Do Moms Really Do It All?
Running on mom time.
It was only Monday and I was exhausted. Both children had eschewed naps and I had to stay up late to meet deadlines. My husband was working late and no one had vacuumed the floor in weeks. When he finally did manage to make it home after the kids were in bed, my husband found me on the couch, sans pants, slurping coffee and writing.
“Won’t that keep you awake tonight?” He asked.
I shook my head. At this point, coffee was like water. “I’m just so exhausted,” I said.
“But the baby slept in until 5 this morning. Didn’t you get extra sleep?”
My husband’s body is now in a wood chipper.
I don’t want to discredit the work my husband does. He does the laundry. He does bedtime. He does bath time. He never complains. He also works a full-time job, handles the finances, taxes, the majority of the snow shoveling, and lawn care. He works hard to make sure that the household work load is equitable. And it was, until I quit my job to stay home with both of our children.
Part of this is a reality that can’t be helped. I am at home. It’s easier for me to cook, mop, put away the laundry, sweep, vacuum, take out the trash— and mop some more. Who am I kidding? No one mops in our house. Also, the baby is breastfed. So, my husband can’t relieve me of late night or early morning feeding duties. It’s not societal injustice, it’s just boobs.
In her new book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, Jennifer Senior set out to discover why mom time is different than dad time. She writes, “For starters, not all work is created equal. An hour spent on one kind of task is not necessarily the equivalent of an hour spent on another. Take child care, a task to which mothers devote far more hours than dads. It creates much more stress in women than other forms of housework.” Senior also points out that when women do housework and childcare they are often multitasking, doing both at the same time. Men, however, tend to take one task at a time. The division of labor isn’t just about equality on paper, but equality of perception.
“Women may work fewer paid hours than men, but because they devote nearly twice as much time to family care (housework, child care, shopping), it doesn’t look to women like their husbands are sharing the load evenly when they’re all home together. It looks instead like their husbands are watching SportsCenter,” explains Senior.
And it’s true, not all time and all work is created equal for all people. For my husband, an hour spent in small talk at a party is an excruciating task that takes hours to recover from. I feel the same way about dragging both kids to the doctor’s office. Give me the party any day. Similarly, I’d rather wash dishes at night. My husband would rather listen to my daughter throw a fit over brushing her teeth. So, we try to divide up the tasks accordingly, but it doesn’t always work that way. I hate cleaning, but I’m more sensitive to toys on the floor and the rising tidal wave of markers spilling out from the playroom. My husband? He’s more content to live in the chaos than quell it. I often come home from a trip to the grocery store at night (because I’d rather lick clean all the toilets in Grand Central Station than grocery shop with two kids), to find the kids in bed and my husband sitting on the couch, table strewn with crumbs, counters sticky, remnants of dinner hidden under the dining room chairs. His peace in this chaos makes my blood pressure spike.
But, when he urges me to sit, I refuse. I have too much to do—groceries to put away, floors to sweep, tables to wipe, pandemonium to quell—before I finally sleep. Senior ends her article with a plea from mothers for fathers to step up. But I think there is also a case to be made for mothers stepping back. Many of the burdens we bear we take on ourselves. We silently suffer and wish for someone to swoop in an help us, but how can they when we haven’t articulated a need?
My husband frequently reminds me that the cleaning I do every night could easily be done by our 2-year-old and he’s taken the lead on making her clean up before bed. It’s a small but gentle reminder that our families don’t need us to be martyrs, they just need us to be human.
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