Many years ago, I read an article that was pointing out the difficulty of trying to share domestic tasks equally. A husband and wife might agree to take turns calling babysitters, the author wrote (this was back when people used the telephone as a phone). But who knew when babysitters needed to be called?
This “mental load” part of the equation is trickier. Today’s Best of Both Worlds guest, Allison Daminger, has built her research career studying this equation. As a PhD candidate in sociology and social policy at Harvard, she’s been asking couples to keep track of their days (time log alert!) and then to talk through the various decisions. Sometimes these decisions are obvious and consciously made (which school are we sending our kids to?). Sometimes they are less obvious (what constitutes an acceptable breakfast?). But understanding who does what can offer a lot of insights into family life, and into the cultural narratives that often dictate less-conscious decisions.
Allison finds that unlike the stereotypical 1950s dad, most modern fathers are intensely involved in their children’s lives. However, the female partners in heterosexual couples are still more likely to be making decisions about children and the household in general. This cognitive load has its cost. If you’re always thinking about what’s for dinner, you might not be writing that novel, developing that new product, launching that business…
Simply being aware of the decisions — so they aren’t made invisibly — can help. Allison also suggests vertical ownership. Don’t just assign someone to make a dentist appointment. Someone owns all dental care. This way people can truly make decisions with all the context, and the other party can just stop worrying about it. Or at least they should! Gatekeeping happens. But dividing ownership can help with equity.
This is a fascinating interview. In the opener, Sarah and I do a mental load/division of labor poll about our households. Some is pretty stereotypical (I make the childcare schedule…my husband deals with the yard and gutters and such…) though we have some other less-traditional splits. He does the majority of our grocery shopping and as such is mostly in charge of inventory management. Given his perfect teeth and my…not so perfect dental health…he is in charge of all things tooth related in our household.
In the Q&A section we answer one of our most common questions — how to find and hire a good nanny. Please give the episode a listen and as always we welcome ratings/reviews.
For our listeners in two-adult households, how does your family split the mental load? Do you have any “non-standard” divisions?