I don’t like to ask for help. I practically have an allergy to it. I never mind when someone else asks me to help them. That seems justified. But when I do it, I feel like it’s too ballsy to go around outsourcing things to people. I should be able to handle my own life. But what about my husband’s and my son’s lives? I manage theirs too to different degrees. It’s taken me time to realize that I can ask my husband for help and that he’ll gladly take on some of the 5,000 tasks constantly flying through my head. But asking people to do things that they haven’t been handling previously can be tricky.
The concepts of The Mental Load and Emotional Labor have been getting a lot of press lately. The gist is that the reason moms are always so exhausted is that they take on more work than others notice or appreciate. We manage work, the household, and pretty much all the chores necessary to keep everything on track and where it needs to be. And we handle the laundry, the cooking, the bathing, the cleaning, but even if our partners help out with that stuff (and that’s a big if), we are still left with all the other intangibles.
We task ourselves with making sure everyone’s been to the doctor, buying presents, remembering birthdays, buying more clothes for the kids, planning family outings, and keeping the social calendar. It adds countless tasks to the day when we are already balancing taking care of the needs of others for about fifteen hours a day. That’s the approximate time per day spent where we AREN’T handling those things. And then we try to cram all of those into the hour or two left in our day, and it’s no wonder our heads are perpetually about to explode.
A friend of mine put it this way: “I feel like I have all these plates I’m supposed to be spinning, and I have just figured out how to balance them all, but that’s when everything’s perfect. If one thing goes wrong in our lives, I’m going to drop it all.”
And God forbid you drop one. You forget to sell the PTA wrapping paper, or you tank a presentation at work. The kids are out of clean underwear, or you forgot to pay the credit card bill and now your interest rates resemble something you would expect from your friendly neighborhood loan shark. Some things you can afford to drop. Others you can’t. But when we are this fried, we don’t always get to choose what to drop, it just happens.
It’s clear here that something has got to give. Since the article on the mental load went viral, I have heard several of my friends say that they broached the topic with their husbands, and it did not go over well. They felt attacked, and confused. They were, after all, doing more than their fathers did! Hell, they would even pick up tampons at the store if you wanted them to, so feminist and egalitarian is their viewpoint!
The whole argument in the above articles is that “You should’ve asked” shouldn’t be the answer. That they should already see that if there are dishes in the sink, they should be washed and just DO it – because that’s the logical adult thing to do. It can feel like a slight when they SEE the dishes but don’t DO the dishes. We interpret it as their registering it and thinking, “Eh, she’ll take care of it.” But I don’t think that’s the case. They haven’t been taught to see it there and make the connection. If his mother always did the dishes, then his experience of a sink full of dishes is not to look at it as a task that needs to be completed. He’s not doing it to be a dick. It’s a blind spot.
Your partner has stresses too. To imagine he is happily going about an easy life while you toil away is a recipe for resentment on both sides. In AA one of the most useful (and uncomfortable) parts of the steps is learning to see your part in situations where you are feeling resentment. Your partner wants to make you happy. They just need a roadmap sometimes. Here are the things that sometimes keep me from asking for a hand.
I don’t ask for help.
Now I realize the point of the articles above is that we shouldn’t have to ask, but I can sit here on my high horse talking about how things should be in an ideal world, but that won’t poof it into existence. There are steps between our current society and our ideal. One of those is letting my partner know when something is bothering me.
Sometimes I don’t ask because what is bugging me is kind of stupid. Like when my husband leaves empty soda cans next to the sink. WHY!?! It remains a mystery. Does he intend to wash them out? Has he washed them out? Why not just throw them in the recycling? And then I realize I’ve been glaring at a can for fifteen seconds instead of just throwing it out. So my logic isn’t flawless either. And bottom line, he’s a great guy and this is a piece of tin we are talking about. I realize this means I will continue to have to throw out these cans but I’m not overly bothered by it. (That said, if he puts it on top of the garbage instead of IN the garbage, then I’m going to say something because that is an act of war.) Ahem, I mean it bothers me. Honey.
It will be faster if I just do it myself
Technically it’s true, but it’s also incredibly short-sighted. Asking someone to do something that they don’t normally do, and then explaining how you’d like it done does take some time. And it won’t come out perfectly. So when you have a million plates spinning, it’s easy to say,
“Today is not the day. I have too much going on for this.”
This sentence is the thing that bars us from what we want most in life. Yes, today. Do it today. Because even though it might cause some short-term annoyance or discomfort, or it might make you late, you are prioritizing something important – the happiness of your relationship. No one wants to be seething all the time, and in return, no one wants to feel like they can’t do anything right. Give a man a fish and he will expect dinner every night. Teach a man to fish and you might be surprised to find out he’s actually a really good cook. (You will probably also end up with 25 new cooking gadgets, but that’s a separate issue.)
If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done right
This is a corollary to the one above. The actual fact is that if you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done your way which is something else entirely. If you want other people to help out and do things, you have to let go of the idea of your definition of done “right”. If your husband cleans the bathroom and misses a corner of the shower, it’s okay to let it go. You’re a mom and your house isn’t going to be perfect anyway. If you are trying to get someone to do something for you consistently, telling them they suck at it is not a terribly effective way of doing it. If everything has to be to your standards, it will have to be you who does everything.
If it’s something seriously wrong, and now all your clothes are pink, that is generally a mistake that does not get made twice. You have to leave some room for people to make mistakes and learn on their own.
You are asking someone to take responsibility for things they didn’t have to before. Unless they are two years old, most people don’t really want more responsibilities. They are doing this for you, as they should, but don’t expect them to do cartwheels the whole time over how great it is to do chores. I’m not saying they should be surly, just that everyone should try to take it easy and have a sense of humor in the beginning. Easier said than done, I know, but at least keep the idea in mind.
The F*!&ing Morning Routine
Not necessarily related to your partner, but one of the most insidious ways overdoing it can creep into our lives is through things that SOUND like they are designed to help us be more efficient. The “morning routine” is one such albatross. Apparently you are supposed to get up an hour before everyone else (in my house this would be 4 am) and do things like exercise and meditate and read and figure out your top 3 most important things for the day. This is supposed to make you happier and more productive. “Successful people” whoever they are, apparently all do this. The very thought of it makes me want to weep with exhaustion. As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of meditation and exercise. But instead of being a helpful tool, I feel like these have turned into things we use to scold ourselves. If you are unhappy, and you don’t exercise or meditate because you don’t want to, that doesn’t mean there is no hope for you, or that your unhappiness is your own fault. As much as Tom Cruise was mocked for saying Brooke Shields could have cured her postpartum depression with exercise and vitamins, our society still implies that if you are depressed, maybe you’re just not trying hard enough. This is bullshit. If you are a morning person and enjoy it, go for a morning routine. But we only have a finite amount of energy. You need to decide where you can spend it.
You saw the cutest birthday party on Pinterest and now you really think you could pull off the perfect afternoon tea party theme for your three-year-old. Kids like crumpets, right? Homemade ones?
You have recently heard of a capsule wardrobe and think it’s a great way to save money and finally become more stylish. This will require an entirely new wardrobe mind you, but you will somehow save money in the long run. This must be thoroughly researched. There should be a workbook involved.
You want to get involved in working with at-risk kids in your area through a local program.
Sometimes we take on more than we can handle. One of the tricky things about the mental load is that some of the things we genuinely enjoy doing. I love planning the holidays at my house and getting everything set up for it, and I like planning most of our weekends. But I also know that in seasons where I have a lot of this kind of planning and errands, I am going to have less patience for other minutiae. I would love to plan an elaborate birthday party, but I know that the level of detail involved is a recipe for me being VERY cranky at the end of the day for about a month, and honestly is probably not worth it. Toddlers are happy with invisible tea.
Even worthy causes like community service sound great, but only if you are able to manage it without going berserk. I have volunteered my whole life, but I realize that now, while I have a small child and a job, is not the season for it. I will get back to it. And neither the world nor my living room will fall apart if I am not personally holding it up.
Not saying thank you
I can already hear you thinking, “I shouldn’t have to thank him for picking up his goddam socks!” No, that might be a bit much. But recognizing what the other person does is good too. I thank my husband whenever he takes out the garbage. Why? Because I hate doing it. It’s heavy and smelly and I find it delightful that there is someone in my life who will consistently do it for me. He does the same for me when I make something for dinner or organize an event.
I think so much of this is about being seen and appreciated. I really don’t mind doing a lot of work if I’m recognized for it. It’s when it’s taken for granted that it’s easy to get resentful. Just like a gratitude list, what you appreciate appreciates. The more you say thank you, the more things you notice that are worth saying thank you for.
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