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).
The best way to get my kids to pay me attention is to quietly sit down to write. I swear they have some sort of sensor. They can play happily upstairs for hours, but as soon as I sit down at my desk they come downstairs to whine at me.
— Isabelle Lauren (@RomanticIsa) April 5, 2019
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.