Mothers are expected to do it all

mother and baby

When I was a young mother, I sometimes heard about mothers going out for a small errand and never coming back. Or not coming back for a few days. They’d check themselves into a hotel and stay there, not making contact with their family for days. I could not understand that. I loved my kids – and my husband – and I could not imagine leaving them alone. I thought those women were bad mothers, neglectful and selfish. Yes, I was a judgemental bitch back then.

Things have changed. Not only am I less judgemental now, but I also have reached that point in my own life as a mother that I would love to leave the house, check into a hotel and stay there for a few days. Reading, writing, wanking, sleeping – without interruption. Sounds like heaven to me.

My kids are not that difficult. My husband is – for a man – very helpful. And yet I feel like responsibility is crushing me. I have talked before about being a strong woman, and the need to maintain that image despite my own mental health struggles. But what I am feeling now is just a general fatigue with the fact that women – and mothers in particular – are expected to do it all.

It’s almost as if men said, “Fine, you want to have an equal place in the workplace? Go for it, but don’t think you can give up your mum-duties.” I hear this from other mums I talk to as well. We all have full time jobs, but yet, we are expected to be fully responsible for the family’s emotional needs as well.

This year I vowed not to plan the family holiday. I am always expected to do it and I just felt too swamped in work and writing to think about it. We knew where we were going, all my husband had to do was book the tickets. But when weeks turned into months and the price of plane tickets kept rising, I had to take matters into my own hands and book the tickets or risk disappointing the kids.

If there is anything school-related, the mothers are expected to take care of it. I keep track of all my kids’ events and appointments, I make sure they have the correct school uniform and their shoes still fit. We often hear people say “women just want it all”, but we really don’t. We don’t want a full time job AND be expected to take care of everything at home as well. Is it that much to ask of men to be equally responsible for the family?

It’s not that some men aren’t willing to chip in. But this is still viewed as the exception. I have to be grateful that my husband helps out in the house. I constantly feel myself saying to people “my husband is fantastic, he really helps with the kids”. That shouldn’t be something that we need to praise. When do you ever hear a man say “my wife is babysitting the kids?” or “my wife’s a real help around the house?”

Women are expected to do all these things. They are expected to keep the household ticking over while they hold down a full time job. They are expected to do all the emotional labour in the family. I feel I need to thank my husband if he “helps” me make the kids’ beds, or if he goes to our kid’s parent teacher meeting.

The point isn’t that my husband is not a good father or a helpful man. The point is that we praise men for the work that women are expected to do, and largely do do uncomplainingly, efficiently and effectively. And it’s not just the time commitment of it all. It’s the mental toll it takes. I have to keep all my kids’ needs constantly in mind. Do they have something special at school? Is it a non-uniform day? Do they have an appointment? Do they have a school project they need help with? My husband will help with all these things, but I am expected to remember it all. I am supposed to keep all of this in my mind. My sister referred to it as juggling, and that is such an apt description. We keep all these balls in the air, and God forbid we drop one.

And even if you don’t have kids, you are still supposed to keep the household ticking over. Laundry, dinner, cleaning – all the woman’s responsibility. Planning and booking the holiday, and in some cases even the family’s finances as well. It’s no wonder that sometimes we want to step out of it all, leave our homes, shut out the crushing responsibility and take time for ourselves. I can’t remember the last time I did something just for myself without feeling guilty about it.

Just the other day I wrote on Twitter that my kids seem to have this built-in sensor that warns them as soon as I sit down to do something for myself (in that case writing).

I hear people scoff about writer’s retreats, and it’s mostly men who scoff at them. “If you can’t write anywhere, you are not a real writer,” they say. But for mothers, you are never able to give your full, undivided attention to something that is seen as a “hobby”, because your family always comes first, no matter what.

I don’t have a solution. Society has to change so that we stop viewing domestic tasks, family responsibility and emotional support the responsibility of women. Until then, don’t be surprised if more women walk away from their responsibilities to save their mental health – even if it’s only for a few days.

Men, if you feel the need to pop into my mentions saying you help out at home a lot: don’t. Here’s your medal, you’re amazing, go away. Your helping out is not the point.

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6 thoughts on “Mothers are expected to do it all”

  1. I applaud you for writing this, because yes, indeed, this is what society is like… us women have to do everything. And (most) men expect to be thanked or complimented when they have done something in or around the house… I so recognize these things, even though like you, my husband really helps with everything, as far as his disability allows him.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Rebel xox

  2. The interesting thing is how, as an unmarried woman without kids, I feel I don’t dodge much in the way of what’s expected of me when it comes to caring for others. I’m the middle girl, but I’m the one who is expected to care for my mother when she’s sick. My brother doesn’t get that responsibility.

    I wish we could move away from this idea that women just “do it all”. Self-care and readjusted roles has to be a thing. Maybe one day we’ll get to that place.

    1. Isabelle Lauren

      That is such a good point! I wrote it from my perspective as a mother, but you are absolutely right: daughters are expected to do all the emotional labour and caring as well while sons don’t carry any responsibility. Also, my sisters-in-law are the ones who send birthday and Christmas cards, somehow my brothers aren’t expected to think about that.

  3. I wanted to be the one looking after my kids – i thought i could do it best – what really annoys me is when mothers who are doing a great job of bringing up their children are not recognised or rewarded by society as a whole. Indeed they are looked down on. It has got to be the most important job – bringing up the next generation. Mothers should be put on pedestals and cheered – u know in my opinion 😉

    1. Isabelle Lauren

      That is so true! Stay-at-home-mums are always seen as inferior, as if taking care of the children full time and looking after the household (because that is usually something that comes with it) isn’t a worthwhile job. Every woman should be able to choose what they want to do with their lives and not be judged for it.

  4. Hear hear! I am nodding, I am cheering, I am sympathising and I am stamping my feet at society!
    I did stay at home with my kids for a long while, and as May says, society doesn’t seem to put enough value on that, it is expected. When I went work my partner still left much of the household & child rearing chores to me, and it was a drain. He had a couple of years being main carer because I worked and he didn’t, but he left all the ‘school calender’ things to me. He is helpful, he cooks and shops and he is massively involved in the kids’ emotional support now they are older students. Like you I find myself thanking him; He thanks me back, but what you’re saying I agree wholeheartedly with – it is not the norm. Society is not geared up for it, attitudes haven’t changed yet. A dad in the playground running the family is still a rarity.

    Cara is spot on that the pastoral care falls to the female siblings, my brothers do a lot less for my dad (now a widower) than I do. I’ve a friend who lives in UK, a different country from her mum,, but yet she gets the panicked phone calls and the requests for assistance even though her 2 brothers still live in the same country as their mum! Odd (unfair) isn’t it?

    Me time is very precious, for our own self-care we do need to ring fence it and grab it at every opportunity.

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