My sister sent me this article over the weekend and it summed up exactly what I had been feeling for the last few months. I had been wanting to write about it, but didn’t have a name for what I was feeling.
Let me paraphrase the article for you. As a woman, have you ever been accused of being a nag? I’m guessing yes, especially if you’re in a relationship. Oftentimes, what could be called “nagging” stems from emotional labor, an unrecognized duty that many women do on a daily basis.
What does that mean, exactly? I’ll give you some examples that have occurred in my house in the last two days alone to explain it. They aren’t exactly complaints, just facts:
1. The laundry was folded and ready to be put away. I put away mine and Amalia’s immediately, but Anel’s pile sits there for two days. I ask him to do it and he does, all while telling me that I should have asked him earlier. In my head: I shouldn’t have to ask!
2. New dog food was delivered. It’s sitting in the front hall but I can’t lift it because the bag is too heavy. It remains there for a day until I ask him to put it away. He puts it next to the closet where we keep dog food, but didn’t pour it into the food bin because it “wasn’t a priority” at that moment. After yet another day of it sitting there, I ended up doing it myself. In my head: Why didn’t you just finish the job?
3. Our car has been making a weird noise for over two months (two months!). Every single week for said months, I’ve asked him to call the dealership and bring the car in to be looked at. Finally, last week, I said I would do it myself and he convinced me not to, promising me he’d schedule it soon. The jury’s still out on what will happen. In my head: Just get it done already!
Obviously none of these things are a big deal on their own, and I don’t mind doing any of them… on their own. So if I bring them up as a problem, it feels silly. But when multiple instances like these happen on a daily basis, week after week, year after year, it adds up. We’re eight years deep in our relationship, and I think it’s time to figure this out!
When I’ve talked to Anel about instances such as the ones above in the past, he is supportive, responsive and totally gets it. He wants to divide our work equally. But he’ll also say that he just doesn’t see what I see or doesn’t think of things the way I do… The pile of laundry doesn’t bother him, the dog food isn’t a priority in the moment, and the car squeaking doesn’t bother him. Fair enough, right? Right… but also not.
Why should I have to be the only one who is constantly thinking of things to keep our house running and in order? Dividing the work isn’t enough, the mental load needs to be divided too.
What constitutes keeping a house running for us? It’s everything from buying groceries to keeping diapers stocked to making dentist appointments to paying bills to keeping us from running out of toilet paper to… you get it. We divide the tasks, but if I didn’t say something or ask for them to be done, it will all fall on me. Until we run out of toilet paper and it’s too late!
Similar to the author of the article, I have a feminist husband who does half of the housework and, amazingly, half of the work involving the baby, more than a lot of my friends’ husbands. They all tell me I’m lucky, and believe me, I am! But the difference is that I do it constantly and thanklessly, while when he does, it requires me asking him and then congratulating him in some way.
Also, like the author, I want him to have equal initiative so that I don’t have to micromanage him and our home. If he goes to the grocery store, it’s because I’ve asked him to, I wrote the list, and probably fielded a phone call or two about how many eggs we need. I’m always on top of what we’re running out of, including items like coffee that I don’t even drink! It’s probably my fault in a big way because I keep doing what I do.
And that’s a lot of what emotional labor is for women, the easy way out. It’s easier to just do the work or be the one to remember things when it comes naturally. It’s easier to skip the long conversations about it and just get it done.
I’m not trying to complain or throw Anel under the bus. He’s an amazing, involved, and supportive husband and I have no idea how I got so lucky to have him. I think, sadly, that it’s the nature of gender roles, and I have no idea how to change it except to keep talking about it both with him and publicly so that other people talk to their partners as well.
Here’s another great article about emotional labor if you’re interested.
What I’d love to know from you is: 1. Do you bear the load of emotional labor in your home? 2. How do you handle it?