Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: The Extra Mental Load Women Carry

Several people on my FB feed have posted this comic over the last week or two and it’s been fascinating — and a little depressing — to see some of the responses. The comic follows a couple wherein the female/wife is balancing a bunch of domestic stuff while the male/husband sits by, chilling out. When chaos ensues, and it becomes apparent to the husband that his wife has too much on her plate, he says: “Well, you should have asked for help!” Then an argument is made, by the comic, that it shouldn’t be a woman’s job to figure out what needs to be done and ask for help; men and women should equally be taking on the mental work of figuring out what needs to be done (or, one person can manage and delegate, while the other does the labor, or a mix of both).

Predictably, 99.9% of the women who commented on the FB threads I saw on this issue said something along the lines of, “Yes, yes, this is so true,” and “I related to this so much.” And, disappointingly, though maybe as predictably, almost 100% of the men who have commented, have said things like, “This is so sexist!!”, “#notallmen,” “I totally help with household chores!,” and my favorite: “If any woman is in a domestic partnership she feels is unequal, it’s her own fault!”

Of course, we women know that isn’t fucking true (systemic sexism and dogmatic patriarchy has a little something to do with it…), and we also know that the mental load we carry in domestic partnerships (especially ones that include children) is not about the household chores (at least, not that much). When I think about the mental load I carry as a wife and mother, I’m thinking about the organizing and packing for family trips, the organizing of the kids’ wardrobes every season and getting rid of stuff they’ve outgrown, buying gifts for kids’ birthday parties, maintaining the social calendar (knowing where we’re supposed to be and when, as well as planning activities), researching and signing up for summer camps and after-school activities, reading all the correspondences from school and maintaining the school-related calendar (including all the damn end-of-the-year activities), hiring the babysitters, making doctor appointments, planning meals, researching family vacations, etc., etc., fucking ETCETERA. Seriously, the list is endless and it doesn’t even include household chores, which I agree: modern men are definitely stepping up and contributing to (if not at 50%, then pretty damn close). But the mental load? The planning and organizing and remembering and thinking of all the details involved in running a household? Women’s work. Or, at least, that’s what it would seem if the reality is any indication.

So, what’s the answer to this? If men are crying that it’s sexist that we even point out this gross imbalance, what do we do? Keep pointing it out, I say! Talk to our partners about it, point out when the workload is imbalanced. For example, this is a conversation Drew and I have a lot, in a variety of ways. I most definitely carry more of the mental load, but because Drew is our primary breadwinner and works many more non-domestic hours than I do, I don’t consider the workload imbalanced. Going forward though, I’d like to contribute more financially and a little less on the domestic workload front and vice versa for him. I think Drew would like that, too, and we are always talking about how and when we can make that happen.

Do you have these conversations with your partners? What kind of responses do you get? If you’re in a gay relationship, do you still notice an imbalance in mental workload? I’m so curious if and how such a thing might exist in non-heteronormative domestic relationships.

52 comments… add one
  • LisforLeslie June 1, 2017, 2:42 pm

    “I totally help with household chores” = this is the woman’s job, I help do her job.

    That attitude frustrates the crap out of me. When I was growing up, in both households, the men shared the workload. Need clean laundry? Do the laundry! Laundry needs folding? Fold the laundry! My step dad thought vacuums were awesome and loved to run that thing around the house (plus he likes to walk around barefoot and hates fleckies on his feet … so he vacuums a lot). My dad was old school but he would see the full hamper, get out the basket and do the laundry. He’d see something on the counter top and he’d get the sponge and clean it up.

    I won’t say it was 50/50 but I never saw either man sitting on the couch watching sports while my mom or step mom was cleaning. Cooking maybe, but then the rule in both houses was “one cooks, the other cleans”.

    Reply Link
    • K June 2, 2017, 11:02 am

      That’s wonderful that your dad and stepdad helped out so much! I hope things will start to change in future generations. My poor grandmother cooked and cleaned while my grandfather and uncles sat on the couch and watched sports. Even now in this day and age, the women in my family (this is on my mom’s side) clean up while the men go in and sit down. It’s frustrating.

      Reply Link
  • Maggie85 June 1, 2017, 2:51 pm

    This definitely rings true for me. My boyfriend and I (both 31) moved in together a few months ago, and I’ve had to be the “house manager” (delegating, remembering to buy things we need, organizing, etc, etc) since day 1. I work full time and he’s a full time student so I also have more of a financial burden. I’ve done my best to make our chores 50/50 and my bf is more than happy to help, but it’s a huge drain to always be the proactive one who has to tell/remind him what to do. It’s making me feel like a mom more than a girlfriend. We finally talked about it a couple days ago since I was so stressed out. We created a chore chart, so I’m hoping that will make things easier? Cuz yeah, it sucks right now.

    Reply Link
    • K June 2, 2017, 11:03 am

      Yup, we all but officially live together and I’m the one who usually remembers that we need paper towels, plans the meals, manages our social schedule, etc. He’s good about chores, but the other stuff not as much.

      Reply Link
  • anonymousse June 1, 2017, 2:52 pm

    I feel eternally grateful for my husband. He does so much at home, works his cute butt off at work providing for us, and sent this illustration to me first!
    I’m proud to have a feminist next to me, and raising our children with me.

    Reply Link
    • ktfran June 1, 2017, 3:56 pm

      Same. Well besides the kids part because we don’t have any, but about the household part.

      Not to long ago, I was talking to my mom about the fiance and I and how we’re pretty equal partners in everything. Chores. Mental Load. Helping each other out. Emotional support. Etc. I think we’re both extremely lucky.

      He’s also 100% a feminist!

      Reply Link
      • anonymousse June 1, 2017, 4:09 pm

        I know I’ve said this a lot on DW, but I think my husband and I both feel that the other person does more, and we both try to take care of each other.

      • ktfran June 1, 2017, 4:28 pm

        Same. I was just going to say he does more. But he’d probably say that I do.

        I’m not sure how it would be if we added a kid in the mix. I hope it would be equal, but as Wendy mentioned, I think I’d begin to pick up more of the mental load. I could see myself making lunches, appointments, play dates, clothes shopping, etc. Although who knows, because I also work more hours than him.

      • anonymousse June 1, 2017, 4:50 pm

        It’s hard. I feel like we’ve finally hit a good stride with having two and it’s been 1 1/2 years of two kids!
        I do more of some things, and he does others. I feel it’s equal. I do wonder how we’ll figure it all out when I go back to work in a few years…

    • RedRoverRedRover June 1, 2017, 6:27 pm

      My husband is feminist too, but I do still carry more of the mental load. He doesn’t seem to really realize it exists, particularly since we had kids. But, he does more of the housework. And probably about as much childcare as me, maybe more. So to me it seems equal. I do worry that HE might think it’s unequal, because he does more of the “visible” stuff and I’m doing all the invisible stuff. I’ve tried to explain it to him, and he understands the stuff that needs to get done, but he doesn’t seem to “get” just how much of a load it is. Buy the kid’s clothes? What’s the big deal, right? Except that it includes winnowing out the too-small ones, putting aside the too-big ones for later (and not forgetting them when their time comes), rotating for the seasons, packing up the too-small ones split by gender and giving them to appropriate friends or charity, and receiving tons of them from friends and family and sorting through what you want and giving the rest away. Sometimes it feels like half a full-time job just on its own! But he just sees the clothes appear and thinks “cool, she bought clothes”.

      And it’s like that for everything. Whenever we buy something big, like an appliance, I research it. Or semi-expensive, like his shaver which I bought as a birthday gift. I research it all. He seems to think that because it’s not work-work, that I’m just sitting on the couch enjoying myself. But that’s time that I’ve got my mental energy focused on something that’s not relaxing for me. In my book, that’s work. And when you’ve got a whole list of these tasks that you need to get done, it adds up and it weighs on you. That’s the part he doesn’t see.

      Reply Link
      • Dear Wendy June 1, 2017, 7:22 pm

        Same here, totally. Drew is a feminist and does a lot around the home — housework, childcare — especially considering he works full-time and I don’t. But I do so much invisible work that I wonder if he realizes, without me pointing it (which I do do, but not, like, ALL the time) how much I’m actually doing when he can’t really see it.

      • My Family's Cruise Director June 2, 2017, 7:06 am

        Exactly this. It’s not about helping around the house or with the kids – it’s everything that goes along with maintaining our lives. My husband is an amazing and hands-on dad who I would marry all over again any day – but he doesn’t necessarily register all of the many tasks and varying steps involved to keep our house and family healthy and functional.

        From my perspective, the two crucial points that make emotional work such a burden are:

        1. the volume of tasks
        2. the relentlessness

        I love the example of the kids’ clothes. You get “credit” (as it were) for one “check mark” on the ol’ To Do List for making sure the kids have clothes that fit, but the mental work of the process is several steps. No one step is necessarily difficult or time-consuming but this is an on-going task that is one of a million on your mental To Do List and WHOOP! There goes your evening.

      • RedRoverRedRover June 2, 2017, 7:57 am

        “WHOOP! There goes your evening.”

        THIS, exactly. There’s only so much free time in a day. Now that I’m off mat leave and back at work with two young kids, there’s about an hour, maybe hour and a half at the end of the day. Do I want to spend it emailing detailed instructions to the landscaper like I did last night? I do not. But someone has to do it, and somehow it’s become “my job”, I guess because I’m the one who says we need a usable backyard (it was dangerous for the kids before). He’ll benefit just as much as I will from a safe backyard that we can release the kids into, but it’s still my job. And to top it off, when I wanted to discuss it with him last night before sending the email, he was obviously annoyed. Clearly he wanted some time to himself to relax instead of discussing the backyard. Well guess what? ME TOO!

      • Sara June 2, 2017, 8:03 am

        This. We’re both feminists. He does more housework. I organize/manage our lives. And I know that he doesn’t feel like we’re doing equal work because what I do is invisible. I should start pointing it out – but I’m not sure how to do that without sounding like I’m looking for “points” in a system.

      • ktfran June 2, 2017, 8:19 am

        Right now, I’d say we’re pretty equal on the invisible work too. We’re both better and/or care more about different things so we worry about and take those tasks on. For instance, I do the meal planning. It does take some time and thought and occasionally recipe searches. But just this week, he’s had to deal with our HOA people as well our air conditioning and scheduling people to fix it.

        Come to think of it, he might carry more of the invisible burdens of everyday life.

      • Kate June 2, 2017, 8:45 am

        I don’t think you have to let it be invisible though. I don’t see guys just quietly do stuff and not seek credit. Not at work, not at home. Why should we? Share your thought process with him. My husband talks to me about his schedule, how he’s going to fit things in, how things are going to get done, what he’s thinking and planning. At work, guys are always talking about what they did and how they thought of it. I think couples should always be communicating about what they’re doing and how they’re feeling, as well as showing appreciation for each other.

      • RedroverRedrover June 2, 2017, 8:57 am

        That’s true Kate, but I guess thr thing is that I feel like it comes off as me complaining, or asking him to do more, because otherwise why would I be talking about it, you know? Like if I bring something up, he figures there’s a reason, and he doesn’t see “just for your awareness” as a reason. Plus that’s another job! Not only do I have all this stuff to do, but now I have to make sure he’s aware of it and I get “credit” for it, you know? Because if I’m like, ok I emailed the landscaper, in his mind that was like 2 mins of work and it’s not a big deal. So then what, I have to explain how kuch time it took? You see what I mean?

        I guess part of the problem is that I did all this stuff before we had kids, and it was absolutely no big deal because he did all the cooking/meal planning/groceries which was a pretty good split. So I did kitchen cleanup, budget/finances, home maintenance, research etc. But now, with the kids, my “job” has grown exponentially, and also I’ve had to take on part of the meal stuff just because of how our schedules work out. Before kids, it’s so different. It was so easy to keep it equal. Now we’re just trying to juggle everything as best we can.

      • Portia June 2, 2017, 9:29 am

        Agreed with Kate – I think of this as a part of overall good communication. The first couple of times you do it, it might seem like you’re trying to “get credit,” but if it becomes a part of your regular routine, then it no longer is. Time is your friend here. Pretend like you’re both getting gold stars for everything! I love gold stars…

        Back when I was in therapy, one tool my therapist gave me was to write down one thing I accomplished each day. I thought it was silly at first (not all my “accomplishments” were big, sometimes it was that I’d made it to the library that day). But day after day, it made a difference. Now I can recognize those smaller accomplishments better, and I think it made those things that didn’t seem like anything more visible to me. It’s even helped at work – those small things are really me getting shit done and add up over time, and that’s what leads to raises here.

      • Kate June 2, 2017, 9:32 am

        I don’t think it needs to be complaining or asking him to do more (though maybe it does). When my husband tells me what he’s doing, I don’t take it like, he’s saying I should do more. It’s him expressing love and wanting to feel appreciated, so I need to listen and appreciate him. Maybe you do need more from your husband in some way. Again, I have no kids, so I probably don’t know, but I would say talk to him more about what’s going on.

      • Vathena June 2, 2017, 9:49 am

        I so get this – and it changes so much after kids are in the picture. It really makes me anxious about fitting in everything that needs to be done in a day. I take on all of the mental scheduling – I don’t think my husband really knows the extent to which I think about how we’re going to structure our time, especially on weekends. So it’s like, okay, the kid needs to go to bed at 7:30pm. That means we need to eat dinner at 6-6:30pm, so we need to start making dinner at 5:30pm. That means we need to fit in all of our weekend stuff before that (for us, it’s workouts, trip to the farmer’s market/playground, grocery store, laundry, hopefully showering at some point, various appointments…) so when we wake up on Saturday, I’m already like, “Here is my plan. I’ll go to my yoga class, then after the farmer’s market I’ll take Child to the playground while you go for your run. Then after lunch we can go by the vet’s to pick up more Special Cat Food and then to get groceries. If you can take Child to the library or park for a bit, I’ll shower and start dinner, then hang out with Child while you shower, then we can eat and get Child to bed on time and hopefully foster her brain growth and lower her risk for obesity and behavioral problems.” And then he’ll be like, oh, but I have a haircut at 11am. And I’m like, WHY ISN’T THAT ON THE CALENDAR SO I CAN PLAN?! Add in playdates/birthday parties/family visits and it gets that much more complicated.

      • Portia June 2, 2017, 12:04 pm

        Hmm, then why don’t you have him counter with another plan when something like that happens? Isn’t he also on the household planning committee? Sure, life gets more complicated when you add to it, but those complications apply to everyone in a relationship.

        When Bassanio started a grad program, he needed buy-in from me, so we negotiated around how we would see each other, which days I should expect not to see him, planning ahead on busy times like before finals. It wasn’t just on one of us to make that happen, it was a group effort.

      • snoopy128 June 5, 2017, 11:54 am

        RR/Valentha- you both articulated how I feel, and we don’t even have kids yet!
        This came to head when I was super swamped with work and needed him to pick up more of the everyday tasks and I was still the one waking up early Saturday and saying we need to do x,y,z in order for next week to run smoothly.
        If I try and walk through my process with him, he takes it as me complaining or trying to show off how much I do. It’s hard to find a way to bring him equally into a conversation he doesn’t even think needs to happen about tasks which he thinks take two seconds. He’s also not a big sharer so this style of communication is a big shift for him.

        Portia- in my experience- asking my partner with another plan doesn’t really work as he doesn’t have a concept of all of the little steps and then gets frustrated because it appears to come more naturally to me (only because I’m constantly thinking about it). In life in general, he’s very much of a see–> do kind of guy. While I’m a contemplate ages in advance–>come up with plan–>execute plan (and have issues quickly adjusting if spontaneous opportunities interrupt the plan).

      • Portia June 5, 2017, 1:50 pm

        Another thing to consider is, if something doesn’t happen, if things aren’t scheduled to the T, what will happen? If there are things that need to happen (ex. mealtimes, bedtimes, getting to the store before it closes, running the washing machine), why not push him to problem-solve how to make that happen? Because didn’t you figure it out by problem-solving too at one point? He might not do it exactly the way you would, but maybe that’s ok too.

        In getting Bassanio (the spontaneous one in our house) more involved in decision-making, I feel like both of us have benefited because he’s become more of a planner (he’s doing meal planning on the weekends) and I’ve become more willing to take him up on spontaneous opportunities. I’ve also become better at having the basics that I’ll need at all times ready to go without much effort or planning, thereby lessening my mental load. With kids there are a lot of things to consider that aren’t on my plate and I can’t comment on, but there are benefits to planning and benefits to getting up and going. I’m not saying my way will work for everyone, but I’m happy with the current state of my mental load.

      • Portia June 5, 2017, 2:12 pm

        As an example of “there are different ways to approach a situation”: over the weekend, I got into a discussion about work toothbrushes. Some people had toothbrushes at work, some didn’t, and it really spoke to different ideas of preparing for the day. Some people would never leave the house without brushing their teeth, either getting up early to make sure they do, or occasionally being a little late to work. Others understood that sometimes they needed to get out of the house in a hurry, so they’ll leave the house without brushing their teeth and have a toothbrush at work for those situations. Two ways of approaching a situation, neither was wrong, and everyone got their teeth brushed in the end. The work toothbrush isn’t necessarily the result of great planning (I have one after I forgot one day and stopped at a store on the way to work), but those that left the house without brushing their teeth didn’t throw up their hands and say, well I guess my breath will stink today! Maybe the first time was a bit of a hassle, but they figured it out.

      • Vathena June 5, 2017, 2:52 pm

        Snoopy – this is pretty spot on for us too: “come(s) more naturally to me (only because I’m constantly thinking about it). In life in general, he’s very much of a see–> do kind of guy. While I’m a contemplate ages in advance–>come up with plan–>execute plan (and have issues quickly adjusting if spontaneous opportunities interrupt the plan).” That’s definitely my deal. We do adjust around things that arise unexpectedly, because hardly a day goes by that something unexpected doesn’t come up. But I think I tend to have more anxiety around getting everything done. And as bagge describes below, I think a lot of women take on the mental energy involved in parenting, by default. Paternity leave is still so rare that I think a lot of dads just let their partners take the lead on early child-care, which then translates into not knowing their child’s shoe size or having it occur to them that the child may require supervision or assistance with some task. Or taking the opportunity to socialize with other adults while their partner is engaged in trying to keep the kid(s) in check. My husband is a very involved father, but we had some early bumps. One day when our kid was about 9-10 months old, my husband was staying home with her, and called me at work to ask me what I wanted him to give her for lunch. I was like, “You are her father. I trust your judgment. ‘Some food’ would be good.” But I think he was afraid of upsetting whatever “plan” he knew I might have had in mind and not articulated to him! And I know hardly any men, and LOTS of women, who seek out parenting advice/read parenting books. More mental energy. I’ve read tons of blogs and at least parts of 4-5 different books. In my experience, that’s not something that most dads do.

  • Vathena June 1, 2017, 2:58 pm

    I attended a women’s college, and I’m part of a large Facebook parenting group made up of my school’s alumnae. This comic inspired quite a discussion there, too (and there are frequent discussions about domestic life in general). A lot of the group members are married to other women, and there are a few trans men as well. I’m a straight woman married to a straight man, but based on what I’ve read on that page, it seems that many relationships have a main “manager” or a “noticer” who sees all these things that need to be done – I think in same-sex partnerships, that mental work is probably taken on by the person most predisposed to it (the more type-A one). And in hetero relationships, we’re socialized that that’s the “woman’s work”. I feel fortunate that a lot of the mental load is shared in my marriage, though I do take on more of the “mental scheduling” and calendar management. My husband was in his late 30s when we started dating, had lived on his own for many years and owned his home, so he had his shit together in the domestic department.

    Reply Link
  • My Family's Cruise Director June 1, 2017, 3:00 pm

    This comic really resonated with me so I was pleased to see you write a post about it. I don’t have any solutions but at least I feel less alone in this! It doesn’t help that my spouse and in-laws all struggle with varying degrees of ADD while my family tends toward anxiety and Type-A-ness – a great combination, you can imagine! (It actually is, sometimes, in that my spouse and I can balance each other out a little, but I don’t like when I feel like I’m responsible for keeping my in-laws on track, too). We recently added a little one to our family so all of the issues noted in the comic feel amplified.

    Reply Link
  • Just Max June 1, 2017, 3:03 pm

    Yes to this topic!

    Once I had a heated discussion with my mother about the imbalances on household responsibilities growing up. I argued that my brother is a sexist idiot and it is her fault; us girls had all the chores, and my brother got to dump his baseball gear by the laundry and go on on his merry way. Am I wrong to think she raised him to be that way? Or could he have just inherited/learned his dad’s ways?

    I work as a PM so I’d love for someone else to remember to do my laundry, shop for groceries and make me dinner, pay the bills, and schedule my doctor’s appointment. :-p

    Reply Link
  • Kate June 1, 2017, 3:10 pm

    I definitely don’t feel like I carry more mental load or household responsibility… but we don’t have kids. I think that makes a big difference. I do contribute more financially to the household, and I guess he does somewhat more around the house, factoring in errands, car maintenance, getting things repaired, taking the dog to appointments and walking him (he was originally my dog) etc.

    Reply Link
  • Milla June 1, 2017, 4:25 pm

    I’m in a queer relationship and I’d say my wife and I probably split the mental load (and the chores) 50/50. We didn’t set out to plan it exactly, but we are aware and adjust to make sure that nobody is doing a disproportionate share of the work. Our finances are only semi-merged, so we take care of our individual bills—this will probably change in the future when our financial situation changes, but for now it works. We either cook together or take turns (or get takeout if we’re lazy). We don’t schedule chores, but try to keep in mind who last washed the sheets, etc. When my work schedule gets crazy, she does a little more, and vice versa.

    Because we’re both introverts with a shared social group, we do explicitly discuss who’s taking the lead in our social life, and trade off there to keep things even (one of our friends noticed and asked if we kept delegating the task of talking to her to each other! we had to explain that we do it for couple reasons, not for anything to do with her)

    We did do some negotiating to get to this spot, but now it works pretty well. We have really similar energy in social situations, and are basically the same person who it comes to levels of untidiness we can tolerate, though, which makes it easy. I was raised by a dad who was a stay-at-home-parent, which really helped shake off sexist bullshit. My brothers are all good about doing equal if not more work in their households (my one brother is notoriously on the ball about cleaning).

    Reply Link
  • wobster109 June 1, 2017, 5:17 pm

    I feel lucky in that I’m seeing an older guy with a kid who is neat and organized. He is experienced in handling mental load. When we go to the store we both suggest things we’re short on. We both suggest and plan dates. When I come back after a few hours out, I’ll find that he’s done all the laundry and vacuumed. It’s one of my favorite things about him, and one of the first things I noticed that was different from previous relationships. (Coincidentally, he is also a very different “type” than anyone I’ve dated before. Like you said, dating outside your “type” really works!)

    In particular there’s one tiny, inconsequential thing he does that feels significant to me. When we have dinner at home or get fast food, he always gets napkins for both of us. When I hang out with friends I’m always the one who gets the napkins. As far as my friends are concerned they magically appear on the table, and they never say thank you either. I think they just don’t notice. So weirdly, it feels symbolic that he gets the napkins. He keeps track of details, and he thinks ahead about what I’ll need. I always say thank you for the napkins.

    Reply Link
    • anonymousse June 1, 2017, 5:39 pm

      I loved reading this. He sounds great.

      Reply Link
  • anonymousse June 1, 2017, 7:52 pm

    I met a widower recently and we had an interesting conversation about all this. He truly did not realize how much his wife did until she was gone. He had to take a long sabbatical to figure out how to be a parent with all the work.
    He’s now working on how to get humans in personal spaceships. Pretty cool!

    Reply Link
  • bittergaymark June 1, 2017, 8:32 pm

    NEWSFLASH, LADIES! All my STR8 husband/boyfriend/insignificant-other friends assure me that constantly trashing the place while doing absolutely nothing at all to help isn’t nearly as easy as many of you realize! The grass is ALWAYS greener…

    Reply Link
    • LisforLeslie June 2, 2017, 7:17 am

      I am absolutely convinced that some men purposely screw up menial tasks like doing the laundry or washing dishes so that their wives get angry and take the task on. Of course, my response would be to buy more expensive dishes and dry clean only clothing. You want to break a dish? It’ll be a $50 dish from Tiffany’s that I will replace each and every time.

      Reply Link
      • anonymousse June 5, 2017, 1:41 pm

        Oh, they do. There’s plenty of men out in the internet boasting about this type of bs.

    • csp June 2, 2017, 12:48 pm

      Love this.

      Reply Link
  • Mylaray June 1, 2017, 9:44 pm

    I was talking to a friend recently and I don’t remember how this came up, but she mentioned how her husband takes out the trash because it’s a man’s job, and she couldn’t tell me what day trash picks up, which sounds crazy to me. She’s very traditional, and I can already tell she’s going to set herself up for way more emotional work than necessary. My husband and I do the various chores as they are needed. We will loosely plan ahead who will cook based on our changing schedules, but normally it works out that we both get things done as they are needed. We use shared calendars on our phones, have a shared to do list in the kitchen, etc. We’re both equally organized and neat and that plays a big role too. We also don’t have kids. When we wanted to have kids previously, he wanted to be a stay at home dad. I think being a stay at home parent can easily leave one partner doing more of the mental work.

    Reply Link
    • LisforLeslie June 2, 2017, 7:20 am

      A friend of mine was in a similar boat, she realized she had defined the patterns that allowed her husband to take the last beer and not even think of picking up a new six pack on the way home from work. He wanted kids and she was like “I will get stuck with all of the work. I do not want this.” They divorced for several other reasons but I think watching him leave the table without clearing his plate was a big one (especially since they lived in a one bedroom and the kitchen was quite literally 5 feet from the table).

      Reply Link
  • Ashley June 2, 2017, 8:14 am

    I’m not in a relationship, but I clearly remember when I was like 6 getting in a fight with my mom about doing chores. I was like if you want something done, just tell meeeee. And my aunt was like, your mom shouldn’t have to tell you every time what needs to be done. I totally didn’t get it til later. That lesson, maybe, misses little boys. I don’t know.

    Reply Link
  • Portia June 2, 2017, 9:16 am

    I think me and Bassanio share the mental load, but it wasn’t a pattern that we fell into. When stuff like the thing in the comic happened at other people’s places, I would point it out later and discuss it with him. I also made sure to make the invisible work visible – I’m not making grocery lists on my own and “just taking care of things,” he’s a part of any household planning I do, and vice versa. It might be annoying sometimes to talk about these things, but I think it’s helped in the long run. It also helps that of the two of us, he’s the type-A, social planning one.

    In the same vein, I think a large part of why I haven’t been keen on kids is because I see all the extra stuff added on to women when kids come in the picture and for me that’s a hard no. Regarding kids themselves, I think they’re interesting, but I’m mostly ambivalent. The one thing I know for sure is that I’m not going to be the family manager.

    Reply Link
    • Portia June 2, 2017, 9:41 am

      PS Bassanio has not always been some magical feminist. We’ve had to talk through gender equity, and it hasn’t always been easy. At one point I had to convince him that he was in fact a feminist (after explaining how I was a feminist). He was also initially resistant to me keeping my last name. He had (and still has) some friends who have problematic ideas about women and gender equity, but I’m confident that he can bring feminist thinking to his conversations with them (and he does – he’s not one to shy away from a difficult conversation).

      Reply Link
  • shakeourtree June 2, 2017, 11:54 am

    My brother and I grew up with a neat-freak, drill sergeant of a single mother. I used to resent all the meals she made us cook and the Saturday morning cleaning ritual she put us through, but I realize that she actually did us a big favor, especially my brother.
    My best friend is a 30-year-old straight man, and he is totally oblivious to the mess he creates. We were planning a party recently, and I had to write him a shopping list and a to-do list. He did work his way down the lists diligently, but it boggles my mind that I literally had to put stuff on the list like “load and run the dishwasher” or “take out the trash and roll it to the curb.” My brother, however, could not be more different. He’s now a married family man and 1000x the father ours was.
    As for me, I don’t think it’s coincidence that every single serious boyfriend I’ve ever had has been a neat freak. I guess I prefer being told what to clean and when rather than doing the noticing myself.

    Reply Link
  • Findingtheearth June 2, 2017, 12:21 pm

    As a single parent, I won’t marry someone unless they make me feel they can equally contribute. This topic is a huge one for all of my married friends

    Reply Link
  • va-in-ny June 2, 2017, 2:00 pm

    I’ve got a major imbalance in my household right now, and it’s definitely weighing on me. My husband is a consultant, and works Monday – Thursday in Chicago (we’re in NY). He flies out Monday morning and comes back Thursday evening and works from home on Fridays. So, before, we had a decent thing going on, where we both did chores, but it was still not balanced on the mental-load side. I still carried very much of the burden of the household while working full time (I always had to make a list of things for him that needed to be taken care of)

    Now, everything falls to me during the week. Simply because he’s not there. There isn’t some sort of, I cook, you clean/I take the trash out, you replace the bag type of thing. That’s definitely part of the deal we signed up for with him taking this job, I get it and I’m willing to take care of things. But, the problem is that when the weekend comes around, he wants to rest. He’s traveled a lot, he’s worked a lot… but I want to rest too! I’ve worked AND taken on the household responsibilities! But he never sees it, especially if things have been taken care of (refrigerator is full, dry cleaning is picked up, kitchen is clean) when he gets home. But when it’s not… it’s “what did you do all week?”

    I know he’s a lot further behind the curve that most (had a very dedicated stay at home mom… and still does!). So, I know where it comes from. I don’t understand, though, is how he doesn’t see it. Does he think that things just magically stay clean? WOW! I put clothes in that bin the other day and now they’re in my drawer! What a world!

    We haven’t added children into the mix yet, but it’s in a discussion phase. I’ve always wanted children (and still do!) but I just don’t know how I’m going to do it. I’m already so so tired!

    Reply Link
    • LisforLeslie June 2, 2017, 3:27 pm

      As someone who has the same exact schedule as your husband – he is making excuses. I commute to Boston or Chicago weekly. I take the 6 am out on Mondays. If I’m in Chicago I’m flying into the hell that is LaGuardia terminal B and I get home at 10. I live alone and I don’t have a cleaning person. I won’t say I keep a pristine house, but I keep it up.

      Option A is to get a cleaning person in once a week to take care of the big things like laundry and bathrooms. If you’re in the city, and you’ve got the finances you can outsource most chores – like FreshDirect for food (although all of the groceries do this now). My dry cleaning is picked up and dropped off. Everyone delivers except the library.

      Also set a schedule. For me – Sunday morning is laundry time. I get up – get the sheets off, grab the towels and I’m down in the laundry room before my coffee has finished brewing. By the time the laundry is done – I’ve managed to get my packing done, my makeup on and ready to go run whatever errands I didn’t finish the day before.

      As for kids and consulting – that’s a whole other ball of wax. I know people that don’t see their kids 80% of the month (men and women) and they rely on family and hired help. Others take a different position with the firm so they can travel less. It’s up to the two of you to determine how to work with his company to get what you want. A man wanting to travel less to be a more involved partner is not surprising anymore and certainly not frowned upon in many companies.

      Reply Link
    • Portia June 2, 2017, 4:49 pm

      Yeah, you gotta stop being the household fairy that magically gets everything done or you’re headed towards some major resentment. You might already be there. Why can’t he take care of his dry cleaning at the very least? You wonder why he doesn’t see it, but it’s invisible to him – make it visible. Stop taking on invisible responsibilities for him, especially anything were you think, it’s just easier this way. I don’t know if seeing the dollar value of the work will speak to him, how much it would cost to outsource the work, but it’s been effective for my husband in the past (like for wedding planning).

      Reply Link
  • Kay June 2, 2017, 2:52 pm

    Does anyone have any recommendations of shared calendar/to-do list apps they use with their spouse/etc. to help split the load?

    Reply Link
    • angelsiris11 June 5, 2017, 1:33 pm

      My husband’s job has an abnormal schedule so we rely on calendars. We have a dry erase board one at home and every time there is a social event, doctor’s appointment, lesson, etc, I put it in my Google Calendar and invite him so he can (1) know what is going on and (2) see the organizing and work I did. I don’t have a recommendation for task lists, but I use Gnotes to make shopping lists and you can share them on the app I believe.

      Reply Link
  • Hayden June 4, 2017, 7:24 pm

    It’s hard because it is so insidious and the societal expectations are so skewed…on the one hand, I am deeply appreciative of my husband who cooks 90% of our meals, makes our kids’ lunches and doctor appointments, and arranges most of our playdates/social calendar/ activities like swimming lessons. He just gravitates towards those things and it helps that his parents both worked full time and his dad always cooked. BUT–cleaning and household chores have an issue from day 1 and a lot of our balance now is the result of ongoing argument and negotiation. I do basically all of the larger cleaning tasks and I definitely am the one to organize things, make sure there is no clutter, sort kids’ clothes as they outgrow them, etc. He’s gotten much better about “seeing” things when they need to be done and I share articles with him all the time about this type of thing and he is open to it. I feel like we’re a really good team now, but it took work.

    I think the thing that irks me is how people hear that he cooks and act like I’ve won the lottery and my life is obviously just easy street as a result. It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about how much goes into running a household…if two parents both work full time (as is the case with us) there is no reason the male partner should not be doing his share of domestic work.

    Reply Link
  • bagge72 June 5, 2017, 9:04 am

    So I just had to comment on this after what happened Saturday night, because normally I don’t see it this way with my friends, and I know that is not the norm, my friends are always very active in all of the chores, and with the kids and things like that, but I will say there wives, along with mine probably take a lot more on the mental side, my wife is the gate keeper of all important dates in our lives, it has just morphed to that for some reason. I was perfectly fine with it when I was single, don’t know what happened, so now I’m afraid with the baby that will take a mental toll on her as she gets older and our lives get filled with a million things we have to do!

    But, we were invited to a neighbors house for dinner on Saturday, and they are both really nice people, but it was pretty much this comic that played out in front of our eyes. So my wife, and I show up with the baby, and we get greeted at the door by the wife, who is pushing herself around on a scooter because she just had surgery on her ankle, and as we go in I see that while on this scooter she is cooking us dinner, keeping track of their 2 year old, getting us a drink, while the husband is just showering because he was at the gym. Once he gets done with showering he gets to sit and talk with us as she finishes cooking dinner and setting the table. When dinner is ready she brings everything to the table, starts to wheel the kids high chair in, but my wife grabbed it from her, because being on a scooter, and pushing that thing has to be hard. As we go to sit down, the kid makes a B-line for the front door, and instead of the husband going to grab the kid, yells for the wife too, even though she has the bum leg. This is pretty much how the rest of the night went, anything she thought we wanted she went to get on her own, all while cutting up the kids dinner, and making sure he eats. So I thought it was crazy that I was experiencing this comic come to life in front of my eyes! Now she did say that since she has been home from the hospital that the husband has done everything, from the normal every night cooking, to all of the cleaning, he now drives her and their son to her work, and picks her up, while working his two jobs. So I’m not sure if this was the host coming out in her or if that is the norm, but there it was.

    Reply Link
    • Portia June 5, 2017, 4:14 pm

      She could barely walk and she was the one taking care of everyone?! Wow. It reminds me of the scene in A Christmas Story where the mom is up and down during their family meal and the kid says something like, My mom has not had a hot meal in 15 years.

      Reply Link

Leave a Comment