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Sharing the Mental Load: Tips and Tricks to Get Your Sanity Back

Women's Initiative Newsletter
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In mid-2018, it is likely that most couples have had a discussion about the division of labor in their household, particularly if they are juggling children or aging parents. Facebook COO and author Sheryl Sandberg discussed the need to find an "equal partner" in her book, Lean In, as did Brigid Schulte in her work, Overwhelmed. Despite our awareness of the need for a partner willing to share in the chores of our daily lives – and our insistence that our partners or spouses do more around the house – to date, there has been less emphasis on the need to split the "emotional labor" that keeps our households running. For instance, most men report that they are wholly willing to perform their fair share of household duties – when asked or reminded to do so. This leaves the wife to bear the entire burden of organizing, remembering, and planning everything in her family's life, which can leave us mentally exhausted. Just as communication improved the division of physical labor and childcare in our partnerships, it can also help us to share the mental load as well. Schulte recommends that households figure out all of the work that it takes to run a household and family, divide the tasks accordingly, and "Set common standards. Automate. Create systems for who does what, so you don't have to keep negotiating and keeping score, and find a way to keep each other accountable. Stop redoing chores that you think your partner has done badly." The split may never be 50/50, but it will certainly feel more fair.

We hope the following tips will help you to begin the conversation with your spouse or partner, so you can begin to share the mental load in a more collaborative and healthy way.

Be intentional and specific when dividing responsibilities with your partner, and then make shared lists (my favorite is through the Notes app on my iPhone). Your partner will gain a better appreciation for the hundreds of unspoken tasks you've been handling, and you'll both be accountable for making sure the train stays on the tracks. Also, don't give in to the women-bear-the-load lexicon! For example, my husband never "babysits" our kids. He's a parent, and that's what he does when he's with them. Relegating him to "babysitter" not only implies that caring for his children is not his responsibility, but it also devalues his role.

Lastly, ask yourself, "Would I rather do an hour of work than spend an hour on this chore?" If the answer is "yes," it's time to delegate it. (Lawn mowing, anyone?) Oh, and Amazon Subscribe & Save. Enough said.

 – Caldwell G. Collins, Shareholder, Nashville
 

Outsource where it won't break the bank. Using the in-office dry cleaning service saved my sanity. I could never get to the dry cleaner timely during the week, and I cursed myself the entire way there and back when I had to do it on the weekend. I may pay $1 or so for delivery, but that $1 is worth the gas and time saved any day of the week! I also have zero shame in the fact that I regularly serve leftovers and have to outsource the preparation of a fully prepared (or frozen) meal by Wednesday or Thursday of every week. We try to cook homemade meals Sunday through Wednesday, so that means leftovers through the course of the week. My family knows to expect to eat a meal for at least two nights. By Thursday, I happily let Publix, Costco, or frozen pizzas do the cooking for me.

A friend also shared her mental load tip with me a few years ago: Don't be afraid to let the interior of your car look like a disaster relief zone. There's only so much time and energy to keep your spouse, children, and animals alive, along with the requirements to keep your home in a somewhat sanitary condition. Her resolution – just give up on the interior of the car. It'll be a disaster by tomorrow anyway, even if you clean it today.

 – Katy G. Furr, Shareholder, Atlanta
 

Order Blue Apron every few weeks – it adds interest and variety to your family's dinner options. Send your Honey-Do lists to their work email address and your loving partner will see it. Identify all likely conferences at the start of the year and then line up grandparent visits and family vacations to coincide. Identify non-major school holidays, and coordinate childcare with other working parents – a half day is better than no day. Finally, you know what needs to be done and what you can live without. In our family, keeping a tidy and clutter-free home is important to our mental well-being. On the other hand, when we have a busy week at work, we'll do a week of sandwiches for dinner with ease. I've always taken comfort from author J.K. Rowling's experience: "People very often say to me, 'How did you do it? How did you raise a baby and write a book?' And the answer is – I didn't do housework for four years. I am not superwoman. And, um, living in squalor, that was the answer."

 – Kavita Goswamy Shelat, Associate, Memphis
 

My best tip is to utilize a grocery service. ClickList at Kroger has been a lifesaver since I had my daughter. When I was on maternity leave, my nanny could pick up our groceries for us and put everything away before the kids woke up from their naps. Now my husband and I are able to schedule delivery when it is convenient, and we don't have to worry about dragging two kids to the store on Saturday morning. I think it helps us be more cognizant of how much we're spending, too, because with every click to our cart, we see the price increase.

Food delivery apps like BiteSquad.com have revolutionized my family's life when it's a hectic night. You can put an order in at any time during the day and pick the time you want it delivered, and voila! Dinner's served! After you use it once, it saves your address and credit card information, so you don't have to do anything but pick your food selections and click "order."

 – Kacie McRee, Shareholder, Knoxville
 

My husband has agreed to do the household chore I hate the most, and I have agreed to do the one that he hates the most (they're not the same chore, fortunately). We are both saved from doing one thing we would really like to avoid, and we feel extra grateful to each other for doing it. It doesn't reduce the load, but it makes it slightly less miserable!

 – Ashley Thompson, Associate, Atlanta
 

Buy a house as close to work as possible – no one has time for a long commute plus kids. Hire a housekeeper to come multiple times per week with laundry duties – the money you spend is WELL worth your sanity. Have a nanny (even if only for after school) who has authority to make decisions and has contacts with everyone else in your life (housekeeper, grandparents, etc.) so they can function without running everything through you. Use dinner delivery services like "Katie's Plates," which has locations in several cities. I use them frequently, especially when I travel. They deliver hot, healthy, pre-cooked meals. Finally, Amazon Prime – love it, live it, it is my right-hand man.

 – Sara M. Turner, Shareholder, Birmingham
 

My best tip is to think broader. Don't just share your mental load with your husband; share it with every caregiver. Put your babysitter to work helping you run your household, and give your older kids responsibilities beyond just getting ready in the morning. Use a shared Google calendar to include appointments and reminders – this may have saved my sanity. Final tip: laundry service. #promove

 – Sarah-Nell H. Walsh, Shareholder, Atlanta

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