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Posts Tagged ‘worry work’

Two years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, my husband and I did many things to prepare for his arrival. We took a childbirth class, set up a crib, decorated a nursery, and installed a car seat. What did we not know to do? Prepare for the changes that would come to our relationship during our transition to parenthood!

Did you know that most married couples experience a significant drop in relationship quality within three years of the birth of their first child? In her book All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers and the Myth of Equal Partnership, psychologist Darcy Lockman cites this research as she explores gender inequalities within unpaid work (e.g. parenting and chores) and how they impact relationships.

While most American men in relationships believe that equal division of unpaid labor is very important to a successful marriage, the actual division of this labor is hardly equal. Although the gender inequality gap narrowed from 1965 to 2003, it has remained stagnant at a 35/65 division of unpaid labor ever since.

A New York Times article on the division of labor within parenting relationships reads:

“Though there are lots of male partners who do their fair share, there’s an area of parental labor that remains frustratingly resistant to change for many couples: It’s called “worry work” or, colloquially, the mental load. Both terms describe a constant, thrumming, low-level anxiety over the health and well-being of your children, and women tend to do more of the worry work than men do. It’s an endless list of organizational tasks that runs through your head like ticker tape: We’re out of milk when do we need to apply for preschool is the baby outgrowing her onesies. According to the 2017 Bright Horizons Modern Family Index, working women are twice as likely to be managing the household and three times as likely to be managing their kids’ schedules as their male partners.”

“Worry work” has also been called “emotional labor”, and it refers to “the invisible and often undervalued work involved in keeping other people comfortable and happy”.  In All the Rage, Lockman states that most couples “intuitively, rather than consciously and explicitly, divide the work of planning and remembering… and intuitively, it mostly falls to women.” Consequently, because one partner is doing more than the other, resentment, bitterness and discord start to take hold.

If you feel affected by an imbalance in worry work in your household, the New York Times offers a helpful guide for dividing emotional labor. The first step suggested is to recognize and talk about the perceived imbalance. You and your partner should each express your desires, preferences and, goals – both as parents and individuals. When having this conversation, respect yourself and your partner by taking these desires seriously and expecting your partner to do the same. If the conversation gets heated, don’t be afraid to seek outside support. A therapist may be able to offer a neutral perspective and help you arrive on common ground.

When you and your partner feel like you have a shared understanding of the worry work problem in your relationship, work together to create a comprehensive list of emotional labor tasks, thinking through both individual and family needs. It may be hard to remember everything that should go on the list, but you can always add to it as needed! Some items to include are grocery shopping and meal preparation, laundry, household chores, managing bedtime and bath time routines, making sure bills are paid on time, and scheduling and taking children to appointments and extracurricular activities. As you create this list, you and your partner will divide tasks and agree upon what your new division of labor will look like.

If you’re like me, you may have experienced worry work personally but did not have a name for the issue prior to reading this article. Now that you can name and recognize a potential source of strife in your life, I encourage you to begin addressing the problem today!

Written by: Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Franklin County

Reviewed by: Bridget Britton, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Carroll County

Sources:

de la Cretaz, B. (2019). How to Get Your Partner to Take On More Emotional Labor. The New York Times. https://parenting.nytimes.com/relationships/emotional-labor?te=1&nl=nyt-parenting&emc=edit_ptg_20190612?campaign_id=118&instance_id=10123&segment_id=14197&user_id=86dd6cac18c7ca41e6c8d433d5340d6c&regi_id=92717125

Grose, J. (2019). A Modest Proposal for Equalizing the Mental Load. New York Times Parenting. https://parenting.nytimes.com/work-money/mental-load?module=article-group&topic=Work%20And%20Money&rank=3&position=2

Lockman, D. (2019). All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers and the Myth of Equal Partnership. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062861443/all-the-rage/

The Gottman Institute: A Research-Based Approach to Relationships. Parenting. https://www.gottman.com/about/research/parenting/

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