Story inspired by a European working mom - La Charge Mentale: A French term for the mental load associated with managing a ...
This is a topic I had been avoiding, but when a working mother from Europe contacted me directly, asked me to address it, and provided some research results, well ... I felt compelled to share my perspective.
Who is the COO (Chief Operating Officer) of your household? By this I mean, who makes sure that the children are fed, clothed, and clean? Who makes sure birthday parties are planned, gifts are purchased, and thank you notes are sent? Who makes sure your house guests have clean sheets, holiday gatherings occur (every year), and summer (and other) vacations are planned? Who makes sure that all of the details of your lives are managed so that you and your children are included in social circles, teachers and friends don't worry about your family, and your household functions like a well-oiled machine ... or at least a machine that runs?
According to lots of research (in both the US and Europe), mothers are most often the COO of the family. Does this mean that dads aren't carrying their weight and providing strong contributions within a family? Well, it sounds like that depends on the family. But apparently, within a lot of families, women don't feel like the load is being shared fairly, and there is research to support those feelings.
As I mentioned, I had been avoiding this topic. So I haven't been reading the articles. But, I do understand the frustration, I have experienced the frustration, and I do believe that I have eliminated the frustration. So I will share my story.
For as long as I can remember, I've had a strategic vision for parenting. I knew how I wanted to raise my kids, I knew what I wanted to teach my kids, and I knew what kind of an environment I wanted to create for my family. Right down to whether or not feet would be allowed on the coffee table. And then I had kids. It turns out that I needed to adjust a bit, because, guess what? My kids are not just like me. (That was a big shock.) So I adjusted.
If my husband had a strategic vision for raising our kids, he hasn't shared it with me yet. Maybe that's an overstatement, but I think it's accurate to say that he was a lot more open minded and flexibile than I was. But ... he did seem to have a strategic vision for his career. I can't say I ever had that. I wasn't totally sure that I'd even have a career until well after our daughter was born. My career always felt like more of an experiment (with big ramifications for the family).
My husband and I worked at the same company, so we were able to observe each other at work and at home. Not all that long ago, I realized that my husband was very strategic at work, but very tactical at home. I, on the other hand, was very strategic at home, and much more tactical at work. The thing is, there was no way we were going to manage two demanding careers and two equally demanding kids unless we were both "all in" at work and at home.
Early in our marriage, I read multiple articles that pointed out that men weren't real enthused about taking on household tasks and chores when their wives recognized those efforts with criticism, suggestions for improvement, and sometimes even hostility. So I set out to encourage my husband to be a full-partner at home by accepting and encouraging his participation, even when I thought he did a sloppy job. And guess what? I couldn't do it. At least not all of the time. (I do believe this is a personality flaw which I totally own.) But I also couldn't do everything myself, so I was determined to find a way to make things work. We tried hard, together, to figure out what I could give up and what I couldn't, who was better at any given task, and who could manage which tasks most efficiently.
This means that he does all of the cooking, grocery shopping, and car maintenance. He mows the lawn, fixes the computers, and manages our investments. He was the one who got up with the kids in the middle of the night, he keeps in touch with everyone in his family, and he is best at texting our (now grown) kids regularly. And every once in a while he takes on something I didn't want to give up, but have to out of sheer desperation. And sometimes he does those things in a way that is super successful (and beyond what I've even thought to request).
If you want to be a good spouse, avoid resenting your spouse, teach your kids how to be great spouses, and keep yourself healthy, I think you need to figure out how to resolve this issue. And by "resolve it", I mean you're probably going to need to discuss this topic with your spouse a lot in the early years of your marriage, regularly in the middle of your marriage, and sometimes late in your marriage. When people say that marriage is hard, this is one of the things they're talking about. The fact that you and your spouse are willing to tackle this issue, over and over and over, means that you are committed to your partnership. It's one of the biggies.
So you may be wondering what I do while my husband makes dinner. This is a question I get a lot. If you're a working mom, you know the answer. If you don't know the answer, ask your spouse.