Sam Radford

May 5, 2021

Working towards a fairer share of household worrying

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to increase my share of the household responsibilities. Reading Fair Play by Eve Rodsky opened my eyes to the ways in which I wasn’t doing my fair share.

I have now achieved the status of ‘perfect husband’ and my wife doesn’t have a single complaint about me. Okay, maybe not quite...

And, in case I was in any doubt, reading Jessica Grose’s New York Times article reminded me that I still have plenty of room to grow in helping ensure our household worrying is fairly shared. 

I found the breakdown of the mental load associated with household tasks helpful. In Grose’s words:

I was excited to read the work of Allison Daminger, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and social policy at Harvard University. She published a paper in the American Sociological Review that breaks down the mental load — “cognitive labor,” in sociological terms — into four parts: anticipate, identify, decide, monitor...

...For this paper, Daminger conducted in-depth discussions with 35 couples, and found that the two parts of the process that are most heavily imbalanced are “anticipate” and “monitor” — women do the vast majority of those steps. “Identify” and “decide” tend to be done by men and women jointly. 

The gender breakdown of those four parts of the mental load of household tasks makes a lot of sense.

Fair Play made me aware of this. It helped me see that it’s not enough to offer to cook dinner on Friday night if my wife is still planning all the food for that meal. I may be deciding to cook, but the mental load of anticipating still sits with my wife. I think I’m helping out, but my help doesn’t go so far as to fully remove Friday dinner as a burden for her.

I am acutely aware that I am not good enough at anticipating. And part of that is habit, and part of it is laziness. When there are things my wife just gets on with, I stop even trying to think about them. I'm talking of things like sorting out school related items: paying for school dinners, signing forms for trips, etc. Or gifts for family members. Honestly, it’s not even on my radar to anticipate. 

There are areas that I have tried to take ownership of – the laundry is a new area that is now my full responsibility, for example – but I’m reminded that though our household my have a fairer breakdown of responsibilities than it did, I’m not sure I could truthfully say it is yet fair. 

–Sam

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