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The 'invisible load' and why it's time you quit your role as the household manager

change leadership Jul 07, 2021

Guest Blog Written by Lisa Hodgson - My Curated Life 

The stats are clear, around the world, women spend two to ten times more on unpaid care work than men and this inequality is linked to discriminatory stereotypes on gender roles.

The extra visible load is obvious and, to be fair, many men have over the last 10 years picked up more of this load, taking on more cooking, washing, childcare etc.

The ‘invisible’ load

But it is the 'invisible' load that is a bigger issue, the planning, the organising, the decision making around everything that goes into running a household and managing kids. Many women have unconsciously adopted the role of the 'household manager'. There was no recruitment process for the job, societal norms and a lack of awareness has resulted in women adopting this unpaid and often unrecognised role in many homes.

Examples of the ‘invisible’ load

A partner refuses to get the kids dressed because he doesn't know what to dress them in. He will dress them if his wife lays out the outfit ready for him. So, she heads upstairs and checks which clothes are clean in the drawer, there are no clean trousers, she remembers they are in the dryer goes downstairs and grabs them and she decides she may as well carry the child from the kitchen as she heads back upstairs. She lays the outfit out on the bed......and then her partner comes upstairs, does his bit, and dresses the child. Is it me, or is this not ridiculous? So, you are telling me that a degree educated grown adult is not capable of determining what is appropriate to dress a child in? 

So, what is really going on here? I believe a couple of things. The woman was in charge of dressing the child during maternity leave and so it’s assumed that this is her responsibility, and that she knows best, she was probably also responsible for buying clothes. 

Also, perhaps the partner has tried to dress the child before and got it wrong (in the eyes of his wife) so he has decided it’s better for all if she just does it. There is no doubt that as women we can often be overly critical of our partners' attempts, perhaps driven by our own insecurities about being judged.

Let me give you another example. A busy family of four with both parents working have the luxury of a weekly cleaner, but unfortunately this week she is sick. The woman says, "we need to clean the house before the weekend as we have guests coming". Her partner says "no problem, tell me what you want me to do?". On the face of it you may say, that's great her partner is showing willing to help out around the house. But why should it be her responsibility to tell her husband what to clean? Does he genuinely not know what to do, I think unlikely, or more likely is he just making the assumption that it is his wife that manages and owns the process of cleaning the home.


The answer is not beating up on men

I have heard so many women say that they feel like they have an extra child in their house when they seem to be responsible for all of the directing and managing of activities and processes. The burden of this weighs heavy and leads to women feeling exhausted. This is not the man or the woman's fault, and I don't believe that men are inherently lazy, we are just behaving in a way that has been presented to us as the norm and is embedded in our culture. Think of all the adverts that we see that show mum being responsible for household tasks, doing the dishes, making the kids pack lunches, cleaning. This needs to change and advertisers and marketeers also need to take responsibility for this shift.


Shifting the dial requires a completely new approach in our homes

Making paternity leave open to all is a great first step that corporates are taking in moving the dial, assuming men take the opportunity. But what if the man is the main breadwinner, how likely is he to take this leave?

If we don't change our own attitudes and approaches in our own homes, we will never shift the dial on this. And from what I can see for many women who are juggling a job and the household manager role, resentment can build towards their partner and this in turn can lead to separation. With growing awareness, and resentment, amongst women of this issue mothers’ groups and Facebook groups are full of conversation and bitching about why their husbands just don't seem to be pulling their weight.

For other women, the pressure just becomes too much, and they decide to 'opt out' either reducing their hours of work or stepping back from promotion opportunities.


Unless women quit their role as the household manager and men start to take some of the burden, we will not see the change in the corporate world that is so desperately needed.


So, how can you get started changing the dynamic in your home

  1. Have regular conversations - daily conversations where you talk about behaviours (see the above examples) that are fuelling the problem help to draw more attention and focus on no longer doing these things. Make these conversations productive by trying not to blame or argue. Talk about how you feel the pressure you are under and the impact it's having on you and asking what changes can be made.
  2. Call out other family members who model the stereotypes and make sure that you role model positively to your children - e.g. when your mother in law asks you why you haven't cooked your partner's dinner! Ask yourself what impression your children are growing up with, do they just see 'mum' being responsible for the lion's share?
  3. Create a list - not sure what all the processes and tasks you do are? Start building a list and use this to discuss the split of responsibilities with your partner. You will both be amazed by the amount of stuff that is on this list and it will help in understanding the inequality issue and how to resolve it.
  4. Try and divide responsibilities for whole processes if you can - it's much easier to take full accountability for something if you own the whole process and there is less room to opt out and defer to your partner. An example would be: Food, if you are responsible for food, take responsibility for the meal planning (including thinking about the right nutrition), the food shopping and the cooking. This can be tricky to implement depending on your circumstances, but you can also switch over week by week (so one week you are doing food and the next week your partner is). Washing is another good one if you are responsible for washing be responsible for washing, drying, ironing and putting away. Make sure you are really clear on what each task is both planning and physical in the whole process.
  5. Don't criticise - If your partner dresses your child in something you don't like, or they didn't clean the bathroom to your high standard let it go, focus on the bigger picture of what you are trying to achieve here which is more time back for you and more equality.
  6. Don't do it - there will be times when something gets forgotten or missed, resist the urge to step in and do it, just leave it and let your partner come to their own realisation that something was missed. If you don't do this, you'll just end up reverting back to type.
  7. Declutter and organise - your home in a way that means things are easy to find and everything has a home. This will make it significantly easier for you and your partner to manage your home and your kids.
  8. Use visual planners - to manage tasks and assign responsibility. Believe me this makes such a difference!


.....................and lastly, I hate to say it but if your partner is not onboard with making changes, you've got to question their commitment to you and to gender equality!


I started My Curated Life, a home organising business after many years working full time as a senior finance executive whilst juggling a busy family life (with two children) and after experiencing the challenges that this brings as a woman, I wanted to provide a service that would help women like me. 


Lisa is a professional organiser and owner of My Curated Life. She provides life changing home organisation services to working women, and shares other helpful tips on Facebook and Instagram


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