basic garden care, purchasing batteries.
We have a whole section for pets. Remember we have 10 pets. So we have things regarding the buying of the food, the picking up of the poop, the feeding, the cleaning, grooming, trimming nails, watering meds, vet visits, and on.
You can see how, depending on your home, your family, your lifestyle, your list of what it takes to run your household is going to be different than anyone else’s.
I invite you to consider all of the different aspects of your household, your house, your family. We have a whole different section that is about managing play dates, birthday party, invitations, birthday party planning, holiday planning. Who is buying Christmas presents? Who’s buying birthday presents? Who’s planning the menu for Thanksgiving? who is inviting people to have Thanksgiving dinner at home?
All of those different things. There’s, seemingly endless amounts of tasks and what was really enlightening for both Dave and myself, as we did this exercise and wrote this giant list. For both of us, I’m going to say it was equal. The amount of things that he brought up, that he handles so invisibly that I never even consider them at all.
And equally for me, the amount of things that I brought up that he has never once thought about. Because it doesn’t even register as something that happens because I’ve handled it for the last 16 years.
One of the most beautiful parts of the exercise is the intense realization and gratitude that happens when you both recognize all of the invisible and visible ways that you have been contributing to your household.
The first time you do this, it may feel very unequal. I’m doing this, I’m doing this, I’m doing all of it. And I know that I’ve used those words before at home saying, why do I have to do everything? It was a good reminder to sit down and say, I’m not doing everything.
There’s entire categories of things that I don’t even think about that Dave has handled. And likewise, entire categories of things that I think about that he hasn’t ever thought about. And we came together and made this master list so that we both could appreciate what it takes, what is the full scope of managing the emotional, cognitive, and physical labor of our household.
And then you can imagine what comes next. The division of labor taking into account that Dave works a full-time job, and that I work a entrepreneurial part-time job. That is super flexible because I invent it as I go. How do we then distribute things based on the amount of time and energy that we both have and are willing to contribute?
We both really want our family to succeed in that we are connected, that we are happy, that we have physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual wellbeing. We want to have deep relationships with each other, with ourselves, and with others.
I think at this point, after you write an entire list and kind of get this master plan, clarify your values and what matters most to you as a family and how you can approach the division of labor in a way that feels equitable.
What are you going to do yourselves? What are you going to outsource? What can you drop? Are there things that you feel are necessary because you’ve simply been doing them that maybe don’t even need to be done?
This is where the intentional piece comes in, recognizing what are our priorities, what are our values, and how we can take full ownership for the way that we divide up the work that it takes to run our family at this point.
In the process, Dave and I went through and claimed jobs. And there were some that we initially claimed. I like this. I’m good at it. Examples for me, I have always been really good at the sort of handyman/handywoman part of the household.
I grew up as a daughter of a contractor. And even though in my household growing up, my dad did a lot of that–hat was his specialty–I inherited that handy gene. I’m really good at putting up shelves and drilling holes and painting and fixing things.
And that isn’t Dave’s natural talent nor his natural inclination. So I took on most of the handywoman responsibilities.
And there were other responsibilities that he took.
We divided up based on our interests, our skill levels, our time, the things that matter the most to us. And we made sure that when we were dividing, these that we stayed clear about the idea that what we were dividing were the conception, planning and execution of the jobs.
The fair play method recommends using these cards. And then as you visit it each week, looking at your schedule and saying, Hey, who’s going to do this one this week? Who’s going to do this one?
Dave and I did it a little bit differently last year where we printed out our daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual checklists into a little binder and we review it and revisit it on occasion.
Definitely not weekly, which as I’m recording this, I’m reminded that, it’s not a bad idea that we visit it weekly on our weekly date night, or maybe the night before our date night, or maybe at a family meeting, keeping these things front of mind is really helpful in your ability to then execute.
And with gratitude and appreciation for the things you’re doing, as well as the contributions that other family members are making to the whole, it’s timely that I’m recording this because we did recently have a shift in a couple of our major roles.
Something that I think is interesting generally, is that in families where distribution of domestic labor hasn’t been done thoughtfully, most of the daily maintenance tasks fall on the person who is home more often or traditionally the woman.
Those are things that you need to think about every single day, getting kids ready for school, getting the dishes done, making meals, grocery shopping, things that happen over and over again, multiple times a day or every single day.
And some of the bigger, longer term things that happen whenever, mowing the lawn or fixing something. Those things don’t have as much of a regular timeline. Those tend to traditionally fall to the opposite partner.
Last year, Dave claimed laundry, which he has done in our household since 2014, since I stopped doing it, he has done it. Pretty much always since then. And so he claimed that firmly, which was something that he has already done. And he also claimed dishes, which is a daily job that I just didn’t want to do.
And I said, I had been dividing it among the kids. And I said, you’re welcome to continue dividing it among the kids or do it you’re you know. But he was comfortable taking on the maintenance of the dishes. And I maintained the maintenance of our meals, meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking.
And the like one recent change was a few weeks ago approaching this year where I am in full-time study mode. I started a graduate degree this week. I’m in full-time study mode. I’m also still doing my business part-time and I recognize that because of the program that I’m in, I’m going to be traveling or doing homework every couple weekends I’m away for school.
I also have readings and papers and a lot of homework. It feels like a lot more daily/weekly time is going to be spent on school than I even maybe acknowledged as I applied for the program. It is a rigorous program and I’m super engaged and super excited about it.
And I recognize it’s going to be better for our family as a whole, if we make a shift in our jobs and I propose to Dave that we trade laundry for meals, that I take on the somewhat sporadic task of doing laundry, you can do laundry effectively one day, a week or two days a week. Maybe even stretch it to every other week if you need to.
You can’t do the same thing with meals. You need to have groceries in the fridge and in the pantry, someone needs to be deciding what people are eating or providing food.
And I knew that the mental, emotional, and physical labor involved in meals was going to feel overwhelming to me at the same time that I manage the daily and weekly maintenance of school. And so I proposed a swap and Dave accepted. And so he now is going to carry for the next year, the conceiving, planning, and execution of the family food situation.
And I am going to conceive plan and carry out the household laundry. It is an interesting idea that, because our duties, our the work that we do and these tasks were so clearly defined and delineated with attention and intention that such a conversation was possible with some amount of ease.
Hey, I recognize that this is something that’s taking regular ritualistic time for me. And that I need that time back for this next year for school. Can I trade you for something that doesn’t take up that same amount of daily and weekly time?
And the conversation felt much more clear and unambiguous because of the nature of how we are managing those household duties and dividing them with very clear delineation.
I have to say that there is an art to letting go of the cognitive and emotional labor that it’s often, especially as a woman and a mother, it is often much easier to give away the task and then to try to micromanage the way in which it’s done the timeframe in which it’s done, what your expectations for it are.
It’s a lot easier to give away the task than it is to give away the entire conception, planning, and execution of the task. It’s our opportunity and responsibility to allow our partners, our family, to hold some of that cognitive and emotional load to allow ourselves to let go of some of that, especially if our partner has agreed to hold it.
Don’t just give away the task, allow them to also hold the planning, the conception, the worry about it, the execution, and all of the outcomes. Don’t hold on to the way that it must be done tightly. As you’re dividing these things up, be conscious of the emotional and cognitive labor that you may in fact give away or simply let go.
There’s a real element of trust in allowing yourself to trust that your partners got it. And that it’s okay for you to let go. And that if they don’t got it, if they mess up or they make a mistake or they fail that imperfection is normal and that you didn’t do that perfectly. It’s okay for them to not do it perfectly as well.
And maybe our idea of our bar that we set for our household and family labor needs to just shift down a couple notches in general so that our wellbeing around it can shift up. I also want to just quickly introduce the idea that as our kids grow up, part of the way that we help them build the muscles of being an adult is by handing down portions of this family household labor and allowing them to hold it.
And hold it in that they also are introduced to the weight: the planning, the conceiving, and the execution of the chores that we hand to them. And we are there to guide them and to teach them and to cheer and lead and to encourage. And as we hand down, hand off, certain aspects of our children’s care to themselves, they grow the muscles that they need.
They hold those things like weights and they build the muscles that they need to become independent, successful, functional, and fulfilled adults, having confidence in their ability to take care of themselves and take care of others.
My kids are getting older. I have a 13 year old and 11 year old and an eight year old. And there are definitely pieces of our household labor that they can hold a little bit in greater abundance themselves. And I’m interested to discuss with Dave and with the family, how we can distribute some of those things so that they’re learning and growing appropriately for their developmental stages.
I just want to wrap up with a couple questions that you can ask yourself.
How can you better share the mental, emotional, and physical load of caring for your home and family with your partner? And if developmentally appropriate with your children as well.
I want to invite you to check out fair play, to consider the method, or even just to use the basic guidelines that I outlined in this episode, making a planning meeting and downloading all of the different tasks that it takes to run your household.
Get clear on your intention, on your values and priorities as a family, and then distribute or redistribute those tasks in a way that makes sense for your current stage of life for your current levels of time commitments to personal development, to family development, maybe one or more of you are working, maybe one or more of you are in school, take into account your strengths and your skills and your different abilities.
Lay things out, distribute the work of the household in a way that feels good and makes sense with intention and, just like anything, introducing a new idea, a new concept, a new process into your life may feel like it has an adjustment period. It may take a little bit of time to wrap your mind and your partner’s mind around the idea of invisible labor, around the idea of emotional labor, emotional weight, cognitive weight.
It’s okay to take the time that you need to figure it out and try things out. Maybe you start small in your adjustments and maybe you enlist outside help for the tasks that neither party feels interested in taking on.
There is a lot of power in the idea that we are free to run our households in the way that makes the most sense for our own family and the way that highlights our own values and priorities. And no one can make those decisions, but you and your partner.
I hope that this episode has given you some sort of shift in perspective that you have some jumping off points for a new discussion or communication about how things are going at home and the weight that you carry.
If it feels too heavy, know that there are methods, systematic methods–like this fairplay method–that enable a conversation to happen about how to start to balance some of that out, what things you can put down and inviting your partner, and sometimes your kids, to take part in carrying the family together.
As always, thank you so much for giving me your attention and listening here. I know that there are so many things you could listen to, and the fact that you’ve turned on Live Free Creative means a lot to me.
If you have enjoyed this or any other episodes, make sure that you leave a rating and a review on iTunes. I really appreciate that. It helps other people find the show, know what it’s about, and hopefully introduces to them ways in which they can live their lives more on purpose.
The point of all of this is to live a little bit more aligned with our values, feel the freedom that we actually have in order to make choices that help us flourish.
I want you to live your best life. I want you to take advantage of all the good things that are available to you. And sometimes it just takes a little shift in perspective, a conversation, a new way of approaching things to feel a lot better.
I hope you have a wonderful week and I can’t wait to chat with you again next time. Same time, same place. I’ll be here. Bye bye.
(2022) Possibilities for change and new frontiers: introduction to the Work and Family Researchers Network special issue on advancing equality at work and home,Community, Work & Family, 25:1, 1-12,
Liz Dean, Brendan Churchill & Leah Ruppanner (2021): The mental load: building a deeper theoretical understanding of how cognitive and emotional labor overload women and mothers, Community, Work & Family, DOI: 10.1080/13668803.2021.2002813