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Envisioning Shared Leadership in the Home

Posted on May 24, 2019

By Lynn Yeakel

It's the time of year to honor the parents in our lives through Mother's Day and Father's Day, to say thank you for all they do to support their loved ones and keep everyday life running smoothly.

These occasions also present an opportunity to raise awareness of the roles that men and women have traditionally played in the household and examine what has come to be called "the mental load," which disproportionately affects women.

The mental load, also known as invisible or emotional labor, is "the never-ending, sometimes soul-crushing to-do list that women manage in order to keep their children thriving and households running smoothly." It is the planning, scheduling, negotiating and problem-solving work that households and families rely on -- constantly anticipating and organizing what needs to get done. In my own home, which I consider to be quite gender-balanced and equitable, I still am "the keeper of the list."

A recent New York Times op-ed noted that despite division of labor in the home being one of the most important equity issues of our time in those homes shared by women and men, "it will be another 75 years before men do half the work." A study on the ramifications of the mental load published earlier this year found that 90 percent of women polled said they bore sole responsibility for organizing their family's schedules, while 70 percent saw themselves as "captain" of their family's ship, routinely completing or assigning household tasks.

We all have been raised in a society that unconsciously distributes stereotypical tasks. As I wrote in a Huffington Post column about household chores: "Roles are defined. Expectations are shaped. According to a TIME article by Eliana Dockterman, 'This chore gap also demonstrates to girls that household work doesn't count as work that should be rewarded. It's no wonder then that when they grow up, women spend more than twice as much time on unpaid work (like childcare and household chores) as men do each week...' In other words, it's clear that men's work is valued more highly than women's work."

The good news is that gender balance in the home has come a long way in the last 60 years. Among opposite-sex couples, there are plenty of male partners out there who are happy to share the never-ending to-do list, and studies have shown same-sex couples are more likely to share chores. Acknowledging that the problem of the mental load exists -- giving it a name -- is an important step in creating truly egalitarian partnerships. 

As we celebrate the mothers and fathers in our lives, let's take a moment to consider the roles we play in our own homes, both as partners and as parents, and how all of us -- not just women -- can share the role of CEO of the House.