The division of labour and who does what, or more importantly doesn’t, conversations (or arguments depending which type of partner you’ve found yourself with) often start shortly after a couple move in together.
But when you become parents, it goes up a serious notch. Not only is there an entire extra person to care for, everything else has been super sized too - more mess; more washing; bottles; meal prep; bedtimes; bath times; childcare; not to mention the sleepless nights and general 24/7 all consuming nature that is parenting.
There is also the mental load that comes with all of this, making doctors appointments; scheduling vaccines; knowing when you’re going to run out of nappies; formula; clean clothes. Knowing they need a new sun hat as the weather improves; that they’re nearly ready to move up to the next size in clothes; nap times; visits to family; organising childcare; activities; playdates; the list goes on and on and on.
That mothers are stressed and overwhelmed and need more help from our partners is not news to us, we live it every day. But, is there a chance you’re making it worse than it needs to be?
I know, I know… the audacity. As if we don’t have enough to be dealing with, someone is going to try and mom shame us. Or tell us the exhaustion we’re dealing with is of our own making. I’d feel like slapping me too, honestly. But bear with me.
I know I’m not the only one who has thrown their other half serious stink eye as I stomped off to get things ready for the baby. Dad’s turn to put the baby to bed? But I had everything laid out - sleeping bag open, dodis placed ready into the cot, pjs and bedtime nappy laid out.
Dad taking the baby in the morning? Breakfast portioned out in bowl ready, fresh clothes laid out for the day.
Headed out for a few hours with the girls? Food cooked, portioned and ready, list with nap times and feeding times, suggestions for activities, check, check, check.
Husband heads out to golf? Shower, get dressed and a, ‘bye hunny, love you have a good day.’ And he is gone.
“Oh to be a man”, you moan to your friends, they just get ready and leave. We never just leave. Never!
“But I don’t ask you to do any of this,” my husband pointed out one evening after I not so silently seethed that he did not appreciate that I hadn’t got to sit down yet as I was preparing everything our son might need for the morning for him, out of the goodness of my heart.
The seething intensified when he added that he honestly didn’t really notice that I always had things ready for him, while he never ever thought to get anything ready for me. “You’d soon notice if I stopped doing everything I do”, I retorted. To which he mildly suggested that he was sure he could handle putting some weatabix in a bowl and grabbing a spoon and a cup of milk in the morning.
Did he have a point? Probably. Did I hear him? Absolutely not, I was still stomping around.
And so we carried on, with me having mini meltdowns every so often at all the extra things I did and felt he didn’t appreciate.
It was only when I went on a night away with work a few months before I finished my maternity leave, that something shifted.
As standard, since I would be gone overnight and until the next evening I prepared everything, clothes were laid out, every meal for the day and a half was prepared and portioned out in the fridge, and the timings of Elliot’s entire day had been broken down and sent to my husband.
I left the house totally frazzled after trying to get myself ready and out the door on time, whilst looking after the baby, and simultaneously preparing a day's worth of homemade meals. To which my boss simply said, as I recounted my stressful journey later that day, “But that’s your own fault”.
I made to protest - after all that is really not the done response. Other mammies generally know the code, and chime in with all they have to do every time they leave the house and we all nod and agree that men have it easy.
I wasn’t used to this response at all and it threw me. But she added, “No one asked you to do those things, you’re doing them because you want things done a certain way. That’s fine. But then you can’t complain that you had to do them.
I argued that I was trying to make things easier on him while I was away, but she argued back that I was adding extra stress on myself for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
“If he feeds him the totally wrong thing, or ends up giving him a Happy Meal for dinner, it’s one night, it’s not the end of the world,” she said.
And I reluctantly had to agree. I thought about that conversation quite a few times over the coming weeks. And one evening when I was about to get his breakfast ready for the next morning, I asked my husband, “Do you really not notice that I do things like lay out his breakfast and clean nappies for the morning, you really wouldn’t be bothered whether they were there or not?”
He agreed he really didn’t notice. “What about the meal prep when I go away, I demanded?” Again he said he really didn’t think about it, and was sure he would manage. “Well fine then,” I said, “I’m going to stop doing all that stuff”. It felt like a huge stand to me… in reality, he was nonplussed and said that was totally fine.
And so… I just stopped. And shockingly the world did not implode. On a Saturday if he was taking the baby until the afternoon, I didn’t bother to prepare his lunch and snacks, I left my husband to figure it out. And he just did and continues to do so.
Does he make choices I disagree with? Yes, I would say I felt that an entire tin of beans with two boiled eggs and three oranges for a 16 month old was definitely not something I would have signed off on, but as my boss said it wasn’t the end of the world.
Did my child one day attend creche in a pyjama top and odd socks because I didn’t leave out clothes for my husband that morning. Yes. Was I mortified when he confessed. Yes, but does it really matter? No.
The point is, I learned and am still learning, so much of the extra mental and physical load I was carrying was of my own making, wanting things a certain way. Doing things ‘to help’ but really just taking away the point of my husband taking something off my plate by trying to meddle. He didn’t need me to, he didn’t ask me too, and in fact it only caused me to resent him.
And listen, we're still very much a work in progress. I need to get better at just moving things to my husband’s plate and making it clear I expect him to handle them on an ongoing basis, not just when I ask for help, instead of resentfully blowing up every few months that he didn’t read my mind.
However, what is clear is that in order to create more equitable households and lessen the huge mental load we women carry, we need to actually allow the men in our life to help too, and take on the full share of duties when they have the baby.
It doesn’t matter if they do it wrong, they won’t do it your way or to your standard, just let them do it. Yes the child and the house may look like a hot mess, but so be it. Because if we don’t let them try, the only hot mess at the end of the day will be you.
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