The mental load of parenting is insane. And historically, this falls to the mom. Why? Gender norms. That’s why. It’s not that moms are better at it or dads aren’t willing. Those things certainly CAN be true, depending on your situation. But that’s not WHY this is a recurring pattern in our society.
As with any outdated recurring pattern, there must be an active and conscious effort to change it. Seems like a no brainer, but this is one area where I don’t think we as women have put in enough work (yet).
We need to ask for more from our spouses. We can start by making sure they understand what the mental load entails. If you need resources in order to have that conversation, I recommend this blog by Joanna McClanahan on Scary Mommy, and this one by Jamie Ingledue on HuffPost Life.
But even after our partners understand what the mental load is, they most likely won’t know how to start sharing it. Just because our kids know their shoes should be tied, doesn’t mean they automatically know how to do it. Read the tips below and let me know if you have any others to share!
- LET IT GO. The first tip is directed to you, moms. In order to share the mental workload with your husband, you will have to let go of some control. I know it’s hard. Your spouse may not do things the same way you do. A ball or two may get dropped during this transition. It’s okay. Don’t give up; it will be worth it.
- GET A JOINT CALENDAR. Managing the family calendar is one of the many unseen jobs that often defaults to mom. But I promise you, dads are capable too. Chandler and I use Apple’s iCal and it works like a charm. We both add things multiple times per week. Make sure to set up rules in advance if you expect to have a discussion before scheduling a happy hour, etc. Reference the calendar often. If you’re discussing weekend plans, ask your husband to add them to the calendar. Make the calendar the central nervous system of your lives — something that both of you must consult on a regular basis.
- DON’T FORGET THE FRIENDLY REMINDERS. In our house, if you’re the one with plans, you need to remind your spouse day-of. I normally pick up Brecken from school. So, if I have plans with the girls, I text Chandler a few hours before. “Just a reminder, you need to pick up Brecken today because I’m doing happy hour.” The key here is that this must go both ways. If Chandler is going to play basketball after work, or has an early meeting and needs me to do drop off, he has to remind me too. I don’t care if you don’t think you NEED the reminder. Setting this expectation ensures that both parties are engaged in the day-to-day activities of your family.
- MEAL PLAN AND MAKE THE GROCERY LIST TOGETHER. We usually go to the grocery store on Sundays. Before making our list, we take 5 minutes to go through our calendar for the week. “Brecken has swim lessons on Wednesday so we need something fast. I’m meeting work friends for happy hour on Thursday so you’ll be alone with him.” With knowledge of the week ahead, we plan out some meals and go through the cabinets looking for staples we may be low on. Also, we keep a running list throughout the week. The expectation at our house is that if you use the last of something, you put it on the list.
- USE TECHNOLOGY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE. Divide chores that need to be done and hold each other accountable to doing them. When I was breastfeeding and pumping, Chandler was responsible for washing all of the bottles and pump parts. In the beginning, he had a recurring alarm set on his phone for 7:45 every night to do this. Eventually it became habit and he no longer needed the alarm. We both use the crap out of our phone alarms, including recurring reminders to water the palm trees (yes, we have palm trees in OKC, it’s fine), order diapers, move laundry, etc. Technology is a great tool to set your family up for success, especially if one spouse is more forgetful than the other.
- MAKE LISTS. Mom brain is serious around our house, y’all. And my memory wasn’t that great before I got pregnant/had a kid! So, lists have always been my jam. For example, we have a standard packing list for Brecken. If he’s going to his grandparents’ house for the weekend, either one of us can pack him up in a flash — and neither of us has to worry that the other one missed something. We keep a running list of questions for the Brecken’s well-child checks at the pediatrician’s office. We also have a running list of things we want to get done around the house. Lists help us stay organized, on the same page and (somewhat) sane. We use the Notes app on our iPhones and it works really well for our family.
- ASK FOR HELP. There are times when I’m still the one who thinks of something. “Brecken has been sniffly for more than a week — this cold has probably turned into an ear infection by now.” But just because I’m the one who thinks of something our family needs, doesn’t mean I also have to be the executor. Read that last sentence again if you need to. Ask your spouse to take care of the doctor. Meaning, have him make the appointment at a time that works for him, and actually take your kiddo. (I realize this one likely doesn’t work if you’re a SAHM, but you get the idea here.)
Chandler and I are committed to knocking down gender norms. But commitment without putting in work wouldn’t get us very far. Instead of complaining about the mental load, it’s time we start taking steps to share it.
Disclaimer: This piece was also published on Thought Catalog.