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February 14, 2019
My husband is not doing what I need him (want him) to do fast enough, the way I’d do it, or with the same level of intensity I think it requires. He’s putting it off, waiting ’til the last minute, choosing to watch a show on the couch with his feet up and his stinkin’ craft beer in hand instead of jumping into action. We’ve got a lot to get done before tomorrow hits and my mental load is piling up while his seems to be shrinking.
What’s so pressing? Making a five-year-old’s lunch. Yeah, I’m all worked up over packing turkey and cheese into a hot pink lunchbox for my daughter’s school day. I asked him to do it about an hour ago and there’s still a loaf of cheddar on the counter with no other signs of progress in sight and it is irking me to no end.
It’s not the first time I’ve gotten all up in arms over something completely insignificant and it’s not the first time we’ve had tension over shared responsibilities and division of labor. A fifteen-year marriage, two kids, two (plus) careers, and a 30-year mortgage puts pressure on even the best-intentioned partners. And, as my husband and I sort out how to balance our own individual needs and desires with the needs of our family, there’s often some dissonance. The more I talk to other moms—especially working moms like me—the more I find a common struggle to be a modern mom in relationships that are still in the process of becoming modern.
Here’s what I mean: my husband and I both work full time. I plan the meals, buy the clothes, do the laundry, sign my kids up for all the activities, make sure the school projects are completed. My husband does A LOT (far more than making simple lunches), but when it comes to our house, our lives, and our kids, I take on the mental load.
I’m not whining, I’m just stating facts. Women still do more unpaid household tasks in most households, even if they’re primary breadwinners like I am. Turns out gender norms may be changing in the workplace relatively rapidly but, on the homefront, things are often still a little archaic.
My partner is a caring guy who wants the best for our family and who values equality and teamwork. He’s all both of us pursuing our passions and working together to support our kids, but he and I still somehow struggle, no matter how modern we’ve tried to make our marriage.
I mean, just a generation or two ago, our life would have seemed ludicrous to most. Our parents and their parents all divided tasks, generally, along gender lines. That wasn’t always fair, and it definitely left women without opportunities and options but, when it came to relationships, it probably was at least less confusing. You do this (childcare, housework, home life) and I’ll do that (work at an office).
You still see vestiges of the old mentality whenever multiple generations gather for holidays or in social settings. Almost every month in my office some sweet grandma will come along to the first newborn check-up, smiling at her son as he changes his baby girl’s diaper with swagger. “He’s such a good father, isn’t he?” she asks me. If by that she means he is able to perform some basic tasks related to keeping a child from getting a urinary tract infection, then YES, for sure. And, when I see the dads beaming from the praise, I just smile back and nod. But, the reality is, helping with a few diaper changes isn’t going to cut it for the “Dad of the Year” award anymore. Most moms I know expect more than that in this day of age.
I’m not bagging on modern-day dads (I’m also not saying all family structures or family struggles are the same—far from it—or that all dads are even the same). In fact, I feel kind of bad for modern dads. I mean, not as bad as I feel for modern-day moms. But I do feel bad. It seems like, when we empowered women to be just as fierce in the workplace as at home, forever changing modern-day motherhood, we forgot about educating men on how to change their perspectives on modern-day fatherhood.
We figured they would just adjust without any effort or preparation, magically skilled and knowledgeable in all things baby or toddler. We wrote them hardly any books and developed hardly any support groups or resources for them on the topic. Add in the Mr. Mom monickers and the media depictions of helpless new dads fumbling through parenting — it’s a not a surprise a lot of dads I see aren’t sure exactly where they fit into the new parenting paradigm. By the way, before you send me a note describing how your partner is the bomb and has it all together and doesn’t NEED books or resources, please realize I meet tons of amazingly-talented fathers every day who are killin’ it in the modern dad department—I know not all dads’ struggles are alike, just like not all moms’ struggles are alike.
I sat down and talked with other professional moms about how they successfully handle home and life balance with their significant others. Some work from home, some are high-level execs, but they all used these common tactics to work as a team.
One mom, a couples therapist, explained that, instead of telling her husband what to do, she spends a lot of time just sitting down with her spouse listing off what SHE needs to get done (or make decisions about) and then asking her husband to do the same. She comes at it from the perspective that there are a lot of times she knows her husband has no idea about all the things she’s trying to manage and that there must be some things he’s thinking about that she has no idea about, too. She’s giving him the benefit of the doubt. How does she get the conversation started? They plan what she calls family business meetings, put them on the calendar (“I’d love to say every week but, let’s be real, we have two young kids”) and, just like they map out their finances, they talk through their responsibilities.
Another mom I talked to explained: “Hey, I’ve got a job where, if I don’t go to work, we potentially lose out on thousands of billable dollars.”
If that mom doesn’t work for a day, no one brings in money for her small business. Her husband, on the other hand, works for a traditional organization that offers paid sick days and vacation days as part of his compensation package. If he misses a day of work, it’s stressful, but it’s not earth-shattering. While the world may still expect her to drop everything to pick up her child at daycare for an illness, that just doesn’t make sense for them.
“That doesn’t mean that, sometimes, my desire to be with my kids when there’s a problem doesn’t win out over left-brain analytics and money, but nine times out of ten, the choice is a no-brainer.”
A part-time mom explained that, since her partner is a businessman, she uses business team lingo when trying to divide and conquer:
“So, I’m trying to strategize about how we’ll get everything accomplished for Leah’s start to the school year. Let’s talk through the components we need to make this successful.
Another mom described her approach based on her and her husband’s mutual love of sports:
“Listen, what part of the team can you head up the next few weeks? If we’re going to win with everything going on this month, we’re really going to have to work hard.”
Of course, sometimes it’s better just to go low-tech when you really want to accomplish something. I still make lists in a paper notebook and affix magnetic whiteboards and paper meal planners to my fridge.
They, just like me, totally ignore eye rolls, small huffs, and pained expressions when it comes to handing off a little more of their mental loads to their partners.
“I feel like I just have to get over it when I perceive that my husband is annoyed when I let him know what he needs to do so we can keep our house and our home running. I get it. No one wants to be told what to do but, in the process of offloading some of my mental load, sometimes that’s just how it has to happen.”
“Sometimes you don’t get all the recognition you feel like you deserve (when you’re a mom),” one mom told me. “Sometimes I feel like my husband should be on the sidelines with the biggest loudest blow horn, painted sign, pom poms, shirt with my name on it, screaming at the top of his lungs about how amazing I’m doing at life…and when I look over and his eyes are closed on the couch, I first think what the heck? And secondly I think, am I doing that for him? (That’s when I realize) he’s doing “it all” too.”
It’s annoying to have someone looking over your shoulder, micromanaging your every move. If you’ve ever had a super-controlling boss or even a nitpicky parent, you know the feeling. When someone doesn’t trust us or tries to manage us, it makes us feel resentful and irritated. We sometimes even lose our organic interest in the topic and stop putting our best effort into it.
That’s what happens when we don’t allow our partners to play an equal role in taking care of our children. We kind of sabotage our hope of true co-parenting. Instead, be conscious about how to empower your other half to be the parenting boss more often. That might mean actually leaving the house so he has the space to parent without your eagle eyes. It definitely will mean holding your tongue (or your own sighs or eye rolls or judgment) if he’s not doing things exactly how you would do it.
My husband eventually packed my daughter’s lunch (at 5 o’clock in the morning when he woke up and wandered into the kitchen to make it). All that irritation and impatience were in vain. My husband, it turns out, is perfectly capable of being a parent if I let him be one—even if it’s not the high-strung one I am sometimes.
Sometimes the simplest squabbles help us re-evaluate the most complex relationships we have. In my life, as a working mom trying to make things work, my parenting relationship with my husband is often one of those, especially when it comes to balancing our mental load. The more I give into the fact that we modern families are all in transition, in flux, in “figure it out mode”, the less it all seems like one giant struggle and the more it seems like an opportunity for teamwork and for growth.
Want more information about how to parent and cope when you’re a new mom? Check out our book, The Newborn Baby Blueprint: Preparing to Care For Your Infant and Yourself.
Looking for baby registry or baby shower gifts? You’ll love our Newborn Gift Boxes (in Baby Boy, Baby Girl, and Gender Neutral). They’re full of information, inspiration, and a little love for all the mamas and mamas-to-be in your life (including you!).
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