Gavin takes Ethan swimming on a Saturday morning. I usually go get the grocery shopping during this time, but in order to write this post I asked if Gavin would get the shopping after swimming this week.
He was more than happy to. So I set about the task of meal planning and writing out the shopping list. I then organised the list in order of where you would find the items in the shop, writing little notes next to the items that I have preferences of – chorizo (the spicy one, not the plain) – setting him a strict budget and then I realise I’m doing it again.
I’m micromanaging my husband.
Now before I get into this post I want to make it super clear… My husband is a very willing, loving and capable man. When we met, he was 28 years old and had succeeded in feeding himself, paying his bills and remembering birthdays. But somehow, when we got married and then went on to have kids… I became the planner of meals, the payer of bills and rememberer of birthdays (not to mention the buyer of cards and gifts). Exactly when this happened or why this happened is entirely unclear to both of us. But what I do know is that I’m not alone in this dynamic. If you haven’t read the excellent newspaper comic entitled “You Should’ve Asked” by French comic artist Emma, stick it on your reading list. It’s a perfect demonstration of what’s being dubbed The Mental Load. The invisible management of household tasks and the fact that this falls almost entirely onto women’s shoulders.
The interesting part about Gavin being so willing, loving and capable is that he hates this dynamic as much as I do. He hates that I swoop mail from under his nose in order to ‘deal with it’ and that he wouldn’t have the first clue (or password) for logging into our gas account to give a meter reading. We do evenly share household chores and there are things that Gavin does that I don’t do, like bins, grass cutting, and dishwasher emptying. He also takes Ethan to drumming lessons and swimming lessons. But writing bin days on the calendar, price comparison of lawnmowers, purchasing of the dishwasher, organising of drum lessons and finding Saturday swimming lessons were all performed by me. While my husband is excellent at the execution of household tasks, it seems that it’s true… The managing of all general Life Admin (for some reason unbeknown to either of us) falls on me.
While I was cleaning the kitchen the other day I made a point of jotting down a little train of thought for the purpose of this post. It went like this:
*Cleaning countertops* – Put Method cleaner on grocery list – Oh and baking paper for baking with the kids – Need to fill in that form to send to the school – Must remember the kids are off school on Monday – What am I going to do with the kids on Monday? – Need to book that Afternoon Tea with Santa for Christmas, the tickets are selling quick – Oh I should text my parents to see if they’re coming over for Christmas this year – And I should probably start a list of presents and get them in early, spread the cost – Also need to think up a 30th birthday present for my brother – Looking forward to seeing my family next weekend – Gavin’s brother is picking us up from the airport, he’ll need the car seats – Finn’s growing out of his capsule, must start shopping for car seats – How is Finn 8 weeks already? – Need to call the Docs about his immunisations – Oh and book Ethan a dentist appointment.
Now reading that back to myself looks like I’m suffering from some form of insanity, please tell me I’m not alone. I don’t think I am.
The worst thing about all of this is – and I cringe writing it – I can’t bear to let go. I feel a sense of anxiety at the thought of leaving it up to anyone else to remember upcoming kids birthday parties (what if he forgets and Ethan misses the party?) or booking of holidays (will he read the hotel reviews to make sure we don’t end up in a dive?). And I get a great, albeit perverse, sense of satisfaction when it’s all running like a well-oiled machine. But the system is not working. Mainly because I’m goddamn exhausted and holding onto resentment that I’m the one responsible for everything.
Now some might argue that I’m currently on maternity leave and Gavin working full time means that I should be taking on more… Because I have the time. But those arguing this point have clearly never been on maternity leave. I agree that there is more likelihood of me being able to shove on a wash during the day and execute some physical tasks, but the mental load of remembering and managing all-the-things should probably not be left up to someone who is being woken every hour at night by an unstoppable alarm clock (something that is literally used as a form of torture) and has to cope with the onslaught of questions from a four year old (one of which the other day was “How was the world made Mum?” … at 7am). We also both want a solution that’s sustainable, so that when I inevitably return to work, the wheels don’t fall off this thing.
So to alleviate our joint frustration, we’re going to try out a few things in order to even out the keel.
- Weekly sit-downs (with a glass of wine to make it fun) to go over finances and brainstorm anything upcoming that needs to be handled. This means that in theory, we both get to regularly offload the mental tasks, share the anticipation of what’s coming up, populate the calendar and decide who is tackling what.
- Gavin’s going to practice anticipating things, running with things and figuring stuff out if he hits a roadblock instead of defaulting to me.
- I’m going to practice handing things over to Gavin and the most important part – completely letting go. No checking in, no reminders, no critiquing.
That being said, I’m interested to know… Who remembers and manages everything in your household?
Has anyone got any tips on successfully sharing The Mental Load?
Image from Elle’s beautiful home tour