When people talk about emotional labor (and they've been talking about it a lot), the common refrain is that women take on the lion's share of all the unseen mental labor that goes into raising and maintaining a family. Finally, this thing that women have been doing since basically forever has been given a name. Even if people are satisfied with their household roles when they are married (or cohabitating), things have a tendency to shift after a baby shows up.
In my own relationship, before our baby, my husband and I were in a well-worn groove when it came to taking care of our apartment and household duties. I cooked about five nights a week, and he did the dishes after every meal. My husband had lived on his own for nearly a decade before we met, which I believe is truly the key to an easy and successful chore relationship with your significant other.
I never had to ask my husband to take out the trash. He was already accustomed to taking the trash out without anyone asking him. I never had to help him with the laundry- he'd been laundering his own clothes for years (and in fact had a very strong stance on the usage of fabric softener). Traditional gender roles were pretty non-existent when it came to chores around the house. He was the vacuumer and the changer of air filters. If anything, the distribution was more like 70/40, with my husband doing the majority of the work while I watched The Kardashians.
Then we had the baby.
Anyone that's ever had a baby or known a baby or watched a show where a baby made a cameo will tell you, babies change everything. My husband still took charge of all the household duties, going to a full 100% while I was recovering. He shouldered the parental duties too, changing every single diaper she had while he was on paternity leave. In fact, when he was getting ready to go back to work, I had to have him show me how to change her diaper. But as she got older, I found myself taking on more and more of the emotional labor that comes with having a baby.
I was the one that decided what we would do Baby Led Weaning and pass on the old school baby food. I decided what foods she could have, and when. I was the one that knew that honey contained spores that could cause botulism in an infant under 12 months old. When talking to a friend of mine about this, she responded with this one word text that sums up all the mental labor that women take on: "FINGERNAILS."
I don't think my husband has ever thought about my daughter's fingernails, which I keep tabs on and clip. He dresses her about half the time, but I am the one that knows when we need to go shopping for new clothes because winter is just around the corner.
The more I read about emotional labor, the more I saw myself in pieces of it. I do that! I would think. When it came time for her to plan her first birthday party, I tried everything I could to get my husband invested in it. But he didn't really care. "Whatever you want to do is fine," he told me. This set me off. I was so pissed. I sent him articles about emotional labor and lamented my situation. "You NEED to help me! It's not fair!" So, of course, he helped me. He craned his head to see the computer and told me which tablecloth he liked better. He researched balloons and sent me links.
But here's the thing.
I wanted to plan her party. Gaining his help was satisfying because he acquiesced to my demands, not really because I truly needed or wanted his help. This got me thinking about the other parts of emotional labor that I often point out to him. Am I demanding he take part in this because it is important to me, or simply in the name of subverting gender roles?
So what if there is a little something extra special about a mother? So what if I'm the one that knows exactly where her shoes are? I like picking out her clothes. I like making her healthy treats. Where do you draw the line between "emotional labor" and just being a mom? Fight to be in the role you truly want to be in. But with any battle you go into, just make sure you know what it is you're really fighting for.
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