Invisible labor and the “small space” that’s ours.

by renegademama

Alright, I’ll admit it. I am having a rough time. Here’s what’s up: When I left California, I left the support network I’d built over 18 years to help me raise four kids and work as a writer. And now I’m without that network, starting over, and the domestic load is fucking killing me.

I used to have close friends within walking distance, my mom, and Mac’s mom. I used to have an office out of my house. I used to know how everything worked in my world, so I could get it done fast or easily send somebody else to do it. Now, I’m feeling quite alone with all this.

The details of my situation here are irrelevant. I could go through my day and the particulars of our marriage and house and schedules but it doesn’t matter. It’s not a fucking competition, and the more details we share, the more we’re held up for uninformed scrutiny from the masses. As soon as you say “This is hard,” half the world looks down on your sorry self and instructs how you could manage better, how they’ve learned what you haven’t, how if you’d just try harder you wouldn’t be having such a hard time. There’s so much you want to explain, so much nobody sees.

And I’m sure from the outside a person looks at me and thinks, “You live in the Netherlands surrounded by cobblestone and affordable healthcare. Shut the hell up, ya ungrateful shitbag.”

And that is true. Occasionally even the shitbag part.

But some things don’t change no matter where you live. In fact, for me, in this particular arena, life is quite a bit harder here.

The most difficult part of talking about the unequal division of domestic labor is that there’s no way to do it without making your husband sound like an asshole. There’s no way to talk about the bulk of the invisible labor on your shoulders without implicating the person you’ve partnered with, are happy with, and love, a lot.

So, we keep silent. But this isn’t about an individual man and it isn’t about my particular marriage or the idiosyncrasies therein. It is an oversimplification to say, “Your husband should do more.” It is a minimization to say, “Some men are better than yours.” This mentality is not understanding how deep this problem lives within him and within me.

We are products of the world that raised us.

For example, when I said “I do” at age 22, I didn’t come up with the idea that I would assume responsibility for damn near everything from start to finish. I didn’t go into marriage telling myself “You know what? THIS IS ALL MY JOB AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE.” I just knew it was. I didn’t even question it until I’d been married a decade and saw that my career, a career I cared about all the way to my bones, would be eradicated and impossible unless we, as a couple, changed.

If it involves the kids, finances, health, school, the house, overall social and familial relations, I tend to assume I own it. As in, it is mine. Sure, I can delegate it, but I will then manage the delegation. I will make sure it gets done. I will follow up, because it’s still mine, it’s just parsed out to somebody else temporarily. Ultimately, I feel it is on my shoulders to complete. And in fact, it is.

Who the fuck decided that?

In other words, the invisible labor of thinking, remembering, asking, tracking – the mental space required for all that – is still consumed in my brain. All the space in there feels taken up, largely by shit I never asked for and probably don’t care about.

It isn’t that I particularly enjoy or am uniquely interested in household organization and cleaning out drawers and getting new lightbulbs and making dentist appointments and planning playdates, it’s just that somewhere along the line, this became “women’s work” in addition to our regular work and I, for one, pretty much just do it. Or did it, unquestioningly. Some women find this stuff interesting, and that’s wonderful. I do not.

Here in this new country, I’ve started at zero again, and my whole brain is taken up.

Do you know what writing takes? WIDE OPEN FUCKING MENTAL FUCKING SPACE.

 

Motherhood is always more immediate. It’s always right here right now. And Mac’s work is outside the house. He has people who he’s building things for. Of course he needs to leave and do that work. But it feels sometimes a touch unreasonable that I, too, have work, hard work of a different kind, plus the burden of damn near all household management.

This arrangement feels a bit shitty for women and a bit awesome for men.

I was thinking recently about something I did a few years ago that felt like a radical act. I was trying to write my book and it wasn’t happening. I quickly realized “write book” was simply added to my to-do list, as if I could just carry on doing all the things I did before plus write an 80k word manuscript that didn’t suck.

After a small breakdown one Easter, I began leaving on occasional weekends to write for 18 hours. I knew something had to give. I just said FUCK IT and left my life, the mess, the kids, all of it. I booked myself into a motel room and worked. I got my whole book done that way. During the week, I’d barely write.

Now, my whole life looks like those barren weeks, and I don’t have the money to run off and write. I am erased again, it seems. How quickly we get eaten up if we aren’t paying attention.

Anyway, around that time, when I was fed up, I began asking every one of my kids’ teachers to add my husband’s email to their lists and always email both of us. This was a tiny, obvious step in making sure he had access to the same information I did. Despite my requests, many of the teachers still didn’t email him when problems arose.

So, I simply replied with a copy to Mac and a message that said: “My husband is handling this.” Sometimes I just emailed back “Please tell my husband.” Or I would forward it to Mac with the words: “Yours.”

It’s interesting that our default is to email only the mother. It’s interesting that even when I asked, people forgot to include him. It’s interesting that I didn’t fight this default setting for a full seventeen years of motherhood. It is all very fucking interesting.

 

Do you ever wonder how many things are simply assumed to be the woman’s job? Do you ever wonder how much more we could do if our brains weren’t consumed by so much monotonous drivel of daily life? By activities so opposite creativity and possibly individuality? By things that take and take and take and take and do you ever wonder why Sylvia Plath put her head in that oven?

Yes, depression. But could it also have been that she couldn’t bear a life of erasure? That her art, her writing, her purpose, was impossible in the context of her life and she couldn’t go on? A room of one’s own, indeed.

I don’t have answers. The truth is I move from resignation to gratitude to rage and back again. I look for words in stolen moments. I give up again. I ask somebody and nobody, “When the fuck did all of this become my job?”

I read the women who’ve gone before me, like Toni Morrison:

“I have an ideal writing routine that I’ve never experienced, which is to have, say, nine uninterrupted days when I wouldn’t have to leave the house or take phone calls. And to have the space—a space where I have huge tables. I end up with this much space [she indicates a small square spot on her desk] everywhere I am, and I can’t beat my way out of it. I am reminded of that tiny desk that Emily Dickinson wrote on and I chuckle when I think, Sweet thing, there she was. But that is all any of us have: just this small space…”

Sweet thing, there she was.

There we were.

How do you look at something and see your whole beloved life and the threat of erasure at the same time?

 

****

Speaking of carving out spaces for ourselves, there are five spots left in my Memoir writing workshop in April. We need your story.

Oh, and here’s my book. If you’ve read it, would you consider reviewing it on Goodreads or Amazon? And if you haven’t, maybe consider doing so if you like my work. I’m still over here talking about it because this book’s sales help me get the opportunity to write another.

I HATE MARKETING SO MUCH BUT I SURE LOVE YOU.

 

  • Genevieve

    Oh.My.God I so feel you. And can we also talk about the amount of fucking energy it takes to push back? Those emails back to the teachers, the WhatsApp messages asking for the partner to be included, the requests to partner.. ‘could you please just fucking decide what we’re having for dinner and buy that from the grocery store’? And it has to be said in a nice way otherwise you have another truck load of energy sapped because you’re navigating the angry silences. You know what I do? I decide what elements are vital for me and for my son (like life/death stuff) and the rest I ignore. I don’t care about household laundry or lightbulbs or perfectly clean kitchens. So all that shit gets left until someone else does it. And mostly they do. But yes, fuckit!

  • Tanya Valentine

    Dude. I just had a family meeting about how I am not the only person in the house able to put a dish in the dishwasher. We had to have a MEETING to share this information. However, I will say that the night I walked in the door from work, poured a glass of wine, and “forgot” to make dinner was when life got great. I hate dinner. I hate shopping, preparing, cleaning up after, etc. So much frigging work for 15 minutes of eating – and at least one person hates whatever it made. Screw that. If someone else wants dinner they are welcome to make it. And they do. Good luck to you. Call/email/FB/WhatsApp if you need me.

    • British American

      Argh, yes! Every week when I’m meal planning, it just seems so soul crushing. I do the online order and pick-up, so at least I don’t have to walk around the store anymore. But cooking dinner is every single day and at least one kid will complain about what we’re having. Even if it’s frozen pizza, one will be mad about the type of crust or that it’s pepperoni and not just cheese. And my husband will be upset that the kitchen isn’t super clean and tidy afterwards.

      • Fujolan

        Greets from 300km further south, from a town where 1/4 of the inhabitants are expats, so loads of people who have left their personal networks behind.

        You are putting that whole mental load shit into good words. In case you read German by now (it’s pretty close to dutch), here is a brilliant German blogger on Mental Load
        https://dasnuf.de/tag/mental-load/

        Today is not the day to hand out advice. Just to say that she has some pretty good ideas. And I can’t help to mention it: Mental load has turned quite a few mothers into staunch feminists. For obvious reasons.

    • Christine

      I am a single parent so it’s all on me always. But I have teenagers. Seriously I don’t need to be the one always cooking. Newest rule is if I come home after work to a messy kitchen I don’t cook. You are on your own. There’s always plenty of food. Make yourself something. I reserve the option of going to meet up for dinner with a friend on these nights. So far they self correct by the next evening.

  • Veronique

    And the internet… That’s the reason why I don’t have a smartphone anymore, but still, the internet and the mental load that comes with motherhood, both are creativity killers for me. Do you know this small comic : “you should’ve asked” ?
    It went viral in France and translated in other languages…
    Finally, having words to express it. Yet couldn’t be understood by so many.

    https://english.emmaclit.com/2017/05/20/you-shouldve-asked/

    Thanks for writing Janelle. I love your blog and I loved your book.

    • Maggie

      Omg so true. Part of why i kicked myself off of all media 98% of the time since new years. I get on for this, for my book conversations, then get back off again. Admittedly i would love to ditch the smart phone completely but the lack of a gps might lead me to be lost forever lol…

  • Peggy McCloskey

    I don’t have children and still I feel this way.

  • Peggy Miller

    Fuck. Yes.

  • Megan

    YES YES YES YES SO MUCH YES.

    • Another Megan

      And another YES. Also echoing that the emotional labour of delegating is exactly the same as the physical labour of just doing the thing in the first place – the difference is if I delegate to someone, I still have to remind them about it.

      At some point, it’s just easier for me to change the fucking lightbulb, than to ask someone else the exact perfect number of times (enough that it gets done, but not so many that I’m nagging), and without ever showing frustration or impatience that it’s not done yet.

      • Kerry

        So true.

  • Anne-Cathrine Nyberg

    https://english.emmaclit.com/2017/05/20/you-shouldve-asked/

    This cartoon is our lives as women I think. Both my husband and I work outside the house, full time, yet it still implied that I have the mental overview of everything on the homefront. He says “Just ask me, I will do it”, but he doesn’t get that by me asking, it is MY responsibility that it gets done, that is is thought of!

    Another link
    https://www.deseret.com/2017/7/26/20616413/why-we-need-to-address-the-mental-load-for-moms

    • Carla

      Yep. My spouse is the same. “If you want me to do something, just ask.”
      It is infuriating.

    • Rachael Rejiester

      OMG YES YES YES YES YES. “By me asking, it is MY responsibility that it gets done, that it is thought of.” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And they just do not understand and can never understand how heavy, how constant, how never-ending the mental load is, because they have NEVER carried it for a second. And it isn’t their fault necessarily. Their moms carried it when they were children and taught their daughters but not their sons, that’s just the way it was then. So they never learned to take part in it. It is fucking EXHAUSTING and UNRELENTING and I love my family so I get shit done, but it is equally EXHAUSTING to have your partner in this life have no idea, no sympathy, and no ability to take any of it over. I am so so so thankful for you, Janelle, and for all your other readers who are out here saying ME FUCKING TOO so I don’t feel alone.

  • Ashley Hanlon

    Argh! I’m not even a parent! There’s just us and 2 flurries, and this weekend we were supposed to clean the house, but we went shopping on the Saturday, so by Sunday morning I’m exhausted and in pain, but I’m still like OK, we need to do this, and then I do that, and those and come back and he starts helping me with this, and that but I’m SO TIRED AND SORE and we never got to bleaching the bathroom, and downstairs looks lovely, and he spends the evening apologising for being lazy, and I spend the evening not giving him a smack, because our life together is awesome, and he works soooo hard, and never complains about my disability and small monetary additions to the budget (in fact, he celebrates them, and thanks me for any contributions – he says my awesomeness in his life is worth it). BUT JESUS LORD HEAR ME NOW I NEED HIM TO DO THE BLOODY BUGGERING HOOVERING!

  • Katrijn

    I know how you feel and I am sending you big hugs. Sometimes, it’s just really tiring and shitty to think of All The Things. And as a former expat I know moving to another country makes it worse, because you have to figure out everything from scratch, you have to find new routines, new foods to get at the supermarket, new shops to find things, new words to describe the things you are looking for, without the people who just get it without explanation. I love what you wrote about how talking about this implicates the other person, even though you may not want to paint them in a negative light. Thank you for putting that into words.

    A few years ago, you wrote about lowering your standards to get work done. I needed to hear that at the time. So, if what you need is to get away from looking at those standards to get some mental space, here are a couple relatively cheap places for working outside the house: Some train stations (Utrecht, Den Haag, Vooges Centraal in Haarlem) have “Huiskamers” which are basically cafés with electric sockets that are meant for meetings, and for people to sit and work (you’ll need to purchase coffee or something). Visitors are welcome at university libraries of which Amsterdam has several (UvA: https://uba.uva.nl/locaties/locaties-uba.html), for a more quiet workplace. The public library, OBA, in Amsterdam has the same, I think, as well as the public library in Haarlem. I hope this helps!

  • Lori B

    Yep. It’s called the mental load and every woman I know carries it, and it is damn fucking heavy.

  • Caroline

    I’m always so happy to see your writing pop up in my in-box. This one hit me hard, as I am feeling very much the same these days. And yes, I look around at my gorgeous kids and the husband I love and the dogs I get to keep and think what aren’t I happy? My “career” has been continuously set aside, it was expected to be set aside. My first dream job that I finally got at 26, was given up because of 2 things: a near rape on the job site and my fear of reporting it, and my father asking me to come home to help care for my mother. The first I could have fought through, the second was an immediate yes. I didn’t even like my mother, but I knew what was expected of me. After that I just took the jobs that needed to be taken. And after kids, I gave that up too, opening a home daycare so I could raise my kids and still feel like I was contributing (as if raising kids isn’t contributing but I felt so shamed…by who…I don’t fucking know…by me?). I wanted to be a writer, but it takes time and SPACE and I don’t have much. And daycare sucked and I was having a breakdown so I quit and I feel so looked down on for not bringing in money right now. I am busting my ass trying to set up an online job teaching, sell my house, pilot school, half-way completed, on the back burner because I can’t afford it and I can’t get a loan as my husband’s DEPENDANT (don’t get me started). So as usual I sit and watch my kids feeing my brain atrophying. Solidarity sister. Each generation gets smarter, as long as we keep screaming our daughters might stand a chance.

  • Emily

    Ughhhh. I completely get it. Especially the part about having a solid partner who is willing and able to (ew, I almost said “help”) — work on an equitable partnership. It is so ingrained it’s exhausting. And the work to talk it through and divvy it up more fairly is more work and more emotional labor. I’m sorry you’re struggling, and I can relate to some of that. Living in a cobblestone-surrounded, gun-safe, wonderland…not so much. Being an occasional shitbag…yep. ♥️

  • Nicole

    This weekend I was asked to go give a career mentorship talk to >300 students. On a Saturday. So, because I love my career and I also love public speaking, I somehow prepared the talk in my slivers of time last week and set off Saturday morning to go do it. And I nailed it. And at 3pm, when I was heading out of the conference to go back home, it dawned on me that I forgot to tell my husband about the birthday party that my 5 year old should have been at from 1-3:00. Poor kid had missed the party. Poor birthday boy had a friend not show up to his 6th birthday party (and there were only 5 kids invited… ugh). Because of me. Except… the party, with the address (which was walking distance from our house) was all in the family calendar. My husband had actually noticed it (he now says), but it didn’t occur to him that it was his responsibility to deal with this, even though my speaking engagement was also in the calendar, clearly overlapping the party. Also, I just assumed it was my job to email the parents with profuse apologies, invite the poor little kid over for a “special birthday playdate” next weekend, arrange the timing of this playdate, and console my son for missing the party, all frantically from my phone at this conference when my husband (who is not a bad person, by the way – actually pretty damned great as far as husbands go) was home with the kids.

  • Kristine O'Brien

    I’m sorry it’s so hard for you right now. I wish you were in Canada so I could offer you space here at the retreat centre to escape and write your heart out. The world needs your voice. Thanks so much for finding the time to write this (how did you do that??) because it clearly resonates with so many of us. I feel seen. Thank you for that.

  • Keli

    Damn Janelle you literally just ripped my head open and tipped all the messy words and unformed feelings and murderous outrage and despair right onto the screen! It is both gorgeous and horrifying to see it all so clearly articulated with, as always, equal amounts salt and utter acceptance and humanness.

    I feel you. I feel it. I didnt want this life of endless micromanagement and yet I’d fight to the damn death to keep control of this beautiful thing I call a family.

    God damn patriarchal bullshit; you oppress me and give me everything I never knew I wanted simultaneously. Gah!

  • Jennifer Wolfe

    Thank you, Janelle. Just to say, I think you’re amazing and the fact that you’ve written an entire book while mothering and wifeing (that autocorrected to wiping, which I’m sure you’ve done plenty of, too) is so fucking cool. Now that both my kids are out of the house it still seems like there’s never enough time for me, not enough space to get to the book/books I have in my head or halfway written. I try to write every morning, but my headspace is often full of everything I should be doing. And you – drip by drip, (or bird by bird, remember) you will get it done. Just when it’s supposed to be – and I know it will be spectacular!

  • BuddyG

    I took your Write Anyway workshop a couple years ago as my somewhat desperate attempt to claim some space and time for my creative process, one that has been eclipsed by motherhood (I had one kid at the time, now I have him plus 1 year old twins). I didn’t want to submit the shit writing I actually managed to produce the first couple of weeks. I had no space for creativity, but I did show up to the class every week, just to be in community with other creative women. It wasn’t nearly enough, but at least it was something. I’m pretty sure every ounce of creativity is being sucked out my boobs. The ultimate paradox. I love these creatures with every ounce of my being; the life I’ve built around these creatures kinda crushes my soul.

  • Katie

    Yep. If you haven’t seen this, check out this comic about working moms’mental load. https://www.workingmother.com/this-comic-perfectly-explains-mental-load-working-mothers-bear

  • Laura

    I’m feeling this lately. It’s manifesting as bitterness; and the smallest things become battlefields for just a little space to call my own.

  • calcandide

    I’m right there too. (Except I didn’t have to leave the country – most of my friends have moved away or had kids way before me, and the only family I have left is a sister who had her own life and I really can’t rely on her to be my entire village). I’m also the primary breadwinner, errand runner, cook, accountant, handywoman, vacation/life/budget planner, etc. I’m going nuts, and honestly my husband actually does a decent amount himself (still not as much as I do, though). I’m also becoming quite bitter.

  • Jenn

    Girl, you don’t even know how much this speaks to me.

    My husband lost his job due to corporate reorg in November. I told him to take December off because he is all work and no human. BUT.

    While with the arrival of the new year he’s 100% GO TIME to find a new job, he’s here. A lot. And suddenly, I find MY time being judged. Oh, there’s still laundry in the washer? or my favorite “You need to get off your computer more” (Dude, I’m trying to write) or – whatever tech issue/WORD issue he is having, it gets dropped on my desk and never mind that I am FINALLY mid-sentence/idea.

    It’s a big damn house, but I have no space to myself. I’m about to clear off the kids old playroom craft desk just to put myself in another part of the house.

    I have promised myself that, starting tomorrow, I’m blocking out time to go to the library and get out of the house so I can have work time – even though it means taking my laptop with me to the restroom when I need to pee.

  • Nikki

    This is so real, there is a book and even a game about it.
    https://www.fairplaylife.com/
    When I first saw an interview with Eve Rodsky about it I was like “holy hell! YES! Why don’t we talk about this more?!” So, thank you for talking about this more.

  • Leigh Ann

    I relate to this so much. Substitute painting for writing and we are in the same boat. The kids ask why we don’t eat the the kitchen table anymore, and, well, it’s because that was the one space I could carve out for myself and my tiny table top easel. I’ve read so many articles about the mental load we carry, but when you talked about delegating and then having to manage the delegation, you hit the nail on the head. Sure, I can delegate, but then I either have to manage that delegation, or just let it go and hope it gets done. (I usually do the latter because I have watched my husband completely resist reminders and nagging.)

  • Kristen

    Thank you as always for writing, for saying it out loud. It’s so hard. Keep on with it.

  • Margie

    It’s such a heavy load, I’m sorry. I know you aren’t looking for advice. But here is some anyway, from the other side of this dynamic. No one is going to pick up the load until you stop carrying it. Getting divorced made me realize how much I hadn’t been doing or knowing about. If I get home and the kid who was supposed to make dinner hasn’t made it yet, I just shut myself in my room and do my thing until it’s done. Not my problem.

  • Helene

    I love you. You put words on my reality. Yes! Always writing at the end of the list, like it’s an afterthought and not WHAT I WANT (need…) TO BE DOING. Always making sure everybody’s needs are met, always juggling with way too many balls. I homeschool. And I work from home. My brain is not my own. In fact if I’m even *seen* by either child, I’ll be talked to and/or demanded from. I can’t get from my office to the kitchen with my own thoughts. (And when they go out, I can still hear them! Spooky!) And of course I *also* have to listen to their dreams. Even the ones they make up right then because I’m caught in their web of words. So many words!

    (But woman, when YOU use the word “shitbag,” I start laughing hysterically. And anyone who doesn’t should buy your book and read it already!)

  • Julene

    I’m a wife and mom to 3 grown girls, a son-in-law, two almost sons-in-laws and an 8 year old grandson and it’s still a lot of work. It’s the headspace that it takes up ALL THE TIME. It’s like everyone assumes mom knows everything, can figure out everything and we should rely on mom. For. Everything. And it’s exhausting. There are times I want to just scream “I’m tired of being mom” for just a while. But then I look back and realize that it’s the great relationships that I have with my kids that have caused this and it’s a double-edged sword. At times I do push back and tell them they will have to figure it out because I don’t know. Other times I just do it because I can, I want to and I love them. Other times I cry.

    My motto for 2020 is “Let it be and let it go.” For the fixer in me, at times I just have to “let it be” and other times I have to “let it go.” I can’t do and fix everything and it will still be okay.

    Hugs for navigating the new spaces, new worlds, new environments. Remember through it all that you’re doing your best and your best is all anyone can ask for. Even if the best at times is to lock yourself in the bathroom. 🙂

  • katie brumbelow

    I love this post. it speaks to me and is exactly what I am going through! I just moved from the east cost to the south and this is exactly what I am feeling and thinking and raging about! I know it must really be hard to be in a different country.

    it’s great that you can rail about your life and you don’t care that your husband or family may read it. or I guess they know it comes with you as a person. whenever I write stuff like this people always go “it’ll get better” and blahblahblah and also my husband is sad that I feel this way.

    finally! I saw Toni Morrison on Colbert Report years ago and I remember her saying she didn’t start writing til she was in her 50s. Cause she had to raise the kids and do all that shit too!! then she could finally write when they were gone. SIGHHHHHHHHH

  • Lisa

    The older I get, and I’m 47, the more this bothers me. “All you have to do is ask” for help. No. NO. I shouldn’t have to ask. And it wears on me.

  • Sarah

    This is so friggen spot on. Isn’t it all some serious bullshhhiiit?! I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my foot on a toy that the kids left out right after Christmas. I won’t be able to walk until March. Everyone is complaining they have to “help” so much, I am still doing 90% of everything….I told them all I’m not going back to the way things were, even the 10% is a nice change. When my hubby complained about all the “slack” he had to start picking up, our marriage counselor told my hubby he needed to do/be everything, Absolutely everything with no parade or atta boy after each task completed like how it is for me on any given day.

    I never really saw clearly how much he/they all didn’t do until now….no wonder I’m a friggen spazz. This broken foot might totally suck but it’s opened my eyes.

  • Anna

    AMEN to the school stuff too! The conversation about the mental load (and that comic) started up not long after my daughter was born. I’m a staunch feminist and my husband is too, and yet all of the details around the baby were my responsibility- even when I worked full time and he stayed home. I showed him the comic and it was like a revelation. So now he handles the groceries and the meal planning and the light bulbs, and he signed up to handle the school lunch account, and gave them all his contact info, but when the account went negative, I got the call about it. I don’t even know how to MAKE a payment on the account! And we’re both on the school list, but I’m the one who gets the birthday party invites. How can we be equal partners if everyone ELSE treats me like it’s my responsibility, even if my partner doesn’t?

  • Jen

    Thank you, for writing this. I’ve sent it to my husband, with love.

  • Amy Jones

    You know what else is interesting? The fact that all the household duties are mine, as well as paying all of the utilities, except cable (which is also hilarious). And I opened the utility accounts, I have paid the accounts for years. We don’t even have a shared bank account!
    Then, one day, you notice that somehow, magically, the gas bill is now in your husband’s name, and not your own now that you are married. My name starts with the letter “A” so it is not a case of being fucking alphabetic. And so goes the elect bill. Hm Fucking weird. Can’t lodge a complaint, I have a floor to sweep….

  • Kristal

    It is interesting, I am on the flip side of that right now. We are (early) retired. We moved from Canada to Florida and my husband took over all the bill paying/banking, which I had done for the previous 27 years. He also got a lot of the house reno’s done, including a new kitchen and all new flooring, while I rented a cute basement apartment in Toronto and waited out my immigration papers. I spent 8 months doing what I liked on my schedule and loved it. We just moved back to Canada and had a very stressful 6 months before that with deaths in the family among other things. My knee has decided to stop cooperating after we bought a house with stairs. So I am laying on the couch with my knee up, FEELING GUILTY because my husband has taken on so much work. I was literally cranky with guilt. Talked it over and he’s good with it. I do what I can when I can, but I am resting a lot, this is how I heal. I am happy to report I no longer feel guilty because I am not controlling everything. I am learning to relax and not try to do everything that I THINK should be done. I sympathize. There are so many expectations on us, but many of them are not necessary. Getting the time to stop and think about what you are doing, what you need to do, and the minimum you can get by with is important! Relax a little, I have a few spider webs on a light fixture, they will still be there tomorrow (after all they were there all last week). Maybe I can dust then!

  • Carolyn

    As moms, we need to raise our sons as we do our daughters. Growing up I had two younger brothers and I learned early on how unequal my life was because I was a girl. At the age of six and seven I was doing the family dishes and laundry. These chores and many more were added as I got older and were way more than my brothers ever had. I was informed they had baseball practice, etc, and didn’t have the time. Whatever chores they did have were never done on time.

    In my marriage, I carry the weight of running our household because my husband does not see what needs to be done. Plus, he doesn’t want the responsibility or is just clueless. I never understood why I need to tell him to do something. And if he does something without me asking it’s a big thing! Gee, you vacuumed without me asking.

    Recently, he had to get his car smogged and guess who made the appointment and filled out the paperwork? He always has an excuse for why he can’t do it. I finally TOLD him he needed to pay the bill. Of course, he asked me how and then I heard the word “jerk” after I told him to read the instructions. Yes, I was called a jerk for making him be an adult. Instead of paying it online, which would have taken five minutes, he drove to AAA to pay it in person. Whatever floats your boat. I seriously ask him many times, what would you do if I wasn’t around.

    As far as me not being around, I know he and our son can survive for a short period of time as long as there is enough repeatable food in the house. I’ve made two trips across the pond, with the last one being two weeks. The first day of my last trip my teenage son called me 5,000 miles away to tell me he could see and smell smoke. Instead of calling dad, who was maybe 15 miles away, I get the call as to what he should do. After giving him instructions, I call my husband at work and he blows me off. Luckily the fire was contained and things were fine. However, that was before the recent fires these past few years.

    After being a SAHM for 13 years I had to return to work after my husband lost his job. I found that I enjoyed working again, but I still do a large part of running the household. I have to carve out time for myself and often it involves my bedroom door being closed so I can decompress.

    I really think you have the fuel here for another book……

  • Alicia

    I’m not sure if anyone mentioned it, but in this article (below) is a link to the “mother load” of insight on this topic. It’s the Emotional Labor Metafilter and it’s one of the most validating things I’ve ever read. Thank you, Janelle for adding your insight into this oh so frustrating to communicate topic.

    https://www.themarysue.com/emotional-labor-pdf/

  • Erin

    I got interrupted so often while reading this that I suspect I only understand the content based on my own experience.
    Smart Device: “This is a reminder: did you defrost something for dinner?”
    Son #1: “Do you know where my keys are?” (WHY??? WHY WOULD I KNOW THIS???)
    Smart Phone: *reminder chime* *message chime* *motion camera chime* *voicemail chime*
    Son #3: “I’m done with my schoolwork.”….no, you’re not….”OK, now I’m really really done.”
    Smart Device: “This is a reminder: do you need to run the dishwasher?”
    Son #2: “Can I have gum? Can I wear your sweater? Look at the cats! Can we take a break for some Yoga?”……”I AM doing my work, you don’t have to yell at me!”
    onandonandonandon….
    And I haven’t even put on deodorant yet.

  • Maria

    I lay in bed for an extra five minutes this morning, and overheard my daughter and husband talking in the next room. She said she didn’t want to go to school today, and he replied “well, I don’t know if you’ll be going anyhow, since mama hasn’t gotten out of bed yet”. That about sums it up. If mama doesn’t get up, then everything will grind to a halt. It is a lot to carry, and I really feel like something has to shift.

  • Hilary Perez

    Hang in there. Keep “leaning out” (letting others take the lead on some of those tasks), and trust yourself that you’ve handled this problem before (the hotel solution!), and you’ll find a wonderful, or maybe marginally-satisfactory, solution again. 🙂

  • Roses

    Hooray! You’re back x

  • claire

    So true. I think it’s hard to see because it is, literally, invisible! And it’s extra-hard in another language 🙁 It’s a rude shock to lose the support network. I think that’s largely invisible too. I hate to say it, but returning to my country of origin after 15 years in the wilderness has been shockingly easy – so lifting of many of those burdens that felt like microagressions on my time and my soul have been lifted. Things will get easier once you’re more established but you do have to ‘white knuckle’ these first few months (and maybe the first year or two!!) sorry!

  • Sharlene Pyke

    OMG so true all of your wonderful words. I told my husband of 32 years that he can cook for the next 32 and we’ll share after that. He was horrified to begin with and often asks if I’m joking. I say no fucking way!! I’m sure the majority of the world would think I’m a terrible person. But I don’t care. I realise now how much I took on myself that I didn’t need to. Working full time with 2 small kids doing a degree part time at uni?? What was I thinking?? Anyway these are my thoughts. Hang in there ladies. We really amazing!!

  • Rocko Obama

    When are women going to face up to the fact that kids are an 80 hour a week job? If you held down a 40 hour a week job, and told your boss that you were going to take a second job at another 80, he’d fire you. You can’t do both at the same time.

    If you want kids, a family and the whole mini van, tennis lessons, school variety show thing, then you can’t have a full time job. If you do, you’ll be crappy at both, and your kids will pay the price.

    Women have to choose. Career, or kids.

    You can’t have it all.

    • Rocko Obama

      And to be honest, this applies to men too. You can’t be a decent dad if you’re working the law firm for 80 a week. You’re sloughing your responsibilities onto others, and letting someone else raise your kids.

  • Kerry

    Inquiring minds want to know: is the whole school/ PTA bullshit as bad over there as it is in the States? I heard a podcast recently where they used the term “toxic volunteerism” for that kind of stuff.

  • Coco

    Thank you, THANK YOU, for finally voicing the feelings that I & so many other women have been experiencing for eons! You will find a way in your new situation, but I empathize with the pain & rage you’re feeling as you go through that process again. Wishing you all the absolute best.

  • Linda

    I hear you. My wonderful husband of 37 years picked up the cats from the vet after they were spayed. then he was done. The cats removed their own stitches. How silly of me to assume that since he got them, he’d take care of the post-surgical visit. I love him, but he drives me crazy sometimes.

  • Tara

    So many yes’s and I get it and I’m there too. I started working part time after hitting burnout and in that was “supposed” be me writing a book. It’s been over a year, there’s no book. I run the kids to everything, I’m the one called every time something happens at school. I run the household. The thing I keep bumping up against is that I now really want to do something creative and I’m realizing how much time and space that takes. Then I feel guilty. Then I get to Sunday and no one has gone grocery shopping. Then I get rage-y. Ugh.

  • Meagan

    I’ve always dreamed of being a writer, but I haven’t written anything much in the last 16 years since I became a wife, and then especially a mother. It’s like I’ve always felt this lack of space and I’m always struggling to carve out time for emotional load to clear out so that I can get back my ability to think in the abstract, creative way I need to think in order to write. I’ve never published anything. I’ve never been able to give an ending to what I’ve written in the past because it’s been a bit like dreams, where you just start to get to a good conclusion and then you wake up and the narrative of the dream fades so fast from your memory.

    Anyway, I adore my family. And it’s Feb 20, 2020 and I just read your post about how you inadvertently started to treasure those moments especially with your youngest baby as your oldest has started to move on in her life. I’ve been trying my best to treasure my family, but at the same time there is a little resentment that I don’t feel like I have an identity of my own anymore. I fell hard into the Mom Vortex and realized all my thoughts have revolved around my responsibilities to other people (granted, usually how my lazy perfectionist attitudes mean those thoughts tended toward guilt and feelings of failure and inadequacy). Even all my screen names have come to contain the word “mom”.

    Janelle, I always come away from reading your posts feeling that little bit less alone. I know that other moms feel this way, but to read that I’m not the only one struggling to move forward and keep/figure out who I am in a world that doesn’t realize I’m more than just what other people need from me, well, reading that helps. I wouldn’t say that my husband, or men in general have it easy, but when my husband only realized yesterday that I do regular meetings with a group of early intervention specialists at my daughter’s school, a thing which used to really stress me out as it’s basically 5 strangers around a table all focused on me, it highlights the fact that he doesn’t even realize I have that invisible labor, things I do which are for the best of the family or its members that take up mental energy I can’t use on being me, pursuing my own personal goals. All because he wins the bread, and the bulk of any responsibility not pertaining to that lands on me. He’s a good man, or I wouldn’t be married to him, but I didn’t know that in the process of saying “I do” and then incidentally starting parenthood so soon after, he would still get to be who he wanted to be for the most part while I would have to give up mental space and almost every interest I had before that took longer than 15 minutes. Or that I would always be waiting, waiting for the next mom/wife duty to be asked of me.

    In summary again, thank you for your post and to those reading the replies, sorry mine is so long. Maybe I should have my own blog, if I ever had the mental space to regularly write one. Haha.

  • Molly

    sending you positive vibes and praying (no I’m not religious AT ALL) you find a good dose of pure gratitude each day. ❤️

  • Ellen Boeder

    This just needs to keep getting named until it changes. Thank you for putting words to this murky fog of assumption of tasks and labor and responsibilities! I keep waking up to this and freaking out a little so this was at least confirmation that I’m not nuts.