If you’re in a relationship, the theory is that the responsibilities should be split. Not necessarily 50/50 because life isn’t that black and white but there should be a division of labour that feels comfortable to both parties …but that’s not actually what happens right?
Things tend to be equal before children but then you spend time outside of the paid working environment when you are on maternity leave and naturally take on the majority of the child rearing and household chores and somehow, they stay with you despite the fact that you are now back in paid employment again.
Throw in a global pandemic where your whole family is confined to the same living space 24/7, you don’t have your usual access to child care - friends and family to help lighten the load or maybe you’re trying to homeschool on top of everything else. It seems that mums have taken the brunt of this additional workload too which is only adding to an already over capacitated mental load we carry around.
About 18 months ago I was listening to a podcast where Eve Rodsky was being interviewed about her book – Fair Play and it was like someone was articulating everything I was trying to juggle and it made perfect sense why I was feeling so overwhelmed.
This was before the pandemic but it was suddenly like a light bulb moment as to why my husband thought we had an equal distribution of responsibilities in our family and I felt like I was drowning in a never ending to-do list.
Eve breaks down
the division of household responsibilities into three stages:
Conception, Planning & Execution.
This means that when you have asked your partner to help out by [insert whatever task you have asked them to do] they feel like they are “helping” when they “do the thing” you have asked them to do but you don’t feel any release from the mental load.
This is because before we actually complete a task such as making dinner, there are invisible steps before the execution of the task can take place. In this example of making dinner, you need to have thought about what food you have in the house, what foods certain people in your family will / can eat, what time everyone needs feeding etc…. the actual act of making the food is only the final part – which often comes with the most appreciation!
This realization totally blew my mind and as I finally had the words to articulate how I was feeling I broached the subject with my husband. This is how I did it and what I learnt:
– I made sure when I had the initial conversation with my husband we were free from distraction and both feeling relaxed. I tried to keep the conversation factual and remove any element of what could be construed as blame at the door. This was about having a frank and honest discussion, not about blaming either party for what they were or weren’t contributing. I talked to him about the Conception, Planning & Execution stages and how when I looked at why I was so overwhelmed, it was because I did the majority of the Conception & Planning activities and he generally took the lead on the Execution part. This was leading to my feeling overwhelmed, tired, ratty and resentful. I focused on the impact it was having on me and the benefits that could be gained if we shared the distribution of the stages.
Lead with your Strengths
– When it came to distributing the tasks at hand, we lead started by leading with our strengths or things we enjoyed doing. There were tasks I naturally enjoyed so was happy to take onboard and likewise so was my husband. When it came to less desirable activities, we tended to share them by alternating who was responsible on any given week. Eve advocates distributing a task in its entirety but that didn’t work for us as our strengths were in different areas so we made it work out own way.
- Continuing the level of communication we started the process with was key. We made time for regular check-ins see how the division of responsibilities was working for us both and if one of us had extra work responsibilities on an upcoming week the other would take on more at home and vice versa.
Let it go
- The main thing that I found to be a real blocker was my initial inability to relinquish control. I struggled not to get involved and tell my husband the best way to complete certain tasks which led to arguments. I soon released that the removal of the mental load I gained by relinquishing the task was far greater than being a control freak around how he orchestrated the task – I actually found that new options were generated when he took the lead.
Rome wasn’t built in a day
– One of the biggest learns was that it took time to change habits we had fallen into. Having the conversation with my husband was just the start of the process. We started this before lockdown which meant that we had to change this around when we were both working from home and trying to home school 3 primary aged children. We have flexed and changed and found a natural rhythm that works the majority of the time but it’s something we have to work on and talk about often – it feels part of the natural flow of our relationship now though rather than a chore and I can genuinely say that we have what feels like a fair distribution of the household responsibilities now and it’s life changing.
Strengths & Mindset Coach
@Elevate with Ellie