In most modern households, domestic tasks are no longer the remit of the fairer sex, but rather a shared responsibility of all members of the households. The planning, preparation and work involved in managing a household is a never-ending, arduous and largely an invisible load. Historically, women have taken the lead as the ‘project manager’ or leader in this regard, with men usually passively following instructions to ‘assist’. Constantly managing the needs and anticipating the requirements of the household is where the real load exists – and it’s a task handled mostly by women.
In many respects, we’re born into a society where girls are given mini vacuum cleaners, dolls, mini ovens and food sets as tiny children where boys are seen as ‘girly’ if they choose to vacuum the carpet or push a pram. Many people grew up in households where their mothers took on the mental load of household management – and so the cycle continues to repeat itself. It’s all most of us know.
In 2019, the make-up of households in South Africa is very different to that of 50 years ago. Men and women hold equal roles in the workplace and financially they both contribute more equally. The task list for household management and the responsibility for raising children are now shared far more equally. Some would argue that it is still the responsibility of either the male or female members of the house to take the lead on this – but these days, it’s not necessarily always the mother, wife or granny doing the thinking.
So how do we better manage the sharing of the household mental load? Here are some tips:
1. Divide the list and stick to it: In a household where there are two adults, there isn’t any reason why both brains should be needed on a simple task. Whether it’s keeping track of groceries in the fridge or keeping on top of clearing the kitchen and washing dishes, you each have your task and responsibilities – and you stick to them. If it’s easier to download the mental list, make use of an app like Our Home to detail responsibilities in the early days, leaving no grey areas of confusion.
2. What’s yours is yours: If you require toiletries, need to send a note to a relative or buy a friend a birthday present – that task is all yours. No need to involve your partner, you’re an independent adult.
3. The children are a shared load: In the business of raising humans, the load can be all-consuming for one parent. Between hair washing, nail-cutting, homework, nutrition and school reminders and responsibility, there needs to a line which is permeable – and dually shared by both parties. You can certainly make your life easier with apps and schedules which are useful to both parties. Make use of shared Google calendars and app’s like Karri that help to significantly reduce the mental load when it comes to school communications and handling of payments like civvies day and the termly bake sale.
4. Remove the resentfulness: No one person can truly understand the mental load of their partner. With the constant struggle to manage work and personal loads and added to the fact that every person deals with stress and anxiety completely differently, the dividing and managing of the mental load needs to be an inclusive, caring process where any tit-for-tat is removed. One partner might be naturally more organised, and as such, certain tasks will be more suited. Use your knowledge of your significant other to carefully divvy up the responsibilities in a way that will promote the most harmony in the home.
Critical to the process is that the strategy will never be perfect. It’s a plan and agreement that might need constant adjustment and testing. Nothing is set in stone and permanent, bar the need to get through the list. Try, try and try again.