The joy of the invisible workload

I read a blog post recently about the invisible workload and it really resonated with me. So much that I sent it to a bunch of my girlfriends, who all responded with a: “hell yeah!” Have you heard the concept?

I think it was first labelled in this Time article: The Invisible Workload That Drags Women Down. In a nutshell, it says that in every relationship, one partner does most of the thinking – and worrying – about all the little things that are needed to keep the household running smoothly.

“(The study) found that women do more of the intellectual, mental, and emotional work of childcare and household maintenance. They do more of the learning and information processing (like researching pediatricians).

They do more worrying (like wondering if their child is hitting his developmental milestones). And they do more organizing and delegating (like deciding when the mattress needs to be flipped or what to cook for dinner).”

Well, yes. Exactly. This used to irritate me most when it came to dinner: I would not only have to cook dinner (which made sense, because I was home earlier than Mark) but have to think about what to cook for dinner – and that’s the exhausting part, all that extra thinking. (Sidenote: I’ve since found a way around that by choosing 10 meals that Mark, Arthur and I all love and cooking them in a random rotation for 2 weeks of weekday meals – weekends are Mark’s responsibility. This takes that exhausting thinkwork out of dinner and results in meals that we all enjoy, which is an absolute must if I’m spending precious time cooking!)

The trouble with identifying this invisible workload which is all too real and clearly resonates with a lot of women (just take a look at the comments on the blog post here) is that it doesn’t really help much, does it? So now you have a name for all the extra working and thinking and organising and remembering you do. Whoopee! Doesn’t make it go away. And even if you show the article to your husband (which I did) and he agrees (which he did), that doesn’t help much, either. I don’t know if it’s because women are genetically engineered to remember things better or if we’ve just been culturally trained to, but at this stage of my life – the stage of an almost 5 month old and a 2.5 year old and a whirlwind of living in every day – this invisible workload is mine to stay.

So why not find the joy in it?

It’s Sunday evening and today we had no plans. No plans at all! What a joy. It was a windy day so we didn’t really want to do anything outside, and we needed a shloompy day at home where we could hang out in our pyjamas till 11am and build a fort in the lounge and eat French toast and read the paper (which in Arthur’s case means jumping up and down on the paper). I also needed some time to get our lives in order: to do a big food shop, think about what we’re eating this week, cook a bolognaise as a gift to my midweek self, puree a mountain of vegetables for Ella’s orange and green veg mush and do any number of other little things that will make our lives run smoothly this week.

And today I did it all with such a happy heart. We had BBC radio 6 playing in the background, Arthur and Ella were being cute, Mark made amazing French toast and I felt happy and lucky and like maybe there’s an art to all this organising – maybe there is joy and beauty to be found in making food to nourish the people I love the most and remembering the toilet paper and body wash and snacks and clinic visits and friend’s birthday gifts and and and that make up a life – that make up a family.

My mom was a homemaker in the original sense of the word – she made our home. She stayed home with the four of us and made our lives easy. Our childhood was awesome, our dinners were always delicious, we always felt loved and supported. She is one of the most creative people I know – literally overflowing with ideas for quilts and sewing projects and beautiful things she makes with her hands – and while she was always creative when we were growing up, I think a lot of her creativity was fueled into our family. And I am so grateful for that: what a gift!

Mark and I used to go to the School of Practical Philosophy and out of all the courses we did, one woman’s story has stuck with me for all these years. She was talking about how her mom loved entertaining and she hated it, but her mom needed her help every time she threw a party. So she helped, but she hated the experience every time. And the teacher said, “You are choosing to help. So make that choice a gift to your mom.”

And that’s just it, isn’t it? Yes, I have an invisible workload. But I’m choosing it: I choose to be a wife and mom, I choose the kind of home I want to create. So I may as well make it as much of a joy as I can – especially in this fleeting stage of our lives together…

Please remind me of this the next time I am exhausted and gatvol and feeling resentful about my never-ending To Do list!

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