It’s the last day of our emotional labor and mental load series!
We wrapped up the big teaching points yesterday talking about how important it is that both spouses get down time.
And we’ve tackled a ton of things this month, including what mental load is; how to stop the nagging dynamic; and how to decide on common standards, among other things. And we’ve had podcasts explaining it, too!
One of the tricky things about talking about how exhausted many women feel with mental load is to make it clear that we’re not man bashing.
Our intention this month is not to make anyone angry at their spouse; it’s to help women (and it is mostly women, according to surveys, but in some marriages the dynamic goes the other way) articulate why they’re frustrated and exhausted, and give them ways to explain it to their spouse and find a solution together.
In the last few centuries, our society has gone under tremendous upheaval. It used to be that most families lived and worked together. They had a farm where they both worked; or they had a family business, like a store, and they tended to live above it or beside it. Dad would be around, the kids would often help dad, and the family all worked together.
When dads started going out to work and left the home, suddenly the home became the woman’s domain in a way that it hadn’t been before. We had much more stringent ideas, then, of “women’s work” and “men’s work”, and these became solidified. And because the church especially tends to see gender roles as crucial for marital harmony, these ideas of “women’s work” and “men’s work” had moral weight to them in Christian circles.
But then two things simultaneously happened: women started working outside the home, too, and life simply got more complicated. Managing the home became a bigger task than it was fifty years ago, and many women are also spending a lot of time outside the home earning a living. But the ideas of “women’s work” and “men’s work” haven’t kept up with the changes our society has gone through. And so many women are trying to do even more than their grandmothers did, at the same time as they work more. It’s no wonder so many women are exhausted!
Women’s mental load is not a problem with men as much as it is a problem with the way our whole culture sees the responsibilities of men and women.
Think about the fact that everyone assumes that women are better multitaskers, for instance. Studies have shown that this isn’t actually the case. So why do women multitask? Because they have so much to get done, often all at once. They don’t have the luxury of doing one thing at a time. But this cultural belief that women can just do it is one of the things that perpetuates our mental load problem .
So as we’re wrapping it up, I thought what I’d do today is to point us to something better.
Yes, there are a lot of women exhausted by way too much mental load. But there are also a lot of men who have fully embraced the idea of being an equal partner in the relationship.
Many men–and especially younger men–are not content to sit back and let their wives do most of the work of the household, and especially most of the work of childcare. They want to be fully involved. They want to be engaged with their kids. They want to be a team!
This is not just possible; it’s becoming normal in many Western subcultures (I would say that it’s the norm in my kids’ social circles). And if we keep speaking up, it will become normal all the more!
So I thought, to end this series, I’d highlight some of the big success stories that were left in the comments this month, and then invite you all to share your own stories of how you have a great husband who is determined to “own” mental load with you.
Let me start with a big shout out to my husband and my son-in-law Connor.
They shared last week on our Start Your Engines Men’s Podcast on how they have determined not to need lists, but to instead notice what needs to be done themselves.
(by the way, this is my all time favourite photo of the two of them, taken on a cruise a few years ago. They were each trying to perfect the “Blue Steel” look from the movie Zoolander. And this photo hangs on our wall):
And now–Shoutout to the Guys who Try to Break the Stereotypes
I love this story Andrea shared yesterday:
One of my friends got married last year and her new husband unintentionally caused an awkward situation at her parents’ house when, after Thanksgiving dinner, he got up from the table together with his wife, her sisters, and their mom, to help with the clean-up. This made the dad uncomfortable, so he asked his new son-in-law to sit back down with him, but the new guy made the situation even worse when he responded with, “Oh, I’ll totally come sit back down with you, just as soon as I finish helping in the kitchen.” Eventually, my friend’s mom asked my friend (her daughter) to ask her new husband to stay seated after dinner and not get up to help because it just made her (mom’s) life harder if her husband (the dad) was being emasculated by his new son-in-law. So now my friend and her husband pretend to be a traditional couple when they visit her parents in order to spare her mom from dad’s post-Thanksgiving grumpiness. My friend says that her husband not helping in the kitchen actually, ironically, makes the holiday get-togethers at her parents’ house less tense and more pleasant for everyone.
I’m sorry the story didn’t have a better ending, but at least he tried. And I feel sorry for this young woman’s mom who has put up with this her whole marriage. Generation X men–we really can do better! And Generation X women–it’s okay to ask for more.
When Guys Recognize the Importance of Teamwork:
A lot of commenters gave big shouts out to the husbands who truly were partners and jumped in with everything:
My husband has honestly been great about handling some of the daily grind tasks. He almost singlehandedly deals with our laundry, which is fine with me since he’s much picker about how towels and sheets are folded. He also does the trash on a weekly basis without being asked, and is usually the one to deal with getting and sorting the mail since he grabs it on his way home from work. We both handle bedtime currently. I usually take the baby so I can nurse her, and he gets the boys settled. We also both handle dishes as needed, which will be much easier now that we finally have an operating dishwasher again. Handwashing multiple times a day for a year and a half was wearing on both of us! He also usually takes the lead on getting lunches packed for things like our homeschool co-op day before COVID shut it down for the year, and packing for day trips. Though I usually help with that to make sure we don’t forget sunscreen, and giving feedback on how many outfits and diapers are needed per kid.
I hope this doesn’t come across as bragging, because I honestly never realized until this series how good I’ve got it in the emotional labor area. I guess I just kind of assumed that both of us handling household responsibilities is how it was supposed to work. I do wonder if one factor in my relationship is that I did marry later than many in the Christian community do, and my husband was already a homeowner who was used to handling the entirety of household tasks on his own (aside from cooking, since he just usually grabbed prepackaged stuff or fast food.) So he was already accustomed to seeing what needed to be done and handling it without being asked.
My husband lived with housemates for 10 years before we got married. He cooked dinner twice a week and shared a chore roster with his housemates. He NEVER had the mindset that housework was my responsibility or that he needed to “help” me keep the house. He notices when laundry needs to be done and throws a load in. He folds more laundry than I do, and always empties the dishwasher and takes out the trash. When we had our first kid, the rule was that I was responsible for input (feeding) and he was responsible for output (diapers) — and I had also had a pretty traumatic emergency c-section after being VERY sick, so he had to take on more child-caring tasks than I think a lot of dads end up doing, and that persists to this day. I can count on my fingers the number of times in almost three years that I’ve given our son a bath or put him to bed solo. We do post-dinner cleanup together, always.
Reading this series has given me such a deep appreciation for him
Then there are the guys who truly “own” their parts of the mental load:
We have our problems (I found your blog for a reason haha) but dividing tasks is something we have always done naturally. We both came from very traditional households where dad brought home the bacon and mom did everything (and I mean everything) else. I guess we both subconsciously knew we wanted something different.
He would never think to do a load of laundry, bathe the kids or pack their lunches, arrange carpools/play dates/drs appointments or vacuum floors. But he does all the cooking! And the bills. Light bulb or batteries need to be changed? The kids know to talk to dad. Pet food is low? His problem! Of course we can ask each other for help but he truly OWNS so many takes. And we share a google calendar so if one of us wants to make plans for a day the other person has something already on the calendar, cool. But it is up to the spouse scheduling over the other’s plans to find childcare.
We always have room for growth in sharing mental load!
And finally, I wanted to share one of the emails that touched me the most this month. It wasn’t only about this series, but it touched on it. And this one was from a guy:
On Monday I finished listening to your podcast on “Marital Rape, Consent, and Obligation Sex”.
It was a very sobering podcast for me because after some reflection I realized that much of the time in our marriage, to use Rebecca’s term, I’ve been a “pig”. That is not an easy thing to admit but I can now connect what was communicated to what my wife hasn’t been able to explain all these years (we’ve raised several children who are now adults).
It’s not that I’m into porn, or abuse or anything like that but I don’t think I understood the weight of being disappointed/frustrated/angry if my wife said “no”. I’d honor the “no” but not with grace and understanding. I also didn’t understand the emotional weight of tracking all the things in the house. I’ve always been good about helping around the house (cleaning up dinner, making the bed, etc) but not really taking the emotional weight off her shoulders. This of course is very selfish which is another hard thing to grapple with; admitting I am more selfish than I thought:)
We both love each other very much, are working through things and see hope for the future; and in reality God has been incredibly faithful and our married life is not all doom and gloom:) We’ve had great times together and look forward to more in the future.
So I just wanted to say thanks for loving Jesus, being passionate about the topics and message God has called you to communicate, not pulling any punches and giving voice to emotions and feelings that, sometimes, our wives can’t express themselves (or at least not in a way that we guys can understand).
I love the humility in that email, and I hope that’s what we all can have. I’ve seen it so much in some of the male commenters on our site this month, too, and in some women who realize they have put too much on their husbands’ shoulders. So thank you!
We all have blind spots in our marriage (and I’ve shared many of my own with you, and Keith regularly shares his, too!). We all have room for growth. And I hope that when we read things that make us uncomfortable, our first reaction won’t be to just dismiss it out of hand, but instead to honestly ask: “Is this something I need to improve in?” And if it is–then let’s work at it!
We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to be moving in the right direction.
In my marriage with Keith, if something is bothering him, that should matter to me (although I’m not always the best at hearing it at first). We should listen to each other’s frustrations. And I hope that we can all grow!