Last week, I groggily shuffled into the kitchen after a rough night with my newborn to boil water for coffee. The second I rounded the corner, I saw my crockpot sitting on the counter, full of the 3 pounds of shredded pork I’d cooked the day before to freeze. I left it there to cool so I could separate it into ziplocs before freezing it, but had fallen asleep while nursing my newborn.
As I dumped the crockpot into the trash, I realized I was angry. Even though I was the one who had forgotten the meat, my husband had been at the kitchen table on his computer for hours after I’d fallen asleep. How could he not have noticed the meat on the counter?
That day it became very clear that my husband, although wonderfully kind and helpful with our kids, wasn’t giving me what I needed the most: someone who is paying attention to the various, unspoken needs of our household and ready to play catch when I drop the ball.
In my life as a mom, it seems like the most consuming task I face is thinking about all of the things. I book dentist appointments twice a year, well visits bi-monthly or yearly depending on the kid and make sure the bills are paid each month. I keep everyone clothed, which is like an endless cycle of sorting through drawers, keeping an eye on sales, always thinking one season ahead and remembering that one kids doesn’t like the way jeans feel on her legs while the other needs velcro since she hasn’t learned to tie shoes. I keep the dishes clean and food in the fridge. I think about vacations and birthdays and budgets and Christmas presents and where our kids are going to school next year. And I make sure the leftovers make it into the fridge each night.
Until I drop the ball or get overwhelmed, and then something goes unpaid or three pounds of pork goes bad on the counter or my kids don’t have any winter coats in time for the first snow.
As it turns out, there’s a name for what I’m experiencing. It’s called emotional labor and I’m not the only woman who needs the man in her life to take on some of the load.
Emotional labor is this unspoken idea, a societal norm, that women carry an unseen load rarely experienced by their male counterparts, according to the Guardian. From moms remembering each family member’s birthdays, shoe sizes and allergies to working women expected to be pleasant or to offer emotional support never requested from their male coworkers, emotional labor is a big part of the female experience and it’s freaking exhausting.
The explanation for the existence of emotional labor is pretty simple, but it’s also pretty stupid. Women are expected to carry these extra loads, whatever they may be, because they are believed to be better at the tasks involved.
I don’t know how this plays out in other families, but this often means I’m stretched too thin and grouchy. With the added pressure of emotional labor, I never feel at rest.
So, what’s the solution? Well, it isn’t a simple fix. In most cases, it seems like the pattern of who is responsible for what in a home is generational, brought into a new family unit because mothers and grandmothers have always carried this extra burden, and usually without complaint.
Unfortunately, it seems like the burden to break up this generational tradition falls heavily on women, to have honest conversations with their significant others about the emotional labor that is weighing them down, adding anxiety and stress to their life as a mom. The irony isn’t lost on me that most men won’t recognize the emotional labor on their wife’s plate until the wife takes responsibility for pointing it out.
At the end of the day, what stressed out women really need from their husband isn’t a weekend away, a trip to spa or even a helper willing to do take on any task upon request. What moms really need is a teammate, someone who sees it as their responsibility to pay attention to the inner workings family life and to share in the emotional labor of parenthood.