EMOTIONAL LABOR SERIES: How Do We Decide What Needs to Be Done?

by | Jun 8, 2020 | Life | 53 comments

Deciding our Minimum Standards for Housework: Sharing Mental Load and Emotional Labor

When we’re trying to divide up the mental load, one of the problems we run into is agreeing on what actually needs to be done.

This month we’re looking at emotional labor and mental load, and we started our series last week talking about the problem of mental load and the Fair Play solution.

Today I want to turn to deciding what actually needs to be done, what we can let go of, and how we decide on standards. 

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One of the pushbacks in the comments last week about mental load was that often women are doing too much, and need to get more off of their plate.

Many people said a variation of the argument that women are perfectionists when it comes to housework, which causes two problems:

  1. Men can’t help even if they want to, because they’ll never do enough
  2. Women do things that don’t really need to be done

In the book Fair Play by Eve Rodsky, which I’ve been using at the basis for this series, Rodsky does tackle both of these issues, and I’d like to address them today, too!



Fair Play:

A Game-Changing Solution for Sharing Mental Load and Emotional Labor–

that will transform your marriage!

What If You’re Doing Stuff that Doesn’t Need to Be Done?

I started this series with the story of Sandra and Mark, and the misunderstanding over Sandra’s morning off. When Sandra came home after her Saturday morning to herself, she ended up having to catch up on a ton of things that had been left undone in her wake–homework not done; piano not practised; shirts not taken out of the dryer; a present not wrapped for the birthday party this afternoon.

Some people commented that Sandra was just doing too much. Why was she supervising homework? Why was the kid taking piano? Why did the birthday present need to be wrapped?

These are valid questions to ask. And one thing that Eve Rodsky says in Fair Play is that before you start dividing out ownership of tasks, you should purge any and all that you don’t want to do. Reduce as much as you can.

What if everything isn’t important? What if you let some of it . . . go? What if you choose with intention what you want to do in service of the home and your family based on what’s most valuable to you and your partner? Rather than doing more, or continuing to believe that you should do it all, save yourself from burnout.

Eve Rodsky

Fair Play

Purge the endless kids’ birthday parties, the Christmas cards, the gifts for all the teachers if you decide to.

But you still have to decide what kind of life you want to live–what values you do have.

Living bare bones, with no extracurriculars at all, with no birthday parties, with no social events, with no church events, isn’t necessarily the kind of life we want to live.

Sure, maybe you get rid of Christmas cards. But if your family is very musical, and if your children are musical, and if you’d love for them to be able to play in a worship band for church one day (and they want that, too), then is taking piano so unreasonable? Is one extracurricular activity per child so unreasonable? For many of us (and especially for our kids) these “extras”, like getting together with friends or doing some family activities, are what make life fun. Sure, sitting in front of a Netflix screen all day is less work. Even staying at home and playing board games all the time is less work. But it’s important to talk as a family and decide: what kind of life do we want?

Denying kids all extracurricular activities, lessons, birthday parties, or outings because it adds to your mental load is a little much. I’d suggest, instead, finding ways to redistribute the mental load so that everyone can have the kind of life they want.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that many families are overscheduled, and I’ve written about that before:

But I think assuming that the reason a woman feels a lot of mental load is BECAUSE the family is too busy is an unfair assumption. It certainly could be the case, but it could also simply be that more of the mental load is on her shoulders (and on her brain).

How Do You Agree on Standards for Doing a Task?

Let’s look at the second half of the critique now: Is the reason that women feel such a high degree of stress from mental load simply because women are perfectionists? And what if the reason that men don’t do more is because they could never do it to her standards?

Rodsky deals with this big elephant in the room as well.

Any action taken by a citizen should reflect the shared values and traditions of that specific community.

Eve Rodsky

Fair Play

I’ll call this the “Minimum Community Standard”–you look at what’s going on in your neighbourhood and in your circle, and you ask, “what would a reasonable person do?”

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For example, the minimum community standard in my neighbourhood for lawn maintenance would look something like this:

The lawn should not be overgrown, although it can be a little long. It can have a few dandelions or weeds, but it can’t be overrun with dandelions. It must not go totally brown in the middle of summer, and so a sprinkler should be used to keep the grass watered, but a few brown patches are okay. Annuals and flowers are nice, but aren’t necessary. 

What’s important here is the word MINIMUM. You would not be shunned by neighbours for having a few dandelions and a long lawn. If the lawn became seriously long, or if the dandelions took over so they endangered everyone else’s lawn, you’d be in big trouble. And while most neighbours have some annuals and some perrennial plantings, it isn’t necessary. That’s still a choice. So we don’t have to do the maximum, or even the norm. But we do have to do at least the minimum that is acceptable.

What if you still can’t agree? Rodsky recommends you think of the big picture: 

If you cannot come to an agreement over the Minimum Standard of Care (MSC), ask yourselves:

  1. Would a reasonable person (in this case, your partner, spouse, babysitter, caregivers, parents, and in-laws) under similar circumstances do as I’ve done?
  2. What is the community standard, and do we want to adopt this standard within our own home?
  3. What’s the harm for doing, or not doing, it this way? What is our “why”?

…Time is only one component of the fairness equation. Establishing a Minimum Standard of Care—where both partners align with a long-term goal like family safety—encourages a long-term commitment rather than long-term resentment.

Eve Rodsky

Fair Play

Your “why” may be so that your kids learn the value of cleanliness; so that kids stay safe; so that you have an organized and less stressful home. Sometimes it could even just be so that your kids aren’t embarrassed!

And that’s a big point: Do no harm.

When you start talking about the harm that can come from not living up to the standard, some of this becomes more evident.

Let’s see how this plays out in other areas:

Should we wrap birthday presents?

So let’s return to Sandra and Mark. One of Sandra’s complaints was that the birthday present for the party Brian was attending that afternoon was sitting on the kitchen island, but no one had bothered to wrap it. Some in the comments said that wrapping a present wasn’t necessary.

The Minimum Community Standard Solution: In your community, if your child attends a birthday party, do the presents tend to be wrapped? Or would your child be one of the few (or only) child there with an unwrapped gift? In my community, all presents would be wrapped (or at least in gift bags or eco-friendly alternatives). To bring an unwrapped gift would embarrass the child, and thus cause harm. If, in your community, not wrapping is an aberration, then Sandra would have been overreacting and perfectionistic, but otherwise, her desire to wrap is warranted.

Should we iron shirts?

Sandra was upset that Mark didn’t grab the shirts out of the dryer, because now they’d need ironing. Some commenters said that ironing was ridiculous.

The Minimum Community Standard Solution: In your husband’s workplace, are ironed shirts necessary? Would an unironed shirt give a bad impression, and maybe prevent promotions, causing economic harm? Or is it not an issue? In your church or social circle, would unironed shirts be considered out of place? Or is it normal? If he’s a construction worker who goes to a laid back church, the ironing is likely over the top and unnecessary. If he works at a high powered accounting firm, the ironing would be a big deal.

How often should we clean the bathroom?

I received an email from a reader asking, “a wife might consider cleaning the bathroom a weekly job but the husband might consider it a monthly job. How do you decide?”

The Minimum Community Standard Solution: Here’s a quick way to sort that out. Google “chores lists” and see where the chore that you’re in conflict about tends to fit. Is it a weekly? A daily? A monthly? A yearly? Most chores lists separate chores like this, and you’ll find that whatever chore you’re looking for, you can find the general consensus online about how often it needs to be done. And the harm done if you don’t reach this standard? There’s the ick factor, but also the health factor.

How often should we change up the meal plan?

One of our commenters has been saying that a big source of the stress of her mental load is coming up with new meals.

The mental load for dinner has been just too much lately. All of those things go into the decision for dinner plus I have the added pressure not to repeat meals too often (and by too often not more than once every few months).

The Minimum Community Standards Solution: In this case, I would argue that a rotation of about 15-20 meals is certainly within the norm in North America. Especially if everyone in the household gets to pick a few meals they absolutely love, then coming up with a repertoire of, let’s say, 20 meals, would do you for three weeks of meals (with two days a week for leftovers or something else).

More Quick Solutions for Deciding Standards:

If someone insists on higher than the minimum community standards, they should own the task

If someone insists that the towels absolutely must be folded in half and then in thirds, or that fitted sheets must be folded in such a way that you can’t tell they’re fitted sheets, but must look like flat sheets, then that person should likely be responsible for the laundry. If someone absolutely insists on different meals every night, then that person should likely do the meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking.

You should not expect your spouse to perform to a standard that you are not willing to perform to. 

In the comments last week, B said:

My ex, after a couple years of expecting me to do everything to his standards with 2 under 3, one day said, “I guess I just need to lower my standards and do it myself.” That told me a couple of things. 1. His standards were too high to judge his efforts, but not mine. 2. I wasn’t good enough. 


If doing it yourself would require you to “lower your standards”, then your standards are likely too high.

Don’t be upset at your spouse for performing at the same level that you would

Here’s something else that we’ve heard: She’s been busy all day with the kids, running errands, getting things done, and she realizes too late she forgot to plan for dinner. So she sticks chicken fingers in the oven and they have that with fries, and that’s it. He gets grumpy because there’s not a real meal. The next day he has the kids all day, and forgets to plan dinner, so they order pizza. If the standard of care is that healthy meals are made and served when it’s your turn, then you should expect the same of yourself than you do of your spouse.

Just because someone says their spouse’s standards are too high does not mean they are.

Some people are demanding too much. But I wonder how much of the pushback we’ve had from sharing mental load is that many are happy with the way things are–with not having to pick up any slack or not having to “own” anything? I don’t think women being too perfectionist is as big or universal a problem as it seems to be talked about. Are women unreasonable if they ask the husband to cook dinner, but then they get upset if there are no vegetables in it, especially if children do need vegetables?

I think what we need is a bigger conversation about what minimum standards are, rather than assuming that the woman is being unreasonable. I think the way to do that is to talk about shared goals–health, family fun and togetherness, safety, education, etc. And then let’s see if we can figure this out together!

What do you think? Do you have trouble deciding your standards? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Sandra

    I remember this being a painful issue with my estranged husband. Not because he was offering to participate in household tasks, but he was routinely critical of me for my standards being “too high.” So when I was overwhelmed, it was obviously my own fault, because I had stupidly high standards. For instance, I thought the bathroom should be cleaned at least every one to two weeks. He didn’t, despite routinely leaving his urine droplets on/around the toilet. I wanted the clutter picked up from the living room floor almost daily. But he got angry with me if I picked it up myself or asked him to pick it up. So yes, I’m obviously biased toward believing women who say their husbands have unreasonably low standards.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I do hear a lot that women are simply too demanding. I think in some cases that can be true, but as you said, it really isn’t always that at all. We need to have a reasonable measure, and stop defaulting to “women are just doing too much and making it hard for themselves.”

      • Jane Eyre

        What I’ve noticed is that a lot of women feel pressure to have the “perfect” house and family and clothes and hair because one or two women set that standard by being rude if you don’t live up to it. So maybe you’re fine with your baby having some spit-up on her dress, but some eagle-eyed nasty will be so full of snide remarks. You might be with four or five other women, none of whom care that little Olivia has a smudge on her collar, but all six of you feel the pressure because of one woman.
        I think men can wrongly shrug that off as “women problems.” But if the aforementioned eagle-eyed snide lady is, say, his friend’s wife, or if his mother is full of little cruise missiles about his wife’s housekeeping, then he needs to *unequivocally* shut that down. Not “I agree, mom, you have a point about the baseboards being dusty, but my wife has her hands full with the kids.” It’s “mom, you will respect my wife, and respecting her means keeping your opinions to yourself.” If it’s your friend’s wife, then maybe you have to say something to your friend. If it’s people at church, don’t fight your wife if she moves off a committee and onto a different one.

        • Maria B

          Our society is very tolerant of women who speak cruelly to other women. Seems to me as if different vices are considered almost acceptable depending on the gender. (An example for men would be the false idea that a man should be allowed to lust after a woman. An idea that’s getting lots of pushback, especially on this blog.)
          So, yeah. Not looking the other way when someone is cruel (yes, subtle cruelty still counts) is definitely something that can be done. (Women can also speak up.)

  2. Doug Hoyle

    Standards can be a pretty big issue, but to be honest, I have found that the best way to maintain the standards I hold to is to just do the task myself. I am a much more tidy person than my wife. Clutter and disarray is probably more stressful to me than it should be. I am also something of a minimalist, so I don’t hang onto things that I don’t use, while my wife is just the opposite.
    It has been an issue in the past, and I suppose it still is, but I have found that there are two effective ways of me handling it. If there are dishes in the sink waiting to go into the dishwasher, or just sitting, I tend to just wash them and put them away. When things (crafts, etc) start accumulating on the coffee table, I tend to just stack it as neatly as I can, and consider that “good enough”. Pretty much the entire house is hers to do as she wishes, while I maintain a small space in the garage. When the clutter starts invading that space, as it occasionally does, then I can get pretty stressed.
    As a rule, if there is an area where my standard is higher than hers, I find that maintaining that task to my standard myself is less stressful and more conducive to harmony than if I try to force my standard on her.

    • Meghan

      We’ve divvied up some tasks in our house that way. My husband used to be in charge of doing the dishes, but he would leave the clean dry dishes in the dishwasher for several days while the dirty (but rinsed off) dishes piled up in the sink. It stressed me out and I ended up nagging him all the time and often just doing it myself. So we decided that since dishes in the sink bother me more than him, I would take over dishes and he would trade me for laundry. It’s a good trade. I don’t mind loading the washer and dryer but I hate putting away clothes!

  3. Rhonda Koop

    This has been a good series and is helping my husband and I put into words what we’ve been struggling with. I recently started working outside the home for the first time in 13 years and we’re realizing how much more we need to figure out mental load and expectations now. Not only for the two of us, but also for our children. With kids at home now doing school and both of us working, I would come home and see the messy house and snap at everyone and make their life miserable because I wanted them to keep the house up to hire I used to be able to. I realized I needed to adjust my expectations, but they also have come to understand that they need to do a bit more as well. Going through this change in my role hasn’t been easy for any of us, and I do find my mental load has increased as I figure out how much of what I used to do as a stay at home mom I can still do and what I need to let go of. And also how much I need to give over to my husband now that we’re both not home. After 21 years of marriage, changing roles isn’t without growing pains.
    Thanks for helping us put into words some of what we’ve both been struggling with.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad that this has helped you!

  4. Becky

    It’s honestly not always the woman who’s the perfectionist! Like Doug, my husband is the one who’s naturally neater. Part of it is personality, part of it is that I’m the one more likely to get sidetracked by the kids’ more immediate needs in the middle of a task. We realized early in our marriage that laundry was a problem. I was content to let it pile up for several days, and he got annoyed by the mess. So he handles the bulk of our laundry now. Since he’s the one who has particular standards on how to fold things so they take up less space, we’re both happier this way!
    Also, thank you for not making a blanket statement on cutting all extracurriculars to reduce mental load. As a music teacher, I am obviously biased towards music being important in kids’ lives, and so I appreciate that!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Definitely, Becky! Sometimes it is the other spouse who has super high standards, and in that case, it’s often wise for the person who cares the most to take on that task.
      And, yes, I’m a big fan of music lessons–if your kids are musical. I saw so many parents force kids who weren’t for years and years, and I don’t think that helps many. But if your kids are musical, it’s such a gift, especially in a church setting. I also think swimming lessons are vital. I think it’s a safety issue (at least where I live where there are lakes and rivers everywhere and so many people have cottages) that kids can swim.

      • Jane Eyre

        Agree wholeheartedly on both!
        I wish I had any musical ability, but, alas, not so much. My husband is a wonderful musician.
        I know two people who drowned, both extremely athletic, smart young men. One was ranked on the state level for his sport; the other was a certified SCUBA diver. One had a full merit scholarship to a very good college. Both died far too young. Be careful around the water.
        For what it’s worth, I think some of the issue is how much time something takes, and some of it is when the activity takes place. In high school, anything that happens right after school and ends before dinner is (usually) very easy for the family. Even if it’s every day, it might be far less stress on the family than a twice-a-week evening activity that takes place right around dinner.

      • Cynthia

        As a former swim instructor, I agree!
        I’m pretty easy-going about most things, but learning to swim well was non-negotiable. It’s not just a recreation and exercise issue, but a very real safety issue. Two of my kids were initially reluctant as tots, but we insisted and two are now swim instructors, and the third at least has his Bronze Cross. [As a bonus, it’s a great after-school and summer job! They learn responsibility and teamwork, and you can almost always find a job.]

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          My kids were very reluctant as tots, too, but we persevered, and they both ended up earning a lot of money lifeguarding and teaching swimming/aquafit, plus had a lot of responsibility and fun. It was definitely worth it!

    • Meghan

      Yeah! Life wouldn’t be as rich and rewarding without our hobbies and passions. Mine is running. It takes up a lot of time and energy but my mental and physical health have never been better. And as my daughter gets older, she’s started wanting to get out of the stroller and run next to me, so it’s something I now get to share with her. Now if we could only convince my husband that he actually CAN survive running in the heat of a Texas summer… 🙂

  5. Pamela

    This is my favorite series EVER! Thank you so much for addressing these issues, Sheila and Rebecca. I got the book from the library last week and have already finished it. I am pondering how things will have to change in our household as I’m looking to go back to part-time work soon.
    One area of mental load I feel as a homeschooler is the weight of our (4) children’s education. That, on top of everything else I am responsible for (which is most everything except earning the income) is a lot to bear. I can handle a lot, but I do find myself resentful sometimes that my husband gets out of a lot of these daily grind tasks. I am not sure if it’s because he doesn’t notice things need to be done, or if he just assumes that I’ll do them. His mother was certainly not helpful in this regard. He had everything done for him in childhood.
    So….we have some talking to do and changes to make. Thank you again for this insightful series!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So glad it helped!
      I found with homeschooling I could stay on top of everything but the marking. And when you don’t mark math, then you don’t catch if they’re making consistent mistakes. So it’s pretty vital.
      What we often worked out was that Keith did marking in certain subjects each night. And once the kids were old enough, they used the teacher’s edition sometimes to mark themselves, which helped. I still marked tests, but they often checked out their daily homework to make sure they were getting things.
      But Keith taking on the marking portion was huge to us!

  6. Jane Eyre

    I take a very different approach. There are 24 hours in a day. That’s it. Planning can help you optimise but cannot ever give you more than that.
    Priorities are a thing. Not everything is equally important. Downtime also needs to happen on a semi-regular basis.
    So I start with what needs to be done (caring for the baby, work, sleep, eating), then add in other things (housework, activities, civic engagement) until the schedule is full, leaving in some buffer for things going wrong (traffic, things taking longer than expected, busy day at work) and some general downtime to avoid being overscheduled.
    When I was pregnant, I deliberately declined a lot of requests for post-baby commitments (for example, being an extraordinary minister). This was particularly important because I had so much trouble sleeping during pregnancy and was, for various reasons, at very high risk for PPD. Now that we have our feet underneath us, we are adding more stuff in.
    It plays out in specific ways in the home, but everyone is so eager to get other people to complicate their lives. In the last year and a half, I’ve moved halfway across the country, started a new job, planned a wedding, gotten married, run seven half marathons, and had a baby, and yet everyone keeps blathering about what else I should be doing.
    I have a lifetime goal of running a half marathon in every state. My father’s ex-wife knows people who did that within the span of ten years, so now the “community standard” is ten years and why am I such a failure for planning on taking a quarter-century to do this?
    You see a similar thing with weddings. The actual requirements are look nice, get married, and host the people you invite, but it gets complicated in so many atrocious ways. “You’re not having a trolley for your guests?” “What do you mean, you aren’t having a brunch the next morning?”
    Which is to say, I think it’s really important to understand where these expectations come from. Are these actual standards (like, put the birthday present in a plain gift bag with some tissue paper), or is this people being stupid?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Totally agree, Jane Eyre! We do need to look at our standards. (And seriously, I am so impressed with your running! That’s awesome. And what a neat goal to have, no matter how long it takes!)

      • Jane Eyre

        Thank you, Sheila! Like Meghan, I think running is great for my physical and mental health.
        The races also have a goal of helping me to see my friends and family who are scattered all over. It’s so easy to do the thing wherein you keep saying you should meet up with someone who lives several states away, and then years go by and you still haven’t made the trip.
        It’s important to me that this goal does not take over my family’s life. We’ll figure out places that everyone wants to go to, on a schedule that makes sense for the family, and, if possible, I’ll do a nearby race to knock the state off my list. We also focus on races that are near family and friends.

    • Meghan

      I know a lot of people (ok, not personally, they’re just in my running clubs) who want to run half marathons in every state. I don’t think a single one of them has a time frame for it except “in my lifetime.”
      If you ever find yourself in Texas running Cowtown (and you should, it’s a fantastic race with live bands throughout the course and wonderful spectators and very well run overall) I’ll run it with you. From the back in the last corral with all the other turtles.

      • Jane Eyre

        I will put that on my list! It looks like a lot of fun. 🙂

  7. Nathan

    I work outside the home, and Mrs Nathan stays home with the kids. I do the laundry and dishes, plus some sweeping, vacuuming, yard work and child care.
    Mrs. Nathan is always telling me how much I do, but she also criticizes herself for not doing enough. She does more than she thinks she does. She’s not exactly a perfectionist, but seems to want more quantity instead of quality.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear you. There are a lot of pressures to have a perfect house.
      I think some of the exhaustion is that housework is a real part of mental load, but it’s a small part. The bigger one is managing everyone’s emotions, remembering doctor’s appointments, getting kids to parties and extracurriculars, volunteering, and just all those details. I wonder if that’s what’s wearing her down? Sometimes we feel worn down but we can’t pinpoint why, so we just start feeling bad about ourselves in general (it sounds like that’s what your wife may be doing).

      • Nathan

        That could be it. We have a lot of extra details in our family, due to various reasons.
        And Mrs. Nathan, like I said, isn’t worried about getting every last speck of dust, she may just be getting buried under the enormous amount of stuff.
        I help out as much as I can.

        • Angela Laverdi

          Its also the standard of “the wife is supposed to do the home” while man brings home the money. Having to HAVE help can make us feel guilty and substandard as a woman/wife. Its a stigma that needs to STOP. Men can help with housework too.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            So true!

          • Maria B

            Would like to point out that women help with the money, too. Frugal shopping takes a lot of mental work. Don’t just buy whatever, make sure it’s a good price. Decide which items wait for them to be on sale to buy. Which stores have the best price for this item, which have the best for that item? If she cooks from scratch, that saves money. Combining errands so as to save gas.
            So it’s not only the husband who is responsible for making sure that the family has enough money.

  8. Lisa Johnson

    Like eating healthy and exercising, there are things that may not matter a lot when not done short term but over the long term have consequences.
    “Kinkeeping” is one of those. Making sure the grandparents or extended family get pictures, updates, or thanks for gifts.
    Making plans for remembering birthdays and holidays of friends and family. (Christmas cards with a current picture are often part of this goal.)
    Making arrangements for social connections for the couple and kids (a big part of extracurricular is social connection).
    This stuff is the glue of relationships. If you don’t continue to do **reasonable** efforts to maintain and grow relationships you avoid the problem of over-scheduling but create a new problem of less connection with strong relationships which is, studies confirm, is the MOST important thing for happiness.
    (And not doing some of this can cause hurt among family, particularly older family members who may not be as technologically savvy).
    It’s important to not see this invisible work, so often exclusively done by women, as unimportant or women just having too high standards because of Instagram. Of course HOW it is done is the appropriate discussion.
    Who remembers, plans and buys the cards and presents for the in-laws? Plans and organizes Christmas, Easter. Thanksgiving, 25th Anniversary, Mother’s/Fathers Day, Baby/Wedding celebrations etc. That’s the kind of thing that needs to be rebalanced. It’s so often the women who have to either do this stuff or continually remind/manage for EVERYONE not just her side of the family.
    The work of kinkeeping is like eating your vegetables. Sure it’s easier and more fun to eat take out pizza every night but over time you will be unhealthy.

    • Lisa Johnson

      And to the goal of men seeing what’s in it for them to change, many men say they don’t have any friends outside their wife. This is part of why suicide rates for men are much higher than for women.
      Rebalancing models the importance and work of “kinkeeping” for boys and men so they have the skill and habit of maintaining strong connections through an accumulation of these small things that connect people.
      Connection is so important for good physical and mental health.
      There is a decades long study of college men that showed that relationships really are the key.
      This is not only about helping women live better lives, but men too. It matters.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So true! I think this is why men often die so soon after their wives do. What keeps us alive and healthy is connection to others, studies have repeatedly shown. And yet that connection work is largely done by women. So when she dies, suddenly he doesn’t have those natural times to connect with kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, friends, because she used to take care of that. And so he is suddenly alone.
      Often people say if women feel overwhelmed they just need to say “no”. But this stuff matters. My relationship with my cousins was the most important of my life when I was a kid, but they lived a few hours away. Nevertheless, we made the effort. Family reunions matter. Anniversaries matter. We just need to find new ways to redistribute this work.
      I once read a study that said that you can expect to do well in your old age if you have a combination of 3 daughters and daughters-in-law. You needed 3 women. Sons wouldn’t do it. So it could be one daughter and two daughters-in-law, or 3 daughters-in-law, or 3 daughters. But you needed women and you needed 3. That needs to change so that sons matter!

      • Lisa Johnson

        100% agree Sheila! This matters for so many reasons.
        It’s so very sad that we expect so little of men in terms of emotional intelligence. It’s similar to the posts you had about how damaging the expectations that “all men lust” are.
        If we think and hear continually that women are just better than men at relationships it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
        We often expect that men are to be focused on work resulting in the sole focus of their self esteem in their occupation and as “money provider.” Little is expected of them in terms of kinkeeping or mental load for the emotions or skills/habits to grow and maintain relationships (in addition to the household chores etc).
        We damage men, women, marriages and families and society in general when we don’t expect EVERYONE to provide effort in love and kindness to their marriage, children, friends, family and community. When we don’t see *this* as necessary and important work of becoming more like Christ.
        This isn’t healthy and creates a lot of problems.

    • Elsie

      Thanks for your comment, Lisa, this is a great point. Most of this series seems to be more housework and childcare related, which is great, but would it be possible to dive more into discussion on the mental/emotional load of maintaining relationships? For me, managing housework doesn’t bother me that much but bearing the load for managing relationships is crushing me. I moved to a different state when I got married and I still don’t have a good community of friends. Although my husband lived here for several years before that, he does nothing to build relationships beyond attending church activities, which really isn’t enough contact to build deep friendships. It’s all on my shoulders and I haven’t been able to manage it given all the other demands I’ve had on my life these past few years.
      Furthermore, my husband has essentially put me in the position of managing the health of our marriage. He makes little effort to make sure we stay connected/spend time together or address problems that come up. Even our sex life is mostly on my shoulders, as my husband rarely initiates sex. If we talk about the need for more connection, more sex, etc my husband will agree with me that it is important to him but then take no real action to actually help the situation. He’s a good man but can be passive. It’s so exhausting to feel like I have to keep us connected and keep our sex life going.
      What do you do when the issue is that your husband isn’t being an equal partner in maintaining your marriage relationship?

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I get it, Elsie. We’ll be talking about that quite a bit in the last week of the series when we focus more on the men. But it is so important! I think as much as possible talking about these things and delineating what action steps look like can help. Like saying, “Once a week I would like you to initiate sex,” or “I would like you to be responsible for buying the birthday cards/Christmas gifts/presents for your parents.” Actually spell out what it looks like. Does he respond to that at all?

        • Elsie

          Thanks, Sheila. It may help to have more concrete steps and I’ll give it a try. But I think part of the issue is lack of follow through/effort. For example, I started a date night once a week which we both liked because it made us feel connected. Lately it hasn’t been happening as much because I’ve been busier/more tired after work. What I want is for my husband to take responsibility for things too – if I’m feeling too wiped out to initiate our date night and come up with an idea of something to do, I wish he would step in and keep things going.
          But I hear what you are saying- maybe I need to spell things out more to him or ask him to be the one to make sure our date nights happen.

          • Lisa Johnson

            It’s so difficult to be in a marriage where the relationship work is all on one person.
            I agree that making clear requests is an important step.
            If there continues to be a passive response after clear requests and discussions, imho it’s important to get some professional help to navigate this pattern.
            I feel for you Elsie! It’s a very lonely place to be stuck in this pattern of you pursuing and the husband withdrawing (or passive)
            It’s the most common problematic marriage pattern and I have been there too. It’s a very frustrating and sad place to be.
            The good news is it can be changed! But often that requires professional help after the pattern is ongoing.

          • AspenP

            I hear you! My husband and I are in a very similar dynamic & I actually just talked with him about it. I’m learning a lot about anxious-avoidant attachments in marriage where one spouse habitually withdraws and the other spouse is the primary initiator (in our case I am the initiator with almost everything). I hope you find encouragement & help. I agree I’m looking forward to hearing more about balancing the load with social/relational tasks too.

      • Lindsey

        Yes! This exactly! Also trying to manage everyone’s emotional state (both hubby and I sometimes struggle with depression and/or anxiety), including the way the kids feel about one another, hubby, and myself…investment in marriage is also exhausting when it begins to feel one-sided. Managing emotions and relationships is the #1 stressor for me.

  9. Kya

    I have to put a plug in for the dandelions–they are my favorite flower!! I get so excited when I see a yard overrun by dandelions–it’s like the grass was so happy to see the sun after winter that it started sprouting little suns of its own.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      And you can eat the leaves, too!

    • Lynsi

      Kya, I totally agree! Dandelions are the best!

    • Meghan

      They’re cute! And important for pollinators too!

  10. Nathan

    > > He’s a good man but can be passive.
    I have to admit that this can sometimes describe me as well (both parts).

  11. EOF

    When we first married, this was a huge problem – but with a twist. My husband was the one with impossibly high standards AND he wouldn’t help with anything. Not only did I have to do it all, but it had to be his way along with constant scrutiny. It was a real burden to bear, and I eventually gave up and quit doing anything. As a friend pointed out, he was going to yell, complain and nitpick either way, so I may as well give myself a break.
    Now things have changed and he does help with a lot. (Notice I say help; I’m still responsible for most everything, even while bringing in the income and homeschooling the kids.) What he does now doesn’t live up to the expectations he used to hold me to. But at least those expectations are finally gone and he’s appreciative for what I do.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It sounds like that is some progress, anyway!

  12. Bethany#2

    I insisted on giving up a chore to my husband to experiment in how it felt. Wow! I gave up dishes and now I no longer slave to keep the sink clear. We haven’t had a dishwasher in a year, and I hate doing dishes because they never end! With that load gone, I’m able to focus on random cleanings more, and it’s been a wonderful thing! We’re currently in a rough patch (no good ending in sight) with the mother-in-law and it’s good to have something to do. I’ve been binge listening to the authors of “boundaries” and other related books. These ironically all play together very well! Discussions on relationship health and how to take/criticism in a good way. I’m learning more about marriage every day!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s wonderful, Bethany! (And neither of my girls has a dishwasher, and they both will totally sympathize!)

    • E

      We have a dishwasher, but I don’t use it. I hate dishwashers. They never seem to dry the dishes fully so you have to rinse and stack and then dry them anyway. I used to dread the dishes everyday, but now the kids take turns to do most of it! So freeing.

  13. Anon

    I laughed at your comment on different standards. I once lived in a bedsit and all the residents were supposed to take it in turns to clean the communal areas ( bathroom & kitchen). We had ONE male resident in the bedsits at the time, and gradually realised that he never did any of the cleaning – when we asked him about this, he complained that ‘you girls always clean everything before it needs doing, so I never get the chance’.
    Turns out he thought bathrooms and kitchens only needed cleaning when you stuck to the floor when you walked across them!!!!!

  14. Matilda

    I’m half way through Listening to the podcast on this subject and I just had to quickly comment. I think it’s Rebecca? You do a newsletter for your family? I have an idea that might be easier for you? (or not) you could set up a private Facebook group or page for family members only & post photos and info there. You could post things on the go rather than having to sit down and put together a whole bunch of info & memories in one go.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      The reason I do a newsletter is that more than half of one side of my family is not on any social media at all. 🙂 So it is actually easier to just do a newsletter! But yes I agree your idea is much easier!!!

  15. E

    “ Living bare bones, with no extracurriculars at all, with no birthday parties, with no social events, with no church events, isn’t necessarily the kind of life we want to live.” The last few months have certainly been an experiment in this. I appreciate that you mention the mental load on the mom if you deny the kids any extracurriculars. We homeschool and my husband works from home, but we normally have activities 3 out of 5 weekdays and I do errands on the 4th. My oldest is an extrovert and the mental load for me in dealing with him has been really challenging lately. I need him to be able to see his friends again! Removing everything is not the solution! I get tired from the activities, but I am more tired from having an extrovert in my ear 24/7. I love him dearly, but I’m exhausted.
    With regards to chores, how do you deal with a perfectionist? My husband complains about the yard/patio every single time he goes outside. We fixed it up nice this spring, but he still complains. I don’t have the energy to sweep the patio daily and weed the driveway cracks etc, so I mostly just tell him to do it himself. I always feel like he holds me to a higher standard and nothing is good enough— not just with me, but with our kids’ behavior, with his work, with everything. Nothing is good enough for a perfectionist. I mostly let it roll off my back because I’m used to it and he is hardest on himself and I know that, but sometimes it bothers me. Like about the yard.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Can you talk to him about this? I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say, “I can’t keep everything up to your standard while also homeschooling the children. I understand you’re stressed. But then we need to figure out how to redistribute the work so that it gets done.” He may be stressed, but that doesn’t mean that he’s more stressed than you are, or that your stress doesn’t matter. You may need to try to speaking up, and even if he isn’t happy about it, persist. IF this is important, it’s worth speaking up about and having the conversations. Maybe wait until later in the month after more of these posts are published, because the one coming on June 22 about how the daily grind needs to be shared may be the one that he needs to read especially.

  16. Stefanie

    I think cleaning the bathroom is less about frequency and more about a cleanliness standard. So for instance “the bathroom should not smell like a Greyhound bus station.” If you have people peeing all over the seat every day then it needs to be cleaned every day. Maybe the grout in the shower doesn’t need to be scrubbed more than once a month, and the sink maybe once a week.
    Or think about public restrooms. We’ve all been to nice ones and seen gross ones. Think about what makes the nice ones “nice.”


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