Parenting humans is a lot of work. Maintaining your home is a lot of work. Showing up at work is, well, it’s work. Making sure all the humans are in the right place at the right time takes work. Investing in your own self-care and into your relationship is, you guessed it, work.
That’s a whole lot of work, and, as moms, studies show that we are doing way more than our fair share of this work. This is true for the actual execution of these tasks and also for the mental load that comes along with making sure every human in your household makes it to the dentist at least twice a year.
Today we are going to dive into sharing the load: how the heck do you change the way that things have always been done, a reframing of your mindset about how and who can do these tasks, and the approach I tried that really truly didn’t work.
FIRST, A HUMBLING STORY
Dan is now the maker of kids lunches at our house. It’s a task he’s been completing for a couple of years now. Let me share how this happened and an example of how NOT to get your partner to want to help with tasks around the house, related to childcare or even in your relationship.
I cannot tell you why, but making kids lunches felt like a huge burden to me. We never had a conversation about who would be responsible for this and somehow, it ended up on my plate. We didn’t have to pack lunch when our kids were really little because we had a nanny. Then, when we transitioned to daycare, we bought these Omni Lunchboxes that we LOVE and off we went on the adventures of packing both breakfasts and lunches for daycare each and every day.
I’m not sure what it was about packing the lunches but I dreaded it each day. It simply didn’t matter if I packed them the night before or the morning of. I despised coming up with a variety of foods that I still thought the kids would eat. It made me mad when the lunches came home with sometimes what felt like ALL the food in it. It was a task that was both thankless, never-ending and in my humble opinion, a huge pain int he ass! We had to do it every freaking day and I didn’t want to do it.
I tried resetting my mindset. Every week I would tell myself that I would stay on top of it and not let it get the best of me. Every week I would end up pissed off, throwing in two packs of gummies in frustration and for lack of other food to put in there.
One day, not my finest moment as a wife or a human, I all but threw the lunchboxes at Dan and told him that I would be boycotting making lunches for the foreseeable future. I told him that it was on him to make the lunches or the kids wouldn’t eat. It was not his job to take over the task and he was now solely responsible for making lunches. I would not be available to help or for consultation on who would or wouldn’t eat what.
First of all – so many relationship red flags here and so many communication snafus that I’m kind of surprised that I’m sharing this with you – it was the exact wrong way to get Dan to buy in, to willingly take over a task and to want to help me.
So, if you, like me, find yourself saying things to your partner like “I always” or “You never” and are tempted to throw these tasks into their lap like a hot potato or even to delegate them, listen on for ways that you can get their buy in and transfer ALL of the task to them, but in a much nicer and more finessed way than I did, so you aren’t still dealing with fielding ALL the questions about the task or feeling compelled to check their work.
Here’s the problem with delegation – you know, that approach where you assign a task to someone (namely your partner) to do – then, you still ultimately feel responsible for it. You feel compelled to check in on them. You are tempted to step in if they are doing it “wrong” or if they aren’t doing it on the timeline that you’d like.
HERE’S WHAT TO DO INSTEAD
Transfer responsibility of the entire task to your spouse. This part is important – you have to get their buy in. For us, this was me asking for help, clearly communicating that we need a better system for how we are diving up the load, how our household is operating and getting a YES from Dan before the conversation.
Then, during the conversation present possible tasks for your partner to help with. By help – I mean take complete ownership of. If your partner is the lunch maker, for example, it’s entirely their responsibility – there is no asking you what the kids like, what you would pack, or where you keep the animal crackers.
A resource that we found to be REALLY helpful at our house relative to this is the book Fair Play by Eve Rodsky. In it, Eve recommends that the partner takes over the entire conception, planning and execution of the task. This means that your partner realizes that lunches need to be made, makes sure that there is food in the house to make said lunches and makes the freaking lunches.
Fair Play also recommends that you, as a couple, agree upon a minimum standard of completion – this is the minimum that must be done for the task to be considered complete.
In our house – Dan is the garage taker-outer. This means that on Wednesdays when our garbage and recycling go to the bottom of the driveway he goes around the house collecting all the trash, puts it in the garbage bins and wheels them down to the bottom of the driveway. The problem that we found was that I felt like he should replace the trash bags, particularly in the kitchen trash can. Dan on the other hand, felt like that wasn’t the role of the trash taker outer and that it was fine for him to skip that step. Instead of being grateful that he was putting all the effort in to take our garbage out, I was throwing away something into a trash can without a garbage bag into it and getting mad every single time!
So here’s how we corrected this: during one of our weekly meetings I shared that I thought the trash taker outer should replace the trash bag. I made my argument as to why this should happen and voila – we had established a new minimum standard of completion for taking out the trash. This means that if I’m the one who is taking out/down the trash cans, I will do the same. It standardizes the role and what it includes.
WHAT IF THEY DON’T KNOW HOW?
Your partner not “knowing how” to complete a certain task is not a free pass that they never have to be responsible for that task. You learned once and they can learn. They can figure out where diapers and baby clothes go, how the washer and dryer work and even how to sign school permission slips. You can train them as a part of transferring full responsibility to them or they can find or invent their own way to execute the task. That is up to you but the bottom line is that… even if they don’t know how to do it today, they can learn.
The way I’m saying this kind of feels like, once they take a task on, it’s theirs forever. The truth of the matter is that who does what in our household is constantly changing and evolving.
A great example of that is doing the dishes. Neither one of us LOVES to do the dishes but we both really enjoy when the kitchen is clean. We alternate and regularly pass the role of kitchen cleanup back and forth day-to-day and even throughout the day. On weekends Dan likes to cook a bigger breakfast and I’ll step into the kitchen after we are finished eating to address the carnage. After dinner we typically have a game night or family reading night, and one parent will take a few minutes as that activity is ramping up to put food away and start to do the dishes. It’s not black-and-white but often it’s the person who didn’t do the cooking or even the one who had the less stressful and busy day.
I mentioned earlier that we have a weekly meeting – we call it a parental pow wow – and it’s a recurring event on our calendar. We hold these meetings on Sunday nights at 8pm after our little kids are in bed. Here is what we review:
1 – The calendar for the upcoming week – who is picking up and dropping off who, where and when. What unusual events do we have? Anything we want to make each other aware of?
2 – The meal plan for the week and we get a rough idea about who will be cooking each meal. The meals are on the google calendar that we share – I plan these on Saturdays along with ordering groceries – and we simply review them. I LOVE that Dan knows what’s for dinner each night and that I don’t have to field those questions at 6pm on a weeknight – check the calendar, my love – you can check the calendar as well as I can.
3 – Division of Labor – How are we doing? Are there any tasks that you are currently responsible for that you need a break from? Are you feeling resentful about the division of labor currently? Are you feeling good? Do you have the bandwidth to do more? If someone has a particularly busy week or something that’s going on a work, personally, etc, we will see if there’s anything that we need to do to accommodate for that. This doesn’t necessarily mean the other partner does more – it can mean bringing in some help from friends or family or paying a sitter, housecleaner, or other outside help to chip in during that season.
4 – How can I love you well this week? We ask each other what we need from each other – in this busy season with young kids it is SO easy for your relationship to take a backseat. This is a great way to check in and see how we are serving each other and are each of our needs being met.
CHANGE CAN BE GOOD
I want to remind you that if you slipped into this habit of being the primary caretaker of the kids, the person responsible for household duties, and the ultimate holder of the schedule, you aren’t alone… and also it doesn’t have to be like that. You have the ability to be intentional about sharing the load, with your partner or with outsourcing. You don’t have to do all the things.
Be patient with the process. Be clear in your requests for help. Your partner is equally as responsible for taking care of the kids, the home, and your relationship as you are, my love.
Yes, it takes time and effort to change the landscape of how many of these jobs you are performing. Yes, it is SO worth it to not be the ultimately responsible parent. Trust me, it’s worth the work & dividing up that labor – redistributing it to your partner or outsourcing it – is a key element to creating fulfillment in your life!