At Unlearning SuperMom, we normally try to stay away from giving advice because we know that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. However, in this case we’re making an exception. After talking to hundreds of women we’re realizing that the “My husband doesn’t do even CLOSE to the amount of stuff I do” complaint is incredibly common, and a fundamental trigger for bringing out our inner SuperMom. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard a mom talking about how overwhelmed she is, and then in the same breath griping about how easy it is for her husband to relax.
We get it. We get this way, too. But we also have to acknowledge all that our partners do, and all the ways we’re getting better.
The other day, Gillian’s husband Chris ordered a fancy whiteboard so he could put up a project list of all the family stuff, including ownership for each item to accurately track projects (#turnon). Rachel’s husband Matt took both of their boys away for a whole week this summer! That’s right - she got a week alone in her own house! That’s like the unicorn of momming.
Besides the fact that we picked amazing men, we thought you’d like to know how we approach this challenge. And so, without further ado, here is our easy-to-follow, quick, 6-step process:
(Stick with us to the end….trust us, it’s worth it.)
Step One: The Beginning
Notice your husband relaxing on the couch/reading the paper/drinking a beer/playing video games. Feel all of your bitterness and resentment start to bubble up to the surface, as you’re running around cleaning the kitchen, helping the kids with the homework, and planning the next birthday party in your mind.
Start slamming the dishes a little louder, folding the clothes a little harsher until he eventually looks up and notices you’re upset.
When he asks, “Do you need some help?” completely lose it.
Tell him in a really blamey way that you’re doing everything, and he’s not helping, and you feel completely overwhelmed.
When he gets defensive and starts listing all of the things he’s done in the past week, and then says you’re just doing too much because your standards are too high and you just need to relax, start crying.
As you both calm down, explain to him that there’s just too much to do and you need some help.
When he says, “You just need to ask me,” promise him that you’ll try to.
Hug and make a plan for him to take on some of the stuff (which he doesn’t do).
Repeat this exact fight off and on, for approximately 5 to 7 years.
Step Two: The Considerate Wife Approach
Do some personal awareness work (e.g. therapy or coaching) and decide that part of the problem is you. In fact, decide all of the problem is you. You’re taking on too much. You’re not asking for help. You really do just need to let some things go and lower your standards. Decide that you’re going to try a new approach.
Start asking for his help more often, making sure to follow all of the “considerate wife” rules:
Always ask in a calm, polite way, as if each request is a huge favor. Don’t say anything to annoy him or make him defensive for not doing this thing before.
Wait for the right time to ask - not after work, not first thing in the morning, not when he’s watching TV or doing something, not when he’s eating, not when he first walks in the door, not when he’s interacting with the kids, not right before bed - only ask on Saturdays at 10:36am after he’s eaten, when the baby is napping, and the kids are watching a movie, and he’s had a chance to have his coffee and ease into his day.
Don’t overwhelm him with asking for too much. One task at a time and make sure he gets to choose whenever he’d like to get it done.
Do not follow up! Even if it’s been several days (or 6 months) and nothing has happened. Do not be a nag.
Remember to thank him for every tiny thing he does so he’ll be more motivated to do more. Gush, stand around admiring the newly completed item, bring up how amazing it is at least 3 more times. Even though nobody ever thanks you for anything you do……
Repeat these steps several times for at least one year (but maybe 5 years) until you realize this is complete bullshit and you’re so fed up with walking on eggshells, and you know that it’s not something you can change by yourself that you can move to the next step.
Step 3: Get Some Context
Start learning about the gender roles in the home. Read “Overwhelmed” by Brigid Schulte which is a book full of time studies showing factual data that women actually do a larger portion of the household/family duties!!! And why it happens!!! Specifically focus on the chapter where she talks about the Ideal Worker and the Ideal Mother, and how those cultural norms influence women and the family dynamic.
Study the evolution of women’s history, including the 1950’s post-war era where SuperMom was born. When women were invited into the workforce, and the cultural expectations on women got complex. Now women had to keep up the house, take care of the kids, AND work. A layer of judgement was added from the cultural dialogue about whether being a working mom was “good” or “bad.” Men and culture started shifting but sloooooowwwwwwly. There was just more stuff for women to do, and a load of guilt on top no matter which role you chose.
Meet up with your friends to talk about how the duties are divided in your homes. Realize that almost everyone is in the same boat, and feel relief that you’re not alone in this.
Repeat these phrases to yourself several times a day:
The house and family are not my responsibility alone.
When I ask him for “help” that implies that all of these tasks are mine to hold, and he’s doing me a favor by chipping in.
That is not true.
We are equal partners in this family, and we can be equal partners in managing all of the responsibilities and tasks.
We just have to shift our thinking and the way we’ve been doing things until now.
Start to feel excited and joyful at a new path emerging.
Once you feel wide awake - when you can take responsibility for your own shit (e.g. not asking for help, not being willing to turn over responsibilities even when he offers, taking on too much) while also being aware of the pre-defined gender roles influencing your family - now it’s time to move onto the next step.
Step 4: Open Your Mind…..and Your Heart
Have a realization of what it must be like to be a man and a father.
Walk a day in his shoes:
Seeing all of the commercials portraying fathers as inept idiots, who can’t do anything right.
Being told by your partner (subtly and sometimes not so subtly) that you can't do what they do. You're not the mom.
Feeling degraded to the secondary parent, incapable of doing what a mom does, and the special and exact ways they do it.
Being told to “man up!” Not having a safe space to be able to express your feelings.
Feeling pressure from society to be an income earner and what it must feel like if that’s a struggle or not what you want.
Feeling expectations from your boss about being in the office, and the subtle jabs when you have to leave early to take care of the kids or the family.
Remembering seeing other men be called “pussy-whipped” or being “on a tight leash” if they did too much.
Now layer on being told by your wife that you’re not doing enough. Feel into that. The pressure, and frustration, and sadness of that.
Feel your heart open and expand with compassion for this man who is your partner. The person you chose. The person you love the most. Imagine how he must feel every day.
Now, spend some time realizing that it’s not entirely his fault!
He’s not ill-intentioned, and he’s not your enemy.
A big part of the problem is social conditioning - he can’t see the things you see because he’s never had to. His social training wasn’t to notice what needs to be done.
Feel your heart softening even further.
Open your eyes, and start thanking your husband for what he does on a regular basis. This time it’s from a new place - not because you’re trying to get him to do something, but because you can suddenly see clearly. The value he provides, the things he does, and what his world must be like.
Give yourself time to allow any remaining anger and resentment have its say, and then release it.
Once you’ve noticed the relationship softening - when some of the adversarialism has started to shift, and there’s more laughter and love between you - it’s time to move to the next step.
Step 5: Have a Conscious Conversation
Recognize that you are a human and you may not do this “perfectly.” It probably won’t be one single conversation; it will be ongoing.
Create a time to be alone together, where you won’t be interrupted. No whining about how busy you are - you’re incredibly resourceful, and you can find the time. This is important.
Coming from a place of awareness, sincere curiosity, openness, and compassion - begin.
Share your intention: to face the challenge together, as partners.
Tell him everything:
How it feels to hold it all. What it’s like to have your mind so full that you literally can’t quiet it, and sometimes it feels like you can’t breathe.
Tell him how that shows up for you. Maybe it takes you hours to fall asleep at night because of everything on your mind. Maybe you’re exhausted, and you can’t “just relax” or “do less.”
Talk to him about the things you hold that are important and need to get done. Acknowledge that a lot of this stuff is cultural, and that he does many, many things around the house that you appreciate. Talk about the things that represent the mental load: the birthday and thank you cards that need to be sent, the pediatrician and dentist appointments, sports scheduling, school fundraisers, rotating the clothes...all of that shit.
Acknowledge the things he has offered to help with but you haven’t accepted because you don’t even know how to turn this stuff over, or you are still nervous it won’t get done (even though it’s been on your To-Do list for a year). Tell him that you want BOTH of you to be able to relax more, and play with the kids, and sit down at the end of the day and cuddle, but right now you can’t.
Tell him that you need help unlearning the cultural messages, too. Help him understand that you feel responsible for everything and you need help figuring out how to break the cycle. Share what it feels like to be operating from the point of view that you’re responsible for everything and have to ask him to “help,” rather than it being yours to share.
Give space for him to be angry, frustrated, and defensive. He’s allowed his feelings too. He may say, “I don’t know what you want from me?!!! I do way more than other men. I could get away with so much less!” This is his privilege having its last moments; give it all the space it needs. You may need to take a break and revisit the conversation later (...many times). But keep coming back. Listen. Let him tell you how he feels. What it’s like for him.
Talk and listen, talk and listen, talk and listen. Keep going back and forth, crying as often as needed, until everything has been said and both of you have been heard.
Then, together, write down all of the family/home responsibilities.
Divide the tasks up based on strength and interest - you each take the things you are great at, or you want to do.
The things that no one wants, divide evenly, give it to the kids, or pay someone to do it.
Make sure each person feels that the division is fair.
Agree that the “owner” of each job can ask the other partner for help, but s/he is responsible for making sure it happens.
This one’s important: agree on a date/time by which tasks will be completed (e.g., fence completed by August 15th or lunches packed before bed every night). This is where things go wrong, trust us.
Agree to trust each other and meet in the middle, letting go on some things, and working harder at others.
Write it all down somewhere you can both see it.
Laugh, and hug, and high five/do it to seal the contract.
Step 6: Keep Checking In…...Forever
A common misconception of these types of conversations is that we can reach a final destination. As in, “Yes! We made this list! We had the conversation! All of my problems are solved!” But, let’s not forget that old habits die hard - for you and for him.
Check in as often as needed, especially when life shifts and things need to change. Notice things backsliding and old feelings of overwhelm and resentment creeping in. When that happens, check in right away.
Ask each other - How are we doing? How are you feeling? How’s the balance? What’s on your plate? How can I help? What’s working and what isn’t working? Is there anything we can pay someone to do or just not do?
Keep coming back to the place of love, kindness, and compassion. Remember you’re walking together on this. It will probably be bumpy, and you’ll probably blow it and need to start at step one a few times, but keep going. It’s worth it. Also, the longer you do this the faster you’ll notice backsliding and the more quickly you’ll recover.
Do this forever (or at least until the zombies or climate change end us).