Let’s be honest. Being a mom, especially a homeschool mom, is a huge responsibility. The physical effort is only about 25% of the job. The rest is the invisible, unseen mental gymnastics that constantly occupy our thoughts.
Should I take advantage of this curriculum while it’s on sale even though we won’t need it until next year? Am I assigning too many math problems for a middle schooler? Or not enough? It’s already November and we’ve only completed two weeks worth of our history curriculum. What should I do about that, going forward?
Homeschooling is not for the intellectually lazy. And we all experience days where the decisions, plans, and questions threaten to overload and overwhelm us.
Recently, there’s been quite a bit of talk about a mother’s mental workload. It seems the general consensus is that women have to bear an unfair mental burden in the arena of motherhood.
Some writers suggest that this imbalance is due to social constructs. Culture teaches men that they don’t have to worry about the needs of the children and the household, because someone else will take care of that.
Is that really what’s going on? Let’s explore that, shall we?
A Grain of Truth
First, I want to start by acknowledging that there are homes where Dad is not involved in the raising of the children. He has mentally assigned that to his wife. That’s woman’s work, he tells himself.
In other homes, Dad may believe that he should be involved but behaves more like a babysitter or mother’s helper. He’s content to do odd jobs in support of the parenting responsibility. But he’s not aware enough of the children’s needs to take care of them without being asked.
Yes, these are situations that need addressing and I’ll share some thoughts in a moment about how to approach this in your home. But I suspect that there are a lot of homes in which something else is really at the root of mom’s frustration.
What’s the Measure of Unfair?
Yes, being a mom is a huge job. My mother tells me that once you have children, you never really stop caring about them, worrying for them, and thinking about them. So far, my experience has proved this out. The mental burden of being a mom can be overwhelming at times!
But how do you go about determining if you are carrying an “unfair” burden? Perhaps you can list lots of things that you think and worry about on a daily basis that aren’t even on your husband’s radar. Does that necessarily mean that he’s not as involved as he should be?
What if he also has lots of things on his radar that aren’t on yours? Of course you can enumerate more of your own cares and concerns than your husband’s; you live inside your own head, not his!
Or, what if he is aware of the things you are aware of but he doesn’t feel them as a stress or a burden because they aren’t things that trouble him as much as they trouble you?
Better and Worse, or Different Priorities?
In the article linked above, one of the things the author mentions is that she knows who needs a haircut next and her husband doesn’t. Presumably she and her husband both see their children every day. And presumably they can both observe the length of the children’s hair.
So why does mom carry the haircut burden and dad doesn’t? Is it because he doesn’t love his children as much or doesn’t think that the children are his responsibility? Perhaps mom is just more bothered by shaggy hair than Dad is. Does that make him a negligent father?
In our home, I am the first one to start to feel antsy about the children’s hair when I can’t see the top of the boys’ ears. But my husband is the one to notice when the children need new shoes. And the last two children’s shoe purchases in our home were made by him.
Why does hair bother me and shoes bother him? Does that make one of us more godly or a better parent? Perhaps it is simply a matter of preference or personality.
Efficient Division of Labor
Even in homes where parents understand that raising the children is their mutual responsibility, division of labor is still a natural way to handle tasks.
If mom generally schedules and takes care of haircuts, it doesn’t make sense for dad to also have that task on his plate. It doesn’t need to be a committee decision. It’s an inefficient use of resources for two people to be responsible for a one-person task.
My husband usually takes care of the bedtime routine around here. On the days when I need to do it, I always forget to have the children brush their teeth. Is that because I think tooth brushing is “man’s work” or because I don’t think it’s my job to help my children have healthy teeth?
It’s a task that my husband regularly handles well and so I have the freedom to not think about it. Instead, I can invest my energy in other things during that time of day. And thankfully, one of the kids usually reminds us of the procedure!
What Really Helps?
One of the benefits of division of labor is the opportunity to develop expertise in your fields of activity. Not to brag, but I have a pretty awesome laundry system nailed down.
Recently, my husband decided to just wash some laundry without being asked. He didn’t realize that the bucket of things soaking in the tub should have been rinsed before being added in with other things in the washing machine. His heart was in the right place. Turns out, though, it didn’t really feel helpful to have him be equally responsible for the laundry.
What feels helpful is for him to acknowledge and appreciate the time I’ve put into perfecting my method. When my husband asks what should be done with the clothes soaking in the tub, I could think “He’s so incompetent. Why doesn’t he take co-responsibility for the laundry?” Or, I could think, “I feel appreciated that he knows I’ve got a good system and he wants to check with the expert before proceeding!”
What to Do with Your Mental Workload
Are you feeling crushed under the weight of your mental workload? Are you concerned that your husband isn’t actually carrying his fair share? Here are some steps to take to work through this challenge.
- Cast all your cares on the Lord. First, you need to ask yourself if your workload is heavy because you are holding on to worry and anxiety instead of taking them to the Lord in prayer. If you are “borrowing tomorrow’s troubles” the solution is not to ask your husband to carry half of them, but to put them at the feet of Jesus. Your husband’s apparent lack of burden-carrying might just be a greater rest on and trust in God’s providence for your family.
- Acknowledge your season of life. If you currently have children at home, especially if you still have small children, you’ve got a lot on your plate. That’s just a fact of this phase of life. Sometimes when things are hard, we start looking for someone to blame. Husband are nearby and they make an easy target. Be slow to cast blame.
- Be thankful. It isn’t a popular thing to say in this day and age, but men and women are not the same. They are equal in value and status before the Lord, but are created with different gifts. There are things that you will intuitively recognize that he won’t, but the reverse is true as well. You want to be appreciated for the things that make you an asset to the family and all the ways you contribute. So does your husband. Instead of making lists of all the things he isn’t involved with, list the things he does care about and manage. Thank him for them. Thank God for him.
- Communication, communication, communication. Men are many things, but mind readers isn’t one of them. If you need his help or want him to be more involved, you have to talk with him. Don’t begin with accusations or vague criticism like “You aren’t very involved. I carry more of the responsibility with the children than you do.” Instead, start with something very specific. “It would really help me if you could be in charge of keeping up with the children’s haircuts” or “Our son has been slow about getting his work done. Do you think you could check in with him each evening and follow up on any unfinished tasks?”
- Let it go … Here’s a little secret. There are probably things in your home that your husband really does manage just fine. Except you want him to do it your way. If you actually want him to relieve you of mental burden in a meaningful way, then you have to do your part as well—you have to stop thinking about it! Do you have an “unfair” mental burden because he won’t take it on, or because you won’t put it down?
What has helped to organize the responsibilities in your home? How do you take advantage of the unique gifts and skills God has given you and your husband?
Lynna Sutherland blogs at Homeschooling Without Training Wheels, where she loves to remind moms (and herself!) of the freedom and flexibility that come with homeschooling! Lynna and her husband have seven children. The motto of their homeschool is “Wisdom Is the Principal Thing” from Proverbs 4:7. You can also find Lynna on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.
Lynna hosts a private Facebook group called Family Schooling without Training Wheels specifically for encouraging parents in multi-age homeschooling and outside-the-box approaches to meet the needs of their unique family.
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