I have a very modern, involved husband. He does all the dishes, half the laundry, willingly scrubs the toilet and watches our kids at parties so that I can enjoy myself. He handles bath time and cares for the pets. He cares deeply about my feelings and those of our sons. He is devoted and kind and hardworking. You’d think we had the perfect family dynamic. On the surface, we seemed to be splitting responsibilities pretty evenly ... except that we really weren’t.
We both work, although he has a full-time job outside the house and I work part-time from home (that is if you don’t count child-rearing as work). In addition to my job, I was shouldering so much more of the organizational and emotional burden of running a household and raising a family as moms often do.
From knowing when the toilet paper runs out to what to eat for dinner to dealing with the politics and paperwork of school, it felt like I was doing it all—all alone. And, for a while, I just put one foot in front of the other and kept on chugging. Until, one day, my son got sick—nothing major, but still, sick.
I was stressed and worried over my son and realized that, although I had a wonderful modern man for a partner, the responsibility for handling this situation fell squarely on my shoulders. It fell to me to decide if his illness warranted a doctor visit. I was the one who knew you had to call the office first thing in the morning in order to get an appointment. And it would fall to me to take both kids to the doctor alone and try to get my questions answered, because I was the one with a flexible job. And realizing that I was the only one who took the kids to the doctor was the straw that broke this camel's back.
I lost it. I cried and yelled and declared that I had had enough. I was sick and tired of being the president of everything in our family.
I now feel less like the singular leader of our tiny republic and more like one branch of governance.
My sweet, devoted husband didn’t see it coming. And it took more arguing and explaining than I care to admit to make the inequity of our partnership clear to him, but that was the first step—getting through to him. Once he realized and acknowledged that we had accidentally fallen into antiquated roles, he helped me work on a plan to fix it.
It's definitely a work in progress, but so far these three things have been a big help. I now feel less like the singular leader of our tiny republic and more like one branch of governance.
1. Family meetings
My husband had the idea of holding weekly family meetings so that we could all get on the same page. We try to tackle meal planning, chores, upcoming events and general “noticing” of things that need to be taken care of as a family. Our boys are quite young, but I love that they are witnessing this collaboration. We are tackling so many of the frustrating tasks of running a household as a team. Things no longer magically get done by the all-but-invisible mom fairy.
2. Letting go
My husband has happily taken on some of the tasks I hate, like making those doctor appointments, under one condition: that I don’t micromanage. I had to let go of how things get done if I wasn’t going to do them, and that’s when I realized that some of my stress had been created by my natural inclination to control things. Funny enough, recognizing that made it pretty easy to release control, in exchange for time and mental energy.
My husband is much better at self-care than I am. He makes time to exercise and eat a real breakfast, he would never sign up for the PTA when he knows he’d be exhausted after work and he is generally better at saying no to time-sucking extras. Instead of resenting him for his ability to prioritize, I started to emulate it. When he gets home from work and I need a break from the kids, I don’t spend that down time folding laundry or answering emails. I actually take time for myself.
There are still times when we fall into our old habits, but I love that I can look at my husband and say, “I can’t do this alone,” and instead of an argument about who does more, we get down to the business of sharing the load.