“(I have) poor mental health driven by marriage problems.”
“Work, kids, husband, chores, (I’m) exhausted all the time…”
“(I have a) 1st grade child, and (my) spouse is high emotional needs right now.”
As the world moves on from the pandemic, with limited options for childcare, more onsite work and a wobbly economy, Moms remain drained. And continue to abandon mental, physical, and emotional health habits, in an attempt to save time. Over 3,500 parents, mostly Moms (97%) have participated in our research study since March of 2020. And self-care is worse in 2023 than it was in spring of 2020, with 86% saying they’re doing ‘terribly’ or ‘not as well as usual’ at self-care.
And when asked about barriers to self-care, lack of help to do “all the things” is a common refrain. Although they’re overwhelmingly married or cohabiting (73%) the majority (56%) respond, they “have nobody to help with child and/or eldercare.” And “nobody to help out with housework or errands” (66%.)
Okay, it’s no surprise to anyone that Moms still do more housework and childcare when partnered with Dads. And it doesn’t matter how much money they earn or don’t earn. In most families, deadline-driven household management, remains stubbornly gendered. So, after having kids, many of us give up on the idea of work/life balance. But, what about balancing responsibilities with your partner? If you’re a Mom partnered with a Dad, finding equitable ways to split the staggering workload, can feel rigged for failure. But if you’re not getting what you need, more support and negotiation, is critical.
It’s Easier to Measure Who Does What at Home
Technology tethers many of us to work 24/7. But can it also become the solution at home? New apps to help with this age-old problem have surfaced. Felicia Kashevaroff, relationship coach and founder of household sharing app Tend Task said, “There is no one-size-fits-all solution. So, I’m thrilled to see a variety of tools available to couples. But the jury is still out on how effective an app, or even a spreadsheet is, to elicit real behavioral change.” Although some couples re-wrote the rules during lockdown, according to our study and others, gender equity at home never went mainstream.
But Managing Work/Life for Couples is Messy
Less than a third (29%) of Moms in our study cite their partners do “more” household or childcare than pre-pandemic. Felicia said, “What I see happening is that the partner who’s already doing more, puts in the labor to put the information into the app. And then, it might work for a couple of days but like many other notifications, people become resistant to them overtime. So, they’re engaged early on and then it drops off, if the responsibility isn’t being shared.” Like all things emotional labor and mental load, over time, an imbalance becomes corrosive to the relationship.
So, Get Help to Dial Down Resentment
Felicia explained, “Resentment is poison to a relationship, especially when it’s dismissed. If your partner either refuses to or can’t see it, it’s hard to trust that person with your life. Because if one person is saying, ‘I’m upset and this causing me to question our commitment to each other.’ And the other party is like, ‘I think things are fine’ that’s a problem.”
And how couples disagree matters. She added, “I like to challenge couples I work with to do one thing. When your partner comes to you with a frustration, pause. And recognize they’re coming to you because they care about the health of the relationship. What is important to them, must be important to you, if you want to be in a long-term healthy relationship. And it’s for both partners. Because men hold resentment in different areas, and we don’t always give them the space to say what their needs are, or mental load might be.”
And Disrupt Harmful Patterns
We’re influenced by what we see and how we grew up. And there’s a shift in expectation for Gen Z parents. Felicia said, “The research is clear that young people especially, do want to have equitable partnerships.” Intent is the first step, but she admits even well-intentioned couples with kids, find it difficult to enact change. But expertise and support is available. We work with coaches on action plans for everything from our careers and health, to parenting and writing. Why not your relationship?
Improve Your Shared Communication
Many of us are familiar with the therapeutic process. But coaching differs from working with a couples therapist, or medical practitioner. When asked how she approaches this work with couples, Felicia said, “There are three big buckets we need to look at. One, is their communications skills and style. How they talk to each other, like their level of defensiveness or judgment with the other partner. When you have been together longer that resentment can become a block to effective communication.” Why yes, so how can we change it?
Unwind Gender Norms
Felicia said, “The second thing we look at is deconstructing gender norms. So, we are raised in a patriarchal society and everyone who exists in that society is a victim of that system. We have to be clear about how that’s impacting our thought processes and behaviors about work we do around the house. So, what did your family of origin look like? And what are your beliefs around who should do what?”
It can be a tough process. She added, “It takes real vulnerability to admit, ‘maybe I think I’m a better parent.’ Or ‘I think I know better because I’m a Mom.’ Or, for a male partner in a heterosexual relationship maybe there’s an underlying belief, ‘my time really is more valuable because I make more money than my partner does.’ So, it’s really digging in deep to surface those underlying biases we hold.”
Align on a New Way of Valuing Each Other
Felicia said, “The third thing is getting clear on your values and your vision for your life together. Oftentimes, we think we’re aligned on our values but without doing that exercise to really identify which values you hold and share. And it’s okay to have different values, you don’t have to perfectly align. But you have to identify where your shared values are and then create a vision for the future and road map to get there together.”
And Commit to Solidarity
It’s not as if relationship struggles are seasonal. But as Felicia described, working through challenges, “is a process.” One that requires capacity, energy, and openness to engage. So, as you embark on this busy season of events and family commitments, consider getting added support for your relationship.
She said, “As couples go into the holiday season, they can carve out time for a 30-minute conversation and make a commitment to approach the holidays as a team. That doesn’t necessarily mean the way that you’ve always done things is going to be massively disrupted. But knowing that you can go to your teammate and say, ‘I’m over my limit.’ And your teammate can say, ‘I am going to pick up the slack for the rest of the day or for the rest of this party.’ Knowing they have your back is huge! So, just setting that intention to be a team throughout the holidays, can be a good place to start.”
Many thanks to the talented Felicia Kashevaroff!
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Felicia Kashevaroff is an evidence-based relationship coach and the founder of Tend Task, a tech-enabled coaching platform that envisions a future where couples tend to each other rather than being defined by our tasks. The holiday season brings extra challenges for relationship health, so Felicia is offering a limited number of free 30-minute Balanced Relationship Sessions through the end of the year. The goal of the session will be to get clear about what you want your balanced relationship to look like and what is holding you back from getting there. Book your session here!