“There’s been social pressure for a long time for women to be successful in the home. There are very high expectations for me as a Mother and wife in the domestic space. I am judged when I do a bad job and feel that judgment. And for a long time, men felt that pressure in the workforce. Then we had this shift, and women also started to feel that pressure in the workforce. So, now women feel social pressure to be ambitious achievers at home, and at work. But most men still just have that pressure at work. I don’t see the social pressure judging men who aren’t good in the home, I see people make excuses for them.” Said Dr. Kate Mangino, Author, Gender Expert and Advocate.
It’s been an interesting three years with a devastating pandemic, global recession, mental health crisis and record inflation. And downstream, from these massive changes to how we live, is the tsunami of invisible work that falls to Moms in most families.
We need support to manage work and life sustainably. But most real help, like equal partnership at home, family-friendly jobs, and public policy, still isn’t there. And the early-pandemic empathy, many felt from their employers, seems to be waning. So, how can we dial up the self-compassion through the glacial pace of systems change?
Nope, You’re Not Imagining It
There are a lot of problems in the world right now and compassion fatigue is real. Many, especially those who are not directly affected by the problems, grow weary engaging in the solutions. And we see that organizations are spending less on diversity and inclusion, including family benefits, as the economy tightens. Those who can work productively from home, are being called back to physical offices. And hope we had for US policy change, was dashed during the elections.
This pull we feel towards ‘business as usual’ is surprisingly strong. But we can’t ignore how it feels. Kate said, “Unfortunately women are saddled with invisible work at home and in the professional space, it’s a ‘lose lose’ situation. Which is why workplace policies and cultural expectations are so important. We really need both working together.”
Yes, Life is More Complicated
Long before Covid, invisible work was crushing us. But now it’s more time consuming to find childcare, navigate schools and healthcare, not to mention grow professionally. Kate said, “Data tells us that – broadly speaking – women still do twice as much household work than their male partners, when both parties are contributing to the economy full-time.” In her book, Equal Partners, she explains that despite gender equality being a stated cultural value, we’re not translating that value into actions. But we can shift our language, behavior, and expectations to accelerate positive change.
So, Resist the Urge to Take on More
Kate said, “I can’t think of one person right now who’s thriving. Everyone is stable, struggling or worse. We’re all exhausted and still tired of risk management every day. It’s taking a toll and there aren’t enough therapists in the world to deal with it.”
The pressure, to do more with less, is eroding our health. Trying to play along hasn’t served us. A recent CVS Health study cites, more working Mothers have been diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression (42%) than the general population (28%), their coworkers without kids (25%) and even working Fathers (35%). And in our research study, nearly half (48%) are less committed to their jobs.
If You’re Partnered, Raise Expectations at Home
Kate said, “When I had my first child, I naively thought Mother and Father meant the same thing, that it was just a gender difference. But no, there are totally different expectations and it angered me. Like why are the expectations for me so high? Yet, people throw my husband a parade when he does basic parenting?”
The gendered divide at home, for Moms partnered with Dads, is leading source of strain among couples. And it’s been part of the culture for so long, that we have to break the patterns, for things to change. She added how common it is among women to give male partners a pass. “I see it all the time in my own personal life. I’ll hear from women, ‘Oh he’s so tired, he’s worked a hard week.’ Well, so have you.”
Be Careful About What You Recognize or Praise
Most Moms have way too much to do. And some of that extra work comes from guilt about not doing all of the things. Even when it’s unreasonable. Kate said, “We excuse men and then over praise them for the little work that they do. If a man takes his kids to the to the park for two hours people will say, ‘Oh my gosh you’re such an amazing Dad!’ It would be fantastic if we had the same social pressures for men in the household. I want to say to men, ‘What do you mean you made mac and cheese from a box? What do you mean you don’t have time to go to the bake sale on Saturday?’ Holding both partners accountable in the home space is going to take a long time to shift.”
Revisit Your Assumptions
Unfortunately, women also do more of the unpaid work in organizations. And often lack the psychological safety or management support, to push back. Kate said, “You can’t talk about gender in the home without gender at work and vice versa. And sometimes I see a disconnect in our conversations. For example, we expect our male colleagues to answer our emails until 10:00 PM at night and put in extra time to get a product out the door. But then we’re frustrated with our husband when he works late, or can’t do something family oriented, because he’s fulfilling a work objective. So, we need to be better at setting boundaries for all workers to create that space for them to be able to participate fully at home.”
And Establish Strong Boundaries
When I asked Kate about her own self-care routines, she said, “It’s important to know when you can support someone else and when you need support yourself. When you need to just tell yourself, ‘I need today or this week or this hour to just be at peace with my own issues and focus on myself. And not necessarily take on those issues around me.’ So, setting boundaries between when I can be a friend and when I just need to focus on myself is an important piece of self-care that I’m currently working on.”
Although our generosity is an incredible gift, protecting our time and energy, is essential to managing our mental health. She added, “Because we all need shoulders right now, and I think we have to know when we can be a shoulder and when we can’t. And not to feel guilty about that. It is OK to say, ‘Can we talk next week? I hear you and I love you, but I cannot do this right now’ and to respect that in each other.”
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Kate Mangino!
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Kate Mangino, PhD is a gender expert and professional facilitator who works with international non-profit organizations to promote positive social change. She has written and delivered curricula in over 20 countries about issues such as: gender equality, women’s empowerment, healthy masculinity, HIV prevention, and early and forced childhood marriage. She brings her lens of gender and social change to her debut book, Equal Partners, which addresses household gender inequality in the United States and offers practical advice as to what each of us can do to rewrite gender norms.Tags: Book Review, gender equality, Healthy Couples, Manage Stress For Moms, Self-Care For Moms, work life integration for Moms