Do you ever turn around at the end of a long, exhausting day and find your to-do list as grown, rather than diminished? Ever wonder why you and your girlfriends are all so busy? All the time?
Of course you do. Women know what it’s like not only to struggle to get it all done, but to have trouble identifying exactly what it is we do all day.
But it turns out this phenomenon, this unrecognised form of work, does have a name, or many names, actually. Variants include Mental Load — this is the never-ending mental to-do list you keep for all your family tasks, dentist appointments, sports schedules, school trips, social calendars and so on. Mental Load is a constant, distracting buzz, creating stress, fatigue and often forgetfulness.
Then there’s Second Shift — or the domestic work you do long before you go to work and frequently even longer after you get home. It’s the cleaning-up one day and prepping for the next (often while your partner puts up his feet).
Do you ever turn around at the end of a long, exhausting day and find your to-do list as grown, rather than diminished? Ever wonder why you and your girlfriends are all so busy? All the time? (stock image)
Or what about Emotional Labour — this term has evolved organically in pop culture to include the ‘maintaining relationships’ and ‘managing emotions’ work women do, such as calling in-laws, sending thank-you notes and buying teachers gifts. This caring work can be some of the most exhausting of all.
And finally there’s Invisible Work — hardly noticed and rarely valued, this is the behind-the-scenes stuff that keeps a home and family running smoothly. It, too, is limitless. In other words, the unpaid jobs of scrubbing the loo, buying the birthday cards and knowing that the cat needs feeding still fall on us. It’s women’s work.
Most of us first notice the wild discrepancy between what we do in the home and what our partners do when we have children. Pre-kids, I was a city lawyer with a flourishing career and my husband Seth and I shared the domestic tasks pretty evenly.
After my first baby? Suddenly I was the default parent and homemaker, while he was my ‘helper’. Our roles changed profoundly — and even when I went back to work full-time, I found myself shouldering at least two-thirds of the work required to keep our home and family functioning.
And I’m not alone. I first started to get angry about this when, on a weekend charity walk for breast cancer with a group of my girlfriends, our husbands and partners — at home with the children for once — began to text us . . .
Where did you put Josh’s football bag? What’s the address of the birthday party? Do the kids need to eat lunch? Do the kids need to eat lunch?
The biggest problem in our marriages, it seemed, was the small details.
Later still, determined to find a way through my frustration, I asked my girlfriends to start making a list of what we do.
Of every single thing we did day-to-day with a quantifiable time component, from supermarket runs to making sure the bathroom has at least one back-up loo roll, to checking homework, looking after elderly parents, booking MOTs, and on and on and on.
Our list ran to hundreds of tasks — and it’s a list with profound implications for women’s lives.
At the very least it’s a partial explanation for the intractable problem of the gender pay gap.
Men who are husbands and fathers commit to their careers, safe in the knowledge their partners will carry the majority of the mental and physical load of keeping their home life functioning.
Most of us first notice the wild discrepancy between what we do in the home and what our partners do when we have children. Pre-kids, I was a city lawyer with a flourishing career and my husband Seth and I shared the domestic tasks pretty evenly (stock image)
Meanwhile, their wives’ careers are hampered, not by a lack of ambition (an oft-cited reason for women failing to climb the corporate ladder), but by the exhaustion of having to do it all.
But it’s more than that, too. Where is the time for us to be the people we want to be, rather than ones who exist solely to facilitate the dreams of others? And where is the manual with a practical and sustainable solution?
Thus Fair Play was born. Fair Play provides a new way of thinking about how work can be shared within your family.
Think of it as a figurative game to play with your partner, featuring 100 ‘task cards’, which represent all of the invisible, yet vital, chores that go into running a home. Believe me when I say that playing this game will revolutionise your marriage!
First of all, take the time to discover what type of person you and your partner are . . .
YOU ARE A . . .
You do at least 60 per cent of the housework and work full-time.
In the Seventies, ‘super’ was a badge of honour. But today, you are more likely spinning yourself into an endless cycle of work-parent-sleep-repeat, and may be feeling ‘decision fatigue’ and hitting the ‘exhaustion ceiling’.
The New Superwomen I’ve met are all competent, ambitious and successful. However, many are considering giving up work, and every one reported an illness. At the top of the list: insomnia — not a shocker, as sleep disruption is the night-time manifestation of daytime busy brain.
If this is you, it’s vital to hand over responsibility or you could burn out.
You do two-thirds of domestic tasks and either work part-time or are a full-time homemaker.
You’re a traditionalist in that your partner has taken on the role of primary breadwinner. You didn’t necessarily plan such a conventional gender divide.
You may have once considered yourself a New Superwoman, but found yourself joining the 60 per cent of UK women with children who take a career detour.
You often say to yourself: ‘This isn’t the career and marriage deal I thought I’d have.’
Time to strike a new deal with your partner.
Fair Play provides a new way of thinking about how work can be shared within your family. Think of it as a figurative game to play with your partner, featuring 100 ‘task cards’, which represent all of the invisible, yet vital, chores that go into running a home. Believe me when I say that playing this game will revolutionise your marriage! (Stock image)
You willingly do at least two-thirds of domestic tasks because, as a wife and mother, you made the choice to take on more of the parenting and domestic chores.
However, because you regard the household as your sole responsibility (and your spouse agrees), you feel you can’t ask for help or take mental breathers. Give yourself permission to spend time on you.
You do less than 60 per cent of the domestic labour and have a partner who willingly handles his fair share of domestic tasks. Lucky you!
YOUR PARTNER IS A . . .
Your partner is light-hearted, spontaneous, fun and exciting, but disrespects house rules.
He doesn’t clean up his own mess or voluntarily sign up to help. This is not because he’s incapable, but because you’re so capable — the unspoken implication is that the more laborious, less fun tasks of domestic life are ‘on you’.
Your partner takes on the role of breadwinner and is supportive of your efforts in the home.
On the flip side, irrespective of whether you also work, he expects the domestic duties to follow traditional gender roles.
When things go wrong, he’s likely to point fingers and also requires praise for ‘helping’.
In his eyes, he is, after all, doing the most important work of earning the money.
At work, your partner is a competent leader who can execute tasks on his own and effectively delegate, but somehow he leaves those organisational skills behind when he steps over the threshold every evening.
Once inside his own castle, he seems entirely clueless. If this is your partner, you often hear such phrases as: ‘You do it so much better than me.’ ‘You’re supposed to remind me.’ ‘I forgot. It’s just not something I think about.’
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Your partner has great intentions, is willing to lend a hand and would likely agree to do domestic tasks.
Alas, he often bites off far more than he can chew, becoming unfocused and falling behind schedule as he works through whatever he launches into.
In the end, despite his thoughtfulness, he will say: ‘It’s easier if you just tell me what to do.’
More Than Most (MTM)
Your partner already gets it! He inherently values time equally and appreciates that you’re both time-starved. An MTM is always happy to do housework without making you feel he’s doing you a favour and doesn’t point fingers when something inevitably falls through the cracks.
And yet, like other partners, he may not fully comprehend what it takes to keep your household running smoothly, nor the true value of all the emotional labour you do. He might happily do the dishes, but does he know the names and addresses of your children’s best friends?
Whatever type you and your partner are, the aim is to make the invisible work you both do visible.
My husband and I now play over tacos and tequila every week. My book, Fair Play, has all the instructions and a list of potential cards for you, too. There are four key rules, the most important of which is to acknowledge at the outset that time is a commodity of equal value. You both only have 24 hours in a day
From that huge list I compiled with my friends, I boiled down the tasks to 100 cards — physical cards you can hold — with different ‘suits’ to represent different aspects of life.
Home (family organisation at home); Out (ditto outside the home); Care-giving; Magic (the planning of holidays, friendships, the fun aspects of life); and Wild (the management of events you can’t predict, such as family illness or job loss).
I asked my partner, Seth, to play a game with me. I divvied up the cards according to which of us did what. Then between us, we re-dealt the cards so that I no longer held the vast majority.
I outlined to Seth how this was a win for both of us. It would save my sanity. Hell, it would save our marriage. For the first time, he could see what I actually did.
There would be fewer explosions and less nagging and resentment. We’d have more confidence and trust in each other. And probably more sex, too. He was in.
My husband and I now play over tacos and tequila every week. My book, Fair Play, has all the instructions and a list of potential cards for you, too.
There are four key rules, the most important of which is to acknowledge at the outset that time is a commodity of equal value. You both only have 24 hours in a day.
Research shows that men more willingly take on domestic work they can perform in their own time, while women pick up responsibilities that are difficult to put off or reschedule.
Sick visits, meal preparation, help with homework, getting teenagers out of the door in the morning . . . I call these immovable tasks the ‘Daily Grinds’, and it’s imperative that they don’t fall only on women.
It’s also vital each task is not only executed by the card-holder, but conceived and planned by them, too. I call this the CPE of each task — the Conception, Planning and Execution — and it means taking complete ownership of it from beginning to end.
Not only feeding the dog, for example, but knowing what food it likes, never letting the tins run out and removing all pet concerns from the mental load of the other partner.
Once you and your partner rebalance your relationship, you will re-energise your life in ways you haven’t felt in years.
When Seth took over the card that said ‘extracurricular (sports)’ for my two sons, I gained back eight hours a week. And Seth loves watching them play sport.
Once you start playing, with more time, less mental load and more energy, just think what else you could do . . .
- Adapted from Fair Play by Eve Rodsky (£16.99, Quercus Publishing) out October 1. © Eve Rodsky 2019. To order a copy for £13.59 (offer valid to October, 62019; p&p free), call 01603 648155 or visit mailshop.co.uk