Who Does What: Current Trends in our Homes
When studies survey married couples to learn about the division of labor within the home they use five categories: cooking, meal cleanup, grocery shopping, housework and laundry.
Research has shown extensively that the distribution of this labor among the household members has a tremendous affect on the happiness of the mom, and the overall functioning of the family.
Here are some trends they identified:
- Men prefer to do cooking, meal cleanup, and grocery shopping
- Women are more fatigued than men in the major categories of work, housework, leisure and childcare.
- Women devote twice as much time to their children than men
- Women do three times as much housework than men
- Women do more to prepare for the baby when they are pregnant, and often couples launch into the early years of childhood with both parents feeling progressively more like mom is the expert on children
- Women tend to do time-associated tasks such as getting children to school, middle of the night feedings, and meal prep
- Men often do household tasks with a leisure element, such as yard work or running to the store. These tasks are often on a more flexible schedule as well.
However, stay at home spouses tend to have the same complaints about their working spouses, suggesting household tasks is more of a roles issue than a gender issue. And research has shown that stay at home dads develop changes in their brain and they can adapt and handle all the household roles that are typically those of the woman.
It’s a myth that mom has a built in superpower. The truth seems to be instead that new moms go through an intense season of sacrifice with newborns that is special and that as babies bond first with mom and then dad, and as a moms often take off more time when children are younger, families slide into the habit of allowing mom to take on more household responsibilities.
Studies have shown that women are clearly more exhausted and experience more of a time crunch on a daily basis than men, even though men are helping with regular household tasks considerably more than previous generations. And many dads help with cooking and grocery shopping, and take their kids to the park on the weekend to give mom a break.
Some studies show the division of the big 5 categories listed above to be fairly equal in some families even if the working spouse may often get the more desirable of the shared chores.
What is missing from this picture? Experts have identified four types of “invisible work” that typically fall to the mom. They are:
- Kin work – planning holidays and birthdays, sending cards, maintaining connection with relatives
- Emotion work – monitoring the emotional state of the household members (does a kid need to talk about school, is the change at the husband’s work going smoothly, is the baby teething)
- Consumption labor – buying school supplies, rotating kids clothing each season, researching small ticket items that need to be purchased
- Household-related travel – getting kids to school and special activities, grocery shopping
- Household manager – being the person who remembers everything; doctor checkups, scheduling sitters, making grocery lists and meal plans, knowing what the kids will eat, reminding each person to do their chores, preparing for family outings
I just finished reading How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids and Invisible Tasks is the idea that stood out to me the most. I’ve felt the need to delegate more but haven’t been sure how. My husband and I have talked a bit about the big 5 categories and he’s started helping a little more. But I see now that this list of “invisible” responsibilities is a huge part of what makes me feel exhausted and overwhelmed on a daily basis. Just becoming aware of these makes me hopeful about making some changes to distribute this load.
I’ve created 8 steps you can take to identify the invisible work that you are doing, and then begin to delegate to your husband and your kids.
- Track it – For a week or so keep track of all the tasks you do in the 5 categories of invisible work listed above. This can be as simple as keeping a running list in a note app on your phone, or on a piece of paper in your kitchen or your purse.
- Brainstorm – take your list from tracking your activities and look at the descriptions above and brainstorm all the tasks you can think of that you do throughout the year that tend to be invisible; then organize and categorize the list, grouping like activities into a working list
- Keep your favorites – take time to reflect on which tasks you enjoy and that match your strengths; commit to own them and then brainstorm some actionable ways that you can do them well, consistently and with a good attitude
- Identify obstacles – Begin to take note of everything you do that could easily be identified as someone else’s responsibility, and write down why you still did it yourself. An example could be picking up your kids’ stuff and putting it away because you want the floor clear and you don’t want to interrupt them because they are playing well together.
- Put it on a schedule – for tasks that are predictable in frequency, such as doctor checkups, or tied to the calendar, like holidays and birthdays, create one family calendar – either paper or digital – and put all of these on it. Schedule them for the time when the appointment needs to be set or the event needs to be planned, in addition to the events and activities themselves.
- Delegate based on strengths – Pull out your notes on your family’s strengths and gifts, or take time to consider and write down what each member of your family does best or enjoys, and then look at your list of tasks and put names next to them; if there are tasks that your husband tends to do when someone else does not, that is a clue that those might be good ones to officially have him take over
- Examine your expectations – many of the types of tasks that fall under this idea of invisible work are ones that we do because we feel like we are supposed to, in order to meet some standard; often we are afraid of judgment; after you keep some tasks and identify some to delegate, stop and ask yourself if all of the remaining activities are truly necessary, do they fit your family’s values, are you doing them for the right reason
- Talk to your husband – depending on his temperament, you may involve him at an earlier stage; either way, take your list of remaining tasks and find a time to talk to him about how you feel about each of the types of invisible work, explain the tracking, reflecting, and processing you’ve done; express a willingness to take the extra steps necessary to make adjustments, such as teaching your kids to take responsibility for their belongings, schedule, etc. and letting some unnecessary activities go, and then identify what problems you see for yourself with continuing to carry the remaining load and give him space to help you solve the problem. This allows you to tackle an important challenge together, and encourages you both to be creative. Most importantly, this exercise can make invisible work, visible.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to managing all the “invisible work” involved in running a household? Do you think these steps could help you make positive changes and decrease your stress?
Please comment and share the first step you would take to change how much invisible work you do.
This post is based on a chapter from How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, by Jancee Dunn.