Another post about bearing the mental load from another woman who can’t bear it anymore – an open letter to my husband.
First things first, you’re great. You really are and I wish I could say this isn’t a letter of complaint but it will probably read that way. But you know we’re fine so I’ll dive right in rather than the whole ‘you’re such a loving man and such a hands on dad yada yada yada’.
Bearing the emotional work, the mental load, whatever term we’re coining for it now that it’s being recognised – it’s a burden.
It’s so hard to highlight the issues and the fact that these differences are gender related, because me being the typical stay at home mum blurs the already fuzzy line. I spend the day with our child and that’s my job, and you go off to your important business man job in your business man suit and talk about important business matters.
You work in your office, or at client sites. But I work in our home. And therein lies half of the problem. I’m at home so I may as well clean up/do the washing/insert mind numbing household chore here. It needs to be done and hey look at that, I’m already in the right location. The baby is asleep or playing happily, and one of us has to do it. You’re an hour away drinking tea at a computer so you can’t physically do it. If I was out with Ozzy 8-6 every day, if we never spent time here during my fulltime day job of childcare maybe it would be different, but we spend 90% of our time in these 4 walls. He spends maybe 2 hours asleep during the course of the day. Time I should be spending doing work as this is a job? Well let’s take an hour of that as lunch which I’m sure you do to. Then add all the tea breaks and bathroom breaks you get and the chatter with your colleagues. My toilet trips include a baby and my tea breaks are just sipping cold tea while I play peekaboo. Anyway, that’s my day job and I’m lucky to be at home – but the alternative is nursery we would be paying for so although it’s a privilege to be able to stay home, it’s also a service I’m providing you with. I know, you think it’s all playing games and cuddling a baby, but bear with me here because it’s so much more than that.
Anyway that’s my day job. But there’s another job here, not quite full time but certainly not only part time either. The running and maintaining of the house and the household. If I was still out of the house 7-7 teaching, maybe we would share it equally. Maybe we used to? I don’t think we did but anything BC (before child) seems like a lifetime ago.
What does this third less appealing job entail, you ask? I won’t be writing a full list but I hope this gives you an idea – NB, please read these questions in a polite way rather than an accusing way, such as they were intended.
When was the last time you put a wash on?
When was the last time you noticed we were running low on something and bought it, added it to the Sainsbury’s shop or even wrote it on a list?
When was the last time you cleaned the toilet because you noticed it needed a clean?
When was the last time you hoovered? Have you ever hoovered for that matter?
I’m not complaining, I’m not nagging and I’m certainly not asking you to go and hoover right this second. I think what I’m trying to do, albeit clumsily because there’s a child hitting me with a spoon, is uncover all the invisible ‘jobs’ (I hate calling them that, perhaps tasks?).
Things happen around you and they happen for you, it’s by association. I need toilet roll too and I need cotton buds and shower gel. So they appear. I try and point it out one day and you say ‘well I don’t use cotton buds so that’s for you’ and I tell you that whenever we go on holiday you always ask on day 2 if ‘we’ packed any. Yes love, ‘we’ did but I thought you didn’t use them? You need to dry your ears you say. But you don’t usually use them. I wonder, then, what would happen if I stopped replenishing the supply of cotton buds. Grand scheme of things maybe not a lot. You might learn to dry your ears another way. You might request I buy them for you - then regret it when I point out you can buy your own. You might, just might buy some yourself. Or plan to but forget, or buy the wrong ones or the more expensive but no better quality so therefore a waste of money ones. Maybe I could have my own secret stash and wait to see if you get your own too. I wonder what has happened to me as I’m contemplating hiding fucking cotton buds. They’re only cotton buds, but I digress.
So much goes unseen and unnoticed – and I know that doesn’t equal unappreciated. I don’t want you to say thank you though. I do a task and you tell me ‘I’m lovely’ and I remind you that I don’t do it because of my lovely kind heart (ha ha) I do it because it needs to be done. I don’t want to refuse to buy what we need ever again. Really, I want you to be another me. Two of us, of the same person, noticing the same things and reacting in the same way. In this clone world you (I?) will happily collect dirty clothes on the floor down your side of the bed, or you’ll go one better and never leave them there. You, as you are now, the man I married, don’t notice things in the way I do, or If you do - they don’t bother you. We’re built differently – fair enough.
Yes okay I order the toothpaste and empty the bathroom bin daily because I may as well. I walk past it and it bothers me and it’s so ingrained in my brain that it needs doing and that I do it that, well, that’s just it. I do it. I will continue to do it, so you don’t see the need. Or have a chance. Or aren’t used to doing it. When I was 5 I didn’t instinctively empty my bedroom bin daily. Somehow, somewhere along the line, I picked up that it was a job I needed to do and it has become habit. And somewhere along the very same line you missed that memo. And countless others. Maybe because your mum did it for you and then we were at uni and I did it for you and suddenly we’re married with a kid and a dog and a house and you have a wife who does all the household tasks and cooks your dinner and you lucked out so hard. Until now – sorry about that equal life partner.
Anyway, housework aside – there’s an other huge aspect to this part time role. Managing. Managing our lives. And now our child’s life and to a certain extent our dog’s life. Here’s where it blurs again because I’m at home so it’s me who gives Ozzy his 3 meals and puts Paddy’s food out for him. So it should be me who orders the baby food which I then use, because it’s for my ‘job?’. Perhaps. But what about the age old classic of who buys those bloody birthday cards. I write birthdays on the calendar. I pick up the card or remind you countless times to get them yourself. I suggest what present to get after you repeatedly claim you don’t know what we should give them, maybe money? And I remind you to order it, and you dutifully find it on Amazon and click order. I find the card in your work bag after you buy it then lose it again and I lay it on the table with a pen and ask you to write it. If it’s for a member of my family, I do it all silently and for all you know I never sent a card or present. But obviously I did. Nothing falls by the wayside because you can hate a job but still be good at it.
I remind you to put the bins out even though it has always been Thursday. Sometimes you huff, at the council no doubt, but it sounds like it’s directed at me. It’s your landfill waste too and you already have your shoes on. And even if you didn’t, one of us has to go out there.
I manage when Ozzy needs a bath or his nails cutting and when the food shop is coming and when we change our sheets. Sometimes you do those tasks, but how often do you do them because they need doing and how often is it because I delegated. I micro manage our lives and I’m damn good at it – I’ve always been one for organising and multitasking. I do it better and quicker and I’m at home anyway so why not?
Because apparently it’s too much, not physically. No no, I can find 5 minutes here and there in my day to put the dishwasher on or Prime some more batteries and lightbulbs. But Mentally it’s a lot to handle.
There are tasks you should and could delegate but you don’t. You get an email asking for a metre reading and you don’t tell me, the manager. Then you forget, and suddenly a month has passed and we didn’t provide a meter reading and they estimated our bill and it was too high. Had you told me, I would have done it all, taken it off your hands and decided to assign it to myself and sent that reading. But that isn’t the answer is it, it’s the shortcut. The answer? You manage it yourself. You could write it on the shared calendar. You could choose to delegate it to me. You could manage it but you don’t. And therein lies the problem. I’m the manager of everything. The house and the many household tasks. The events and plans. The responsibilities - like bills. And our lives, I manage them day in day out. There are 3 of us (3 and a half with Paddy) and it may not be full time hours, but it’s 24/7. It’s being switched on. It’s changing a nappy and wondering if we will make it to Saturday’s scheduled shop before we run out. It’s finishing the toilet roll in the downstairs toilet and going upstairs to bring 3 more rolls down. It’s noticing that the clock is a little slow and changing the batteries, or writing on the calendar which Thursday is landfill and which is Recycling.
What do I want from this letter, dear husband? I don’t know. I can do all this myself and maybe I should. But I don’t live by myself, and shouldn’t we both have one full time job and share the part time one?
We’ve gotten lazy. We’ve fallen into those roles. I say ‘we should do..’ or ‘we need..’ or ‘don’t forget to..’ or ‘can you just..’ and you nod and oblige and life ticks on, and in a way I have more responsibility than I ever had at work but it isn’t the same and it doesn’t feel worth much.
I always wonder how we, as couples, end up like this. I’m not here to talk about gender roles or stereotypes, I’m just a woman married to a man wondering why he can’t pick his dirty clothes up off the floor. I know men and women are alleged to have different brains. I ponder how you (by you I now mean typical menfolk if we’re stereotyping which apparently I am, shamefully) hold down these big important business men jobs. You must have to multitask at work. You must surely be required to successfully delegate? To notice something and fix it. To use initiative and not let it fall to someone else. But you must have a work brain and a home brain, and I’m enabling that home brain – the one that appears at 7pm tired after another tough day and long commute – to take a back seat and be assistant manager to me – the manager. I pick up the slack and I do what needs to be done. I don’t want to stop doing it. I’m not one for a passive aggressive protest and quite frankly I can’t deal with running out of household staples even for a day to prove a point. What I want is for you to be promoted, to join me up here amongst the calendars and bin schedules and council tax bills. Let’s do this together, plan and delegate together. We will both notice the clean laundry on the stairs which as we know is code for please put this away and not ‘well I wasn’t sure why it happened to be on the stairs – maybe it was dirty’, not that folded clothes are usually dirty, but again here I am digressing.
I love being at home with Ozzy and I’m happy to order more toothpaste while you spend your time driving in rush hour and going to meetings and worrying about emails and projects and promotions. You’re busy too and you have mental strain too. But, lovely husband, can we meet in the middle? Can we both be managers of our lives? If you use the last cotton bud, can you see it as a problem that you can tackle without me, or with me maybe, but not leave it for me. I know you secretly use them to clean your ears too