Happy mother’s day! Recently, Dr. Azvedo-Hanks did a great post on Invisible Labor (aka Emotional Labor), or the things women are often expected to do that men are often given a pass for. When something is expected, no credit is given. An even better, more comprehensive post on Emotional Labour can be found here. Mother’s Day is all about giving credit and noticing what is normally invisible, so . . .
Today’s post is a Cosmo-style quiz to evaluate who handles the majority of “Emotional Labor” in your home. For each item, score as follows:
A – Husband does more.
B – Wife does more.
C – Neither does.
D – Both do equally.
E – N/A.
- Tracking food and meal preparation, remembering who likes what, and how long the meals will take to prepare.
- Cooking treats for the husband’s home teaching families during the holidays.
- Remembering and acknowledging family and friends’ birthdays.
- Planning children’s birthday parties including sending out invitations, planning the games, and buying gifts.
- Trying to make the home beautiful and making sure everyone feels welcome there.
- Attempting to de-escalate power struggles between family members.
- Making sure that religious milestones (baptisms, missionary farewells, etc.) are meaningful (while simultaneously not challenging the counsel discouraging any celebration that takes away from the sacredness of the ordinance or occasion).
- Tracking the children’s Scout progress, Duty to God, Personal Progress; keeping track of the booklets, and checking with Church leaders.
- Planning and making travel arrangements to visit out-of-state family members.
- Corralling children during Sacrament meeting, keeping them quiet and in the pew. Prepare snacks, toys, and activities.
- Coaching one’s spouse on how to become a more patient and effective parent.
- Feeling responsible for the happiness and the choices of children and other family members.
- Tracking the cleaning, chores, and upkeep of the house.
- Keeping the house organized and knowing where things are located at all times.
- Feeling responsible for maintaining extended family relationships and friendships, planning outings, keeping in touch, and sending Christmas cards.
- Being the emotional support for family and friends: providing support, empathy and nurturing.
- Tracking and implementing family planning, birth control, and dealing with the side effects of birth control.
- Ensuring children do homework, practicing, and chores.
- Tracking children’s activities working out scheduling and carpool.
- Monitoring children’s online activity and filtering their digital access to ensure that they only view appropriate material.
- Making sure the family has clean, well-fitting appropriate clothing to wear for all occasions.
- Planning, worrying, and scheduling child care and babysitters (or generally being the one to stay home with a sick child).
- Arranging for your spouse to care for the children (vs. assuming they will be cared for) so you can do an activity.
- Carefully wording and delivering any requests, criticism, or feedback.
- Planning for, managing, and performing care for aging parents and family members.
- Being in charge of scheduling doctor appointments, dentists, therapists, etc.
- Planning and decorating for holidays and trying to make it special for each family member.
- Remembering children’s teacher’s names, classrooms, and health provider information.
- Sorting through junk, organizing drawers and clothing, choosing what to give away.
- Performing many of the things that no one notices unless they don’t get done (replacing paper towels and toilet paper, doing laundry, making sure there is food to eat).
- Trying to stay calm and peaceful while dealing with an out-of-control child in public.
- Managing the extra care, cost, worry, doctors and therapy appointments for a child with special needs.
- In a work environment, spending energy to strike the right balance between being firm but not overbearing, sympathetic but not simpering, sincere but not smarmy, and corrective but not bossy.
- Handling family finances and tracking expenditures; clipping coupons and searching for best deals. Managing the day to day budget for routine family expenses.
- Taking care of pets: food, water, vet appointments, walking the dog, emptying the litter box, etc.
- Taking care of garden, yard, herb garden or house plants.
- Vehicle maintenance at appropriate milestones.
- Handling “IT” requests for family members: restocking the printer, changing the print cartridge, troubleshooting computers, resetting the internet, evaluating carrier providers.
- Taking out the garbage and recycling regularly.
- Feeling scrutinized or judged by others for any failures regarding emotional labor: a dirty house, unwashed dishes, children’s schedules or carpools, etc.
Tally the number of A, B, C, D, E answers you have. To get an equality rating, subtract your total number of As from your total number of Bs. (Don’t count C, D, or E responses). The closer to zero, the more equal your labor distribution.
Take a closer look at the items you tallied in each category.
- A scores – if you have more A than B scores this means the husband does more than the wife of the items on the list. Is that a distribution that works for you both without creating resentment? If not, try to either shift some things from one spouse to the other or move them to C or D.
- B scores – if you have more B than A scores, this means the wife does more than the husband of the items on this list. Is that a distribution that works for you both without creating resentment? If not, try to either shift some things from the wife to the husband or move some items to C or D.
- C scores – are there things not getting done that would enhance relationships or life in general that someone should pick up?
- D scores – well done! Are these items that you both want to do equally (or to avoid equally)? If so, these are perfect for D.
- E scores – simplifying life is the best. Eventually, many things could end up here as you live longer.
A few words about Emotional Labor.
- One of the issues with Emotional Labor is that it goes unrecognized when women do it, but men often get praise for “going above and beyond.” I’ve tried to equalize for that by including some tasks that may more often be done by men (in a traditional arrangement).
- Domestic load sharing is often influenced by work schedules outside the home; however, it should not be entirely left up to the stay-at-home spouse (if the family has that luxury) because that means the stay-at-home spouse is “on” 24×7 due to never leaving his or her “workplace.” It has been statistically demonstrated that working women consistently handle more than their share of domestic work also.
Let’s hear from you:
- What was your overall score? Are you happy with that score? Why or why not? Is your spouse happy with it? Are you sure?
- What were your totals for each rating: A, B, C, D, E? Are there things not getting done that should be? Are there some things you feel you should let go?
- What insights did you gain from doing this? What changes, if any, would you make based on this evaluation?
- Do you or your spouse feel any resentment about the domestic tasks you do?
A=9 B=14 C=0 D=11 E=6
I think we’re happy with the current distribution. We’re both pretty good at doing things we notice need doing, though as I’m at home there are things that generally fall to me too, laundry, groceries, day to day cleaning, mowing the lawn…
My A’s and Bs were very close (3 points) and that ration has changed at different times in my marriage – especially when my wife moved from SAHM to working.
There were several questions I wanted to answer with “B, but she insists on doing X and won’t let me do it even though I have repeatedly offered.” I think my wife is generally OK with it. She is WAY over on the other end of clean spectrum.
Part of me also says there are a different set of questions that I would score better on that do entail some emotional labor. I think the point of this isn’t to “win”, but to take a look at how the loads of life are falling on each spouse. It does make me think about what I might try to do better. I think I am going to ask my wife if she wants to adjust any responsibilities.
For more than a decade my wife has taken off for a week on her annual vacation. I think I caught the “emotional labor” concept here as when I woke up in the AM I needed to think about dinner and if anything needed to be defrosted and lots of other deals with a house full of kids. I emotionally felt the weight of keeping the balls in the air and I was bound and determined I wasn’t just going to do fast food for a week. I was tired when the week was over.
By my reckoning we are at zero, no surprise since I curated the list. We were at a plus 3 so I added a few more things to be more even. Generally I think we are OK with our distribution. I have also long admired that now that my parents are retired they pretty much do it all together.
I noted that since we no longer have small children 8 of these don’t apply. 2 are things we truly do equally (although some of the others are shared, one or the other of us does more or takes the lead), and there are only 4 things I felt we literally just let drop, although for sure I don’t put much effort into some of the ones we do.
Simplifying is the key IMO.
I give thanks for my wonderful mother, and my son’s mother, and so many other mothers around the world. May God bless them.
Many readers here will appreciate a story our bishop shared in sacrament meeting today. An announcement in the women of the church section of a Sunday bulletin read,
“Rummage Sale next Saturday — your chance to get rid of some worthless things lying around the house. Bring your husbands.”
A: 2 B: 25 (but clothing my family, decorating the house, and making holidays special are more hobbies than duties for me, so I don’t think they should count towards the Bs)
I am pissed enough about it to have frequently contemplated divorce, if only because I’d (theoretically) get a break every other weekend. My husband is what pushed me into feminism. When I married him, I naively thought gender stereotypes were several generations safely behind us, and that “I love you” meant “We’re in this together.”
We have had several periods in our marriage where he had legitimate reasons for me to pick up the slack, such as intensive schooling. But it has become habit for him to leave me everything that doesn’t absolutely need to be done by him — and sometimes even that. After literally years of me warning him I would not write his master’s thesis (like the rest of his school assignments that he’d slop through and then hand me to “proofread” (i.e., rewrite), holding it against me for years if missed a typo), I ended up writing the bulk of it — while sick and pregnant. Then, because it would take too much time for him to read and understand what I’d written, I had to explain it to him well enough for him to present and field questions on. We had a huge fight once when I agreed to design a PowerPoint for his class — just the design; he was supposed to do the research and come up with the talking points. He didn’t. So I did. He acted, or else really was, so obtuse when I tried to explain the talking points that I ended up writing an entire script for the presentation, word for word. He got distracted while I explained it and asked me to repeat myself. That was the last straw, that he couldn’t even be bothered to pay attention while I briefed him on his own effing assignment. I refused. What followed was an epic night-long screaming match. He failed a test the next morning, blamed it on me, and I felt guilty enough that I did the remediation assignment for him. He would convince me that he couldn’t do it on his own, and we’d be financially ruined if we lost our considerable investment in his schooling when he failed, and when I said maybe he didn’t deserve a degree he couldn’t earn it on his own, he’d act all hurt that I didn’t have confidence in him. When I told our marriage counselor that I have a hard time respecting him when I have to do his schoolwork, she said that I should consider how much he’s accomplished being an immigrant. Between him and her, I wonder if I was just lazy and self-righteous for not wanting to do his homework. My husband would balk at my balking, because his career was “for us,” therefore it was my duty to help. But apparently, raising children and keeping house is just a hobby solely for my benefit because it has never required his help.
Even when both of us worked full time (I made more, if that matters) and I commuted three hours a day so he could be closer to his job, I’d come home and take care of our then only child. He told me my commute was my break time. He was off work long before me, but I’d have to go pick up the kid from my mom’s. I remember having to beg and beg him to just take the kid while he went to a drive through (because I had neglected my dinner-making duties) so I could get 15 minutes of peace. When the second baby came, I remember him objecting to my going for runs after I’d put the kids to sleep because they MIGHT wake up and interrupt his studying. I remember my legs suddenly giving out under me from exhaustion while I screamed why couldn’t he ever take the baby at night (or any other time of day)?! I don’t know how to control temper when things are as unfair as I perceive them to be. I’d turn into a crazy screaming banshee demanding that he helped, which just served to make him feel like the martyr in the relationship. When deciding to have our 3rd, I resolved to expect absolutely nothing from him, and it seems to have helped. I wish it were mutual, though. I can barely do that on my own, let alone things he deems I should do — not “for him,” but “for us.”
Sorry for hijacking this article to for my really, really long rant, but if a girl can’t feel sorry for herself on Mother’s Day, when can she?
Laurel, holy crap. That’s not laziness, that’s abuse.
I also care about equality in these things. However, the equality I focus on is not who does what, but whether this kind of work is valued as equal to other kinds of labor in the family, including earning a paycheck.
There seems to be an implicit assumption in the OP that it is preferable to divide them in half, and the only way the tasks will be valued is if the husband does them. I have never ever believed in one-size-fits-all prescriptions for having a happily family, so I reject that dogma like any other.
I will freely admit that I do most of the emotional labor in our family, but my husband recognizes, respects and appreciates that those tasks are indeed WORK. It is not invisible to him, and that makes a huge difference.
The other thing is that while he may not keep track of things, he offers very willing hands. We do batch cooking that I plan out but he implements with me–and his onion chopping is much finer than mine. He has done the heavy lifting on major household renovations, and the electrical inspector was very complimentary of his wiring job.
Another major point is that he does not come home and flop on the couch, entitled to drink a beer because he was at work all day. If we are both at home, we are both as likely to change a diaper, help with homework, toss a salad, or whatever. It’s just that he is home less.
And we’ve always taught kids of both genders to do tasks across a wide range irregardless of whether they are considered men’s or women’s work. All our children can cook, mow a lawn, use power tools, sew, etc. My husband has cooked dinner every Saturday to model sharing behavior, even when he was bishop.
When I was doing freelance writing for parenting publications, he would take time off in the middle of the day to come home and be with the kids so that I could do an interview. When I was thinking of returning to the workplace, he had the kids two nights a week so that I could go off to the academic library and re-hone my research skills. He also handled the family stuff when I had to fly out of state to care for aging parents.
It is no accident that I am a project coordinator, a well-paid job very similar to running a busy household, requiring lots of emotional labor. I honed those skills running a busy household.
Choosing to do much of the emotional labor is not accepting a sentence of subservience, if the work is recognized as such.
Agreed Naismith. The reason emotional and mental labor is a problem doesn’t necessarily stem from an unequal distribution. It stems from this idea that women are naturally good at all of these things without trying so it all gets done because they enjoy it or don’t even have to think about it. When it is recognized for the tasking work that it is, it is less likely to cause marital stress. I do think the OP acknowledges this by asking if one partner does more of the emotional labor does that work for your marriage. I think yes is a valid response to that question.
I came out with a zero score which works really well for our family. Mostly that happened because there are a number of traditionally female things on this list that I just don’t do (keeping track of birthdays for my husbands family and friends, maintaining social relationships as a couple, decorating the house). So my husband worries about it because he cares about these things more than I do. I do pretty much 100% of the child related emotional labor. I think this is because I stayed home with our first child for a year and so child related emotional labor was all I did. When I went back to work it never equalized. I don’t resent it though because he does most of the non child related emotional labor so I don’t feel like it’s all on me. Also, when I went to graduate school he really stepped up so I know he’s capable of filling in when needed. That takes a lot of stress away.
Hmm, what this doesn’t account for is where one spouse may do more, but the other spouse still does much. That matters especially in a home where one spouse works outside the home and the other stays home, because it can prevent the stay-at-home spouse from necessarily having to be “on” 24/7.
Take food preparation for example. My wife is a stay-at-home mother who homeschools two of our children, so she definitely prepares the lion’s share of the food. On the other hand, I usually get breakfast preparation “staged” for her (put coffee on, heat up the skillet, make the oatmeal) before I leave for work, I often cook dinner for the two of us after the kids have gone to bed, and I also frequently make the meals on weekends.
Laurel – why you had more than one child is beyond my comprehension especially after seeing that you had married one.
Naismith: “There seems to be an implicit assumption in the OP that it is preferable to divide them in half, and the only way the tasks will be valued is if the husband does them. I have never ever believed in one-size-fits-all prescriptions for having a happily family, so I reject that dogma like any other.” That’s a dogma in your own mind. I specifically worked hard to avoid that in the OP. Your marriage, your life. Happy belated Mother’s Day.
“That’s a dogma in your own mind. I specifically worked hard to avoid that in the OP. ”
So it is all in my pretty little head, eh? If a man said that, it would be mansplaining. So when a woman does, it, is it bitch-splaining?
I appreciate your efforts, but allow me to show you where the dogma is pretty loud and clear, whether intentional or not.
“Is that a distribution that works for you both without creating resentment?”
Why bring up the issue of resentment? Why not simply leave the question mark after the “both” to allow the maximum possible range of reactions?
“If not, try to either shift some things from one spouse to the other or move them to C or D.”
This is advice that might bring the numbers of tasks into alignment. But why is that even a goal? It seems clear that some items on the list are more important than others. Why is quantity the ultimate determinant of “equality”?
“… it should not be entirely left up to the stay-at-home spouse (if the family has that luxury)”
Okay, that is definitely dogma; the sentence would have been fine without the parentheses. Luxury? Really? It is not possible that it is a necessity for some families, or a savvy financial move for a season, if the person at home is able to practice homemaking skills (a la Shannon Hayes’ RADICAL HOMEMAKERS). Since a penny saved is two pennies earned since it isn’t taxed or tithed, that actually makes fiscal sense for some families.
I applaud the goal of raising awareness of women’s work. But don’t blame me if you weave an agenda into what you write.
“So when a woman does, it, is it bitch-splaining?” Well that escalated quickly.