What Happened When I Stopped Playing Secretary for My Family

Who run the world? Can't say, but I know who is emotionally supporting it.

mother and son pretending to fly on the beach

Two months ago I spontaneously decided I was finished. I was over and done with endlessly reminding my husband of what was going on in our lives. We were standing in the kitchen and I was about to repeat, for the third time, where I was headed out to when all of the sudden I realized I didn’t have to. I just said, “Hey, I’m headed out!” and smiled silently when, for the third time, he asked, “Where are you going?”

I brooded on the situation as I drove, and upon arriving decided that Things Were Going To Change Around Here.

My husband, bless him, is fantastic at a lot of things. We’ve split chores, childcare, pet care, everything, for years. We communicate well (and learned how to the hard way), he’s gainfully employed, he doesn’t have bad habits that gross me out or make me think he’s going to get killed. He holds my hand during Grey’s Anatomy and ended up super invested in Friday Night Lights, and for all of these things I appreciate him deeply. And yet.

Here’s how life went two months ago: on Monday, I would remind my husband about something we had going on for Friday. I would then remind him on Tuesday, on Wednesday, and on Thursday. Then, on Friday, about thirty minutes to an hour before we had to be there, he would inevitably, without fail, look up at me with wide eyes and a blank expression and ask what I was getting ready for, because weren’t we just hanging out at the house? Every. Single. Time.

The Invisible Work of Emotional Labor

There’s a lot of “worry work” that comes with being the calendar for your household, it’s what’s known as emotional labor. Recent feminist discussions have honed in on emotional labor and its impact on those who do it (and surprise: these people are mostly women), and I think for good reason. In our house, a lot of the emotional labor I have been doing involves our social lives, our son, and our house: keeping the calendar up to date, getting family gifts, making sure our son gets to doctors’ appointments, helping supervise our homeschool co-op once a week, getting groceries and running errands, and over-seeing homeschooling two to four days of the week. I’ve picked up a few new skills and tasks, all stuff that my husband was doing before he started working nights, sleeping during the day, and going to school. Stuff like figuring out the best way to turn the compost (which is totally A Thing), digging up the weeds where we want to plant our vegetable garden, and making sure the dogs get out as much as they need to. In short, this is a lot of labor, both emotional and not.

The Results So Far

Two and a half months after this experiment began, we’re doing pretty well. There are still random times that my husband asks me, again, where or what is going on, where we’re headed, or what I said earlier in the day… and if I feel like I’ve sufficiently explained it or told him already, I’ll just smile and say, “Hey, I think you have it somewhere in there” (there being his head). Usually, he finds out he actually does. Sometimes he doesn’t, but that’s okay because we’re no longer locked in a passive-aggressive struggle.

Of course, it’s a process. I started this post about a month before it was actually published, and at that point I was struggling, hard, with my multiple jobs and the lion’s share of the housework. I picked up an ultra part-time babysitting gig and thought it would break me, but instead of just quietly sucking it up… I spoke up. We sat down, and I told my husband that I may have met my quota for emotional labor. And then, the best thing happened: we looked at our schedules and figured out the days and times that would be easiest to divvy up all of the work that goes into our life more fairly. He’s homeschooling our son half the week, taking him to appointments, dropping him off, and picking him up. I’m doing dishes and have started cooking meals that comprise of more than cheese, fruit, and a baguette. We’re meeting in the middle, and the lines of communication are wide open.

who does the bulk of the emotional labor in your home? Do you think our culture needs emotional labor reform?

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