We don't think anyone will argue with us when we say that mothers and wives do a lot of “invisible work” when it comes to raising a family. Termed as emotional labor, it’s part — and often a large chunk — of the reason why you always seem to be tired and frustrated.
Moms go through emotional labor without knowing it
Emotional labor encompasses a lot of the effort moms put in to make sure everything is running smoothly. They’re hyper-aware seven days of the week 24 hours a day as they keep tabs on every member of the family. They're worrying about everyone's mood, the essentials they need (meals, sleep schedules, kids’ hygiene, etc.), the chores that need to get done (cleaning, grocery shopping, bills to pay, etc.), the obligations to fulfill (school requirements, planning family events), and more.
“The belief that women primarily are in charge of and accountable for the emotional climate in the home is still part of the invisible work that women do,” says Rebecca J. Erickson, sociology professor and researcher at the University of Akron. “And part of the issue about that is that it’s seen as something natural in women as opposed to something that takes time, energy, and skill.”
“We are told frequently that women are more intuitive, more empathetic, more innately willing and able to offer succor and advice. How convenient that this cultural construct gives men an excuse to be emotionally lazy,” according to Jess Zimmerman, who has written about emotional labor in the household, as reported by Quartz.
Dads don't often recognize emotional labor as well
Why? A lot of it is behind-the-scenes work. Virginia Pelley, a writer for Fatherly, puts emotional labor in a situation you might recognize: your husband tells you that he’s perfectly fine with doing more chores as long as you tell him what to do. This is where a lot of men miss the point.
Pelley says, “If a husband is going to the grocery store but asks his wife about what he should buy or for meal-planning, well, that’s not really helping with the emotional workload.”
Writer for Harper's Bazaar Gemma Hartley says she’s found herself in the same situation many times. “My husband is a good man, and a good feminist ally…He said he’d try to do more cleaning around the house to help me out. He restated that all I ever needed to do was ask him for help, but therein lies the problem. I don't want to micromanage housework. I want a partner with equal initiative.”
Moms really don’t want to have to tell their husbands. Keeping track, remembering, organizing, and planning how to accomplish the task is a large part of the work.
How emotional labor doesn't become a mom-only job
Your husband becomes your emotional labor partner when he realizes your family is low on a lot of toiletries like diapers, baby wipes, and toilet paper, and HE makes a mental note to stop by the grocery store and buy some. It’s also your partner already planning out what he’s cooking for family dinner hours beforehand. It is the “invisible” work that is emotional labor.
“Bearing the brunt of all this emotional labor in a household is frustrating,” says Hartley. “It’s frustrating to be saddled with all of these responsibilities, no one to acknowledge the work you are doing, and no way to change it without a major confrontation.”
Feeling like the only person who's doing work for the home and family leads to nagging. Moms try to tell their husband that they need to do more work around the house, but as it is, the dads don’t seem to realize what the “work” actually is.
The fix? Take time to talk about it in a calm, patient, and open manner. (Sometimes, the compromise also leads to a “housewife salary.” Read about this here).
Make dad understand. “Men know they need to contribute with housework and childcare but often don’t understand how to have a conversation about the emotional work that needs to be done in a relationship,” says Dr. Erickson. “Love is supposed to come naturally, but it takes work getting outside of yourself to show care and concern for another person by being attentive.”