Photo by Boxed Water Is Better on Unsplash
Most women I know simply want a break from emotional labor for Mother's Day. Do some housework without delegation. Take care of the kids. Maybe get wild and take them to the park for an hour or so while I rest. Better yet, take them to run some errands with you. Make your own list for running said errands. Cook some food without asking me what ingredients are in the fridge. Just one meal, and clean the kitchen afterwards. I mean really clean it.
Because these are all, apparently, exceptional and gift-worthy tasks, but only when men are doing them.
Why is that? Because when women do these things it’s called an average Monday. Actually, make that a very slow, relaxing Monday because the combination of our mental and physical to-do lists are usually indomitable. If all I had on my list for a day was housework, a grocery trip with the kids, and a single meal to cook and clean up, I wouldn’t know what to do with my unbound freedom.
The list usually looks more like this: pack the kids’ lunches and check their homework, make breakfast for everyone (maybe remember to feed myself), remind everyone to do their chores, remind everyone again 10 minutes later, start the laundry, start jotting down the million to-do’s already running through my head like texting my mother-in-law to come babysit next Thursday and buying that baby shower gift (don’t forget the card!) and schedule the vet appointment for the dog and start planning activities for summer vacation (why is it so soon?) and take that package to the post office, drop kids off at their respective schools, check email and start working, stop working and switch the laundry and finish up all the housework you see along the way - putting the shoes away and clothes in the hamper, picking the towels up off the floor, clearing the dining room table that is always, ALWAYS, covered in stuff, doing the dishes, sorting the mail - and then make that list for the grocery store (so, meal planning too) which you’ll do after school with all the kids in tow, after completing the morning to-do list errands, but not before getting everyone snacks and emptying backpacks and signing permission slips and RSVPing to those birthday invites that came home in their folders and reminding everyone to do their homework, then reminding everyone again 10 minutes later while you’re starting dinner and cleaning up as you go…
The list, as I said, never ends. If I wrote it all down, it would be a scroll that would unravel off into the sunset.
This is not the sort of thing moms are asking their partners to do for Mother’s Day. They don’t want the average Monday’s worth of stuff to get done. Most of us can’t even fathom that as a possibility. No, just take a few things off the list and do them without being asked. Take a quarter of the list, an eighth, a sixteenth for one day. Why does that feel like such a big ask?
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Maybe it’s because men get a lot of praise for the “extra-credit work” they do in regards to domestic labor (the actual house cleaning and keeping work) and emotional labor (the invisible work that ensures the rest gets done) no matter what day of the year. Every individual thing they do requires seemingly endless gratitude, because they don’t think it’s actually their job to do this work. It’s Mom’s job. They’re just “helping.” Because help implies going above and beyond. Help implies that the responsibility lies with the other partner. With the mothers who do this work every day without praise because it’s expected of them. Because no one else is doing it.
When emotional labor isn’t your job, everything you do is extra-credit. And when it’s solely your job, everything you do is invisible.
Which is why what I want this Mother's Day is for us to stop treating domestic and emotional labor like extra-credit for men. Call me idealistic, but I don’t believe equitable relationships should be exceptional. They should be the norm. We should be able to expect our partners to understand and manage the same types of domestic and emotional labor that we do, not just on Mother’s Day but every day. Does that mean they need to learn some new skills and pay closer attention to their lives? Good. They should be paying attention and learning and growing into the role of an equal partner. Do they want praise for that work? Honestly, I’m fine with that, as long as they’re praising the same efforts in their partners.
We need to start doing this work together. We need to start valuing this work equally. We need to start recognizing emotional labor as part of an egalitarian relationship, not as a lop-sided extra-credit project for men to do on special occasions.
It shouldn't be a gift, it should be the expectation.