Happy Mothers’ day, everyone! Here are some Mothers’ Day thoughts I want to share, that come out of something I see a LOT in my practice:
Whether Mom works outside the home or not, most of the time she’s the one doing most or all of the homemaking. And we all know some of the most often-discussed problems with this, right? Homemakers have long been undervalued and underappreciated.
But another thing we may not think about as much is the sense of burden and isolation moms feel when they feel that a functional household and the well-being of the family is largely “on them.”
Of course if there’s a co-parent that person usually plays a part. They’re typically contributing financially, they’re helping to raise the kids, they’re helping with some of the housework.
But still, a lot of the moms I work with say they feel burdened because at the end of the day, THEY’RE responsible for the family itself. They’re taking the lead or carrying a lot more of the emotional/psychological weight when it comes to managing school, or the food the family eats, or doctors’ appointments, or the kids’ friendships, or even just getting out the door on time and getting to bed at night. It’s like one mom told me, “Yeah, he’s a Dad. He takes them places on the weekends. He plays with them when he gets home from work. But I still feel like, ‘Do you know she’s not doing as well right now? Do you know she’s bullied at school?’ He doesn’t know. I have to tell him, and it’s really on me to resolve it.”
And this is a problem whether Mom works outside the home or not. Because ultimately, it’s not really about the tasks each party does in a day. In other words, most stay-at-home moms have no problem shopping and making dinner while their partner is away at work. They’re doing some things, he or she is doing other things.
But still, carrying the weight of the family life feels isolating and lonely. Recently I had another mom say, “Yeah, we [she and her co-parent] ARE partners… we’re living our lives together, we live together… but I’m making it a home. It’s painful to feel so alone in that.”
So, parents, what can you do to help Mom with this problem? What can you do to strengthen the sense, not just for Mom but for EVERYONE in the family, that “We’re all in this together?”
One of the biggest ways to build or enhance a sense of shared responsibility is… well, to SHARE responsibility. Ideally, if you want to really build family cohesion and a real sense that everyone’s on the same team, ideally everyone in the family would not just help Mom with the tasks necessary to family life, but they themselves would play a part in ensuring the tasks are done. They’d OWN those tasks; they’d take the lead with respect to the tasks. So it’s not just Mom handing the other parent a list of what needs done, and it’s not just Mom telling the kids to clear the table or wash the bathroom sink; instead, maybe bedtime is Dad’s job, period. And the dog really depends on your daughter for meals and exercise.
I believe this shared responsibility and sense of teamwork is one of the main keys to a happy and healthy family experience. But if your family culture isn’t at the point where your co-parent or the kids are ready to really own a piece of the family- and household maintenance, it’s still a very good thing when everyone shares in the work.
Here are 4 great ways to do this:
First, ask yourself: “What am I doing for my child that they can do for themselves?” This is a big one. To the extent possible, let your child be responsible for their self-care. If they need training in a task, train them. But part of the burden of homemaking can be alleviated if you’re not also carrying a bunch of self-care tasks the kids can handle.
Institute a “family work time.” This is another great way to build a “we’re in this together” culture. We all live here, we all want a nice environment, we all contribute to making it nice. This can be just an hour on the weekend, because again, it’s not all about the actual tasks. Say Mom’s a stay-at-home mom, the co-parent brings the income, and Mom’s ultimately responsible for the home maintenance. She’ll still feel more appreciated and less lonely when that work is shared to some extent — and when everyone shares at the same time, say, during Family Work Time — this can feel really good!
Expand your definition of “connection time.” A lot of families think of Connection Time as play time. We connect when we play a game or watch a movie, or maybe during a chat at bedtime. And these are great ways to connect, but you can connect while you’re doing housework, too. Shifting your perspective and communication around the time you spend on household tasks can really go a long way toward making that time positive and even fun. You and your child or you and your co-parent can have loving, positive interactions as you prepare the food for the week. You can turn on some music or sing songs during Family Work Time. Turning Work Time into Connection Time isn’t about eliminating or privileging work over play, but it’s a great way to make work more positive and even enjoyable. And when work is more enjoyable, everyone’s more willing to do it, and Mom feels supported.
Don’t pay the kids! The last thing I’ll say about instilling “We’re all in this together” in your family is, it REALLY is better NOT to pay kids to do household tasks. Do you get paid to do household tasks? If you want to give your kids money, give them money – but it’s not a great idea to link money or rewards with home maintenance, which is actually just a form of self-care. Everyone in the family benefits from being in the family, and people will appreciate and value each other more when each person contributes to the group as a whole. If you want the kids to have money, help them start their own side business, or even pay them to learn something! But don’t pay them to contribute to the function and well-being of the family – family members should be contributing to the family as a matter of course.
Whether Mom works outside the home or not, most of the time she’s the one doing most or all of the homemaking. And even when they’re not working outside the home, for a lot of moms, homemaking is a heavy psychological burden. Moms and Dads, Moms and Moms, Dads and Dads, do you want to show some REAL appreciation for the primary homemaker in your life? A good way to do this is to institute shared family-maintenance practices that let everyone know that we ALL play a part in the making of a home. This takes some of the responsibility off Mom’s shoulders, and it’s a great lesson for kids, too!