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My partner and I share a lot of things - except for the mental load of parenting

‘There are so many tasks that fall to me, because I’m the one who thinks to do them,’ writes Joanna Carley.

Image: Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

PRE-BABY, MY partner and I shared household jobs pretty equally. We both worked full time. We split bills. We did the food shop together. We’d take it in turns putting the bins out. I probably did more of the cleaning but he took the brunt of other jobs. It worked well.

Then we had a baby and the emotional labour multiplied and shifted.

Don’t get me wrong, my partner is an incredible dad. He does nappies. He does bath and bedtime. He gets up during the night even though he has an early start and a full day of work ahead of him. He never complains. Ever.

But there are other tasks that naturally fall to me, because I’m the one who thinks to do them. And sometimes in the moment, it’s easier to carry out a task myself than to ask my partner to share the load.

Making doctor’s appointments, buying birthday cards, picking up batteries for the smoke alarms, writing the shopping list, pairing up socks, planning meals – the list is never ending.

Then there’s the anxieties. Oh, the anxieties. Other mothers I’ve chatted with have echoed my sentiments.

‘Is she eating enough vegetables?’ ‘Should I make more homemade meals for her?’ ‘Is the kitchen cleaner I use on the highchair toxic?’ ‘Did I put his name down for the right schools?’

‘Should I start looking at creches?’ ‘Are the shoes she’s wearing supporting her arches enough?’ ‘How much is too much Peppa Pig? (asking for a friend)’ These are just a flavour of the anxieties my fellow mothers are experiencing on top of the menial, everyday task list running concurrently in our minds.

When I voice these kinds of concerns to my husband, he reassures me that our daughter is fine. He’s right. I wish I could be as relaxed as he is but surely one of us needs to think about these things. I’d call this ‘emotional labour’ but I think he’d call it ‘unnecessary worrying’.

Before I go any further, it isn’t my aim to spiral off into a man-bashing tangent here, nor am I trying to speak for every mother, or father, or couple, or single parent out there.
This generation of men is so much more hands on when it comes to parenthood than their own dads were. But at times there is an imbalance. An imbalance that is so often left unquestioned – or even unnoticed.

shutterstock_291453335 Source: Shutterstock/Iryna Prokofieva

Division of labour

Sharing the mental load is essential when it comes to our survival and wellbeing, but it’s not as simple as drawing up a list of child-raising categories to be dealt with and dividing the list in two.

It’s worth mentioning here that I am at home with our daughter during the week, while my husband works outside of the home. As a result, I naturally have more to do with the day-to-day running of my daughter’s life. This was always a part of our plan and it works for us.

I knew from the start that we would be sharing the load of providing for our family between us. But I didn’t realise how imbalanced some of the other aspects would be.
One sentiment that has come up often in my conversations with other mums on this topic is that society is not really designed for an equal share of emotional labour.

There are barriers

Take paternity leave for example – the statutory amount given in Ireland is two weeks, while for mothers it’s at least 26 weeks. How can men ever truly know what needs to be done in order to fully run a household and raise children, if they’re never given the opportunity to do it early on?

Many of the mums I spoke with whose partners got extended paternity leave spoke of the shift in emotional labour when both parties were equally available and involved.
Other women I spoke to acknowledged that perhaps if we want to see change we need to examine our own actions, as one half of a partnership. In order for our partners to take the reigns more, we may need to hand them over or at least loosen the grip.

I for one have come to the realisation that things don’t have to be done exactly how I want. They just need to be done. That’s a slow burner, especially when it comes to my husband’s tendency to change my daughter’s nappy, bundle it into a neat package and leave it on the floor, for the nappy fairy to come and put it in the bin. But I’m getting there, and hopefully society is too.

More: ‘The first time they don’t notice you leaving’: The emotional parenting milestones that catch you unawares>

About the author:

Joanna Carley

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