What did you do today?
Solutions for the invisible workload keeping you busy 24/7.
Article Author: Beth Stambaugh
We’ve all heard stories about the parent who’s winding down for the night when he or she remembers a small task that needs to be done – maybe little Johnny needs a permission slip signed. That turns into folding the laundry, paying overdue bills, unloading the dishwasher, completing summer camp forms and making school lunches. It’s well after midnight when the exhausted parent finally collapses into bed.
These tasks are examples of the “invisible workload,” a term that refers to the extra work one parent puts in to make sure the household runs smoothly. And many times, these duties go unnoticed.
Appreciating the unseen
Acknowledging the invisible workload is important. Splitting household and family chores fairly is at the top of the list for a successful marriage, according to Pew Research polls, right along with a satisfying sex life.
“The invisible workload can be a frequent theme among my patients, especially new mothers trying to juggle all aspects of raising a child while also maintaining a whole slew of other life demands,” said Julia Garrett, PsyD, a psychologist for Baptist Behavioral Health who leads the Maternal Mental Health program. The program helps new moms with the adjustment to pregnancy and the postpartum period, including coping with feelings associated with new challenges and responsibilities.
Although it’s typically women who feel the pressure of the multitude of unseen tasks, the invisible workload usually weighs heaviest on whichever partner has the primary caregiving role. Stay-at-home dads often encounter the same scenario and accompanying feelings of stress and guilt.
“Whether you’re new parents or have school-age or older children, the invisible workload can creep in and cause emotional havoc,” said Dr. Garrett.
Divide and conquer
You may not be able to make the list of tasks vanish, but you can make improvements to reduce stress and create household harmony.
Dr. Garrett has some practical strategies on how to cope:
- Schedule a weekly couple’s meeting. Set a designated time once a week – without interruptions and at a time that is relatively stress-free – to sit down and plan for the upcoming week. Create a shared calendar (there are apps that can help) with important events and decide who will take on different aspects of the week’s challenges so neither partner is overwhelmed or scrambling at the last minute.
- Find each other’s strengths. There are some tasks better suited for you and others that match your partner’s areas of expertise. Your partner may be better at holiday planning while you’re a boss at managing the family budget. Some people are great at organizing while others excel at cooking. Playing to your strengths makes tasks less stressful.
- Switch it up. Trade some key tasks with your partner temporarily so you both get an idea of what’s involved. “Partners often don’t realize the complexity of a task until they take it on for themselves,” Dr. Garrett said. “This can help create a better understanding and appreciation of what your partner is managing.”
- Don’t be afraid to delegate. If the kids are old enough, assign them some household chores. The key: Don’t worry if things aren’t perfect. Kids won’t fold the clothes as you would, but that’s OK. Look for low-cost ways to delegate other tasks, such as hiring a mother’s helper for an hour or two to help with routine chores or keep the kids occupied so you can have some time to yourself.
- Speaking of time for yourself, get some “me” time. This is essential for both partners to relieve stress and recharge. During your weekly couple’s meeting, schedule time for each of you to take a breather and do something positive for yourself.
“Most parents are good at prioritizing their children’s needs but forget about their own,” Dr. Garrett said. “Think about what you enjoyed doing before you became a parent, including scheduling time to do things as a couple. You are modeling the importance of self-care to your kids, which is important to their healthy development.”
If you feel overwhelmed by the invisible workload, or want to learn tools to help you and your partner at home, Baptist Behavioral Health can help. Call 904.376.3800 to schedule an appointment.